On December 17th 2011 I entered American soil and became an American permanent resident. When I was six years old and I was asked what I wanted to be when I was older, I didn’t say “an American” because moving to America wasn’t on my list of things to consider. But here I was, twenty-something years old, standing in LAX airport with two backpacks containing my world.
When I was going through the motions, people told me “ooohh you’re gonna miss British food!” and “you’ll start talking with a different accent!” but no one told me about the things that actually would happen, that would actually bother me, and that would actually take time to get used to. Yeah, I miss sausages, a lot, but there are some things that I’m still adjusting to, even 5 years later.
Getting a Job
I was probably luckier than most, because I had started the weird path into online writing many years before, working for a text message service that sent out messages as Buddy, a guy who knows everything. When I got to America I was like, sweet, I’ll just do that. And I did for a while. But then I got the inevitable cabin fever and had to find a real ‘leave the house’ job, and what I found shocked me. Maybe it’s just that I live in an area where some people aren’t used to new cultures, but I noticed that I was actually getting some discrimination. Me, a middle-class white British girl, getting discriminated against! It happened first in a job interview where the man clearly took a dislike to me not being from ‘ah-raahnd here’ and during the interview just left, leaving me sitting there with his assistant, both of us with this ‘uhhhhhh’ look on our faces. It happened later in a job where the CEO thought I was faking my accent, and joined in in mocking the Brits. Then it was the countless companies shooting me down the moment they realized I wasn’t on a ‘straightforward work visa’ (I actually am, but just having an additional document made me different and wrong in their eyes). Now, I’m certainly not saying this is extreme discrimination, the likes that other minority groups suffer, but it still took me by surprise and served to remind me that this wasn’t ‘home’. That stung, and I wish I’d been better prepared to anticipate that feeling, so it wouldn’t hurt so much when I realized it.
The time difference
Here in Knoxville, I’m only 5 hours behind the timezone of my family in England. I call my mum every Saturday morning and that’s fine. But what about Christmas? Or New Years? At about 6pm I’ll get a call from them, normally all of them in the same room wearing Christmas hats or silly new years stuff, drunk as skunks, being all “Wish you were here!” and “You’ll never guess what Richie just said!” and “Oooh we have to tell you about this thing we just all did together, as a family, without you”. We smile and laugh, and I enjoy my few minutes with them on the phone, and then they go. And I’m here in America without them. When it’s our time of the day to get drunk and put on party hats and do silly things, I look at my phone and realize my family are asleep now. They’re not thinking of me, they’re thinking of sheep and trains and whatever else they normally dream about, and I’m here in a different world and a different time, and not in theirs.
Anyone reading this who knows me will be like “SERIOUSLY HELEN??” at this point, because I’m not exactly your typical Facebook campaigner. I don’t really get the American politics system, and I’m a little behind on the British one too. One of the things that has shocked me since moving to America is that actually, being away from all the Brexit stuff, being here with all the Trump stuff, has made me feel separated from my heritage so much. Across the pond, all my friends and family rallied around and campaigned hard for the things they wanted. I wanted to, but in my heart it felt wrong because, who am I to them anymore? No one cares what a Brit in America thinks of Brexit because none of it really affects her much. And then with the American situation, I feel the same sort of disconnect. I can’t vote (yet) so who cares what I have to say? And I lose touch with what I want to believe in because I can’t make it happen anyway.
It had to be a topic again, I’m sorry. My accent is the one thing I still have that makes me British, in my eyes. That, and the bumper sticker on my car. And the Britpop blasting from my speakers… but that’s besides the point. When I speak, people are like “Oh you’re British!” and despite how I look to others, inside I feel a warm “yes, yes I am”. It’s been five years, and while I love Tennessee and the southerners here dearly, I’ve been fighting losing it, because that’s who I am. British. The thing is, I’m getting the accent creep, and we’re now at a point where I don’t have enough to anchor me to how I used to talk. I’m worried I’m going to lose it, and that’s going to be a sad day in Knoxville.
Moving to America isn’t all bad!
Oh dear. This blog wasn’t supposed to be downbeat! I look to my right and I see my soulmate just hanging out and not being 4,000 miles away. I have a great home, amazing and supportive friends, and a little community that really DOES feel like a home now. I love my life! I guess I just wanted to get this blog out, in case there’s a twenty-something Helen out there who’s just about to board a plane to LAX to start a new life. I hope she finds this – not at all to dissuade her or make her think she’s doing something she’ll regret, because she’ll love the life she’s about to make for herself – but because I want her to know that it’s okay to notice these things and be surprised and upset. Moving to America is a big deal. Not for a week, that month, or that year, but for the time she spends there, if that’s a few years or the rest of her life. Being a Britmerican will always be a weird, fun, scary, exciting challenge, and it’s ok to react to that once in a while.