On being foriegn

When we found out there was a strong possibility we would be moving to England, I was nervous, yes, but also elated.  We love to travel and believe in global community.  What a great opportunity for us – and for the kids!

We had backpacked around western Europe a couple of years ago with a four-day stay in London, so English culture was not a complete unknown.  But as tourists, we had been hanging out where people were trained to understand and help us.  Where they had experience in “dealing” with “people like us”.

But when we were in England as quasi-residents, life was different.  Instead of visiting monuments and eating at touristy resturaunts, we were hanging around in grocery stores, gas stations, shops, schools and housing developments.  We were going about our lives just like normal English people, except we weren’t.  Even in a culture with so many similarities as my own, I found myself feeling like a bufoon more times than usual – which already is often enough in my own country.

Example.  When I didn’t quite hear the man helping me at the hotel, I said, “excuse me?” which in my own culture would be a polite way of asking him to repeat what he had said.  The man got offended, saying “See the sign?  It says “concierge”.  I’m supposed to be helping you.”  It turns out he was upset because I should have said “sorry?” instead.  Saying “excuse me” implied that he had done something wrong.  If you ever accidentally bump into someone on the street in England, remember this rule.

I felt like I constantly was having to apologize for my not knowing how to do simple things like lock my hotel room door or fill up my car with petrol.

During a conversation with a headmaster of a school about Church of England versus nondenominational school differences, the headmaster busted out with, “Well of course you’re Baptist…”


And while listening to a radio call-in talk show, the topic was “is chewing tobacco sexy”.  The dj mentioned, in a serious tone, that “In America, as you know, everyone chews tobacco.”

I almost spit out my big wad of Skoal.


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