On Saturday, I got to do something quite cool: Mr Man let me borrow the Jag so I could drive up to Hertfordshire to hang out with my friends at a manicure party/ladies’ night in. This was quite a novel experience, you see, the ability to wander further afield. I loaded up the car with the essentials (20 bottles of nail polish, Bison grass vodka, soda, and limes…I forgot the mint!) and put on my elegantly-crafted new Booty Bass playlist, then hit the M25 running.
My general experience of driving in the UK is mixed: people do rather drive like grannies here. This is good and bad — I hate going slow, but I’m also glad not to have the constant pressure to go faster from some boy racer tailgating me at 90 mph. I had sort of forgotten, actually, how much I really enjoy freeway driving. I get a huge thrill from a bit of speed, and the Jag is such a filthy car to drive so I was just having far too much fun and I got to B’s house in no time at all.
It seems to be quite an American thing to actually enjoy driving and to care about cars, although I’m not sure why. I am really into cars. I like proper beefy intimidating cars and it would crush my soul to drive a hatchback like 90% of people in the UK drive. I get that they just don’t care, but to me it’s like not appreciating music. M likes a drive, too, but I don’t think he is into motorway pursuit driving or speed the same way I am. I clearly should channel my energies into a more appropriate venue like a track day and I am not really sure why I missed my calling as a Formula 1 driver. Also: this is why I have a Vespa with no desire to get a bigger bike, as it would be hazardous to my health.
This weekend was all about cultural differences, you see. The main contingent of the manicure party were my fellow Southern Belle expats, the die-hard ones who like me have been here 9-13 years, proper dual citizens, no FOBs allowed. The other contigent was of course proper British ladies. When I first moved to the UK, I refused to associate with other Americans because I didn’t want to be That Girl, the expat that moves abroad and then bitches about the new country with other expats. Well, I have become That Girl. It isn’t as if we haven’t tried. It isn’t like I don’t have any British friends. But us belles sort of clump together because living here feels like knocking on shut doors all the time. British people straight up don’t want to talk to you. They don’t want to engage with outsiders.
And at my age, the only thing that women in general seem to want to do is hole up and breed and then forget they ever had a life of their own, so I can forget about interacting with them because I am by definition not invited to playgroups. It doesn’t have to be like that, though, because the other two belles in our little Triad have babies galore and while they don’t get out all the time and it can be hard, they do make the occasional effort not to be under house arrest.
So we got together and It Got Real. We drank fizzy mixed drinks and got our nails did and watched crazy twerk videos on youtube(?!?!!?). Hanging out with people are from where you are from means that we really speak the same language. Food, for example, is almost like a tangible poem about where you are from and how you grew up, and we talked about food constantly in our mixed-up accents. Food is the true god that Southerners worship, they’d just never admit it outright.
Spending time with your “own kind” just feels more real, I guess, at least if you are American, esp. Southern. We’re allowed to booty dance and talk in stupid accents because we constantly get judged all the rest of our days for our redneck Rs when we ask for wateRRR. My accent reflects who I am talking to, so it goes more English when talking to English people, and more (Californian) American when talking to Americans, and more Southern when talking to my belles or my mom. It’s a subconscious thing that I can’t control, I simply cannot put on or “do” an accent at will, but regardless one tires of being the linguistic curiosity all the time. You get treated differently: you are instantly an outsider from the moment you open your mouth. And unlike British people in America, Americans here NEVER get OMG I Love Your Accent squealed at them. No. Instead we get condescending bemusement at our colonialism. It gets really boring.
I wish I could sit here and say that I feel so utterly welcome and at home in Britain now that I’ve been here nearly a decade and am a British citizen and everything. I’ve spent a quarter of my life in this country now, and by choice, but that just doesn’t seem to count for much with people here. It just doesn’t seem good enough. It’s no wonder that around now, my American friends have left or in the process of trying to leave or even idly just wanting to go back. The problem is that we feel in-between, now, because we know that we won’t fit in back home, either, because ironically we are now too British. Wouldn’t it be nice if Britons would acknowledge that?
The truth is that the longer that I live here, the less at home I feel, and it seems to be that way for a lot of people I know. It’s sad because we want to live here and have made our homes here and married Englishmen and are raising children here, but in return for becoming British we are constantly reminded of our foreignness and get grouped together under that group most hated by the British: IMMIGRANTS.