Monthly Archives: September 2009

Bits and bobs revisited

I’ve done this before when I had a bunch of random US-UK tabs open in my browser window. In the spirit of the game, I will leave them in the random order they’re in, and not edit the order to group things on common topics, hopefully creating an interesting non-pattern.

There we have it, bits and bobs for a crazy Thursday. I took my team to the pub tonight to introduce a few new recruits, and it turns out that if you count passports, birthplaces, long-time residence locations and birthplaces of parents, we are a mini-United Nations with all 6 inhabited continents represented, most more than once, and a remarkably complicated set of allegiances. This I love about my line of work. Although it just reinforces my relatively new prejudice that I get along best with people who have also been expats or closely allied with expats…

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Just an ordinary day

I had one of those wonderful days today, when a person can forget that they are living abroad and just work and live. I spent more than two hours with my (?current pc-terminology?) PA/secretary filing things in my office, trying to get the piles of paper down to a manageable level. I don’t think much of what I did today translated into cross-cultural distinctions, and for that I was glad. Some days I’m quite happy to live my life without a constant burden of expat-ness. It’s the funny thing that happens after one has been abroad for a period of time. I guess we adjust and start to see the world differently but don’t notice it as much.

The most shocking part of my day was in going out for dinner (too over-worked to be bothered with cooking) and finding myself seated next to a table of American tourists. I stopped at a restaurant on my way home from work, a place that I have been to on more than one occasion but perhaps not frequently. My overheard conversations from the Americans were telling, “We went to Windsor today,” and perhaps the most important part of this is the fact that I do not feel myself a tourist in my town. I bristle at the American accents a bit, especially when the holders feel the need to pontificate on the royals. It’s a phenomenon that I never saw coming, my needing to fit in gaged against the American tourists visiting. I want to dissociate myself from them regardless of our shared accent. I see now why some of my fellow expats have adopted a middle-of-the-road accent. I have no idea how conscious this decision was, but it is certainly true that my American friends in the UK sound intermediate. I wonder how I sound now too. I had been convinced that any perceived accent I had acquired (supposedly) was the view of my family and friends back home, but now I wonder if I’m actually changing the way I deal with language, and in the accent and not just the word choice (as I have previously claimed). Have I actually started to change my vowels to fit with the local accent? Only those around me can tell. But how do I perceive such a change in myself? Only time will tell. I’m starting to suspect that my defense of “word choice only has changed” is falling on deaf ears and for good reason.

Keep calm and carry on

The title of this post is a classic British-ism, and I think it’s one that is particularly good when it comes to advice to expats. If I had to summarize my experiences as a nearly 3-year resident of Britain, particularly as concerns my job, it would be this, to note this difference in attitude between my British work colleagues and American colleagues in previous jobs. I have mentioned before that the locals do not seem to have any experience in the American art of “venting“. I have been surprised on a number of occasions how the things I’ve said when “venting” have come back to me, perhaps not to “haunt” me per se, but certainly to make me aware that my toss-aside comments have been taken seriously and noted in some large record of my time spent working in England. And I’m not sure how to fix this one. I would never advise a young colleague not to “vent” about their frustrations and experiences, but I would certainly advise him or her that these “vents” will remain on their record and be taken seriously in a way that I would not have expected based on my prior work experiences in America.

I’m not quite sure what the problem is. I don’t know if my colleagues bristle at the implied criticism at the way things are done here, or if my speaking up is generally considered to be “too much” … I do know that as a personal foible I tend to relate too much detail about things when confronted with general assemblies, but I am interested in the fact that these details are apparently retained in some master list of things I have said. Regardless, it does create a situation where I try to watch every word I utter, sometimes with great personal difficulty as my typical “get it out there” behavior is suppressed. It’s one of the many and varied, albeit interesting, culture differences that I could only define as “subtle” and not something I expected to experience on my transition from US to UK life.

Britishisms on signs v1

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I’ve been long meaning to take photos of some interesting grammatical constructions that I’ve seen on British signs, and this one was a perfect place to start. Whereas an American might have said “no open flames” the sign reads “no naked lights” next to a cage of gas canisters. It’s too bad it did not read “no naked flames” or I could have made a witty comment about keeping Bettie Page-like burlesque performers at a safe distance…

I’ll have my beer to go

Some things about the English pub system are just too good for words. I have mentioned previously how, at the end of the night, when a pub closed down they gave us plastic cups to take our remaining beer away with us, so as not to waste it even though it was closing time. That was funny. But today I think I had an experience that was even one better. My very favorite British friend was in town, and he suggested we go get a pint before dinner. Now I believe he said something about getting the pint and going out to sit on the grass, but I was not really paying attention to the details, as I was not 100% sure which pub he was even talking about when we set out. But we got to the pub, which was directly across from a large park (with plenty of grass to sit in) and it turns out that when ordering our beer, we were asked if we wanted it to drink in or take away. That’s right, folks, the beer is available for take-out, as it’s expected that you’ll grab it and dash to the park across the street. Even better, if you bring the empty plastic glasses back when ordering a second round, you get a discount. I leave you with the image of my take-out beer, safely out of the pub and in the park across the street. This is truly an amazing country.

