Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cultural Differences, Part One

Recently, I had a conversation about my blog - and blogging in general - with a friend who is a professional writer and whose judgement on all things creative I trust implicitly.  I bemoaned the lack of expat posts on my blog.  She agreed that my blog has been taken over by fashion and food, which isn't bad in and of itself, but she pointed out that a lot of people (well, it's all relative!) do read my blog for my observations on London/UK life.  She encouraged me to write about situations in which I've perceived or interpreted things differently than my English peers by virtue of my nationality and to think about experiences I've had that mark me as an American in a foreign land.

Well, Nikki, let me tell you this: I'm trying!  I'm trying, and I will try harder, but I'm actually really struggling with this.  I'm having a difficult time identifying situations in which cultural differences flare up and/or experiences in which I feel strongly "other."

I have a few theories as to why this is - and they all make me sound incredibly arrogant.  So let me apologize prior to sharing them: I'm sorry.  I'm really not a pretentious t-word, I promise!  (You Brits know of what "t-word" I'm speaking, but I don't want to offend my American readers - please understand that, in America, the t-word is a vulgar term for... um... female genitalia... whereas in England it's just a casual insult.  Oh, hey, look: a cultural difference!  Success already!)

Anyway.  The theories.

Theory 1:  I'm not new to living abroad.  I spent eight months as a student and chomeuse in Paris when I was 20 and I studied for my MA in London for eleven months when I was 22.  Therefore, I'm used to experiencing cultural differences and have made myself somewhat immune to them.  I think that you sort of have to let any difficulties you may have adjusting to a new place roll off your back because if you give in to them you'll make it harder for yourself to assimilate.  Easier said than done, I know, but I don't really have the patience to put up a fight against assimilation - which brings us to:

Theory 2:  I desperately want to assimilate to an English way of life.  I think I try not to notice cultural differences because they make me feel foreign and other, and I'm trying so hard to go native.  I'm not ashamed of being American at all; in fact, I love being American and I certainly do miss home, but at the same time I've very much looking forward to not being identified as a long-term tourist - which brings us to:

Theory 3:  I'm not a long-term tourist.  I have a visa, I have a job, I have a flat, I have a boyfriend.  I live here.  Any cultural differences I run into will just have to be folded into the learning curve of moving somewhere new.  And that is, ultimately, how I view this whole experience.  I have moved somewhere new.  It happens to be across an ocean, yes, where people have [insert adjective here] accents and rabidly follow the antics of WAGS and believe in a monarchy, but, honestly, if I moved to Boston or Seattle or Houston I'd probably still discover cultural differences.

So there.  Those are my theories.  I will keep trying to note down the cultural differences I run into, but please do be understanding when you find those parts few and far between! - Let's remember this Thanksgiving that you spell it tomato and I spell it tomato


  1. I know what you mean... but surely there are times when you think, hrm... Mine usually revolve around food - just today I went to buy vinegar, regular old vinegar, but had to settle for malt vinegar because it looked the closest to what I wanted. Not sure if it's right though! I also find that I unlock the cultural differences when I think of NYC; I was so in love with the city when I left that when I starting falling for London it was realizing those differences that really got me to the point of thinking about and analyzing the differences between the US and UK. I look forward to reading what you come up with!

  2. "honestly, if I moved to Boston or Seattle or Houston I'd probably still discover cultural differences."

  3. Yes. All of this. In some ways I also fear that I am "scared" to identify as an expat because it will hold me back. I've found that it creates a us vs them constant comparison mentality which makes you sad in the long run. Of course, it's amusing and important to identify and discuss cultural differences ...but.... how can it be beneficial to constantly compare one country to another? x


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