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Monday, July 07, 2014

15 Surprising Things about Parenting in England

Erin Moore and her husband, Tom, have spent the last seven years in London, where they live with their four-year-old daughter Anne—and another baby on the way! Here are 15 fascinating things about being a mom in England...

“When Tom and I moved to London from New York, we were so excited,” Erin says. Tom was born in England (although he grew up in the U.S.) and Erin was raised by Anglophiles. "Moving to London was always part of the plan for our life together," she says. "We didn’t have kids yet and it seemed like a 'now or never' kind of thing."

The first six months in London were magical—and then the culture shock set in. “It's easy to assume—because Americans and the English have a language in common—that it won’t be that different, and you won’t feel terribly homesick," says Erin. "But the cultural differences between England and America run deep—and it’s easy to end up feeling like you’ve said or done something wrong, without quite understanding what.”

On becoming bilingual: English moms' vocabulary for this baby phase was ENTIRELY foreign to me. An American mother in England can’t help but learn almost as many new words as her bub (baby). I’ve met lots of interesting people just because we popped our sprogs at the same time (that’s British English for giving birth). My new friends and I took long walks with our pushchairs and prams. We had vigorous debates about whether or not babies should be given dummies (pacifiers), and whether to splash out (splurge) for the chickenpox jab (a vaccine not standard under the National Health Service). We exchanged helpful tips on how to get posset (spit-up) stains out of babygros (onesies). Posset is—confusingly, disgustingly—also the name of a creamy dessert, and many desserts were consumed that year as we fretted over the statistics on cot (crib) death and balanced infants on our knees. We sought the camaraderie of trench-mates who knew we wouldn’t be judged for whinging (whining) or throwing wobblies (tantrums) over our sleeplessnes or having rows (arguments) with our partners. Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the most common acronyms on Mumsnet.com, England’s most popular online forum for moms, is AIBU (“Am I being unreasonable?”), to which one may respond: YABU or YANBU.

On being knackered: In my experience, “I’m knackered” is the new parents’ refrain. Even if you had no idea what knackered meant, you couldn’t miss it in context: “I’m absolutely knackered.” It’s British English slang for “exhausted,” and it usually comes with a certain sag of the shoulders and a little stagger in the voice. (There is a particularly English way of saying it, too. It’s pronounced nnakk-uhd: slow on the first syllable, swallowing the second.) The knacker’s yard is, literally, a place for horses that have outlived their ability to run.
On making friends: We found it was very easy to make expat American friends. The problem was, they were always moving away. If we wanted to live here long-term (and we did) we needed to make British friends, too. This is one of the hardest things we have ever done. Making friends takes real proximity—living or working with people for months, if not years. Whereas another American might literally say (on first meeting), “You seem nice—let’s meet for coffee sometime!” a new English acquaintance would need to run into you a dozen times before you’d get past the initial chit-chat about the weather. I have come to think of coffee as “first base.” “Second base” is lunch. “Third base” is being invited to dinner at their home, and a “home run” is when they decide to go all the way and introduce you to their other friends.

About six months after we moved to London, Tom and I decided we needed to try harder to turn our many new acquaintances into real friends. We used to laugh and call it "the American Charm Offensive." We started asking people we only knew slightly (people from work, people we'd met at parties, people from our college who ended up in London, friends of friends) over for dinner. Only a few of the people we invited responded with return invitations, but some of the ones who did ended up becoming close friends. Our circle of friends in London now is almost as big as the one we have/had in New York, but it took much more effort to grow!
On childproofing: Many people here express the opinion that kids should be allowed to fall down and hurt themselves, because it's a learning experience. In America, childproofing is a profession—you can actually hire someone to come childproof your home. Most English parents I know, while not being at all blasé about their child’s safety, didn't do much childproofing at all. The only childproofing we did was a baby gate at the stairs, a pad on one sharp corner, and outlet covers. I want to protect my daughter from the things that could kill or seriously hurt her, but that’s it. If my daughter pulls our cat's tail and gets scratched, I see that as a learning experience: how not to treat the cat. (Though so far, the cat has been more than patient.)

