Monday, July 8, 2013

Commenting on Cultural Differences


Last week, Belinda wrote a lovely post on who and where she'll be in five years; one of her points was that she imagines she'll still identify as an expat.  I wrote her a long comment saying, basically, that I think there's a difference between still considering yourself an expat and still experiencing life as an expat. Honestly, although you never completely get over being homesick or missing the way things are done back home when you live abroad, the feeling of not belonging goes away much faster than most people expect.  Yes, it's a total pain that the English don't really believe in tumbledryers and yes, it would be lovely to have air conditioning when the mercury rises.  But they don't, and at a certain point, even though you'll never stop being an expat, the differences just become a way of life.

I've loved answering your questions about these diferences, though, and it's tons o' fun to explore them with you. Admittedly, some are easier to navigate than others and we can be lighthearted when talking about things like how surviving winter in England takes mental fortitude that you just don't need in most of the United States regardless of how much colder it actually gets in America.  But blogging about other differences requires much more diplomacy and I'm sometimes nervous to share my experiences and observations with you because, no matter how long I have lived or will live in England, I will always be an expat in these instances.

It's tricky to comment on cultural differences of a political nature - remember my post on the gathering of the hunt in Suffolk?  And, as you can see from the tweets above, even those of us who should know better (ahem, New York Times!) have trouble with the divisions between the countries that make up Great Britain.  So I've been loath to answer the single most common question I get from non-UK readers who are curious about life in England...

Does the class system really still exist?

I've never blogged about this before, so let me answer in a word: yes.  Obviously I've never experienced the British class system as a native Briton has, though I did have a horrible anti-immigrant experience while riding a bus through south London back in spring 2012, and so I can't truly understand it.  But it absolutely does exist and it's mindblowingly uncomfortable to watch as an outsider because there's really no blueprint for us that explains how to navigate it.  Actually, even the British themselves don't quite know what to make of the class system, which is probably why the BBC recently published a series of articles on the results of the Great British Class Survey.  If you want to see a stunningly cringe-worthy example of this, watch the below clip - and then, of course, let me know what you think in the comments here!

19 comments:

  1. Oh that clip - my goodness. It renders me almost speechless. I suppose I find some relief that no one seems to agree with her (including the vast majority in the poll along the bottom.)

    It's funny too as some of the names that she is so fervently against are perfectly respectable names in North America.... hello, TYLER? I would have never have guessed that would be a red flag. Further yet, her daughter's name is Poppy which doesn't sound particularly aristocratic to me. I suppose it shows that I should never judge a Briton on her name as my assumptions are inherently wrong ;-)



    On the blogging front, I tend to agree with you. I get really nervous when posting about life in 'enter current home country here.' I try to remind myself that my blog is about my experiences and while I try to stay away from sweeping generalizations and judgements, I do think an expat's observations can be quite enlightening. Sometimes, 'outsiders' can see things in a different light.

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  2. my favorite part of the clip is when she says that "geographical" names are trashy and then the presenters point out that she has a daughter named India! haha.

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  3. The India part is my favorite too, I watched this last week with my mouth wide open, so horrible. I also think once an expat, always an expat, and that even when you move back 'home' you have left part of yourself in the country you lived in, and unless you have experienced that it is hard to explain why it is! Also, Lee has always joked that if Murray ever won Wimbledon he would be a British hero, but every time he lost he was the Scottish player who lost. I think it is pretty true.

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  4. Hahaha - I KNOW! Apparently Brooklyn is not ok yet India is? I'm confused!

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  5. I have so much to respond to this! Sometimes you write things that make this expat go "Oh, and…!" But I'll refrain. Let's just say I had some interesting experiences moving from England to Scotland as a young girl, and that I don't think it's controversial at all to say that the UK has a class system.

    What would be more controversial is to say that the US does. It's not "systemized", but I think it is true that some Americans have more opportunities than others. I just don't think Americans like to think of their society in that way.

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  6. As we are set to become 'expats' soon, I read your blog - and posts like this - with growing interest. Thanks for 'heads up' and all of the insights.

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  7. Oh that video clip is horrific. She's making two really awful assumptions: that a child's name alone can indicate whether or not the family is working class, and once she's decided that they are indeed working class, that the child must then be lazy and no-good and un-disciplined. That's so horrifying. Can you even imagine someone taking this stance on public television in the US? I can't.

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  8. Georgia ChristakisJuly 8, 2013 at 3:58 PM

    Personally I think it's amusing that Andy Murray is British when he's winning and Scottish when he's losing- at least, according to the media over there :)

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  9. true! and you leave a part of yourself in all of the places you've lived :)

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  10. oh yay! that's so nice to hear - let me know if you have any specific questions!

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  11. not in this way, but I think you probably do hear this sort of thing parodied on SNL and the like, don't you? but no one would try to say these things with authority - it's horrifying.

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  12. oh man, I bet! I'd love to hear if you're comfortable sharing...


    and YES I agree. I think that Americans don't think we have a class system because our definition of class is based on the British system - just because our system is different doesn't mean it doesn't come down to class though! (did that make sense?)

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  13. Oh I absolutely will! I have been meaning to write a post on being a forever expat for a while, because I realized that some of the feelings of not quite fitting in reminded me of when I first moved to Scotland. I have a lot to say about British identity actually, so I'll get it out there soon. All of these UK posts are inspiring me to write the backlog I've got!

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  14. Katie Hopkins... WOW! WOW WOW WOW! Color me speechless. She needs a reality check.

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  15. WHAT A CRAZY. This whole post is fascinating, and I love talking about names in general, but it cracks me up that they don't even limit their examples to just British people. It's bad enough to judge name choices of people in your own culture, but OF COURSE people from a different country have totally different associations with names than you do! My favorite is when they named Brandon Flowers and she had all these horrible associations, when in America he's considered to be pretty wholesome as far as rock stars go.

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  16. It was only yesterday that we were having a conversation about Katie Hopkin [ugh] and the class system in the break room at work. Apparently I grew up middle class although I would never have associated myself in that way. I would still argue that I didn't.

    I have to admit, however, that working in a school means I do often judge a kid by their name

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I love reading your thoughts and suggestions! Please do leave a comment so we can get to know each other better.