On the other side…

… of the pond. I flew to the states today for a week-long work conference thingy, which is a quite typical thing that I do for my job. What was not typical about this trip was that I had a rather late-in-the-day flight out of the UK (5 pm) which placed me in Boston around 8 pm local time, and I had to clear immigration and get my baggage and pick up my rental car and drive 30 miles to my hotel at what was essentially 2 am in the morning for me. Remind me not to do that one again. I suppose I could have stayed at an airport hotel (and maybe I should have done so) but I am on my way to Maine and it made some sense (at least on the day that I booked it) to stay in a hotel north of Bean-town and on the way to Maine, not to mention the fact that it’s a hotel I’ve stayed in previously when on the same sort of work trip in the past. It all seemed sensible at the time at which I booked it, and it all seemed like madness at the time at which I got off of my flight and had to drive whilst being a zombie. But that’s done. All is well. And the fact that it is a “suites” hotel meant that they had frozen dinners available for purchase in the lobby and a microwave in the room, so I did not have to go out in the car again once I had managed to make it to the hotel, so all good. Hooray for American convenience and Lean Cuisine. (How sad.)

I got on the internet at the hotel only to find that Amy Winehouse had died and Cadel Evans is about to win the Tour de France. I care fare more about the latter than the former, but the former was clearly of more interest to my Facebook and twitter friends than the latter. Hopefully tomorrow a few more people will be as excited as I am about the first ever Australian TdF winner-in-waiting. (I don’t want to jinx it.)

Being, as I am, rather stressed out about immigration matters, I was really dreading my arrival into the US. Two times in the last two years I’ve been harassed by the border guards at the US border about why I live abroad. When I’ve tried to explain about my (pretty awesome) job, they have in both instances tried to volunteer a (roughly) equivalent US job that I should be doing instead. Now this would not be that stressful except for the fact (warning, confession coming) that I did apply for similar jobs in the US about 9 months ago, knowing full well that such a US job would save me from having to go through the stress of the immigration process. And the fact is, no one hired me. There were various reasons for this, I’ve spoken to several people about it and I’ve been reassured that if anything I was too qualified for the jobs I’d applied for, but basically when you’ve just been turned down by US institutions for jobs and you’ve just started to deal with UK residency paperwork, this is not the time that you want to be hassled by US border authorities about why you live and work abroad.

Fortunately the nice man tonight in Boston airport’s border patrol did not bug me about it, although he did make me explain in significant detail what I was doing here (attending a conference related to my work) and that I did not live here and had not been touring around Europe. Which brings me to my point (and I do have one!) that it’s still not that common to be a US citizen who chooses to live and work abroad. And I don’t have the “married to an Englishman” excuse, which seems to me to be far more easily understood by the world compared with the “have a job in England” reality of my life.

Which brings me to my reality. I was never sure that I was moving to England for keeps when I moved there, and I am still struggling with the facts right now: I have a great job in England, I don’t have a job in the US, and I’m stressed out about the paperwork associated with staying in England beyond my 5 year work permit visa (obtained in 2006, which feels like a thousand years ago). I thought of the England experiment as a 3-5 year career move that has turned out to be a bit more complicated. I am now conflicted, as I feel neither English nor American, and my words on the subject have this week managed to piss a number of people off, as evidenced by comments made here and on twitter. I hate the British attitude towards Americanisms as defiling the (British) English language, but I am equally annoyed when overhearing conversations of visiting Americans in Heathrow airport that make me want to defend my adopted country and all of its foibles. A Brit who resides in America and has for a long time recently told me that it would be difficult for me to return to life in the US, and I wholeheartedly believe him. This is the complication that one never thinks about when it sounds glamorous and interesting to go live in Europe for a while. Once you live abroad, your thinking changes and it’s hard to ever go “home” again.

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12 responses to “On the other side…

  1. I hate to use a cliche (although I don’t think it’s an Americanism!) but you’ve hit the nail on the head. I don’t like the frustrations of living in Britain anymore but I don’t want the dreadful let down of moving to America. I think I’m now a different kind of American, one who has seen a different world and has a few suggestions–for both sides of the Atlantic. Sigh.

  2. Setting aside the fact that it’s not really the border guards’ job to convince you you should be working in the US instead of in the UK, they are clearly unaware of the high unemployment rate here. While you’re happily employed in the UK, there are (I’m sure) at least SOME people here qualified for the jobs they were trying to sell you. This may be my unemployed-for-too-long bitterness, but still, I don’t understand their behaviour.

