When I first arrived in Philadelphia I would feel slightly self conscious walking down the street by myself, I felt like everyone that I walked past knew I wasn’t from America and that I had no idea what I was doing, I was of course fully aware that this was in no way true. At the beginning I felt like I didn’t really ‘fit in’, I wasn’t familiar with the happy smiley attitude of strangers, asking me how I was doing or insisting that I have a great day, I’m going to be honest, I was confused why everyone seemed so delightfully happy, and I was taken back by how chatty and open everyone seemed to be. In Britain things are a little different, people are polite and we do talk to people we don’t know, but not quite as openly and forthcoming – unless we’re in a really good mood after winning ten pound on the lottery…or are considerably drunk, but I would say for the most part we’re not really a chatty nation, for example I’m pretty sure I have never told anyone, friend or stranger, to have a ‘great’ or ‘wonderful’ day, in fact I don’t think I have ever used the word wonderful in a non-sarcastic sentence. I found these differences really strange at first but that made me the odd one out. AND I’m pretty sure I am yet to meet a fellow ginger.
Thankfully all of these things became normal pretty quickly, a few months down the line and we both have our automatic smiley responses when entering a store, we say hi to the strangers we pass in the street every day AND we don’t blink twice at tipping 20% (well, I’m working on it).
American English and British English also has it’s differences, I sometimes use American phrases just to avoid confusion however sometimes I forget where I am – I have been disappointed when given crisps instead of chips, I ask for mince at the butchers instead of ground meat, I ask for the toilet instead of the restroom, when asked for the time I say half past the hour e.g. ‘half seven’ and I’m greeted with blank looks of confusion. It also works the other way around – I’m familiar with having your drink ‘on the rocks’ from TV shows but in real life I’m really not that quick, and I have recently been introduced to the term rain boots rather than wellies (which, looking back I should probably have caught onto that one quicker than I did…).
At the beginning these differences would frustrate me, and I would get annoyed when asked where I was from for the 45th time that day, but now I am used to it and I like that we are different, it’s a good conversation starter, I find it interesting to compare our cultures and traditions, and it can create some funny situations. I will also never get tired of being complimented on my accent, which by the way my friend Jillian compared to Hugh Grant, if you have ever heard me speak this is in no way true, but I am taking it (give yourself a little high five if you are from Teesside, whoopa). It also gives us an identity that makes us stand out from other people, we are recognised as the English couple at our local bar or at the market, and as we do not know many people in the area it’s nice to have that familiarity.
I think meeting new people and making new friends is much more difficult as an adult, once you have left education the amount of friends you have usually gets smaller as life gets busier, after School or University sometimes people move away and they get new interests, they put their energy into building a career for themselves, they get married and have children, and this means there is less time to dedicate to up keeping current friendships as well as making new ones. On top of meeting and making friends I think it is even harder to meet people we really click with and want to put the effort into getting to know and build a relationship, it’s kinda like dating with less awkward encounters but harder to break off if you decide they’re a no go.
Whilst in America the main cultural difference for me is the social side, as a stereotypical reserved Brit, I think I can take a while to get to know, I don’t go out of my way to have in-depth conversations with strangers, and I’m really bad at small talk (I know, you just want to be my friend right?), whereas Americans are generally a very friendly group who will talk to anyone and are everyone’s best friend. On one hand this is a really good thing because it’s easier to get to know people, however as a definite introvert, and some would say shy person (Ian calls me timid. Like a dog. Yup.) I have sometimes found this quite overwhelming and draining when in social situations with a lot of people.
I am lucky to have made a couple of friends here (woo) and I’m still on the lookout for more people that are the same weirdness as me. You’re welcome to join me, but if you missed my reference to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in the title of this post, we might not work.