when the American dream meets the British reality.

>> 3.30.2012

By the end of next month, I will have lived in England for a year and a half.

If we're honest, I really didn't think I'd make it.

I've spent countless nights crying with homesickness, begging my husband to "please, please, let's move home" and dreaming about the day that I'd be far away from this terrible little country.

But (you knew it was coming, didn't you?)
--in the last few months, it seems I've actually "adjusted" to life in the British culture, at least enough for the desperation to give way to a quiet routine of daily living. I'm sure becoming a mother has been an instrumental part in this: I have to get out of bed and out of the house for the sake of my son. We go to rhyme time at the library, and monster music at the children's centre, and meet up with other Mommas and their babies for the sake of socialization.

In the fray of adjusting, I've also come to realize an interesting distinction between the two countries, and I think it's something that made it so difficult for me to come to terms with this place for so long:

In America, we are told, "You can do anything you want to do, if you put your mind to it. Dream big, and the sky's the limit." We are taught that we can be famous athletes, movie stars, astronauts, scientists, writers, doctors--literally anything is open to us, if we want it bad enough.

In Britain, they are not told these things. People are brutally and bluntly honest about shortcomings and where yours are. If you aren't good at something, they'll make sure you know. Kids here are not taught that the sky's the limit, rather, they are told that there definitely are limits and maybe they'll surpass them, but probably not (so best not try).

As an American, this rubs you (and me) the wrong way. It is offensive, it is pessimistic, it is wrong. "Of course, I can do that," we gasp in horror as a Brit gives us an eyebrow raise. "I can do anything I want to!" Unfortunately, this isn't actually the case (even though we don't want to admit it). I will never be an Olympic athlete (even though I like to think that I might have had a shot if I hadn't quit figure skating). I will never be an amazing singer, and I might (probably) won't ever be a world famous author. In fact, I might not do anything with my life other than being a mother and a wife. I know.

So when I would lie in bed and dream about the life my family and I would have back in America once we got out of here, it would be full of nice things--the dream house, great jobs, happy kids doing lots of fun extracurricular activities, weekly date nights, a church that allows us to use our gifts and minister well. When I compared that dream to our current life in England (and the prospect of a future here), it looked about as gray as the sky I was living under.

It is only in the last few weeks that I have really come to terms with the fact that it is okay to just live. In fact, sometimes it is better to just live where you are at, than to dream about a future you might never have. For so long I got so caught up in the dream of our life "back in America" that I forgot to put anything into the life I was currently living in England. I'm sure that I wasted opportunities, missed friendships, and generally put a damper on any positive thing that I had going for me over here--and even though that is a natural and normal part of adjusting to life in a new culture, it's still not something I'm proud of.

I spent so long bemoaning the practicalities of the English, and pitying them for their inability to dream of anything more than a quiet house in the country, that I failed to see the positive side of things. They are generally content in the lives that they lead (I mean, most are. I am making pretty sweeping generalities here). They may not tell you that, with their semi-constant complaining, but they are. Their lives are familiar and what they know, and they are all right with that. They don't feel bad for not being something greater. They do what they do, and they do it well. This is something that I have probably never done, and it is kind of, (but not really) ironic to me that God has made me live in a place that is the very definition of "blooming where you're planted".

Now, I know that there are two sides to every coin, so before I get hate mail from all the British dreamers out there, let me remind you that I am simply remarking on a side of England that I have not wanted to appreciate, but now do. I have found myself with a certain fondness for this strange, backwards country. This is slightly terrifying, because I can't hate it with a passion anymore and wish myself back in America. Yes, there are moments nearly every day when I think about how much I miss my country, but recently, this has been countered by a tinge of sadness when I think about leaving what we have invested here.

This is the birthplace of my husband and son, and it is a country that will always be a part of me. It has helped refine me in many areas, and opened my eyes to the fact that there is more than one way to live life and look at things--not wrong, just different.

Any other citizens of the world care to share your opinions?
I mean, he's the best part about England.
Peace at last.

4 thoughts:

Rach March 30, 2012 at 3:03 PM  

I thought those were really interesting insights into different cultures, and culture shock in general. I'm glad you're learning to "be" a bit more. Do you all plan to stay in England indefinitely?

BudNBuddy March 30, 2012 at 4:10 PM  

I enjoyed reading this, it was well written and thought provoking. I'm reminded of the verse in the old testament that says something to the affect "Without a dream, the people parish". It's important to dream, have goals, etc., but not to the point of living to our utmost in the present, where ever that may be. And that reminds me of another verse: "Whatsoever you do, work (play, live, etc.) heartily as unto the Lord, not unto man." Corinne

Anonymous,  March 31, 2012 at 2:07 PM  

Vive la difference! As Americans, we can sometimes think that "our way" is the best and only true way. As expats, "our way" is challenged on a daily basis. It takes time to be able to recognize and acknowledge and even embrace the differences that have been thrust upon us. It's great that you are already seeing and appreciating this. So pat yourself on the back, and continue blooming where you've been planted. Karen in Paris

Kacie April 3, 2012 at 11:39 AM  

My friend who works in China says China is 10x higher than even Britain on the practicality and "do not dream" sort of mentality.

My hubby grew up in England and misses it, but he's walked that line between cultures. I hated Texas the way you hated England for my first year and a half of living here. I probably tolerated it for another year before really being happy here.

It's not that I love the place now (4.5 yrs in), it's just that it's home for the moment, and I'm quite happy with that. Texas in and of itself, though, is just not my kind of place. :)You can be happy anywhere, though, even if it's not your kind of place!

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