An American Mom Lives in England for a Year

Food Glorious Food, Scones, Schools and more Scones!!

Well, let's talk about the food in England shall we? After some time has passed all that comes to mind is scones, lots of cream and a million pubs. When I originally decided to embark on this adventure with my family, I never considered "how many" changes I would have to make in my daily diet and lifestyle. I also did not consider that my children would have food and social issues as well the longer we were there. Not when they were with me because I could sort of make it work, but when I decided to put them in British schools, the menu's  and the people were quite "different."

When we decided to live abroad for the year there were lots of decisions to be made a long time before we even left the US. For one thing I had a seven year old and a five year old and this was going to be a big change for them in so many ways. It was helpful that we had some family there, but it did not help with the "culture shock" at all. I think the biggest shocker of them all was when I finally realized what sort of "class" system they have there. I can tell you that I was not happy with the extreme separation in society that I witnessed there on a daily basis, even out in the country with loads of beautiful green pastures and sheep. It became apparent to me when I went to tour the local "public" (they are called private there but they are free) and noticed the difference in the way some of the people spoke. I had originally put my son in one of the top schools in Sussex which was an entry school to one of the top high schools in England and let me tell you, there was a huge divide. 

I knew that I was paying a lot for my son's school, but what I didn't realize is how much more desperate the "upper class" were to have their children climb the ladder of the elite school system. It is not their fault, it is just the way the system works there. Most of the kids that go to these elite schools like Prince William and Prince Harry end up being the "top of their game" all over the world and in London. My son was in class with future leaders of the world, this I know for sure. Funny to even think of that at the tender age of seven. Since we had family near the "non-paying" school and my daughter was so young, I decided to "hold off" on putting her in the pressure cooker until I knew for sure my future there and frankly I was concerned that she would have a meltdown. My son was better at being challenged and was already advanced in the school system here, so I knew that he would be fine. At one time I could see myself living there for good, but over time I felt that it was a "harder life" there compared to my life in California. The weather was one factor even though we spent lots of time at the beach which was about a half hour drive from where we lived with pretty nice sunny days. We were able to hike up in the pastures all the time even when it rained and there were lots of very hot days too. Let me tell you this, when it rained it never stopped for a while. February was brutal and I ended up buying a sleeping bag sort of coat that I zipped up from my ankles. This really made my husband laugh and it was a good source of entertainment for the family. When three things happened at the same time... rain, wind and the cold I wanted to hop on a plane!! Getting places was another story. It would take a lot longer to get to places and the weather could alter things in a second even when I took a train to London or my husband was on his way back from there. Sometimes the trains would have problems and buses would pick people up and they would have to find their way back home some other way. Oh, and it is not easy to find a cab in the middle of nowhere when a train goes down.

Although I had visited England a few times for a couple of weeks at a time in the past, it can not compare to actually living there and trying to drive on the left side of the road every single day. There were many times that the navigation (Garmin) in my car took me down some odd lane in the middle of nowhere where I would be trapped by a tractor or a a sheep that refused to back up. There were also times when I tried to battle a few "round a bouts" with my children in the car. A "round a bout" is a round island in the middle of the intersection with cars coming from every direction. Until you get used to it all you can think of is your last rights. It got to a point that my kids actually became the cheering section in the backseat every time I made it through one safely. Honestly I almost had a heart attack many times.

Making friends was easy for me there and I did bond with some incredible women who I missed badly when I left. There was the adorable "flutter" of my very British Bohemian friend and mother Sarah and my French friend Isabelle who loved to meet me for coffee and soup on rainy days. She would say "this is so American" which I loved because she was French and most people would have this stuff at home and not go out. In fact the only coffee shops to go to were in local super markets or nurseries. If you were driving in the country for a long time and wanted a cup of coffee you would have to hit a pub. Most coffee shops were in London of course and Tunbridge Wells which was 20 minutes from my house, but it was such a hassle to get there and park! Small roads, tiny parking garages that were not built for bigger cars and confusion near the train station. No thank you! Not as easy as in California where you can stop on every block and eat! Oh by the way, I lost 25 pounds there because there was no Mexican food, nowhere to stop except for pubs (I don't drink) and I walked a lot more because I had too.

