One of the things we’ll have to sort out for our return is a temporary rental until we can find a more permanent place. This isn’t as easy as it sounds because we’ll have 3 cats with us, so the usual corporate rentals and hotels won’t accept us. And because we want to live in the countryside rather than a city, and because the particular area we’re headed for is very much in demand, it’s even harder.
But I did find a place – a lovely holiday cottage just 10 minutes from Kendal that accepts pets and rents out for up to 8 weeks in the winter (a rarity with English holiday cottages who usually won’t rent for any more than 2 weeks at a time). Oh joy! We won’t need it for 18 months or so, but I’d like to have it sorted out well in advance.
Filled with enthusiasm, I wrote to the email address on the website, explained our situation and told her how excited I was to have found the cottage. And then I waited and waited for a reply. When none came, I followed up with a second email. This time she wrote back saying she would see what she could offer us and get back to me. Oh yay! So I wrote back saying thanks and how much it would mean to us, and how much we were looking forward to this move, thinking all that would help convince her to give us a good price. And I waited. And waited. And waited.
A few weeks have gone by now and I’ve realized she’s never going to write back to me. That genuinely surprised me. After all, I had been so enthusiastic and so nice about her cottages. Then I came across this post on the excellent blog She’s not From Yorkshire written by two Americans living in the UK. In it, the writer describes the careful steps that need to be taken when dealing with English strangers:
My female friends (English) who have met other Americans find them scary – overly enthusiastic (which they don’t trust; they think it is fake, no matter how sincere you are) and nosey. What’s natural and normal for us is alien to them and they don’t know how to take it.
And that’s when I realized. My approach was American – I was open, friendly, filled with enthusiasm, and in my very first email I told her my life plans. I thought I was just being nice, but I’ve been away so long that I forgot how aggressive my friendliness must have seemed to her.
My first few years away here were fraught with similar communication problems. One co-worker told me that the emails I sent her for the first year really upset her because she thought I was angry with her. I wasn’t angry at all – I was just communicating in the British way, short and to the point. But once she explained, I could see it from the other perspective. And I have no idea how many times my attempts at humor fell horribly flat – or worse, offended someone.
So over the years you learn to adapt. You make your emails fluffier. You think twice about that sarcastic comment. And lo and behold, 16 years go by and you fit right in. So much so that you screw up your communication with English people!
So the hunt for a short-term rental continues and meantime I bought this book to help me adjust again. One thing is for sure – my next email to the UK will be short, impersonal and completely free of exclamation points.