On life in the Mews: We live on a tiny street; most of the houses are converted stables that used to belong to the bigger houses on the next street over. The residents are Irish, American, Norwegian, Persian, Chinese, French, Indian and British, ranging in age from one to eighty. Everyone is very friendly. We have picnic tables and potted gardens in front of our houses and on warm summer nights we pass the wine up and down, pull out our barbecues and chat long after dark (some of us with baby monitors in our pockets). Whenever there’s an event like the Royal Wedding or someone’s birthday, we move the tables to the middle of the street, hang bunting, roll a piano out of someone’s living room and have sing-a-longs. Everyone knows everyone else’s business (and as a Nosy Parker, I love it).
On a class-bound culture: People in England are really class conscious, but it isn’t something people talk about (unless you get them drunk). I have been fascinated to learn about all the “secret” class markers that people use to size one another up. Words are a big one. Sitting on a “couch” or asking where the “toilet” is will knock you down a level. (Sitting on a “sofa” and asking for the “loo” are more proper. But appearing too anxious to say the “proper” thing also knocks you down a level. It’s confounding.) Luckily, anyone with an American accent is exempt from this and can just enjoy the theater of everyday class distinctions that is English life. But I do fret a bit about my daughter getting the “right” vocabulary—since with her English accent, no one will exempt her for being American—which is not something I’d ever have thought would matter to me. I am actually embarrassed to care about this, but even as an outsider (perhaps especially as an outsider) I can see that it matters.

On raising an English daughter: Anne has a strong English accent, even though she spends most of her time with her American parents and her French-speaking babysitter. Children tend to take on the accent of their peers as soon as they become immersed in school. She will correct my vocabulary in English (“trainers” not “sneakers”; “jumper” not “sweater”; “biscuit” not “cookie”; “brolly” not “umbrella” etc.) And our differences don’t stop at language. On arrival in America, at age 2 1/2, my daughter was given a cup of water that contained about one-third liquid and two-thirds ice. She stuck her hand in the cup, pulled out a cube of ice, and said, “What’s this?” I am raising a stranger!

On compliments: Americans give and receive compliments very easily—on each other's shoes, hair, whatever. It’s something women do to make each other feel good, and the proper response is to say thank you. In England, though, compliments aren’t so simple. If I give someone a compliment, they’ll often respond with, “Oh this? I really regret buying it,” or “I saw a much better one on sale at such-and-such” and will go into a whole thing to deflect the compliment. They reflexively put themselves down! If you just say thank you, it’s perceived as conceited. I have been teaching my daughter to say thank you, because I think that is the polite way to respond, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she starts picking up other ways at school next year.
On never bragging: Whereas Americans are inclined to blow their own horns, the English find this distasteful. It's not acceptable to brag—or even talk—about one’s accomplishments or talents. This is also true for how parents talk about their children. In America, you might hear a parent say, “My son is learning the violin and seems to have a natural gift." In England, you’d hear, “We’re enduring little Tommy’s efforts of learning the violin.” You’re actually deprecating your children, in front of them, so they learn the lesson of how to get along with people in society, which is never to brag. As an English friend put it to me, the tallest poppy in the field “is the one you want to cut down first."

On “negative politeness”: In England, there is a thing called "negative politeness," which means you give people their space. If you see someone crying on a bus, you ignore them, because you assume they'd prefer that. You don’t ask someone if they’re okay, because that’s not considered polite. In America, you take that leap, you insinuate yourself, you ask if they're okay, because if you don’t, that’s considered rude. We all know Americans (like my super-friendly mother) who will walk into a store and end up getting the cashier's life story within minutes. And maybe this is one reason Americans tend to be more comfortable with self-disclosure (sometimes even over-sharing, depending on the individual). In England, it's totally acceptable to go out in public and keep to yourself—and as an introvert I find that relaxing.
On drinking: Heaven forbid a parent should be forced to make it through an under-fives birthday party stone-cold sober...even if the party is at 10am on a Sunday! This is a simple acknowledgment that parents need ice-breakers, too—especially if they are having to make small talk with people they barely know, while refereeing kids’ unpredictable interactions, during their hard-earned weekends. People in England do drink a lot more, in general, than people in America do. In the U.S., five or more drinks in one sitting is considered a binge, while in the UK, a binge is more like an eight-drink minimum.
On English style: More than 90% of English children wear uniforms to school. There is broad agreement that uniforms are a good idea—that they improve discipline and focus, and level class distinctions. But, as adults, the English seem much bolder and more individual with their fashion than Americans. English men will wear much brighter colors, and they favor a slimmer cut for their suits. Women will wear the most amazing hats, menswear, low-cut blouses, bright colors. I’ve been inspired since moving here to be a little more daring.

