Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 414

Prom time!

Well, it was Prom Weekend in the USA this week, and all the young lads and lasses at high school here donned their highly sequined gowns and tuxes (I don’t know if the tuxes were sequined or not, but I suspect some of them might have been…).

I gather Proms are also becoming the thing now in the UK, though I don’t know if that includes all the corsages and limos and wotnot that the American kids are in to.

A glamourous array of dresses....

A glamourous array of dresses….

When I was at school there was a Sixth Form Ball, which we younger kids all drooled over and yearned to be part of as the 18-year-old gals got themselves ready and headed out with their hot dates from the Upper Sixth, most of whom we were all infatuated with. Back then, though, everyone was transferred to the ball in Berry’s Coaches of Taunton 49-seater coach with those yellow and brown synthetic (and very itchy) seats, which invariably had dried-up gum underneath, and which, if you were (God forbid) wearing a short dress, would cause an unpleasant and embarrassing rash on the back of your legs for the rest of the evening. Everyone would swig out of prohibited bottles of White Lightening or Thatcher’s Cider and get well and truly trollied before they arrived at the ball, mustered up the courage to have a quick cider-induced snog on the back seat of the coach, and the evening was ready to rock.

Prom etiquette here is something entirely different…..

The website PromWorks tells you exactly what to expect when attending a prom in the USofA:

‘Prom Etiquette
While your manners receive scrutiny every day, they will receive a good deal of attention from more people in the time leading up to and during prom. Your prom is an once-in-a-lifetime event. You will want to look your best and make a good impression on your date and your date’s parents. Etiquette isn’t what your mom fussed at you about when your grandmother came to visit. It is about using proper social skills. It doesn’t just consist of using the right fork at dinner or holding the door open for your date. Prom etiquette involves how to make and accept invitations, making proper financial commitments, choosing prom attire, and as mentioned above, how to treat your date’s parents.’

Flippin’ ‘eck – whatever happened to getting a dress from TopShop, slapping on some Maybelline and copping off with SOMEONE for the night, even if they aren’t in your Top 10? 🙂

The prom dance :)

The prom dance 🙂

American Mom in the UK

As much as it is different for me to bring up a Brit kid in the USA, I’m also intrigued about how it works on the other side of the pond. Meghan Fenn is American and her kids were born in the UK, so they have a mix of cultures at their disposal.

This is Meghan’s interview about how all that works for her and family.

Name: Meghan Fenn
Bit about you: I’m an American expat and mother who has lived in England since 1998/9. After graduating from university with a BA in English and Art, I became an English teacher and lived and worked in Prague for two years, where I met my British husband, and then in Tokyo for two and a half years. I moved to England to complete my Masters degree in Design Studies and then worked as a web designer at a company in Nottinghamshire. After being made redundant whilst pregnant with my 2nd child, I set up my own web and graphic design company White Ochre Design Ltd.



After the birth of my 3rd child, I wrote a book called Bringing Up Brits: Expat Parents Raising Cross-Cultural Kids in Britain.

I currently live on the Southeast coast of England in Sussex, I’m married to an Englishman and we have three young children, all born in the UK.

I recently published my second book called Inspiring Global Entrepreneurs: discover how to successfully set up and run your dream business in a foreign country. I am the co-author of Inspiring Expat Entrepreneurs, written with a fellow expat entrepreneur Heidi Walker.

I also have a parenting blog called Bringing Up Brits.

Occupation: Director of White Ochre Design Ltd, Graphic Design and Design Consulting

Location whilst in the USA: Maine, Texas, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina

Location in the UK: Nottingham (Midlands) and Worthing (currently in Worthing, Sussex coast)

1. Tell me a bit about you and your time in the USA and how it differs from the UK.
I grew up in the USA and it wasn’t until my third year in college that I really experienced life outside America. I spent a semester abroad in Italy studying painting and art history. This experience opened me up to more opportunities to travel and live abroad. Life in the UK is very different to life in the USA. When I first moved to England, I was coming from Tokyo where I had lived and work for two and a half years. Therefore, in my mind, it felt like I was returning to the USA, to western culture.

I got the shock of my life when I discovered, the hard way, that British culture and British people are incredibly different to American culture and people. It was a time of adjustment and a very lonely time personally for me. It wasn’t until I started to have children and really when I wrote Bringing Up Brits that I started to make friends and establish my own ‘place’ in my new foreign country. I now have a love for England and British people. It’s not as simple as just saying that though! Brits are SO different to Americans in many ways and it takes a long time to get used to it and the different ways of doing things. For example, people prefer to keep themselves to themselves and don’t make an effort to get to know other people. They are friendly and polite when spoken to directly (most of the time) but they do not naturally open themselves up very easily. There are many more differences and I write about these on my blog where I actively encourage open dialogue about these issues.

Megan's book

Megan’s book

2. As a teenager in the USA, which high school group did you belong to and why?
I went to a private school for the first two years and then switched to a public school. At the private school, I was in the unpopular group. In the public school I wasn’t in the popular or unpopular group. There were many different groups. I suppose if I had to nail it down, I was in the ‘arty’ group.

