What is it like to be an American in Britain?

At first, I thought it would not be much different from the US, that it would not be too difficult to adjust. It has only been six months, so some may forgive us for not having completely settled. But we are finding some aspects very frustrating.

The language has not been a major obstacle, obviously; but at certain moments it does present a problem. There are all the colloquialisms, the jargon, pejoratives, etc., that I have never heard of. Sometimes it is the phrasing that confuses me. Another thing I have found is that the way a Briton answers questions is very different. In the US, you present a problem and even before you can frame a question, the other person delves into an answer that is all encompassing, even if the information may be superfluous. Here, the person will wait until you have asked your question and then attempt to answer it. If you have difficulty framing your question or if you think your question is implicit in your presentation of a problem, your listener may choose to look blankly at you. I don’t know if the person is purposely being obtuse or just does not want to appear foolish by answering a question that was not asked.

Driving is probably the worst issue. After driving in the US for 25 years, I will have to relearn practically everything. My husband already got his license, but it’s easier for him since he is from here (though he only started driving when he was in the US). It’s not just the traffic laws, it’s the road and driving on the other side. We thought when we moved here that we would be living near school and work. It has not turned out that way and we are driving more now than we did in the States.

Cost of living is higher in the UK and I cringe every time we get a bill or go shopping. I also had to get used to the metric system (for some things). Buying gas (petrol) by the litre rather than the gallon – and the British gallon is larger than the US gallon. I still haven’t refreshed my memory for converting Celsius and Fahrenheit.

When we imagined coming to the UK, we had a totally different perception of what it would be like. Reality never measures up to fantasy. England is no longer quaint little villages, pubs, and cosy cottages. The British culture has changed so much with the rise in immigration. In the US, we had the Mexicans. Here it is much more diverse, but Indians, Pakistanis and Eastern Europeans are probably the largest migrant groups. Sometimes I feel as if I’m not in England at all, but stuck in the middle of Southern Asia.  And I find it funny that in Britain, people referred to as Asians are Indians or Pakistanis; whereas, Orientals are those from the Orient.  In the US, they are all called Asians now because at some point in the last 10-15 years, it was non-PC to call them Oriental.

The children have settled into school, but it was difficult because of two reasons. One, they were previously home-schooled, so now they have to adjust to going to school. The other, of course, is that they are in a new country. There were moments they had problems understanding their friends or teachers. They have not picked up on the accent in their speech, but they sure do very good imitations of their friends’ accents. Sometimes they like to pretend they are English and they will sing with British accents.

There have been minor obstacles that have caused major issues for us, but overall, life is not much different from the US. Because of the worldwide recession, we are facing much of the same problems we would have had, had we stayed in the US – with the exception that we might have had a steady income. As it is, we are struggling to find a job. This, of course, has tainted our view and turned our dream into something of a nightmare.

America to Britain does not sound like much of a difference, but America to the Orient must be a major cultural shock.  Our LadyExpat friend from Canada, now living in Korea, has a visually awesome website, which seems to suggest she is having a wonderful time:


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9 Comments on “What is it like to be an American in Britain?

  • Hi,
    Great post!! I’ve often wondered what it would be like for an American to move to the UK!!!

    It really sounds like you and your family have adjusted really well, though, in spite of the challenges you’ve had to face!!

    I’m hoping to visit the UK one of these days…since we’re only a hop, skip and a jump from the UK here in the Czech Republic!

    Have a great day,
    Sher :0)

  • Well written and honest account of your experience. Sounds like it is out of the frying pan and into the fire though. I left the UK for many of the reasons you commented on, good luck with your edventure there.

    I have added you to my blogroll

  • As an American that’s lived overseas most of my life and spent some time in the UK, I enjoyed your post!

    The easiest way to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit is to double the degrees in Celsius and add 32. (So, 10 degrees C is 52 degrees F–10×2=20+32=52). It’s not exact, but it’s close enough! I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to not have to do the math…

  • Found your blog from JAPRA and enjoyed your post. After 8 yrs in the UK, I still have not got a UK license due to the dread! Of course, my husband (who is English, but only has driven in the US) now wants a car so we both must attempt it. Best of luck continuing to settle.

  • It’s strange how there is a difference between US English, British English and Australian English, isn’t it? Of course, it’s easier to settle in another English-speaking country, but there are still differences to get used to.

    I think that England is one of the hardest countries in the world to drive in. I also don’t like driving there!

    Roz’s last blog post.World Blog Surf Day – Living as a Brit in Australia

  • I love this: “Reality never measures up to fantasy.” SO TRUE! But there are many things to enjoy in life wherever you are, don’t you think? I hope the job situation starts to look up. That must be very hard. I think the first year in a new country is really difficult/frustrating in general. Things will get better!! You have a lovely, honest blog, by the way. Wishing you happy, warm Spring days 🙂

  • Thank you for all your support and encouraging words. Yes, Sher, the UK is worth a visit regardless of all the current problems. It is sad to see the Brits emigrating, Martin, but I can see that it is necessary for many of them. Thank you, Journeys and Adventures – I’ve been using that simple formula myself, but I know that it’s not perfectly accurate and I think some look at me like I’m an idiot. Lovely Jubbly London, I’ll be joining you on the road soon – that is, as soon as it takes to go through this process. I’m surprised, Roz, to hear a Brit saying she doesn’t enjoy driving here, but it is COMPLETELY understandable. Despite all these problems, I do agree with Just a Plane Ride Away. There are many things to enjoy. It is frustrating when all the negative aspects throw themselves at your face all at once, but I’m lucky to be an optimist and try to focus on the positive (or avoid the negative, as I’ve been accused at times).

    Yank’s last blog post.What is it like to be an American in Britain?

  • I totally forgot about the children! Wow, yours must have had quite the adjustment from homeschool to British system! Glad they are all adjusted now. I am thankful I was in the same primary and secondary school throughout my 11 years of school in Malaysia – stability and long-term friendships 🙂

    … so, how do like them roundabouts? 😀

    Sorry I’m a little late making the rounds for World Blog Surf Day :p


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