On English food: Typical English food—especially pub food—is all the things children love: pies, mashed potatoes, mushy peas, fish and chips, sausages. English food used to have a reputation for being stodgy and not great. But these days, actually, the food is so good that that reputation is no longer deserved. Tom and I both put on weight when we first moved here because we loved the food (and beer) so much! There are great farmers' markets all over London, and the supermarkets can be really inspiring. My favorite English food is probably the sausages from our go-to butcher, the Ginger Pig. I also love bourbon creams, which are chocolate sandwich cookies.

On pregnancy and the body: I would say people are more modest about their bodies here, and definitely less touchy-feely. You don’t have to worry as much about strangers touching your baby bump here as you do in America! And my gym has cubicles for changing clothes in—something I’ve never seen in an American gym. Breastfeeding is very common, and breastfeeding in public is okay. Many stores have special parents’ rooms, but I also breastfed in restaurants, parks, buses and in the back of taxis and it was no big deal. Maternity leave policies here are very generous—most women get six months to a year—so that is also a great support for mothers who want to breastfeed.
On downtime: Family time is considered important, and vacation sacrosanct. Families usually take at least two—possibly three!—two-week breaks a year, whether or not they go anywhere. There are usually two weeks off at Christmas, and Easter is also a common time to take off. When we lived in the U.S. it seemed like many people didn’t take the vacation time they had earned, and rarely—if ever—in two-week chunks. I love that people take such great advantage of their downtime here.

Thank you so much, Erin! Erin is also writing a book called That's Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms and What Our English Says About Us (April 2015), which we're excited to read.
P.S. Motherhood in Norway, Japan, Abu Dhabi, Northern Ireland, Mexico, India and Congo. Plus, why French kids eat everything and babies sleeping outside in Denmark.

(Family photos courtesy of Erin Moore; London photos by Victoria Hannan. Interview by Caroline Donofrio)

146 comments:

Shruti Kapoor said...

What a wonderful post! Loved reading about the difference in cultures and language. Thank you so much for sharing!! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Katherine said...

Finally, motherhood around the world is back!!

13bees said...

love this and it makes me wish that america was a wee bit more like the uk (specifically, drinking at those 10am sunday birthday parties would make them way more fun!) ;)

Shruti Kapoor said...

Erin good luck with your book. I am curious to know which culture do you prefer more for raising kids? Now that you have had a taste of both.

MPLSkb said...

I love love love this series.

Amy Lauree said...

I'm soo excited for this series again, thank you!!

Tamsin Jessica said...

Thanks for this post - you almost made it through, and fell on 'vacation' at the end, we definitely only take holidays here :)

As for "posset", I have never heard of that word meaning babysick? Maybe I'm not in the right class to use that word though!

Cute pictures of your daughter in the park :)

Lilac In May said...

Erin has us Brits sussed.

simone antoniazzi said...

Interesting reading....although, as someone who has lived in London all her life, some of these statements are just nonsense, I don't know anyone who behaves in many of the ways described!!

I have never EVER been to a child's party where drinking was involved....I have children & have been to a lot of parties!!! I would say that's a total no-no actually, it's very frowned on.

What I would agree with is that the British are generally not into showing off, particularly about their children....modesty is favoured!

I have never used the word posset or heard anyone else use it - and no one (nice) uses the phrase "popped a sprig"!

Finally, most mothers avoid Mumsnet like the plague....it's the most hideously judgmental online forum with a terrible reputation!

Emily said...

Ha! I live in America but have a very large group of English friends. They all say repeatedly how standoffish Americans are and how hard it is to make real lasting friends here. They tend to stick to their ex pat friends for this reason (I'm a lucky interloper!). So it surprised me when you said you had a similar problem in England. Maybe it's just a problem between Americans and Brits regardless of where you live!

