I always say ‘I’d never wish it on my worst enemy’ – ‘it’ being an expat – or being me! After living in Atlanta for 18 years, and being a US citizen for almost half that time, I probably feel more alien in the UK than I do here. However, I’ll always be a foreigner here, not completely feeling at home or in sync with the culture.
It’s hard to relate to many cultural references and they remain a red flag to the fact I didn’t grow up here. I didn’t know the who the Olsen twins were before they made it in fashion, as I’d never watched Full House. I still don’t understand the rules of American Football. I don’t have an allegiance with a college football team as I didn’t study here until my MBA. These trite, silly things make me feel like I stick out like a sore thumb at times. At parties I’ve struggled with conversation (yes me!) when friends have been talking about football or sororities, while people glaze over at my own cultural references, phrases and colloquialisms. I still don’t really understand the SATs as opposed to A’ levels. I struggle to comprehend why so few of my friends have passports. I don’t have a best friend here, someone who knows me as well as my husband, someone I can confide in, someone who won’t judge me, someone who laughs at my sarcasm, someone who understands my motivations and the events that have shaped me. Yet there’s no guarantee that all my old friends will suddenly slot back into my life. They may have changed and moved on – I’ve lost touch with several over 18 years. I miss the BBC, Marks and Spencers and walking around town instead of a mall. I miss the Sunday newspapers, Hollands pies and wine gums. All these little pieces of my puzzle that still make me thoroughly British while living in America. A round peg in a square hole. But what about all the things I’ll miss about here? Our favorite restaurants, Mexican food with free nachos and salsa, free diet coke refills, a house with over an acre of land, a walk-in closet, cheap gas, Americana music, sunshine and beaches, pool life in the summer and drives to the Gulf in an F-150. So there you have it – the constant conundrum.
The longer we stay here the deeper our roots making it harder and harder to pick up and return to the UK, which becomes an increasingly foreign place to us. We own a business and a house. We have savings and retirement funds here. We have two children who were born here.
The children increasingly make this decision so, so hard. They are familiar with the UK having traveled there often, and they have grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, and friends there. One of Poppy’s dear cheer friends actually moved back there recently, when her Mum finished her sabbatical here with CNN. However, Poppy and Hugh are thoroughly American. They have been taught here, their friends are here, and everything they do is within the context of being an American. The one thing they do have though, that many of their friends don’t have, is ‘weird’ foreign parents! Parents who have instilled in them a sense of adventure. My children are fortunate enough to consider vacationing (yup my vocabulary has changed too!) in Europe normal, and they understand that having two passports is a privilege that provides them with a life of choices.
My greatest fear is that my children will resent me for taking them to the UK, or that I will thoroughly fuck them up for the rest of their lives by transplanting them to the UK. My Husband tells me not to worry – kids are resilient. As long as they feel safe and loved they will be fine. Easier said than done.
Hugh has surprised me most in our conversations about moving to the UK (I try to avoid saying ‘back to the UK’ as I am well aware it doesn’t apply to them). He’s an old soul and is excited about the prospect of being close to Nanna, Grandad and Grandpa. He wants to be ‘close to fields and not big buildings’ – his words. He loves roast dinners with roast potatoes and gravy. He sees going to a new school and wearing a uniform as an adventure. I worry his Southern accent is so strong he’ll be laughed at. He’ll have to learn to spell all over again. What if they don’t teach math, or maths even, the same way?
Poppy is older and more fearful of change. She has strong bonds with friends here at school and at cheer. I try to reassure her that we would never do anything foolish (!), and that the four of us together will always have fun. I tell her that families move all the time from city to city and that there is no guarantee her friends will still be in Atlanta next year. That technology will keep them connected wherever they are, and to be excited about making new friends instead of worrying about leaving existing friends. I can tell she wants to be excited, and she likes the reassurance our chats provide, but she doesn’t like to keep talking about it – it makes her emotional, which in turn makes me feel like we should firmly stay here. There are a couple of things that give me strength to keep moving towards relocating – we’ve found a cheer team for her and she is excited about being the ‘cool, American cheerleader’, and most importantly she loves to travel – her first question was ‘how many hours is it to Istanbul?’. That 3 hour flight instead of 12 hour flight may make all the difference to her appreciation of the UK and it’s proximity to Europe.
Am I selfish for wanting to take us all back? As a parent shouldn’t I be selfless and do what is best for the family? But then surely history, castles, green fields, culture and family is better for us all than guns, school shootings and strip malls?