3. Some folks in the UK seem to hanker after home a lot ; what do you miss about the USA, but what do you also love about the UK?
I miss my family of course and the openness and friendliness of people in general. I miss the wider streets and the space around houses. I miss ‘neighborhoods’. I miss that feeling of community that you often have in American neighborhoods. I miss the traditions around food and family times. I miss the things we did in school for my children (like celebrating Valentine’s day, the emphasis on community through sports and family activities and traditions).

I love the ‘walking’ culture in the UK and the use of public transportation. I love the spring time when everything is in bloom, I love the English countryside and breathtaking quintessential English scenery. I love the multiculturalism here and hearing lots of different languages being spoken on a daily basis. I love the opportunities that my children have for visiting European countries and getting to know other cultures.

4. How do your kids find the transition to the UK after the USA?
All my children were born here in the UK. When we do visit the US though, they love it and once back in England, they comment on how different America is. Like how friendly people are in America and how there is more space everywhere, and how things are much bigger, and of course how great the weather is!

Her book all about bringing up her kids

Her book all about bringing up her kids

5. If you could choose an alternative decade and one city to live during in the UK, what would they be and why?
London during the 60s. London was the capital of the world then! To be able to see first hand the fashion, the art, the music. And London was very cool then.

6. If Bill Bryson asked you co-write a new UK travel/look at culture book with him, what would your suggestions be for this?
Too many to list! But to pick a few…

A discussion about all the ‘Americanisms’ British people are using now and vice versa. It seems both countries are starting to adopt certain ‘Americanisms’ and ‘Britishisms’ more and more.
Difference in family traditions. There don’t seem to be that many here compared to the States. Children don’t tend to eat dinner with their parents for example. They are fed first, put to bed and then the parents eat. In our family, we don’t do it this way. I did start to do it that way initially because I wanted to try and blend in and do that everyone else did. But I like eating as a family and I think it’s important to have that family time around the dinner table which is so much a part of American culture but not so much in the UK.

The unspoken ‘rules’ of social etiquette in the UK. For example, you must be polite and say ‘oh you must come over sometime for dinner’ or ‘We must meet for coffee sometime’ even though you have absolutely no intention of inviting them over. EVER. (So if a British person says this to you, don’t think it’s an actual invitation because it isn’t necessarily). And, it’s perfectly acceptable to drink copious amounts of alcohol in public but you must never eat a packet of potato chips on the train when someone is sitting next to you. One more example, don’t talk to people you don’t know when out in public and if you do, don’t expect a friendly answer, or even an answer at all. They are not necessarily being rude, they might just be in shock that someone they don’t know is speaking to them for no apparent reason.

(Just want to say that I learned as I went and now know not to take an invitation seriously unless a date and place have been set. I don’t do what British people do. If I want to invite someone over, I am sincere about my invitation and I really want to meet up. If I don’t want to have coffee with them, then I won’t suggest it simply to be polite. It was frustrating in the beginning because I thought when someone suggested getting together that they really meant it, but when nothing came of it, I was always left perplexed. Then I started to take the initiative and invite people over. They would graciously come but then not return the invitation afterwards, ever so it was really difficult to establish friendships that went past the initial ‘get to know each other’ stage. It’s easy to be social and to meet people, but it’s takes time to actually make friends. And for us expats, the friends that we make already have their own friends and families. So yes, we are a friend to them but that ‘s it. To us, on the other hand, their friendship is a lifeline. )

The Sussex hills

The Sussex hills

7. If you were given three magic wishes to make happen for you whilst in the UK or for the UK itself, what they would be?
– To live in a house with a driveway and a laundry room.
– I wish my parents lived just around the corner so we could see them more often.
– For the roads to be wider and the parking lots (car parks) to be larger and more spacious and for parking spaces to be normal width instead of very narrow so that you can’t open your door once you’ve spent the 10 minutes maneuvering into it.

8. Finally, ‘zee’ or ‘zed’?
Zee of course!

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6 Responses to Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 414

  1. meghanfenn says:

    Claire, your blog is fantastic. I love hearing your take on proms USA style, and all things American in general. It does sounds like they’ve changed drastically since I went to mine. I went two times – once in my junior year and than of course again for my senior year. I had a blast but it wasn’t as serious sounding as what you’ve described here. Lots of kids did have limos and hotels booked and we all dressed up in the ultimate prom style, but I think we were still learning the etiquette at my high school! Although it was over two centuries ago (won’t say more as don’t want to totally give away my age!!) so I’m sure things have changed a lot.

    Thank you so much for interviewing me for your blog. I’m thrilled to be on it. And look forward to having you on mine too 🙂

  2. Andy says:

    I believe it can cost parents over $1000 for prom night. Bleeding insane if you ask me, and something (along with homecoming) I just don’t get.

  3. EmmaK says:

    ah yes it’s all coming back to me: the aphrodisiac properties of White Lightening, slow dancing to Careless Whisper, copping off with someone pretty ugly because of wearing beer goggles and the grand finale: chundering in the bushes….those were the days eh? A pair of fingerless gloves £2, White Lightening £3, scratchy nylon dress £20….. Prom Night: Priceless

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