Thursday 16 December 2010

Mistakes Expats Make: Trying Too Hard

This is a major, major bug bear of mine.  You know those things that just make you want to slap someone across the face and not feel guilty about doing it?  That's what this is for me, so I should warn you in advance that some potentially offensive ranting may follow...

I nose around on a few expat discussion forums and I always cringe when I see topics anywhere along the lines of "I feel so British", or "What did I just say?", or the worst one "So and so said I have an accent".  Innocent enough topics, but if you dare to open any of the many responses you will see immediately that people are trying SO pathetically hard to be "British" (or Scottish, or Irish or Welsh or English, or whatever they think they want to be) and it makes me want to scream.  

There are four types of people who continually pop up in discussions like these:

1.  The ones who admit they are doing it on purpose and intentionally fake an accent to "fit in".  Seriously, I cant even comment further on these ones...

2. The ones who act like they are embarrassed about something they've just said (I just said "thanks love" or "I just asked to borrow a fiver" and am so embarrassed ). If you are so embarrassed then why come on here and announce it to the world?  If it came out naturally, then why even mention it?   Side note: If you must forcibly add new words and phrases to your vocabulary, god forbid, get it right.  We don't want any more of these types of occurrences.

3. The ones who "admit" they love some esoteric British thing that other expats don't like.  Its like watching a competition in which they think they are being scored expat points for being naturally British or something.  For example:  I think it is safe to say that most Americans think the idea of black pudding is revolting, but there are always those trying-really-hard-expats who have to pull the "oh I like black pudding, I must be naturally British".  Yeah, ok... 
Or in discussions about TV shows - there are many Americans (me included) who don't get British humour but there is always without fail the expats who insist that they think its absolutely hilarious, claim they get all the jokes and "must have a very British sense of humour".  I'd like to ask one of them to watch a (dreadful!) Carry On film with me and explain the jokes before those expat points are awarded.

4. The ones who claim after living somewhere for only about a year that they now have a Geordie accent?  Oh please. (and why would you want one in the first place??)  Remember how everyone made fun of Madonna for picking up some seemingly forced accent?  Just some food for thought... 

Soap Box Alert:  Personally, I don't want to sound/act/be British.  I'm not British.  Even when I have a British passport and am a British citizen I will never consider myself British. I am a person who lives in Great Britain, but not a British person.  There is a profound difference between those two things in my mind.

My unsolicited advice:   If you pick up new words and phrases and they come out naturally (because this will happen to everyone), then use them, but don't force the assimilation process.  Don't be embarrassed that you prefer McDonald's to traditional fish and chips.  Don't stop drinking Coors Light because you think its more "British" to drink John Smith's.  Don't agree with people who say the original Office is the best comedy ever on TV even though you know Family Guy is much MUCH funnier.  Be who you truly are... not what you think the British version of yourself should be.


  1. Amen! I don't want to hear the forced use of "cheers" by people who don't even know what it means. I know I don't!

  2. What about those expats who totally have a new accent and deny it? ;-)

  3. 'Cheers' is a funny one. It has a meaning I can't put my finger on - thank you, have a good day, goodbye - rolled up into one. It is a word that sounds stupid in my mouth, so I never use it.

    I confess to love being called 'brilliant' and my son 'a good lad'.

  4. ooh i love this blog, ive only read a couple of posts, but i want to keep on reading!! Its such a different 'take' on things. Im off to have a look around now....
    (oh and i love your header!)

  5. Thanks for the kind words, Sheila (and for taking the time to comment). Have a wonderful Christmas!

  6. I love this post too! I agree with Happy Homemaker on "Cheers" - I just can't say it. As much as I love the idea of the word, it just feels so weird and forced when I try. So I don't. I do often say, "have a good one" (as in, 'have a good day') which is something I've always said in the States. It comes out naturally, and it's fun because sometimes the person I say it to is surprised and returns the phrase. I've learned also to be comfortable with my American accent - more times than not people are kind and strike up the "Where are you from?" conversation, and that is always delightful. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I'm comfortable with my Australian accent however having been in the UK for 10 years and not socialising with any Australians at all, my accent has changed. Mostly it's because I have to pronounce things differently so that I am understood at work and sometimes so that people focus on what I am saying and not make fun of my accent - if I hear 'put another shrimp on the baaaaarbie' I'll shoot someone.

  8. I love you and your opinions! This post makes me miss you a ton!