British expat in the USA
Interview date – March 2015
What is your name? Claire McGill
Where are you originally from? Bath, England
Where are you living now? Columbia, Maryland, USA
How long have you lived there? 2 ½ years
Is this your first expat experience? If not, where else have you lived? I had my first expat experience aged 16 when my parents moved to Gibraltar (my father was the Commander of the Navy base there). I had spent five years in boarding school and the freedom and lifestyle that I experienced when I arrived in Gibraltar was overwhelming. Needless to say I went a bit crazy enjoying it for the first few weeks, which were at the height of the summer. For me Gibraltar was a great growing experience and I look back on it very fondly.
Why did you move overseas? I am not very good at staying still, either on a daily basis or on a yearly basis. I am always looking for the next challenge and, in all honesty, I was getting very bored with our very nice, normal, suburban life in the West Country in England. I knew that I didn’t want to try and find excitement through discovering the reconfiguration of the shelves in my local Waitrose, nor head to the same place for a curry every Friday night. When my husband mentioned the move to the USA I pounced on the opportunity like a lion to a gazelle’s jugular. The deal was done.
Why did you pick this country? It was picked for us. I am so glad it is the USA. I’m slightly adoring of America. It’s a great country, and, even for all its faults, it’s served me very well, opened my eyes, allowed me to find myself and to have some amazing experiences.
What are your future plans? We will go back to the UK this year, and it will be with a heavy heart. I keep telling myself that you bloom where you are planted, but to be honest, I’m struggling with the return. I’ve done a lot of research on reverse culture shock and repatriation and whilst I intend to attempt to take the positive, opportunistic and adventurous mindset that I’ve developed back to the UK with me, I’m not sure it’s going to be a totally harmonious transition.
How many kids do you have? I have one son, who was four when we arrived in the USA and will be seven when we return. He’s changed a lot, naturally, but is still very, very British at heart.
How have your children adapted to your move? My son has enjoyed his ‘three year holiday’, as he calls it, but school has not been easy for him. The school teaching style is different and he has found the American culture and accent difficult to assimilate. That aside, he wouldn’t give up the pool 4 minutes up the road for anything! Summers here rock, so says he.
Did you bring pets with you? How have they adapted? I bought my two cats Pumpkin and Pieface with me. They are thirteen now and I think my husband was hoping they’d pop their clogs before our return to the UK, because it is pretty expensive to take them back, but they’re in fine fettle and I suspect they’ll know their returning environment the moment they get out the travel cages and through the old front door.
What do you miss about your home or previous country? I actually slightly miss British winters, because Maryland East Coast winters and hard and depressing. I’ve struggled with them a lot.
Please share a debunked myth or stereotype about your host country. That all Americans are stupid, fat and racist. Look, there are some places that you can spot some truth about that statement in the USA. Of course, you can also spot in the UK. I feel very lucky to be in Maryland, which is a very progressive state. I love it here, although I crave the sometimes more chilled attitude of the West Coast Californians!
What customs do you find most unusual about your adopted culture? American football. Oh lord, I just don’t love it! I’ve tried, but it’s not my bag! There are so many great customs here that the British could adopt. I can’t even think where to begin, but I suspect brunch would be one of them – Americans love their Sunday brunch!
Tell us about local food you and your children love or hate. My son is obsessed with bagel and pulled pork, neither of which he would have had before coming here. Pulled pork is such an Americana thing, and bagels are just more prevalent. And the summer allows us to cook out more, which I love!
Do you speak the local language? If so, how long did it take you to learn it and what methods did you use to learn? This is interesting. No, I don’t really speak American, though I’ve learned to adapt the way I say things for an American group setting! I make jokes in British and really just say everything the British way – and sometimes I do still have to explain it, though my American friends are pretty well used to it by now and love it when I swear cos us Brits swear brilliantly (by the way, Americans cannot say ‘brilliant’ in a British accent, no matter how hard they try!).
What do you most appreciate in your new country? The openness, the opportunity, the people, the community, the lifestyle, the landscape, the cultures.
How did you make new friends in your new home? I basically blogged in the community about the community and the area and I got ‘picked up’ by the blogging community; I never turned down an invite; I asked people for coffee dates and chat about stuff; I go to all the events I can; and I say yes to almost everything! My blog being promoted in the community (I was on the Howard County magazine cover and an article was written about me) was a turning point for me and my life is richer here because of the people I know outside the Little Britain expat community.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog. How long have you been blogging? I started blogging six months prior to our move so I could capture the excitement of it all. I then wanted to have the blog as a kind of postcard to my friends and family and a memory of our time here. It’s all very tongue in cheek and quirky, pointing out cultural differences that confuse, amuse and bemuse me. There are so many!
I set out NOT to be a ‘desperate housewife’ so it’s also meant to be a bit ironic (it’s called Desperate English Housewife in Washington!). I guess it’s also amusing that I thought we were going to be IN Washington DC and not in a suburb 50 minutes away, but hey ho!
I now also write a repatriation blog about how I’m preparing to return to the UK called From America to England. I’m struggling with that one at the moment because I can’t think of many positive things to say!
Why did you start blogging and has it contributed to your well-being in any way? I love blogging – that and social media have been my lifeline in my expat world. I have been able to create a life for myself that perhaps would not have happened even 15 years ago for us so called ‘trailing spouses’. I encourage everyone to be bold and to challenge themselves and use a blog to connect and network. My blog has brought me much joy, and I hope it’s given others an amusing insight into expat life as a Brit in the USA.
You can find Claire online here:
Thank you for sharing, Claire!
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