A pub in LA, no way! If I wanted to hang out in pubs I wouldn't have left England. When I met Coralie and Julia, two of my British friends, last week, to talk about the Ex-pat experience, we ate out at a great little Thai place.
Coralie: I would never dream of going to the Kings Head. You know you're going to meet a certain kind of English person, which you'd not want to spend more than 5 minutes with.I think the kind of English person Coralie's talking about is the kind that eat fish and chips and watch soccer on TV whether they're in London, the Costa Brava or in LA; the kind who recreates Little England wherever they are. Now I admit, as an Ex-pat, I certainly need English friends, but none of us would dream of going to faux British institutions like pubs or tea shops or bowling clubs. I think Julia, who has been away from England the longest - 34 years - feels even less need for an English enclave.
Julia: It wouldn't occur to me to search out being English, because I think coming to America wasn't generated by wanting to be an expat. It was wanting to get away, so I became an expat.That said, I think there is a bond that Julia shares with all the English expatriates I know, and that is a shared understanding of why we had to get away from England. We all relate to the desire to leave the rain and the stifling class structure behind.
Julia: I could be anyone in America. I could get up in the morning and be anyone I wanted to be. In England I was caught in a compartment of being upper middle class or middle upper middle class or all the distinctions that seem so natural in England seem absolutely ridiculous when you're living in the United States.Julia insists she doesn't need anything British; Coralie says her closest friends are English and she needs regular doses of Brit culture like BBC TV and English style magazines.
For me, there's one Brit institution I yearn for and that's the English dinner party. Not until I moved here did I come to appreciate the peculiarly British art of meandering conversation, repartee, bitching, and bawdy humor. Though I wouldn't choose a fake pub as a place to find that, my English friends and I regularly eat out together. And it's there that we also thrash out our expat dilemmas: the pros and cons of being here and the cultural differences.
In fact, we found ourselves doing that recently when my fellow Brit Peter Whittle and I went to a Palm Springs hotel; coincidentally run by two expat Brits. Peter and I were talking about what coming to America has done to us.
Peter: Enormous things happen. You find that you're changing in ways that you really didn't think you would. You have to deal with this whole new system. Nevertheless I find that I have much more of a sense of being British - it's taken not being there to start to feel it.It's taken me not to be there to appreciate it. Because boy did I get frustrated with England, and need to leave and arrive in LA and feel at last, I'm home. It's been perplexing to discover how very much you are at the core where you left.
Peter, who's been here just two years, says he'll never return to England. But I've found that after being here ten years – now my parents are getting older -- I have to consider whether I would…or could go back. But if I did, it wouldn’t be to the England I’ve left behind. Changing countries changes you and you cannot become the person you were. As Julia says...
Julia: Once you're an expat, always an expat. It's like the first big love in your life. No one else ever comes near that, it's always different and maybe better after that but it's not the same as the first big love. And the first move is the big move.But there's the big love for the new country you've chosen and then there's another love, like a love for one’s parents, which is for home. It seems that the universal expatriate experience is a mixture of contempt and yearning for the native land. Certainly British expats, from the colonies in Hong Kong or Kenya to the loose-knit groups in LA, harbor a deep connection to the old country.
Peter: Scattered all over the world, you come across THE most British people who don't want to go back to this rather miserable little country as they call it. Yet they have this extraordinary attachment to it still.In Los Angeles, I'm Frances Anderton for The Savvy Traveler.
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