Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 173

Brits in the USA

There are a lot of us Brits in the USA. It’s funny how our paths cross, either in person or online. And we do drink tea at every opportunity, that is certainly correct. A girl also smirked at me the other day when I asked for a tea. It amused her that I was conforming to the British stereotype. I’m actually surprised that she didn’t ask me if I knew One Direction or Prince Harry. (For the record, I don’t know either of them, sadly.)

One Direction - nope, don't know them

One Direction – nope, don’t know them

What fascinates me is not only the unique journey and experience had by each Brit out here, but also the common thread of acknowledgement about the differences between the UK and the USA. We speak to each other; we get it. But it’s all still full of surprises.

This is Andy’s story.

Hi, my name is Andy Kay and I was born and raised in the East End of London although I’ve never appeared on EastEnders. We are currently living in beautiful Colorado Springs at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, but for the first 20-odd years in the USA we lived in Stafford, Virginia about 30 miles south of Washington DC. I met my wife Karen in London when I worked at the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square. She was in the US Navy stationed at the Embassy and as they say love blossomed and we got married in the US Navy Chapel in West Ruislip, London (now closed, however I don’t think that was anything to do with us). When her time in the UK was up we decided it would probably be a good idea if I came here with her, and to this day she still refers to me as “her souvenir of England” – of course working at the Embassy smoothed my journey to the States and I didn’t have to endure some of the problems that I have read about others having….

Karen and Andy at one of Colorado's major and most important landmarks, the Coors brewery (!)

Karen and Andy at one of Colorado’s major and most important landmarks, the Coors brewery (!)

Apart from two and a half years in Iceland on another Navy tour of duty, we lived for many years in Virginia until my job called me out to Colorado about 18 months ago. We hadn’t really planned on coming here, but you go where the work is and as it turns out we really like it here as the style of living is totally different from living and working in the metro DC area – I no longer have the 90 minute commutes that I had to endure for many years in Virginia. We have one son away at college in Kentucky who makes the journey out to Colorado to visit whenever he can, mostly in the winter as he enjoys snowboarding and we are surrounded by ski resorts. He used to board in Virginia but the elevation in our living room is higher than the highest ski spot in Virginia, so it’s a different game!

So I’ve been here for 24 years and if that sounds a long time, it is. I am a naturalized US Citizen now, but I consider myself to be English first and foremost and still hold a UK passport. Also I’m glad to report my London accent is as strong as it ever was.

What do you enjoy most about living in the USA?
I honestly think the standard of living is better here than I remember it being in the UK. When we have friends come over they tell me stories of how much gas (petrol) is over there and there is always somewhere new to go or see just because of the sheer size of the USA.

At the top of Pikes Peak which is the mountain we see from anywhere in Colorado Springs

At the top of Pikes Peak which is the mountain we see from anywhere in Colorado Springs

What do you miss about the UK?
Seriously, a lot of things. I miss some stupid foods you just can’t get over here (well you can although usually not easily): English bacon, pork sausages, pork pies, fish ‘n’ chips, a good pint of real beer, oh and Jaffa Cakes. I miss football (I’m a bloke after all) although now it can be watched on the internet albeit somewhat illegally. Being a Londoner I really miss walking around the streets of what I consider to be the best city in the world, nobody walks here unless it’s just walking the dog. I miss decent reliable public transportation as outside large cities it really doesn’t exist.

Much-missed Jaffa cakes

Much-missed Jaffa cakes

What differences do you still encounter?
Even after all this time I still have people that really don’t understand what I am saying and look at me as if I am speaking another language, luckily that’s made up by those that say “I love your accent”. One thing that I still notice is that Americans are quite happy to talk to complete strangers and discuss all sorts of incredibly personal details without a second thought, something that would never happen in the land of my birth. In England, if you are in a bus queue, sitting on the tube or whatever, people studiously ignore each other and well, just mind their own business. If I get caught in that particular situation my English side kicks in big time and I just try and look away and mumble something non-committal and really (really) hope the torture ends soon!

