Posted by Laura Parsons on March 7th, 2016.
Earlier this year we asked expats, former expats and travellers from around the world to send us their observations about life overseas in the style of Scott Walters’ infamous Facebook Post…
On life in the UK…
We got some fantastic responses to our calls for contributions and the below are five of our favourites!
Meghan is an American expat and mother of three, currently living in the UK with her British husband. She’s the author of Bringing Up Brits: Expat parents raising cross-cultural kids in Britain, runs the highly popular expat parents blog Bringing Up Brits and (if that doesn’t sound tiring enough!) she’s also the director of design and marketing company Shake It Up Creative Ltd.
5 observations of what life is like in the UK…
• When someone tells you “we could do that” or “I’ll think about that” they actually mean “I’m never ever in a million years going to ever do that or think about that.” It takes a while to work this out and involves a lot of waiting and wondering and lowering of expectations.
• Conforming to the British children’s birthday party tradition of wrapping pieces of cake up in a napkin and putting them inside party bags has got to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I still have no idea why parents think a soggy piece of cake with remnants of napkin all over it is more appealing than eating the cake with ice cream while still at the party.
• When you say pants in front of children who don’t realise you mean trousers, they double over with laughter or turn red with embarrassment (and note the replacement of s for z in realise – this happens after living here for more than several years and there is nothing you can do to prevent it).
• I sometimes unintentionally offend people. And then I unintentionally offend them even more by asking them to talk to me about it so that I can fix what I’ve (unknowingly) done. That is an example of a ‘very British problem’. I’m getting pretty good at sussing out the type of behaviour that unintentionally offends people. Such as speaking to a person when they do not know me. I now know that I have to gauge if the situation allows for such an interaction. If we’re standing in a queue then that is OK. Asking for directions is OK. Speaking to the person sitting next to you on the train is mostly not OK. Saying hi to someone you pass in the street if you do not know them is mostly not OK. And so on and so forth.
• For about 8 months of the year, most people don’t spend much time outside. Then the sun comes out and we all marvel at the beauty of such an incredible country. It is truly a stunning place to live – for 4 months of the year!
Chris Nedahl lives in Arboleas, Spain. She is a member of Writers Abroad, an online community of expat writers. As well as being published in a number of anthologies, Chris is currently busy writing for the next WA magazine due out in May.
My observations on life in Spain…
• Every morsel of animal, fish and fowl is consumed.
• Ask a question and get the answer – don’t expect further information.
• They have a mid-level of conversation somewhere between chat and full blown argument.
• All conversation is loud.
• Kindness seems inbred.
Mark emigrated from the UK to the US in 2011 for work and has since met and married a US citizen. While the couple love life in Wisconsin, they plan to move back to the UK later this year to start their family.
Things I’ve noticed while living in the US…
• There’s no such thing as a small portion – If you want a small portion, ask for a kids meal. Even then, expect to be presented with a delicious food mountain.
• Everybody tips – Good service, bad service, food, drinks, haircuts, door opening, parking… you tip for everything. Either have a constant cash supply for tips or be prepared to offend people.
• Waiting staff are always friendly – I guess this goes hand in hand with the tipping culture but I’ve yet to come across a waiter/waitress who wasn’t 80% smile and didn’t seem genuinely pleased to serve you.
• Everything is bigger – meals, shops, parks, funfairs, hotels, cinemas, literally everything’s on a bigger (dare I say better?) scale in the US.
• Americans are proud to be American – I’m proud to be British, but national pride is on another level in the US. If you don’t know the national anthem you’re the exception to the rule, and the American flag is flown all over the place.
Nicola is a writer and Life Coach who’s lived in Spain for the last 13 years. While she loves her adopted homeland, she still gets frustrated by the differences over a decade later. Nicola has plans to travel further in the future, taking a camper van through Europe and writing about the people/places she encounters. While we initially asked for five observations from each contributor, we liked Nicola’s enthusiasm about life in Spain!
My observations about life in Spain…
• Spanish people find politeness annoying.
• Alcohol is consumed to accompany food, not to drown yourself in.
• In the summer you are at risk of being sectioned if you don’t take a siesta between 2 and 4.
• Every summer in Spain is warmer than the last and every winter colder.
• If you arrange for a builder or delivery person to come to your house before 9am you have no chance of it happening.
• If you go out for a meal or drink before 10pm in the summer, you’ll be sat on your own.
• After a meal you must beg for the bill and be expected to wait up to 2 hours for it to arrive.
• In the supermarket you will see twenty checkouts but only 2 will be open.
• No matter how many people there are on the beach you will be expected to share your towel with someone you don’t know.
• Everyone will say “Hello” to you.
• You will adopt a dog or cat within a week of moving to Spain, even if you don’t like animals.
• Roundabouts are a source of confusion, a daily topic of conversation and will always make you swear like a trooper.
• You will never understand your electric bill, but you won’t care because you won’t ever have to pay council tax.
• The police stop work at 10am to visit the local bar for coffee and brandy.
• However hard you try to get official documents you will always have something else to present.
• You will never be able to stop the sun from shining 🙂
Alexandra is 36 and, due to her career as a Journalist and Political Analyst, a serial expat. Whilst initially from Romania, she currently lives in Canada. She says of living abroad; ‘I love to travel, to discover new cultures, new people, new traditions and to have new, great experiences!’
Alexandra spent time in Vienna, Austria, back in 2006 and these are her observations about the city.
• A very clean city.
• Very polite and friendly people.
• A great culture.
• Amazing museums and parks.
• Great music at the Vienna Opera House.
We’d like to say a big thank you to Meghan, Chris, Mark, Nicola and Alexandra for their contributions. We hope you enjoyed reading about their experiences of life overseas as much as we did.
If you’d like to share your own observations, let us know on Facebook or Twitter and use the hashtag #livingabroad!
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