Tag Archives: American culture

American habits to give up when moving to the UK

Last year Matt Herschberger identified 7 American habits he lost after moving to England – and it’s all so true!

His original article is a lot of fun and I encourage you to read it: http://matadornetwork.com/life/7-american-habits-lost-moving-england/

But it got me thinking about these differences between America and the UK again, especially how I’d experienced them in reverse. So here’s my take on them:

  1. Matt ‘stopped wearing shitty clothes’ when he left the house. I totally get this. When I lived in London I didn’t even want to wear trainers out of the house – I didn’t own any that were fashionable (expensive) enough. So I’ve really loved how casual I can dress in DC. I’m not at the stage where I can go to the deli downstairs in my PJs (some of my neighbours really do this), but I’ve embraced the idea of walking to the gym in my workout gear and an old sweater. I’ve also bought (and been bought) so many beer and city themed t-shirts and hoodies, that I don’t know what I’m going to do with my wardrobe when I have to move back to London!
  2. Matt ‘stopped saying “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere”. Now, I’m not really sure about this one. Since being in DC I’ve probably attended more happy hours than ever in my life before, but I would say that on balance I do drink less. The thing I’ve noticed is how when Americans go out for happy hour, that’s exactly what they do. One to one-and-a-half hours later, they’re getting ready to go home, or for dinner, or even the gym. R and I fondly reminisce about how after-works drinks could go on for hours – without appetizers – and end in some late-night bar in soho, or with pizza and a bottle of wine at some Pizza Express at 11pm.
  3. Matt ‘stopped shouting in bars’. This is the reason I’m usually pretty happy to be going home after happy hour – all the shouting to be heard gets very tiring!
  4. Matt ‘stopped saying hi to strangers on the street’. This is definitely a DC thing that I’m going to miss – people are so friendly. I love chatting to people on the check-out, or to strangers at the same bar/restaurant. This is definitely something we should develop more in London.
  5. Matt ‘stopped using [his] English accent at parties’. Annoyingly, in the US people often just can’t understand you if you pronounce something in a way they’re not expecting. Though my accent isn’t going anywhere, I have had to start saying tom-ay-to rather than tom-ah-to…
  6. Matt ‘stopped taking [his] coffee black’. I’ve certainly had no problems with proper coffee in the US. I’ve learnt that sometimes it’s nice to have coffee made slightly weaker than I would normally – that way you can enjoy a couple of refills with your breakfast or brunch. And I’ve really developed a taste for iced coffee. Although I didn’t think I could justify buying a drip-filter coffee maker, I could get a replacement for my broken French press, and ground coffee a-plenty. Instant coffee in America is absolutely foul though.
  7. Matt (almost) ‘stopped eating meat’. Another one I totally get. Although I’ve been able to limit meat in my home-cooking during the week, I’m constantly depressed by the lack of interesting vegetarian sandwiches especially when we go out. Certainly when we were on our road trip we ended up eating a lot of burgers and steaks. America is the home of the whopper after all.

Integration – 4th of July

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When we moved to the states we decided that we didn’t want to do the ex-pat thing of seeking out other British people. We’ve not even set foot in a ‘British’ pub. It’s not that we’re antisocial, we just felt that we should attempt to make American friends, to better immerse ourselves in the culture.

And we have made some great friends. Friends who introduced us to baseball and explained the rules when we were lost. Friends who took us to brunch and made sure we got the full experience by ordering bottomless mimosas. And the friends that encouraged us to celebrate 4th July on our roof with steak, beer, ‘chips’ and red white and blue frosted cookies.

Last year’s party started early with inexpertly blended iced tea (we soon moved onto beer) and a soundtrack of all the patriotic songs we could think of. We endured the jokes about Yorktown and apologized again for 1812 (how could we burn down the library of congress?!), and wore our most American outfits to make up for it – we even had an American flag that I think went missing that night… By the end of the night we had proven ourselves with our grilled steak sandwiches and ability to put away the bourbon, and then it was time to introduce us to that American party classic – Cards against Humanity.

I’ve heard that this game has made it to the UK by now, but at the time it was the strangest thing I’ve ever done to download the cards, go to Kinko’s to print them out, and then spend much of my afternoon using their guillotine to cut them all out. I remember while I was doing this a young boy came over – clearly fascinated by the guillotine – and wanted to help. I spent the whole time he was ‘helping’ making sure he looked after his fingers and that he didn’t look at the cards! In case you’re unfamiliar with the game, this is an example of what he might have seen:

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Some of the less pornographic/offensive cards

I kept his attention by trying to explain 4th July to him. He knew there were fireworks, but didn’t know why. When I told him the UK had once run the US he was somewhat incredulous.

By the time this year’s 4th of July came round we felt like old hands. We had our own small grill as we knew that the gas-grill on our roof cannot be depended on, we added some of this year’s favorite hits and some new-found country to our patriotic play list, and we bought a new flag to replace the one that got lost last year. We also made our signature guacamole, and stocked the fridge.

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Plus we made sure there was room in the freezer for plenty of ice and a friend’s delicious contribution of ice-cream cookie sandwiches.

Sadly the weather was not as good this year as last. We were grateful that our balcony is mostly covered as the rain came down mid-afternoon and we were able to continue to drink our Sangria and American IPAs outside. Luckily the rain held off while we grilled on the roof, and the fireworks could still mostly be seen despite the cloud and mist. At some point a couple of guys started singing the National Anthem and we all joined in – even us Brits.

We’ve often been asked what our favorite thing is about America. At this party it was suggested that we all went round the circle, saying our favorite thing. My answer is usually the positive outlook we’ve experienced in people here. I can be ironic and urbane with the best of them, but there’s something about living in a more positive country with generally sincere people for over a year that I think’s made me happier, and a lot less insecure. My other favorite thing is how our efforts of integration have been thoroughly encouraged – perhaps especially when these efforts involve throwing a roof party with beer and steak!