I was definitely more welcomed there this time around compared to ten years before my year long move there. I think because in ten years or so many Amercian corporations are thriving there now and we are more accepted in their culture in every way. I also feel television may have made a big difference in all this like the show "Friends" and other syndicated American shows. My children were treated like "rock stars" in their schools and they loved the attention, especially because of the way they spoke. My son was excelling in all sorts of sports and my daughter was academically ahead of her California Grade in the first three months we were there which really surprised me. I understand now why America is looked so down upon when it comes to the standards and the school system. The vocabulary there alone was so extensive for their age and it was really interesting to see what else was introduced at such a young age. Honestly it made school here look like Disneyland or a resort, but the kids were so challenged and this was amazing. My son was thriving in academics, social relationships and sports. Some sports he had never played before, but he went forward and tried so hard to do well and he did. He was the youngest member of the squash team and was already competing at the age of seven. Someone here laughed when I told them that since squash is not introduced in the states at such a young age. The one good thing too was that schools there went a lot later and there were less holidays and a shorter Summer break and this I feel is a good thing because there was less time to goof around and forget their studies. I think this would have been excellent for my children if they were teenagers there. Less time to get into trouble.

I spent a lot of time in London, but a city is a city. There is loads of stuff to see and it is different when you are not a "tourist." It did get to a point where I saw a restaurant on a corner that said something about a hamburger and I ran to it. After about four months living there and hearing things like "Banger and Mash" or "Kidney Pie" all I wanted to hear was "hamburger or burrito" with an American accent. I do not go to McDonalds here so I was not looking for one there either. I was just desperate for an American voice to say similar things to me or something that was familiar. I met quite a few Americans at the elite school, but they were no longer American because they had been there so long. They had gotten very quiet and reserved and when they heard me speak they even commented on how "British" they had become. I still felt really alone at times and was really thankful when my American Canadian friend came to hang out with me in London near my birthday. It was a big source of relief and I felt like I could continue with this journey now that I hung out with an old friend who sounded like me and knew everything I spoke about. Something so "familiar" brought a very comforting feeling deep inside.

Now, when I explain "upper class" and "lower class" I'm not being a snob, I'm just trying to explain the differences in the culture and show you examples of how it works there. The only "anti American statements" I heard was from some of the "lower class" who did not have any tact was when it came to food or insults. Of course the "upper class" would have THOUGHT of the insult but would never SAY it where the "lower class" just could not help themselves. One day when I was commenting on a big plate of food at a local store a frumpy lower class mom said "That is funny coming from an American." Like we were all fat and ate lots of food on big plates. Another time I was in the post office and a young mom from the "lower class" system was complaining about an American in a Mercedes in town and she was really upset. Now, let me tell you how very small this town was. It had one block of stores and a tiny post office. After she spoke for a while and right before she left I decided to embarrass her and not say much. So I bent down to comment about her baby so she could hear my voice. In shock she flustered around and then made some sort of comment about Disneyland and Americans in la la land and then she was off. So, as you can see there is still a bit of "anti American there." Like I said I never heard this sort of thing in the "upper class" areas and at the elite school, but I think it is because they deal with Americans a lot more in their social existence.

Overall I can go on and on, but the most important part of my journey was learning about another place in all sorts of ways. We did get over to France quite a few times and also Rome too. Being able to travel to so many places that are not too far away really makes you realize how much Americans really miss out on just because we are so far away from all of these very different places and cultures. A lot of people I meet here have never left the US and honestly I can say that this is very sad because once you are there a whole entire channel opens up in your mind and you welcome all sorts of new stuff and ideas. I mean my creative juices just kept flowing with all sorts of new inspirations. It could be places, people, different languages or just a different sort of cup of tea. It all adds to your "master plan" and I would do it again if I could which I'm planning to do when the kids are older. Next stop for a year will be Rome or France for sure.

