October 20 2006
-Where were you born?
Northeast Louisiana, though I've lived in four other states as well, most recently New Mexico.
-In which country and city are you living now?
In the U.K., just outside London, in Buckinghamshire
-Are you living alone or with your family?
With my family, including a teenage daughter, sometimes my college-aged daughter, a husband, and a dog
-How long have you been living there?
Almost exactly two years
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in England?
My husband told me there was a job here he really wanted, and I told him to forget it, I couldn't possibly move to England. I was taking care of my mother, who has a neurodegenerative illness, and working on an exciting political campaign. A few weeks later he told me he really, REALLY wanted the job, and I tried to ignore the fact that I might have to move--but I got the dog micro-chipped (the first step in a 7 month-long process to avoid quarantine), just in case.
Eventually, my candidate lost, and my aunt volunteered to look after my mom, clearing the way for me to move.
Now I can't imagine that I wasn't excited about moving here, but at the time I had other priorities.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
No, not at all, as I was treated as an accompanying spouse.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
Again, not at all. Britain has national health care, available to family members of workers here.
-How do you make your living in England? Do you have any type of income generated?
I'm a writer, so my job is wherever I am. I haven't sold anything since I've been here, however. I've been incredibly busy traveling whenever possible, and taking classes. I've also thought about writing a historical novel, something I've never been interested in before. But the opportunities for research are so plentiful here--every time I walk into a museum I feel the stories calling out to me!
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
Yes, and no! One thing I always tell people is that the differences between British English and American English extend far beyond "boot" and "nappy". I remember the plumber telling me he wanted to "pop round and have a look at the shower" after I'd told him it was leaking. I insisted it really was leaking--there was no reason to look at it, it just needed to be fixed. Turned out that was his intention, but British understatement extends even to plumbing!
I've noticed that American humor and British humour are different in more ways than the spelling. Many times I've made a joke, yet been taken seriously by a Brit, and they've done the same thing with me.
I have a quote by George Bernard Shaw, who was born in Ireland, on my blog: "The position of a foreigner with complete command of the same language has great advantages. I can take an objective view of England, which no Englishman can."
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I miss my mom, who despite her illness still remembers who I am and delights in my company. I also miss my oldest daughter, who attends university in the States. The health food stores not well stocked compared to the U.S. I find it difficult to find some of the ingredients and foods I'm used to--for instance, few people here have heard of tempeh, a soy product I like, and I import my favorite soy milk from the States.
There's lots to make up for it, however. The walking here is fantastic, with miles and miles of public footpaths, many that cross farmland, woods, royal parks, meadows, copses, and other things I thought existed only in books. Dogs are free to run off-lead almost everywhere (as long as they are reasonably under control). This is definitely the best place in the world to be a dog!
I try to find new walks, usually in the Chilterns, and go once a week or so, either with my hiking group or with my family.
There is also an abundance of places to visit--National Trust sites, historic villages, museums, gardens, castles, ancient monuments--all within an hour or so drive. There is no reason at all to ever be bored here!
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I hope to take more classes, either at Oxford University, where they offer continuing ed classes to the public, or at the local WEA, which I can walk to. I'm currently taking a class on The Tudors and will start an online class on historical research soon.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We are fortunate to have a housing allowance, which allows us to rent a nice house. Many ex-pats who work for American corporations have an "ex-pat package" which includes housing and education for their children. Otherwise, housing and education costs here would be unaffordable for most Americans. Our five-bedroom home rents for about five times as much as our home in New Mexico, and a private school costs about the same as a college education in the States. On the other hand, a university education costs much less.
-What is the cost of living in England?
London is one of the most expensive cities in the world, and the rest of southern England is likewise very expensive. There are some bargains: tea, not surprisingly! Expect to see prices that are the same as in the States, only with a pound sign instead of a dollar sign. This makes everything cost roughly twice as much, depending on the exchange rate. Petrol, however, is about 99p a litre—almost four times what you'd pay in the States!
-What do you think about the English people?
This is the first place I've moved to where my neighbors actually came over the first day and introduced themselves. While British people are more reserved in general, once you speak to them they are usually quite talkative, as if they've been waiting for someone to open up!
However, there is a dark side. I've heard many comments from locals who resent the "foreigners"--but by this they mean dark-skinned foreigners, from Asian countries like Pakistan. I find that incredibly racist, even growing up in the South as I did. I think England has a long way to go in its race relations, unfortunately.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in England?
I love the history here--and the fact that it's everywhere, just waiting to be explored. There's a place called Minster Lovell in the Cotswolds that I love to go to. It's an English Heritage site, but there is no admission charge--it isn't considered particularly noteworthy to the Brits, but I love the old ruined manor house, sitting on the banks of the River Windrush. It's my favorite place in England.
Alternatively, living in a country the size of Pennsylvania, and with 60 million residents, is quite a change from living in New Mexico, with its 1.5 million! The traffic is terrible, especially in the summer, and public transport is expensive and inconvenient. We've also found our house to be terribly energy inefficient, but it's actually considered pretty advanced here, as it does have some insulation!
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in England?
Try to take a class, especially on a topic you can't learn anywhere else. I've learned about the history of London, the Normans, and now the Tudors, while at the same time being able to observe the locals--as George Bernard Shaw said, while speaking the same language! For instance, I was interested in the native Brits' attitudes toward William of Normandy and his "divine right" to be king. Such a concept is alien to me, but they accepted that William was right to take the crown from poor Harold!
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about England?
I have a blogroll on my site, What Do I Know, called "Food's Not Great But The Blog's Good" (which pokes fun at the fact that my other blogrolls have food-related titles). There's a mix of sites there, political, humorous, personal, etc. I also have a blogroll called "My Fellow Americans" that features ex-pats living here.