-Where were you born?
San Francisco, California, USA
-In which country and city are you living now?
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live with my American husband.
-How long have you been living in England?
Almost three years.
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in England?
My husband was offered a job here and he initially refused it, as we were in the process of buying a house in California. However, the deal for the house began to sour so we reconsidered moving to London. After a lot of discussion about our future plans and a strong desire to do some travelling before we settled down, we took a leap and moved to England!
-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?
No, this is often the biggest hurdle for people and we were lucky. Since my husband's employer wanted to send him to their London office, they sponsored a work permit for him and because we're married, I qualified for a similar visa stemming from his, as a "dependent". I am free to work anywhere in the UK, until the visa expires (in which case we will have our visas renewed).
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
It wasn't. I brought in proof of my home address in my name (I brought in a bank statement, though a utility or mobile phone bill will do) and photo ID (passport) and was able to register with my local GP. I wasn't at all questioned about my visa status. (If you are asked, it's actually a peculiar question and you should challenge it.)
-How do you make your living in England?
It took me longer than I expected to find a job here. This city seems to be full of people just like me, from all over the world, all going after the same jobs. Don't underestimate the size of London! I just kept sending out CV's, meeting recruiters, registering with agencies, going on a ton of interviews and finally landed something.
It took about four to five weeks of active searching. I've worked in a few jobs now since moving here and now have a little network of contacts and references for future jobs.
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
Well, I speak English which helps (of course). I think the fact that so many people around the world watch American television and films makes it easy to be understood, though I do have to remember to speak more slowly and enunciate. When I do that, I've been told I have "an accent" by fellow Americans. Ha!
But despite sharing a language, there is a big cultural difference between the UK and the US. Speaking the same language definitely doesn't guarantee seamless communication. It's important to pay close attention to what people say (as well as what you say) and learn the British English vernacular.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I do miss home and am sad to not seeing my nieces grow up or not seeing my parents as often. I also miss driving and the one-stop shopping that is so common in the US (I miss Target!). The feeling comes and goes. There are moments I cannot imagine moving away from London and moments when I am dying to go back home.
-What do you think about the locals? (also how they treat foreigners)
It's interesting. I sometimes feel that some of my English peers are xenophobic or quick to generalise/insult people from other countries (i.e. what's wrong with the Irish, the Americans, the French, etc), or even their own country (North vs South England, North vs South London, etc). There is very much an "Us versus Them" mentality which I have to wonder, given England's place in history, if that should not be surprising. Another interesting thing is a lot of the English I've met haven't seen any more of the world than the average American has.
But all of that could be said of many people all over the world (it even exists in liberal and "tolerant" San Francisco!). I suppose this means despite cultural differences, people are essentially the same.
Anyway, besides all of that, I love English people, esp. outside of London. They are often so friendly, interested in conversation and they're not plagued with fear or wariness. They say "Sorry" a lot, too which I really appreciate! (I'm used to people in the US trying to instigate a fight or calling people names if they are accidentally bumped into on the street.)
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in England?
1) London is very international and with so many transient people, many are open to make new friends or just have a chat with a stranger. I've learned a lot about different countries and met a lot of interesting individuals.
2) Pubs on every corner! Full of happy, chatty people.
3) Extensive public transit, whether by tube, bus or train. People have complaints but overall it's an amazing system.
4) Proximity to the rest of Europe as well as Africa and the Middle East! You can be in Amsterdam in 45-minutes, Rome in about 2-hours, Egypt in about 5-hours...incredible.
5) I feel safer here (careful, but safe) than I do back home, especially considering London is such a major city.
1) Customer service (for things like home utilities, NHS or in shops) is often seriously lacking. Makes American customer service look amazing.
2) Some people here loooove insulting Americans. After three years, the shtick is growing old on me but unless someone is really nasty, it's all about "having a laugh"! Just be prepared to be the butt of jokes. Often. Also, know that anything negative said about Americans can just as easily be applied back to the British, i.e. "stupid", "fat", and (surprisingly!) improper pronunciation. Only one word is needed to demonstrate this: "anyfink".
3) A lot of terrible American tv shows thrive here. Oh, and the good shows aren't on until weeks later than they are in the states!
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about the United Kingdom?
When I first moved here I found a ton of sites about travel in the UK with all the typical tourist tips and suggestions. Not useful for me. I had a hard time finding information about living in the UK (where to shop for housewares, best places for groceries, what to expect from the NHS, etc) that was all in one spot, so I've set up a site aimed at helping new American expats: http://lettersfromwhom.com.
My goal is to help new expats sort out the necessities of life in the UK. It's not all about Queen's English, clotted cream and tea here. Ok, there is a lot about tea, but the rest may surprise you in how different it is from home.