As a Brit in the USA, married to an American, and having children all born and raised here, it’s important to me that they feel “half British” and understand where I came from. Fortunately, by dint of husband’s many air miles, we are able to visit England every summer for several weeks, if not months. The kids get an annual dose of Englishness in the form of decent sausages, Robinson’s fruit juice and Walker’s crisps, as well as lunches in ancient pubs, shopping at Marks and Spencer and Coronation Street on the box.
Sadly, my children are also well acquainted with British summers; last year possibly being the pièce de résistance since it rained for all but two days of our visit and the mercury never rose above 60F or 15.5C. We were in England for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee River Pageant (watched on the telly), and we bonded with the rest of the nation in wondering how Her Majesty and Prince Philip could possibly stand for three hours in the freezing, horizontal rain. (Wasn’t that the very epitome of “stiff upper lip”?)I have also brought them up with traditional British discipline, such as “Oy, what d’ya think you’re doing?” and “Come here – I can’t see through windows and doors”. I have something of a reputation at my kids’ school as being “strict” and on one occasion many years ago, the principal actually phoned me to ask me not to be too hard on one of my little tyrants! Swearing British-style has also come in handy in that when two year olds repeat what they’ve heard at home, it’s a quaint “Bloody hell” rather than anything to cause utter dismay. (I do have to remind them though, that what’s quaint in the USA might not go down so well at grandma’s house.)
On the culinary front, representing the Mother Country has been more of an uphill battle however. Only one of them has ever embraced beans on toast (such a handy lunch option for kids), and they all hate Marmite with a passion. I ventured out a few months ago when I bought some delicious Black Pudding from a local British goods shop. Not quite sure what I was thinking at the time, but let’s just say the dog enjoyed it immensely. I have long since given up trying to make our Christmases particularly British since they also hate Brussels sprouts and Christmas pud, but I make sure we all pull the crackers and keep the flimsy paper crowns on our heads at least till the turkey’s eaten. (First and only time I asked husband to pick up Christmas crackers on a trip to London, he came back with – yes, you’ve guessed it – thin, ginger biscuits. Sigh.)
Fortunately us Brits don’t have too many “holidays” to miss out on, unlike Americans who bemoan the lack of Fourth of July (Independence Day), Labor Day and Thanksgiving festivities while abroad. They are all a big deal in the US and Americans often go to great lengths to recreate the party when they’re away from home. When my husband was working in England, his American buddies and he would take the day off and do something typically American on these days. I remember accompanying him to one of the only London Thanksgiving dinners at the time, and to say he was disappointed was an understatement. Now, it appears, there are restaurants up and down the UK and around the world are “doing” Thanksgiving.
Americans expats can feel particularly discombobulated when Thanksgiving occurs in a blazing hot summer like in Australia. As this one found out , turkeys are not as accessible, nor are Cool Whip and cranberries. Some Americans, like Expat Focus writer Michelle Garratt, make an attempt now and then but again, making s’mores without Hershey’s chocolate is just plain wrong.
It’s not just the celebratory food that hard to find or replicate when you’re not in your country of origin, there’s also the time frame involved. For an expat American, it’s pretty difficult to celebrate Thanksgiving and July 4th when you don’t even get the day off, for Pete’s sake! And don’t even get me started about having to go back to work on Boxing Day…
Toni Summers Hargis is the author of "Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom", (St. Martin’s Press) and blogs as Expat Mum.
Read Toni's other Expat Focus articles here.