    Also, I think even spending a good amount of time abroad, even without legal residency, can start to spoil you on America. Obtaining that wider perspective sets you apart from other Americans who may have never left their own state, let alone country.

  3. You are an American citizen. They have NO RIGHT to ask you why you are entering YOUR OWN country or what you intend to do while you are there. That is the thing about America that p*$$es me of to NO END!!! Or did you get that already 😉 And questioning why you live abroad (which I have experienced, as well) is just as bad. The arrogance is simply breathtaking.

    Sorry. Hope you enjoy your visit.

  4. It’s absolutely inappropriate for border guards to tell you that you’re making questionable (to them) decisions. They have no idea how much courage it takes to do what you’re doing!

    It is hard to be in that limbo though, I know – I wrote about that just after the Fourth of July and from all the comments I got it seems that you and I are not alone in feeling this way!

  5. First off, love the fact that there were frozen dinners in the hotel that you could microwave (even if they were just Lean Cuisine).

    Sorry to hear that all the paperwork is such a headache. I am friends with a couple from New York, who came over on work visa’s and have been here long enough to apply for citizenship. It seems like just a lot of things to get sorted in order to make it happen. I am going to be applying for citizenship in October and have just started to gather all the necessary paperwork.

    Hope you have a good conference!

  6. I came here in August 2006 on a work visa and am just applying for my ILR and all that jazz as well. I have, however, acquired an English husband and family in that time and do tend to use it as a fall back for why I’m still staying out of the country. Although I do say that I love it here. I call both places home. There are things I miss (drive-through ATMs! Amazon.com! Full-sized parking spaces! Right-turn on read! Amy’s Organic ready meals! All convenience things…), here I enjoy the reserved countryside, ability to walk anywhere I need to go, the consciousness of one’s environment (physical and social) and (my common jest) the ability to hop to Italy for the weekend. I’m not sure I could go back. Hrm. I definitely stand out here, but not sure I would fit in there either.

    I don’ t mind these questions from the border guards, I understand that they are proud of where they are and where they live, and I love it too – I just happen to love other stuff now as well! The thing that REALLY irritates me is when they question my travelling habits. In response to “Why have you made so many trips to the Middle East?” is “Have you been there? It is gorgeous and the food is AMAZING!”

    Have a good trip – hopefully the weather is a bit more welcoming to you than it has been the last week or so!! (After my recent May visit to the US – I am now a delicate flower! 95 degree days kicked my butt!!!)

  7. Great post, I couldn’t agree more! Especially And I don’t have the “married to an Englishman” excuse, which seems to me to be far more easily understood by the world compared with the “have a job in England” reality of my life. — YES.

  8. Wow – I’m amazed that the immigration people would give you such grief. Being an American and a British citizen, I have never experienced anything like that when entering either country, although I was grilled slightly this summer as to why two of my children were flashing UK passports when entering the UK, and the 3rd child was on the American passport. The individual had the grace to look somewhat apologetic when I told him that the British Embassy in DC were about 9 weeks late in getting his new passport back to me.

  9. I spent three years in France a number of years ago(full disclosure; I was in the U.S. Army for two of them). At the time, I spoke fluent French, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. But, and this is the point of my comment, when I returned to the US it took me a few weeks .to get used to the Land of the Round Doorknobs; I had become acculturated to the French way of life, I had to get used to strangers calling me by my first name after two minutes of knowing me, and so forth, but after a short time I was right back in the groove.

    • The Land of the Round Doorknobs! How funny! How true!!

      I don’t know what the construction style in France is, but compared to the brick-built nature of the UK, my husband refers to the US as the land of plywood houses.

      NFAH – hope your immgration mess is sorting itself out!!

  10. In February I returned to live in England after 40 plus years in the US. Lost my job in 2009 and was forced into early retirement. My family is here but even so it was a bit stressful for the first 3 months or so as I reacclimated. When I lived there my English accent always peeked through, and here my American brougue is evident. I am happy to be back but miss many things, not the least of which are my friends. A couple of years ago I read about a Greek man who went to the US young, stayed through his working life and then retired to Greece. In America he was referred to as the Greek, and in Greece he is now referred to as the American, and I figure that’s how it will be for me. Good luck in finalizing your British residency, I wish I could find an American expat group in the “wilds” of Norfolk as I do miss so many things, especially cleaning products!

  11. I think there should be a mandatory period both Brits and ‘Mericans spend abroad, every US citizen I’ve met had a far more mature and educated view of the world than any I’ve met while working in the States. I admit I’m biased towards England (a child of both countries) as well as being a firm believer in the Atlantic alliance.

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