November 15 2006
-Where were you born?
-In which country and city are you living now?
I live in a very small village in the rural fringe around London, England.
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live with my (English) wife and our three children.
-How long have you been living in England?
We’ve been living in our current home about 10 years, but I’ve been in England for about 13.
-What is your age?
Forty-…(cough… sorry, frog in my throat.)
-When did you come up with the idea of living in England?
I initially came over here to do an MBA at the London Business School. When I graduated I got a job and met my wife in remarkable time. I’ve been here ever since.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
There is still a back door for us “Colonials” who have British-born parents or grandparents. My maternal grandmother was Scottish, so I breezed in. Technically I’ve been here long enough to apply for citizenship, but the paperwork is staggering in complexity and I just can’t be bothered, really.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
Given I had immediate residency, once the first six months were over I was eligible for the National Health Service cover.
-How do you make your living in England? Do you have any type of income generated?
Work here has never been an issue for me. Working in technology management, particularly in the Web, I’m in the lucky position of having the skills, experience and education that make me marketable. I’m generally approached every couple of months with offers.
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I think it was Shaw who said England and America are two countries divided by a common language. Though I’m from Canada, the quote holds true. The idioms, constant jokes, and differing terms for the same thing even now sometimes trip me up. I’m fairly well-cultured now, my wife says she doesn’t hear my accent anymore, but sometimes it hits home that I learned a different kind of English.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Frequently. I miss my parents and sisters terribly sometimes, though we’re spread out all over the world. Still, my life is here, so carry on.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
We occasionally talk about moving to Canada. I’d like the kids to know real wilderness, not this tamed, well-walked European variety. Plus, life is just friendly back there. I suspect we will move at some point, maybe when the kids are in their teens, but not yet. We’re well-settled and comfortable.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We own our home. It’s a big old 1930’s place surrounded by farm land. Property in England is absurdly expensive now, but we were lucky we bought at a time when it was relatively cheap.
-What is the cost of living in England?
Very expensive. I long ago stopped converting prices back into Canadian dollars as it was too depressing. The same thing costs far more than the exchange rate should allow. Brits are too complacent about how they’re ripped off with the prices of things.
-What do you think about the English people?
The Brits are a funny breed. Though reserved they are usually quite warm and friendly quickly after you meet them. Particularly if you follow the norms, go down the pub, talk about the weather, continually crack jokes, you fit in easily.
However, there is this deep-rooted antagonism to anyone foreign. Even now, with people I’ve known more than a decade, I can be the butt of jokes because of where I was born. The Brits use humour as an armor to defend any perceived weakness in their culture. Hell, they use humour all the time. Though Canadians are culturally very close in terms of humour, it sometimes starts to grate the way it’s used all the time.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in England?
It is such a culturally rich country. You can’t turn without hitting something historic, and the art, architecture, music and literature scenes are amongst the most vibrant in the world. I love the pervasive culture of news. The different papers, the BBC, all the magazines, the Brits are potentially the most knowledgeable in the world about the world. Plus, despite the bad press, I would hold up English produce and cuisine to any in the world.
Yet strengths can be weaknesses. As a rule Brits can be very arrogant. They see themselves as the chosen people. They would never describe themselves that way, Brits are culturally unable to appear to be serious about anything (see comments on humour above). Yet they are, and that can be wearying after a while.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in England?
Living in England is very easy in many ways. Don't expect a lot of living quarters for your money, but public transport is excellent, and food does not need to be expensive if you know where to shop. That doesn't mean the big supermarkets, though they can have bargains; use the Internet and find the few remaining local shops. These tend to specialise in local English produce and can be a real bargain. Cultural events are often free or heavily subsidised.
For getting to know the locals, the local pub is a fine bet. There are strict unspoken rules about taking turns for paying for a round of drinks. Don't be eager and offer to do the first, but if you're empty always offer to pay for the rest of the table when you refill. Never tip a barman, once you get to know him, offer to buy a drink for him. He may take it as money, or a drink, his choice. Crack jokes, religiously. They don't have to be good, but never take yourself or anyone around you seriously...
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about England?
Boy on Top