September 04 2006
-Where were you born?
Near Rochester, NY, USA
-In which country and city are you living now?
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I moved here alone, but now live with a charming Englishman.
-How long have you been living in England?
Nearly 7 years
-What is your age?
40, if you must know
-When did you come up with the idea of living in England?
I work in a field that is so specialised that I don't have a lot of choice where I live if I want to do what I like to do for a living. I had previously moved to South Africa for work, then to Texas (the most foreign place of all). A job in Brighton came up that was much more appealing than the one in Texas, so I applied and got it.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
When a company in the UK wants to hire a foreigner, they do all the paperwork. So they did all the work, and I was given a 4-year work visa. As that was coming to an end, I applied for and got 'leave to stay indefinitely' (permanent residency). I've recently applied for citizenship, since as an American I am horrified by the notion of 'taxation without representation.' Americans are allowed to keep American citizenship even if they've become a citizen elsewhere.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
Britain has nationalised health care, and I was accepted straight onto it. I have a chronic illness and have had wonderful treatment for it here--which in some ways has made me realise how over-treated I was in the US, presumably because there, health-care involves making profits and avoiding litigation as much as it involves caring for people.
-How do you make your living in England? Do you have any type of income generated?
My job was advertised on an international e-mail list for linguists. The only problem in applying was that I had to interview by teleconference, and the people doing the interview didn't think to ask me before arranging to use my then-current employer's teleconference suite. I hadn't yet told them that I was planning to break my contract and leave! I thought the interview went very badly, but happily they offered me the job later the same day.
-What are your thoughts on the English language differences that you had to adjust to?
Because I had lived in South Africa for four years, I already knew a lot of the basic 'Briticisms' that I'd need in everyday life--like 'lift' for 'elevator' or that the 'first floor' is the first one above ground level. Still, I learn new things about British English (and American English!) everyday, and that's the subject of my blog, Separated by a Common Language.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I miss family and friends and certain things about the US, but not in a way that makes me unhappy here. There are some very inexpensive phone plans, which make it cheaper for me to phone New York from the UK than it was to phone from Texas. I get back at least once a year for a two or three week stay and sometimes people come and visit me here. The saddest thing is not being able to see the day-to-day changes as my niece and nephews grow up, and it's hard when I'm too far away to help when people are ill or unhappy at home.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
One of the best things about living in the UK is the proximity to all of Europe. I'm about to go to Paris for a long weekend, which involves about as much travel as would be involved in going to Pittsburgh from my hometown. But isn't it more exciting to go to Paris? Yes!
I've also started some joint projects with people at Swedish universities, and so have begun to learn Swedish and try to practice it whenever I can. I'm hoping that I might be able to go on an exchange there for a term or two in the future.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We just bought our first home in January. For a three-bedroom basement flat in a Regency-era building in the centre of town, we paid about five times what my brother paid for a five-bedroom house with lots of land and a pool in rural New York State. Property is ridiculously expensive here.
-What is the cost of living in England?
Very high--higher than most of Europe (except Scandinavia). But if you're earning British pounds, then it doesn't feel so bad as it feels when tourists come and find that everything costs several times more than they'd expect it to. When we go to the US, it feels like the whole country is on a half-price sale.
-What do you think about the English people?
People are generally warm and knowledgeable about the rest of the world and accustomed to having foreigners in their lives. There are definitely some xenophobes around, and their xenophobia seems to be thinly veiled racism. Older, more conservative people have more than once said to me that they didn't like that the country lets in so many immigrants. To which I reply, "Well, they let me in, so I'm grateful", and they reply, "Oh when I say 'immigrant' I don't mean YOU." But such stories aside, in the cities, at least, it's pretty unremarkable to be a foreigner.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in England?
The British always laugh when I say that the National Health Service and public transport are my favourite things about Britain, since these services are rather pathetic compared to some European systems. But then I explain that where I lived in Texas the train only came twice a week, and only the well-employed get decent healthcare, and they can see my point. Another thing I love is that everyone seems to have passions and hobbies. Get a Brit talking about their interest--whether it's darts or birdwatching or dj'ing or trainspotting or running a comedian's fan club--and you're in for a treat.
The biggest negative is the cost of housing. The weather isn't thrilling, but at least it's not (usually) severe either. Summer is far too short. The things I really miss are the little things: electrical sockets in the bathroom, window screens, and sticks of butter with measurements printed on the wrapping--makes baking so much easier!
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in England?
Enjoy! Do volunteer work, take a course or join a special-interest club in order to meet and mix with lots of local people. I think it's especially important to mix with people from all age groups. Take advantage of all the cultural offerings--theatre, concerts, museums. There's a lot of free or inexpensive entertainment around.
Resist any temptation, until you're well-established in the new place at least, to complain about the country or say that your home country is better. That won't make you any friends and will only make you more miserable in your homesickness. Instead, look for the things that you like about the place and try to see the situation from the local point of view.
I suppose these tips work for any country. UK-specific, I'd say: Check out CyberCandy (shops in London and Brighton, plus Internet sales at www.cybercandy.co.uk). They have sweets from all over the world, which is just the trick when you're feeling low and need a taste from your childhood.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about England?
A lot of expats read my blog, Separated by a Common Language, and leave comments--I don't want to hurt any of their feelings by leaving any of their blogs out! There are tons of great resources out there.