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Whew, time flies!

I thought I would be blogging practically daily after coming back from the states, but of course instead I’ve been busy and not spending much time online in a non-work capacity. My week, which started out looking quite blank and productive, got increasingly packed with meetings, including three really high-level things today that required a great deal of concentration. But generally I’m not sure where the hours have gone. Although I do know that I’ve been pretty productive lately, albeit in non-technical aspects of trying to regain control over my life, and more directly, the cluttered mess that is my closet-less flat. I had a massive re-organization of my wardrobes on Saturday (needed to be able to unpack and put away my recent acquisitions from Anthropologie!) and then on Sunday I decided to attack one of those projects that had been sitting staring at me for literally years, six crates full of files and papers from my grad school days that I had moved over here without sorting, due to the relatively fast circumstances of my relocation. Five of the crates are now gone, only one remains, plus a stack of papers that need to go into the office. I’m really on quite a kick at the moment, need to do my office next–booked time at work for next week and I’m hoping this time it will stick (I’ve tried twice before but things came up…) I even managed to go to the gym on Tuesday, and I plan to go again soon (although not tonight as I have a social outing with my new Minnesota friend planned… the perfect antidote to a day of high-level meetings!)

I’m annoyed at the American press at the moment, who are becoming as shrill as the locals. What part of this:

Half of all personal bankruptcies in the US are at least partially the result of medical expenses.

do people not understand? I have a short-list going of people who run on the Republican fringe and may not be my facebook friends for very much longer 😉 And yes, as people keep asking me, I am indeed a fan of universal healthcare. I’ve tried both systems and believe me, the stress of finding bridging health insurance when you have a month between jobs AND you have a pre-existing medical condition is something no person should have to go through. No battered woman should be worrying about losing her insurance if she leaves her abusive husband. Health insurance should not be a preoccupation should you want to switch jobs or move locations or generally change your life circumstances. The system is broken, Americans spend too much on healthcare because it’s too much run for profit, so let’s stop complaining and do something about it.

Thanks to the “Minnesota Connection”

Last night I had to go to a cocktail party thingy (the Brits would call it a drinks party, appropriate since it was more of a wine and cheese). The attendees were work colleagues and their partners (and in one case, a daughter) and we were all doing the chat thing, some work chat (we had a big dinner Thursday night, in celebration of some big changes around here) and some social chat. Somehow we started discussing the funny way the local paper, and the British news media in general, sometimes report things. Our local paper is hilarious, and one colleague said he bought it just to be amused by the way the reporting tended to emphasize aspects of stories that we would find less than objective. My example was the “Five Britons die in Air France crash” from a BBC story I saw on the news at the gym a few months ago–it struck me because it was so familiar. You see, any time there was a local “Minnesota connection” to anything the local news would lead with that and make a big deal about this local connection. I’ve even blogged about it before, and how I find the local news media similar. It’s a sign, I think, of some inferiority complex–Minnesota is small and its virtues seem to be only well known to the locals. Britain is, as was described in the recent story for Newsweek about the Great British decline a place that might also be accused of having an inferiority complex. I was explaining this theory to the people to whom I was speaking, and I used the words “Minnesota Connection” trying to draw this analogy. Suddenly a girl comes walking quickly at me from across the room, saying, “did I just hear you say Minnesota connection?” Yes, my friends, it was another Minnesotan. Not a Minnesota native, but someone who has lived there, has seen the local culture, and who knew exactly what I was talking about. It was like a breath of fresh air. I had a fantastic rest of the evening, mostly chatting with one of my good friends (also an expat, but German) and my new, good, Minnesota friend. I have to admit, after dealing with my mixed feelings on my return, and my jet-lag and trying to get back into my work with some degree of normalcy, it was a breath of fresh air and a good way to end the first work week back. This has been one big change I’ve noticed in the past year, I have work friends now. Both expats and even (gasp!) British natives. It took a few years, but it’s definitely one of the better things about having been here for longer than a year or two. And I can’t wait to see my new Minnesota friend again.