I do intend to write more about my journey in England. After being there for a year, there is so much more to tell.

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Comments 17 comments

prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 7 years ago from malang-indonesia

thanks for share about this story. great hub. I enjoy by reading this story.


Sofia 5 years ago

Really interesting hearing an American's point of view of England!


GPAGE profile image

GPAGE 5 years ago from California Author

Sofia! Thanx for stopping by! Best, GPAGE


Ausseye 5 years ago

Hep GPage:Class and anti American sentiment is about all the British have left to give them comfort. The Americans had taken the Industrial Revolution and made it their own with mass production practices and Australia(the place they sent their lower classes) has ended up being mineral rich. But worst of all the Indigenous Australians were the fist rebels that left the African jungle, so they can’t even claim cultural superiority. So have some pity and show them American only disliked the British during the war of independence where they were using the lower classes as foot soldiers or cannon fodder……come to think of it the Lower Classes have got something to grumble about with their upper classes mate and give them lots of lip. Go America and Australia show those Poms a better way.


GPAGE profile image

GPAGE 5 years ago from California Author

Ausseye....You are a hoot! Very interesting this whole "class subject." It looks like America is going to come out better then Europe the way all is looking in the international financial markets and the "takeover" of other wealthier countries (including China and Russia) are not going to make it easier on England either. Will be interesting to see how all pans out.....Personally I hated the whole class battle when I lived in the UK...it made me feel so bad when I would hear the different remarks....I grew up believing that everyone is equal and gifted in their own way. Never judged anyone and always give people a chance. I am rooting for America for sure!!!! Best, G


Ausseye 5 years ago

You’d love India, I think class system of lower and higher statue may have been why the Indian Empire felt part England for a good while. Yep agree with you about class, always thought it was classier to accept everyone as equal black, white yellow and all the shades in between, that was, until women’s lib( no seriously kidding). I won’t even buy a first class ticket to anywhere, cause you meet good/better people in the other classes. How’d your children cope with it?? My private school experience in the early years was a hoot, then I went public school and found a gem of an experience. My parents must have burnt serious money on our so called good class education.

Long live the classless societies!!! Let hope the Saudi Arabia come through with their promise of making women equals, in politics at least. But I’ve got some bad news for you on the financial front, Australia will win of cause ……..were ripping up all our minerals and shipping them to China where I believe they are using them to making cheap crappy consumer goods to sell to…..its starts with an A….second letter is m…..then comes an…e followed by a… r , I’ll let you guess the rest. Cheers Ausseye


GPAGE profile image

GPAGE 5 years ago from California Author

AUSSEYE! YOU ARE A HOOT.....thanx for the fun read tonight! Made me giggle.....and YES the class issue "sucks!" My kids did very well but they were young which made it easier....the academic pressures in the Harry Potter School was very intense! 7 year olds crying about an exam?!!!!! REALLY?!!!!! I spent a fortune educating my kids in the UK and in the states...but they have had all sorts of experiences in all different schools and I feel this will prepare them for new experiences....I want to go to Austrailia one day!!!! Best, G


Ausseye 5 years ago

If you do go down under make sure you bring some gumboots as we have a lot of very deep potholes here where you can get seriously wet, thanks to world consumerism. Seems we’ve gone mad trying to make more world carbon something to do with more diamonds that way….bit of a brain wave idea brought on the Beatles “Lucy in The Sky with Diamonds”….. And you’ll meet lot of the under classes here as it was a key English dumping ground, never dreaming there was a gold mine awaiting. Education was free here for a while so you’re a bit late to save yourself some money…..but then you might find some gold…........never know. Cheers Ausseye.


GPAGE profile image

GPAGE 5 years ago from California Author

Ausseye.....I forgot to say in an earlier response....I HAVE to go to India one day soon...

