As we’ve told more and more people about our plan to return to the UK, Phil and I have been talking about the difficulty of answering this question.
It usually comes up when you tell people back home, because they think England is rubbish and everywhere else is better/more glamorous/sunnier/warmer etc etc. This national penchant for negativity is why Australians call us “whingeing poms.” (I imagine the big influx of English immigrants to Australia in the 1960s must have been like a big black cloud arriving on a sunny day).
And the question “why?” often comes from Americans who have the opposite attitude to their country, believing it to be the best place in the world, the place everyone else wants to be, and therefore being a bit surprised to hear that you don’t agree.
I told Phil that I use a shortcut answer: “friends and family.” It’s easy to say and everyone gets it instantly. It also has the added benefit of being true. It’s only part of the story, but I haven’t found a way to tell the other part. Until now.
I’ve been finding blogs written by people in similar situations to me – American ex-pats living in England, or Brits living in America, and I’ve found some great blogs such as Ameringlish and The Iota Quota and by following links on those blogs I got to American in Bath, which is so wonderfully written that what was going to be a quick glance turned into half an hour of reading old posts, and I came across this explanation of why “American in Bath” chooses England as her home:
The Tuesday before I flew back to the States, I found a benign growth in my right breast. What I felt was annoyance. I’d been to the GP on the Monday for a referral for knee surgery. I really didn’t want to spend another morning at the doctor’s office. Despite the fact that I knew from experience what I was feeling, I was aware that as a matter of course the thing needed to be poked, smooshed, and ultrasounded to confirm its status as a non-threat to life. My second reaction was sheer relief that this time I wouldn’t not doing this in America.
I do not want to live in a system that does not see good, timely healthcare as a human right. I reject a system which prioritizes share prices above human life. I can live without miles of branded laundry detergent. I, single and without children, want to live in a country that sees the need for a parent to be with a child in its first year. I want to support a system which sees the difficulties caring for a loved one presents and which makes that possible. I want to work in a system which requires me to rest and insists on liveable pay. I want the women who surround me to not worry about estrogen in the food chain. And I want cows and sheep roaming in my countryside. I want my neighbors to see the unfairness of the world in which they live rather than labeling their underemployed brethren as failures.
This is the part that you can’t explain to anyone. It’s hard to explain it to Americans who haven’t known any other system and many of whom culturally object to government assistance. And it’s impossible to explain it to Brits, who can’t conceive of a world without government assistance (and whose favorite pastime is complaining about how inadequate what they have is). But whether or not anyone else understands, that description perfectly sums up how I have come to feel about the two countries and why I am choosing one over the other. In making that choice, I am giving things up, as is the case with any choice – choosing one thing automatically means giving up something else – but as I get older my priorities have changed. I choose England now.
Another ex-pat told me that when you tell your plans to someone back home and they ask “why on earth would you want to do that?,” the easiest response is to say: “Have you ever lived in another country? No? Well, there you are then.”
Maybe I’ll try that out if “friends and family” doesn’t do the trick.