With Britain tightening immigration regulations and the dreams of being an expat in Britain seeming to become far less of a reality for many, you are probably open to suggestions of how you can recreate the expat experience in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Beyond just ordering fish and chips, finding a pub that serves Boddingtons or watching endless reruns of “Coupling” on BBC America, there are some things you can do to bring an authentic feeling expat experience to your domestic life. You might feel and look ridiculous, but an important part of being an expat is trying new things and sticking out like a sore thumb, so get stuck in!
Read the Newspaper
Newspapers are such an important part of British life, I feel like in the US the TV news, the radio news and the newspapers all occupy their own realms. Their audiences don’t overlap considerably, and to be honest a person who relies exclusively on one medium of news will probably end up with a vastly different picture of what is going on in the world. In Britain the various news mediums are deeply intertwined, and the newspaper isn’t just for bankers and businessmen to keep tucked in their briefcases, people from all walks of life read the newspaper and even if they don’t the headlines and top stories from all the major papers are discussed on the TV news. I am not even saying you need to go out of your way to get British newspapers, I think just the act of making an effort to get a daily newspaper and to compare what you read in it to what you hear on the radio or see on TV is a great way to make your day to day life a bit more British. If you really want to make the experience authentic, subscribe to an RSS feed or other daily subscription to your favorite British major daily.
Eat Like A Brit
I can think of so many ways this could be done, but I did manage to narrow it down to a few essentials.
- Introduce the Sunday Dinner- Yes, if you want to have a truly authentic British experience, start cooking a Sunday dinner. It might be hard to get your family together every Sunday, especially if you have never done it in the past. Shoot for one Sunday a month and then maybe increase the frequency from there. Even if you aren’t a great cook, making a traditional Sunday dinner is still doable. There are a few main elements to the Sunday dinner, first is a big piece of roasted meat. Beef, pork, lamb or chicken will do the trick. Next are a few different types of potatoes, you can never just have one type. I usually have mashed potatoes and potato wedges or “roasties” but any kind of potatoes will do as long as there is more than one kind or you mix it up every once in awhile. Then you need a few different kinds of simply steamed or roasted vegetables usually carrots, sprouts, cabbage, parsnips and possibly seasonal vegetables like green beans and some mashed turnip as well. Then of course you must have brown gravy to drizzle over the top, and if you are really clever in the kitchen you should whip up some Yorkshire puddings. When I make a Sunday dinner I follow Jamie Oliver’s recipes from his Ministry of Food book (called Jamie’s Food Revolution in the US version) and they are really delicious traditional recipes. If you aren’t a cook you could always get one of those cooked rotisserie chickens they sell at the supermarket and some frozen vegetables and potatoes and easily cut all the corners and still manage a good Sunday dinner.
- Add a bit of gravy- For Americans gravy is pretty much just for Thanksgiving and Christmas and other special holiday meals. On a British dinner table its a makes a much more regular appearance, especially up here in the north. Instead of putting salt or ketchup or some other type of savory sauce on your meals, maybe try integrating in a bit of gravy. I am sure cardiologists all over the country are letting out a resounding “NOOOOOOO” but if it is a bit of British life you want, you need to add a bit more gravy to your diet.
- Substitute custard for ice cream- I don’t mean permanently, Hagen Daaz and Ben & Jerry’s do very well over here, I am talking about anything served “a la mode”. If you want the British experience your baked goods need to be smothered in warm, creamy custard. This is something that instantly makes any dessert British, even something as American as apple pie transforms into something homey and altogether different if you skip the ice cream and go for a liberal drizzling of custard.
Put The Kettle On
Probably the most difficult thing to get the hang of here is putting the kettle on. I certainly offer my guests a choice of cold or hot beverages when I have visitors, but there is something about the British method of doing this that makes it difficult for me to pick it up and that is the preemptiveness. As soon as your guest has announced they are on their way, start boiling the kettle for the tea or brewing the coffee. It should be ready when they get there, and you should offer it to them almost as soon as they walk in the door. Even if its just a short visit, I think the good thing about sharing a cuppa is that it requires you to sit down and take a little bit of time. It doesn’t take long to finish a cup of tea, but its just a long enough time that you do get to actually visit with your guest. Also keep your cookie jar full so you can serve your guests a few little nibbles with their tea or coffee.
Wear A Poppy in November
Its not just Britons who should celebrate the Armistice, and it would be totally appropriate for Americans to observe the day of remembrance and to wear a paper poppy during the month of November. If you can’t find one, you can easily make your own with a simple cutout of red paper and a black pin.
Don A Paper Crown at Christmas
I know its possible to find traditional British Christmas crackers at some specialty shops, but even if you can’t find them they are incredibly easy to make and one of my favorite things about celebrating Christmas in Britain. The rest of the day is pretty much the same, this is the one thing that I feel really makes it different. So this year with your family try something a little different and bring along some Christmas crackers, or just fashion your own paper hats and allow yourself a bit of whimsy. I did some googling to see if I could find a great reference for making your own Christmas crackers and paper crowns, and there are so many I couldn’t narrow it down. So do some googling and find the one that suits you best, they range from really simple (toilet paper tube, wrapping paper, two pieces of string) to the complicated versions that actually involve buying the “snap” bit from the internet and making your own crackers that actually crack. Either way you go, they are easy and fun to make, especially as a project for kids.
Place a bet on the Grand National
Mark you calendar and make sure to place your bet for the British Grand National on April 10th 2010. Before placing your bets be sure to peruse all of the betting guides, but most importantly go with your gut and if you want to be truly British do absolutely no research at all and put your money on the horse with the silliest name. Even for Brits that don’t regularly follow horse racing, the Grand National is a huge national event that almost everyone watches and most people also place a bet. You don’t have to be in Britain to place a bet, you can place bets online through both American and UK betting sites.
Cheer On England in the World Cup
August 2010 might seem like a far way off, but people are already talking about it. Keep up with the latest news and stats by checking the Sky Sports News website often. The great thing about the World Cup is that it is widely televised in the US. England has already qualified, so they are definitely going to South Africa for their first shot at glory since 1966. I think one thing about the World Cup in America is people support all different teams and they aren’t afraid to show it. This may be the one time that you can show up at a pub with a cross of St. George painted on your face (or belly if that is your style) and everyone else will look equally as ridiculous as you.
During the last World Cup I fondly remember sitting in The Globe Pub in Chicago (which by the way is THE PLACE to watch football in Chicago, and also serves delicious traditional English food as it is owned and operated by two Brits) and there were fans from all nationalities crammed into the bar at 7am all bedecked in patriotic colors of the nation of their choice and it was really fun for everyone, even me and I am not a football fan by and means.
Visit Anglotopia Often
So this is obvious, but whenever you need to live vicariously through expat experiences, visit Anglotopia and check out the columns and the other great content here, before you know it you will feel like you are in Blighty.