I'm ok going to Austrailia and falling in mud holes.....I can handle it!!! Did a lot of that in the UK......hiking in the rain.....ha ha ..You are really funny.....I was compelled to respond! Well no need to educate my kids anywhere but in America now....just the way it is....I do go to Europe quite a lot and do intend to get to Austrailia one of these days....thank you for the laughs......honestly.......ha G


Kris 3 years ago

Americans were very accommodating and curious when I went over there, all I had to do was use my English accent to it's fullest (Northern English, which is even more obscure to the average American) Australia and New Zealand? I'm a f**kin Pom. They couldn't give a rats arse about my accent, particularly Australia which is full of loud mouthed Aussie toss pots!


GPAGE profile image

GPAGE 3 years ago from California Author

VERY entertaining Kris! I know many Brits from all over the UK...LOVE the different accents....you made me laugh! Best, GPAGE


Jack 3 years ago

This makes confusing reading seeing as there is no "class system" here in the UK. The so called "upper class" of people you refer to are probably the equivalent of rich republicans in the states. I have grown up in England my whole life and can honestly say that it really grates me when people from other countries say we still have a class system. It simply isn't true. Its more a question of those who are in the position to go to great schools and those who are not. And believe me the "lower class" are by far the most interesting and friendly people throughout Britain and are incredibly tolerant and welcoming to people from anywhere. We love meeting new people. Plus the new, young Brits are far more liberal and essentially "modern" and laid back. Sorry that you experienced anti-American idiots but believe me when I say they are in the minority. Much love to the USA!


GPAGE profile image

GPAGE 3 years ago from California Author

Jack....I get what you are saying, but you must realize that I was married to a British man for almost 20 years. I have travelled to the UK many times, lived there and after I wrote this article I spent some time more North in the midlands and then Wales. Having my son in one of the top schools there really put things in perspective for me. I have also worked with famous British musicians from all over the country. Some of the "lower class" or people who lived more "North" had a real chip on their shoulder towards the upper class or the more "wealthy." I was there a few years ago and I can see the changes in the youth there.....But do not forget America has put more of their television programming on your airwaves making it easier for Brits to like Americans more now. I have been going back and forth there for 20 years. I think I have a really clear view of what it is like to grow up there. London was still very much of the "posh" boys club and infact my husband got a very high paying job because of his school boy tie. Meaning the wealthy still hold a lot of powerful positions in the media there. I have to say some of the sweetest people I met were in Wales......Rich Republicans are not really like the Brits at all because most of them never travel and live in a bubble.......so hard to compare.....I love the UK and will be there for business this year.....All the best, GPAGE


Jack 3 years ago

Yeah I agree in many ways with what your saying. I do however feel that it isn't that much different in the States. For example, people with wealthier parents can go to better schools and colleges. People who can go to Harvard and Yale etc get better jobs because they are seen to come from "good stock" it's the same as British kids who go to Eton. Many kids who go to Harvard get in because there mum or dad went there. The more money your parents have, the more chance you have in life. I went to state school though and I've done alright for myself. But then I would say i'm neither upper or lower class but rather a part of the ever growing middle class.


GPAGE profile image

GPAGE 3 years ago from California Author

Cool Jack! I wish you well with your endeavors.....you are correct with what you wrote, but I also feel there is more opportunity here for people who have "less." I was just with 4 British college students who go to UCLA here and they could not leave the UK fast enough....they said they have better choices here in education and it is easier to change direction in their studies.....So as my father used to say "to each his own!" Take care, GPAGE


old albion profile image

old albion 3 years ago from Lancashire. England.

Hi GPAGE. What a wonderfully entertaining hub. You have hit the nail on the head, truly great observations on British society. Your lines on the negotiations of roundabouts made me smile. I have not been to the USA but I am told you do not have them over there. Well done.

Voted up and all.

Graham.


GPAGE profile image

GPAGE 3 years ago from California Author

Hello there Graham! We do have small one's in some places, but nothing like in the UK! So glad you enjoyed this hub! I come to London for business once in a while but the kids usually stay in the US....It was a great experience to live over there....I had been visiting for many years but never lived there. Thanks again! Best, G

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