Emma said...

It was so interesting to me to hear the British Mommy slang - as I Canadian, I actually understood most of them! In fact, I think much of British culture (the introversion, the politeness, the fear of bragging) is mirrored, albeit to a lesser extent, here in Canada. It's so surprising to me that even within such close proximity to the States, Britain's influence still runs so deep here. (You should do a Motherhood around the world post about Canada! The differences wouldn't be as dramatic but I bet they'd be fascinating!)

Mallory Schulte said...

So excited to see this series back - I believe it is the best blogger series out there!

Christine said...

I'm so glad this series is back! It's probably one of my favorite blog series I've ever read. This is a great one, too.

Maureen said...

Love this series! Absolutely love it. Question - It doesn't quite fit into this theme but have you thought about interviewing moms in the military?

Kristen Burkin said...

As an American also living in England, I found this post to be so accurate! Also a bit inspirational as I am on year 1 in England and considering babies soon :). I definitely agree about having to see an English person a dozen times before they will meet you for coffee. However, if you do ever make it to "first base" and beyond, the bond does become very significant. I guess meaning that once a Brit (finally) invests in a friendship they are usual very trustworthy, caring, and loyal. My British husband says that the negative politeness concept really kicked in with the culture after the "rough go of it" that the country had in the wars. I spent a few months living in "black country" (named from all of the coal mining that once took place) and found the hidden warmth behind the stiff upper lip in old school Brits to be heart warming. Suprised there was no mention of the tea situation here (I think it tastes like sweaty socks). Even kids will have a "cuppa" after school with their families. Heaven forbid you make a hot drink without offering one to everyone within a 100 foot radius!

Jamie Farshchi said...

What a great post! I moved to Canada from Australia three years ago and while i don't have kids, I related to this experience on so many levels. Particularly the part about feeling like you've done something wrong though you're not exactly sure why. I've offended so many people just by doing what I thought was polite, only to later realise it's the opposite of polite in Canada (weddings are the thorniest, so laid back in Aus, so driven by rules and etiquette in North America). Thanks Joanna!

simone antoniazzi said...

PS I also have to say that most new mothers tend to be super friendly & it's generally the time you make friends quickest....I think the fact that the author took a long time to make friends stems from culture differences rather than anything else......Britain & the US are enormously different.

I would be so interested to know where the author lives....am inclined to think it's West London?!

ale norris said...

i've been lucky enough to travel a lot and i can say that the whole vacation thing she mentioned really stuck out to me, too. any time i visit a new country and mention that i'm there for two or three weeks, i usually hear "wow! and you're american, you guys usually don't travel for that long" -- it's been really interesting to me that for 'us' that's a really long vacation from work, but for people who live in other countries, it's the norm!
glad to see this series back, it's my favorite.

Carrie said...

*sigh* I want to be English

Lily L-M said...

I love Britain and have always thought about raising children there -- great to have more insight about it!

x Lily
http://whilemyboyfriendsaway.blogspot.com/

Alexa said...

I enjoyed this so much! Especially the bit about life in the Mews, hanging bunting, and rolling a piano into the street for a sing-a-long. Such a lovely way to live!

Rachel S said...

I LOVE this series so much!! So glad it is back!

Jodi said...

I'm so excited this series is back!! Loved reading this interview. Keep 'em coming!

Kate Merry said...

Simone, I find your response interesting- as someone who is also British I can say that I have heard posset and sprogs used in exactly the context described. Mumsnet is probably a quite judgmental forum but has been a definite space for mothers to air concerns and also has quite a lot of popular support.

Drinking at parties-I would say probably not quite in the morning, or if the kids are very young. I think there tends to be more of a one sober, one not, parent rule. But it's definitely not an absolute no just because you are with your children.

I can see what is meant about being self deprecating-to me if someone said that their child had a natural gift at music or something I would then be expecting them to be a mini Mozart! Which is probably a bit of a strong reaction.

Kate Merry said...

Oh, and I am consistently amazed that America offers so little maternity leave!

Sue said...

