Clinging On, Letting Go … and Reconnecting

Over at Pond Parley’s, Toni and Mike had an interesting discussion the other day about ex-pat language. Toni is a Brit living in America, and Mike is an American living in Britain. Both have found that there are words and inflections they have adopted without hesitation while other habits are harder to break.

As Toni says:

Some words you have to adopt if communication is your thing: the bonnet of the car becomes the hood, as the boot becomes the trunk. Same with baby paraphernalia – not many Americans know the words dummy and nappy (at least in the baby sense) so pacifier and diaper it is. School has been like an immersion course in Chinese, with recess instead of playtime or break, semesters and commencements, not to mention having to remember that high school kids go Freshman, Sophomore, Junior then Senior.

That got me thinking – not just about language, but about all the things we have dropped since leaving England, and the things we have hung on to.

We almost immediately stopped worrying about British political developments – after all, we had enough to worry about here what with George Bush and all – and became deeply immersed in American politics. We adopted American eating habits (as our waist lines can testify) and for a long time, I stopped drinking tea, which for a British person is like stopping breathing. I lost track of my beloved Leeds United and instead fell in love with the grace and romanticism of baseball.

But there are other things we held on to – British TV for example. In the early years, our families would send over VHS tapes filled with the latest period dramas or comedies. Then it was DVDs. For Christmas we’d get a season of The Royle Family or The Office. But since we discovered the joys of illegal downloads, people just shoot an email when they see something they like and we can usually watch it that same evening. (I saw both seasons of Downton Abbey on the same day my mum did, and I’m now salivating for the Christmas special while friends here don’t even get season two until January).

And because we’ve been able to see all these shows, our sense of humor hasn’t become entirely American – more bilingual if that makes sense. My British friends hate the American version of The Office, but I love it. They never got Seinfeld, but I think it’s one of the best shows ever. But likewise, our American friends struggle with British comedians. One poor guy sat through an hour of Peter Kay once and I thought his brain was going to start bleeding.

It’s this being in between that’s both the challenge and the joy of being an ex-pat. You are always slightly on the outside looking in, always a tad bemused by something or other. Always importing something to make things feel more like home. And of course, when we go back, we’ll have the same problem but in reverse. After 22 years away, we’ll be foreigners all over again. It will be exciting, scary, thrilling, intimidating, tiring and exhilarating I’m sure.

But at least we’ll have Peter Kay!


7 thoughts on “Clinging On, Letting Go … and Reconnecting

    • Really? I love him so much! (Peter Kay, not your husband ;-))

      But I suppose that’s true of everything I cited. I’m sure there are Americans who don’t like Seinfeld, or don’t laugh at the American Office. But in general those things have more resonance with Americans than with Brits and likewise for Peter Kay or Alan Partridge with Brits.

  1. There’s a new Peter Kay DVD out this Christman, his first stand up for over 8 years, it’s a one off he did so it’s called “The Tour that didn’t Tour!”

    One highlight is when he talks about the Nintendo Wii “I never thought I’d see my 89 year old gran surfing!”

    And he announces “it’s good to be back on nights!”

  2. Most of my friends here wouldn’t have a clue what Peter Kay was talking about. They wouldn’t get past the accent, for starters.

    I like your general point. Yes, in a different culture you gain new humour, but you also miss the old.

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