The best thing about being a Brit in the USA?
It’s still fun being just being a little different even after 24 years. I love to “show off “ my Britishness by flying the Union Jack flag on high days and holidays, teaching people about the joys of football, reveling in things like the London Olympics and Andy Murray. Just dumb stuff really.

What a great event it was!

What a great event it was!

What myths, stereotypes and preconceptions about the USA do you think do exist or are just a load of nonsense?!
Well I think a lot of the myths, stereotypes and preconceptions are actually true. People do consider cowboy hats as every day wear here. Americans do drive everywhere, even if it’s only to the grocery store which might be just around the corner and they will drive around a mall parking lot for 20 minutes looking for a spot close to the door. A lot (not all) of Americans seem to be totally unconcerned with what’s going on in the rest of the world, the TV news broadcasts are mainly only concerned with what’s happening here. As someone brought up watching the good old BBC I still find that a little disconcerting.

I feel a little guilty that it is a long time since we’ve been back to the UK and as time goes by I miss it more even though this is now my home. Maybe I’m more in love with the picture I still have in my head of England, however we plan on taking a trip there in the next year so maybe I’ll be able to confirm that!

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13 Responses to Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 173

  1. Darlene Mikolasko says:

    Claire & Andy,
    Have you ever tried Bergers Cookies from Baltimore? They look very similar to a Jaffa cake 🙂

  2. Andy, don’t you follow my blog? Your name seems familiar. I have lived near DC my entire life except the three years I was in England and two years in Texas (yes, military personnel.) We still have an hour commute to work and I’m so completely sick of it. It is one of my biggest pet-peeves about this area. If you go beyond 20 miles outside DC the jobs are hard to find, at least ones that pay well, so you’re stuck commuting or you live on $10 – $13 an hour, if you’re lucky.

    “ to complete strangers and discuss all sorts of incredibly personal details without a second thought, something that would never happen in the land of my birth. ”

    As I explained to Claire when we first began talking, Americans do this (ask a lot of questions and provide personal detail) as a way to try to relate to you and find something in common with you. We search for that one thing to connect with you on. Most Brits connect by moaning about the weather. I don’t think we really have that one thing to moan about since the country is so big and varied. You don’t dare touch something like politics or religion unless you’re deadly sure about who you’re talking to.

  3. Oh, and news? That’s because the country is so big,you can’t possibly cover what’s happening here and what’s happening around the world as well in a 30 minute time slot. Our families tend to be spread out as well, so people want to hear what is going on in other states, for instance, the wildfires in Colorado, the plane crash in San Fran, whatever hurricane is about to hit Florida, the heatwave on the East Coast. 24/7 news like CNN does a better job put people are so busy with work, children and after school activities they don’t have time to sit thru an hour or two of news.

  4. I hate that Brits always have to say where you’re from based on London…like that’s the only city there. But most Americans assume there’s London and outside of London & that’s it. Although granted, I always say I’m from Washington DC, but that’s not a lie…it’s a convenient marker for most people who haven’t visited the US.

    • When I travel to the UK and other places I always say I live near DC because no one has ever heard of the town I live in and some people, especially in the UK, don’t know where Pennsylvania is. It’s just easier to say DC than have to explain my location. It’s just one of those things. Most of the world knows where London is but not Huntingdon or Shefford where I used to live. So, I always explained I lived an hour north of London.

    • Andy says:

      Unless you were born and raised in London like me,I suppose, then it’s perfectly OK! 🙂

  5. Hi Andy, I really enjoyed your post and could relate a lot to it (especially the accent thing). I am British-American too after being here almost 13 years and married to an American I met at work (not military but entertainment industry!) I go back every year pretty much to see family although this upcoming trip will be spending longer in London (my family is in the cotswolds and Berkshire) so I can, as you say enjoy the best city in the world. I’m lucky to live in Los Angeles by the beach so for the most part I feel I have the best of both worlds! When you go back I’m sure you will be surprised how European London has become. It’s quite a surprise – but a nice one.

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