It’s been about three weeks since my family and I flew across the Atlantic to begin our 3 month stay in the English countryside. The UK government requires a 2 week quarantine upon arrival. Less than a week after we emerged from our isolation like bedraggled butterflies with PTSD, the prime minister announced England would be going into lockdown for 4 weeks.
Still, Steven and I knew going into this adventure that lockdown was a possibility, which is why we chose the countryside rather than London. Even in such a short time, there have been plenty of observations, most of which are good, and others…less so. Keep in mind, these are initial observations!
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- The scenery – The English countryside, specifically the Cotswolds, is everything I imagined it to be and more! The rolling hills, the sky and the honey-colored stone cottages are breathtaking. There’s an evident pride in the land here, and it’s obvious how much everyone takes care of their environment. With the exception of dog waste receptacles, I’ve rarely come across a public trash can and yet I’ve also rarely come across any litter. Everything appears to be so well maintained but retains the wild, organic feel of Mother Nature.
- The manners – I would describe everyone we’ve seen as both polite and a rule-follower. As someone who loves proper etiquette and rules, this thrills me. In light of the pandemic, the rule-following in particular is nice. When our dog got off his leash and came across a neighbor’s chickens, the neighbor was so nice about it. I’m pretty sure our dog would have risked being shot back home. At the very least, we would have gotten an earful of colorful language.
- The dogs – The Brits love their dogs. I’m not kidding when I say we haven’t met a single person without a dog. I’ve met almost everyone whilst out walking the dog. Before bringing our dog here, I asked around to make sure we could find enough dog-friendly places. After being here for all of ten seconds, it became obvious our dog is more welcome than we are! If we hadn’t brought Abraxos, I would’ve felt out of place. People bring their dogs EVERYWHERE, from the zoo to the pub.
- The size difference – Before arriving to the UK, I’d arranged a grocery delivery, ordering as I would at home. This meant enough fresh produce for a few days and enough pantry items to last us a week or so. As soon as I saw the kitchen, I had no idea how to fit it all. The refrigerator is easily 1/3 the size of ours back home. There’s a single cabinet for pantry items. My husband eats like a teenaged boy so if we don’t go grocery shopping every single day, he’s starving. Ditto space in the bathroom for toiletries, except I’m the teenager.
- The same but not – There’s American English, and there’s British English. I’ve managed to catch on rather quickly, but I’ve had years of reading historical romance novels set in England to help me. The other day I said to Steven “the biscuits the children like are at the tills where you queue” before having to translate to “the cookies the kids like are at the cash registers where you wait on line”. It’s subtle differences and not a big deal, but when we are speaking to people, it’s clear they don’t always understand us and vice versa.
- Driving – Here, the steering wheel is on the right side of the car, and driving is on the left side of the road. It’s the exact opposite of back home. Even after three weeks of driving almost daily, one of us will still go to drive from the passenger’s seat. In the beginning, if I was in the passenger seat, I would constantly annoy Steven with shouts of “you’re going to hit the curb on my side!” Please note, I no longer do this. Now I check my emails on narrow roads so I’m not the irritating backseat driver. Speaking of, these narrow country lanes would seem only large enough to fit one car, but they are, in fact, two-way. If I’m driving, I basically stop, close my eyes, and hold my breath.
- Quarantine – Most of my planning energy went into the logistics of getting here. Other than hiring someone to help with our kids and planning a couple of weekend trips, I focused on things like the house, the car and the dog. Even with a national lockdown in the works, I have only a single regret about this trip. I wish Steven and I had sat down to discuss our expectations around the quarantine period. I took 2 weeks off work, but Steven didn’t take any time from work. This meant I was responsible for the kids, the dog, cooking and cleaning the vast majority of those two weeks. I give so much credit to my stay-at-home parent friends because I’m not cut out for it. I sacrificed a lot of my own self-care, and I wasn’t a better wife or mother for it.
We love it here, and we’re already planning a trip back in the future. The challenges we face navigating a different culture and way of life are lessons to teach me where I have room to grow. I’m quite proud of being an American, but I do believe it’s important to learn how to adapt. If I could sum it up in one word, it’s grateful.
What do you think would be your biggest excitement or greatest challenge living in a different culture?
4 thoughts on “An American Family in England: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”
It’s wonderful to read about your trip, Jennifer! Sounds like a fantastic time for all 🙂
Thank you! It’s been an incredible experience, and I’m happy to document it 😉
I’m loving the giant leap you took this year! I can’t wait to hear more about it!