But Why?

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.

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12 thoughts on “But Why?

  1. It’s such a complicated thing. I agree that “friends and family” is a good way to go, though I usually just say “family”. After all, you can make new friends wherever you are, but you can’t replace family. Sometimes I say “family and roots”.

    I loved that passage by American in Bath too. But unless you’ve lived in both countries, I’m not sure you could really understand. And to be fair to the US, I DID have breast cancer diagnosed and treated in the US, and it was (mostly) dealt with very well indeed – and (I’m guessing) much more quickly than in England.

  2. Oh I’m so glad you were treated well. Of course, that’s because you had good insurance. I live in fear of losing mine because I’m self-employed so it would be easy for them to get rid of me if I got too expensive.

    I haven’t found it all easy to replace my old friends over here. I think it’s because I’m an introvert but there are also cultural differences that I’ve never quite navigated.

  3. Thanks for the shout out! I’m really enjoying reading your blog too 🙂
    Well said. The National Health is a great asset to the UK.
    I’m always surprised when people here ask why on earth I’d want to live in England- people here are so negative about their country!

    • You know I had forgotten that about English people until we decided to make the move and then I became aware of it all over again. I was the same way too when I lived there.

      I even know one UK Ex-Pat who returned home from America and says he can feel himself getting more negative as the months go by. Has it rubbed off on you at all or are you still an optimist?

      • I think it would take a mighty army to beat the optimism out of me! It probably helps that I don’t actually have sustained interaction with many British people (other than my husband). Since we have our own business and it’s just the 2 of us I’ve probably been a bit insulated 🙂

  4. Why do we feel we have to justify our decisions? It would be so much simpler if we could just say “because that’s what the hell I’ve decided to do”. I know, it isn’t that easy.

  5. As an American living in the UK, I find it odd that you didn’t come back sooner. There are many nice things about the US, and I won’t say I’ll never end up back there, but I honestly feel sorry for people who have not experienced the UK. In truth, I could not be doing what I do now if I didn’t live in the UK, where I am subjected to that commie National Health Care system 😉

  6. Thank you so much for the shout out. I’m following you now as well. I’m looking forward to learning what you miss about the US and what comes as a breath of fresh air about the UK.

  7. Found this blog through being on British Ex-Pats forum. Number 1 reason to go back for us is the NHS. I have insurance through our business (my husband is on medicare) but it is so expensive, and I cringe at the horrors stories of people going bankrupt despite having insurance. But I am anxious to return for so many other reason too, many of which you and others have listed. Grateful that you addressed the negativity though. Having been away for 20+ years, I had forgotten that aspect, and appreciate being made aware of it ahead of time.

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