Friday, 16 April 2010

Limbo, Limbo, Limbo

In many ways, choosing to make your home in another country, a place in which you were not born and raised, means living in a state of limbo. At least, that’s how I sometimes feel. The last time I visited the States, I was discussing American politics with a friend. As you do. Naturally, this led to related issues such as gun laws, education, Michelle Obama and the state of the health care system. It was all very Michael Moore-ish, warm and fuzzy. Rather annoyingly, I may have used the line, ‘Well, in the UK, they do such and such’ one too many times. As somebody once said, comparisons are odious. So, unsurprisingly, my friend stopped me halfway through my rant and said, ‘No offence. But how could you possibly know? You haven’t lived here in a decade.’ Hmmph.

I think she went on to say that I sounded un-American, a regular turncoat. In a way, she was right. Because, when it comes to the really important issues, I want to choose from the a la carte menu, not the set menu. I want to do a pick-n-mix from all the issues and solutions on offer and come up with the ‘perfect’ combination. But we all know that it doesn’t work that way.

On the flip side of that coin, if I venture into similar weighty discussions here in the UK, I get the old ‘Yeah but you weren’t born and raised here. You’re an American.’ So where does that leave me? Stretched tautly across the breadth of the Atlantic, one big toe digging into the ‘Land of the Free and the Brave’ and a sinewy hand grasping for This Sceptred Isle?

I don’t really consider myself an expat. The UK is my home, albeit an adopted home. We own a house here and have no plans to move away any time soon. When we lived in Japan, we were ‘expats.’ We knew it would be temporary and treated it differently. We never tried to ‘blend in,’ which would have been challenging for my blonde Amazonian family anyway. We tried to experience as much of the culture as possible but Japan was our host country and we were the visitors, the outsiders, the Gaijin.

As anyone who holds more than one passport knows, having a British passport does not a Brit make me. I will always be an American. Straddling two nations is not for the thin-skinned. As an American living in the UK, I get a special insight into the British view of Americans. Sometimes it’s lovely and sometimes it’s not. But it has opened my eyes to a whole new way of seeing America, my birth country. Perhaps one of the benefits of dual citizenship is that, distancing myself from one country and familiarizing myself with another one, affords me a fresh perspective on both my adopted country and my birth country.

My view on being an American is similar to my view on family. I didn’t get to choose them but, if I had, I would choose my family and my country all over again. I’d protect them in a fight, take their side against enemies, and brag and complain about them in equal measure. Whereas living in the UK is, for me, like choosing your friends. You’d take a bullet for them, celebrate their victories and empathize with their pain. With friends and your adopted country, you embrace their fabulous qualities, their endearing eccentricities and learn to live with their annoying habits. Because you love ‘em, warts and all.


  1. I find that the US is becoming more and more polarised in politics, and I don't like it. Living abroad does give you better insight and perspective. You belong everywhere, yet nowhere.

  2. What a great post. It's interesting that I've been here for 20 years yet I still consider myself an expat. It's not so much to do with whether I'll ever live in England again, but that I definitely know I wasn't born and raised here.

  3. A Modern Mother, yes, it's so true about the belonging part. . .everywhere, yet nowhere.

    Expat mum, it's interesting that you can live in a country for so long yet be keenly aware that you're not 'from' there. Just curious, did you retain your British accent? I think it's an age thing---if you move to another country when you're a child, you have a higher probability of adopting the accent as well.

  4. I love this post. I'm 100% English but speak fluent French - we spent all our summers in France as children. When I go to France I sort of morph a bit, I almost assume a different identity to blend in. One of the things I love most about living in London - don't hurl ( I spent a year in LA when I was much younger, I know all about knickers, pants, jumpers and suspenders..! ) is the diversity - round our way there are more accents than you could shake a stick at - I love it !

  5. Fascinating post. I'm English through and through but I wouldn't mind living in Scotland!

    CJ xx

  6. Wonderful post. Being an expat is a great experience, but it does put you into a category different from everyone else.

    I am an American living in England for the last year, and just this short time away has opened my eyes to the way things are in the US. It has also separated my from my friends and family who don't always see the big picture (national health care, for instance).