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Ellen: Notes from the U.K.

In our InterNations Recommended Blog section we let you take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great, user-generated reads, and life in the UK makes no exception. Take your time and browse the great blogs showcased in this article!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Great Britain, etc.

I’m an American who’s been living in Cornwall since 2008. Until I retired, I worked as a writer and editor, and I continue to work as a novelist. I’m originally from New York but lived in Minnesota for 40 years.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

I started blogging in June 2014, and I had ulterior motives: My third novel, The Divorce Diet, was about to be published and I wanted a platform from which to publicize it. Blogging about the oddities and absurdities of living, as an American, in the Cornish countryside was more interesting—to me, and I was fairly sure to any potential audience—than blogging about either the book or myself. The blog quickly took on a life of its own and I’ve continued it for its own sake.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

The first two entries are about the difficulties of moving here. The third is a random bit about tourist season in the countryside, and the fourth is (in a shameless bit of self-promotion) about The Divorce Diet.

Tell us about the ways your new life in Great Britain differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?

My partner and I haven’t just moved from one country to another but from a city to the countryside, so we’ve had to adapt to two major changes, and I’m not sure which change was larger.

I wouldn’t say we experienced culture shock, but bureaucracy shock was hard to deal with—everything from getting U.K. driving licenses (we’ve both been cab drivers, so the difficulties weren’t about the driving itself but about jumping through the right hoops in the right order) to getting indefinite leave to remain. I haven’t written about the driving test yet, but if you want to read about our battle to stay here, see the first two links above.

Our village had been wonderfully accepting, although as an American same-sex couple, one of whom is Jewish, we do stand out a bit in the Cornish countryside.

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Great Britain? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

The primary thing I’d change would be to consult a lawyer instead of trying to handle our visa renewals ourselves. The Home Office doesn’t make it easy, and we could have saved ourselves some sleepless nights and a great deal of grief. 

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

On our first Thanksgiving here, British friends announced that, since we had Americans in the village we had to have a Thanksgiving party. That meant I had to make a pie. No problem, I thought. I’d done that before.

Now, as any red-blooded American knows, pumpkin comes from a can, so off I went to the supermarket.

Have you ever tried to buy canned pumpkin in a British supermarket? When I couldn’t find any, I asked a woman who was stocking shelves, and she led me from one aisle to the next and on to the one after that, although within half a minute we both understood that we weren’t going to find the stuff. She, I think, couldn’t let go of wanting to help me, and I couldn’t say “let’s not bother” because she was being so *^+&*! helpful about it.

Eventually she suggested a fresh pumpkin and I agreed, although I had no clue how to get from fresh pumpkin to the puree I needed. I made a feint through the fresh food aisle and fled.

In desperation, I asked a friend to make the pie. She’s not only a great cook, she manages to make whatever she cooks look easy, and although I happen to know it was a pain in the neck, she arrived at the party with a pumpkin pie and she made it look easy.

I can now make a pumpkin pie from scratch, although I’ve never learned the trick of making it look easy. The hardest part, though, is convincing our British friends to try it. Pumpkin’s for carving, for curry, and for soup here, but not for pie.

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Great Britain?

  • Keep a sense of humor—preferably about yourself.
  • You’re surrounded by a new culture. Set aside your ideas of how things ought to be and make the most of it. It’ll make you a larger person, not to mention a happier one.
  • If you see even the slightest complications looming, consult an expert about visa renewals, because the Home Office is not your friend.

How is the expat community in Great Britain? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

We live in the middle of nowhere and haven’t particularly looked for fellow expats—which is good, because we wouldn’t find many. The closest InterNations group is in Cardiff—further than we’d drive on a whim. Most of our friends are British. Our village has small handful of other Americans and a smaller sprinkling of people from other countries (Germany, the Philippines…), but we haven’t been particularly drawn together by our foreignness.

Like-minded people haven’t been hard to find, and we count ourselves lucky in that.

How would you summarize your expat life in Great Britain in a single, catchy sentence?

Absurd and wonderful. That’s not a sentence, is it?

Jan-Peter van Tijk

"I wish I'd found InterNations sooner: It would have made my first few month as an expat in London much less overwhelming."

Therese Yeboah

"For me, the InterNations events are the best part. I attend almost every get-together and always get to know lots of friendly fellow expats."

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