Yay! I love this series, I'm so happy to see more of it. And as an anglophile it really fuels my dream of going to England.

A Clumsy Way of Life said...

I really love your Motherhood Around the World posts. Very interesting to read. I would love to read some perspectives of mothers from other countries who are now parenting in America - maybe something to consider in future posts!

JenniferSH said...

Thank you so much for this series! I loved it last year and am so pleased to read more this summer, and see such great pictures. Thanks again!

Kendriana said...

This family seems very British, when I saw the pic I assumed they were natives!

Gabrielle Becking said...

This is great, it captures living in the UK perfectly. I've been here for 4 years and still end up in awkward situations without understanding why!

Susi Kleiman said...

I loved reading this. It reminds me very much of how things are in Germany. Very similar!!!

Meadow said...

My dad is English (and my mom lived in the UK for 20+ years), and I am married to an English guy, so I am quite familiar with the culture. I'd say most of this is spot on. The making friends and compliments thing is a bit odd to me, but I guess I have never actually lived in the UK... so maybe I would have the same experience. My husband's family is very friendly and gives and receives compliments no problem (at least when we visit them). I grew up with a hybrid English and Canadian accent (was raised in Canada but spent most of the time w. my parents until I hit kindergarten). I can tell you it was sooo difficult to fit in. I ended up getting rid of all traces of my English accent by the time I turned 13 since I felt so different and self conscious... so I totally see how she is a bit concerned her daughter. Accents are definitely an important thing. I love all the English slang... I grew up with it, but when I met my husband I learned so much more. It's also amazing how accents and even words vary from place to place in England. I still get a bit of a culture shock whenever I visit (usually once a year)! I have citizenship in the UK but I am not sure I would ever want to live there. The only place I'd really consider is London and you need to be rich to really enjoy living there IMO (and I am pretty used to my luxuries here... our incomes would not go as far over there!). I am glad this series is back, I always enjoy reading about parenting around the world.

Kris said...

Really enjoyed this post and found myself nodding my head the whole time in agreement and saying, "Yes, I totally get that!" I am also an American living in England and raising my two children here. I love that my daughter is picking up the sweetest little English accent, but it makes me a bit sad that she things she is English and not American.

Erin, if you are on Facebook come join our group, "American Expat Moms in the UK"

Kit Lane said...

Brilliant! really interesting to hear an American interpretation of our self-deprecation and other mannerisms. They're such a norm to us that I don't think I've ever considered them unusual to other prople

Rachel said...

Gosh, I LOVE this series! Erin's post and pictures made me miss England SO much.

Merry Ferry said...

Some of this sounds rather strange to me, but I am from and live in Scotland. So at first I was mildly irritated that it was 'England' and not the UK but having read it I think a lot of it just applies to England or London really! Making friends when moving to another country is hard, I lived in Hong Kong for 2 years and because people move on so frequently it was hard to make deeper friendships. Even moving to another part of Scotland is hard!

karen said...

I'm an expat living in Dublin and see so many similarities to our life here, especially when it came to childbirth. We had the dody (pacifier) for our baba (baby) and a cot for his sleeps and all the jabs. Having a baby in another country definitely leaves you feeling knackered and wrecked! I especially smiled at the violin reference - all us mums of 5th class students have suffered through the violin this year. No tall poppies far as we can tell! :)

Clementine Buttercup said...

I loved this post. As an expat I totally related to the author's experiences. I likened baby groups to dating. It really felt like I was wooing people at times! One glaring omission: pants (British knickers or underwear)vs trousers. I've lived here so long now that when I hear it used incorrectly it totally cracks me up!
www.clementinebuttercup.blogspot.co.uk

Marina said...

Great post! I love this series.

Andrea Velikov said...

Thank you for sharing! This is so great, now I cannot wait for next Monday :)

Gina said...

this is so interesting, i've never thought of any of this stuff before!! (drinking on a sun morn sounds a great idea) http://www.bloglovin.com/frame?post=3085277057&group=0&frame_type=a&blog=2199550&frame=1&click=0&user=0

Gabriel Davies said...

Loved this! As a mum (not "mom") of a seven month old, and living in London, this made me laugh. A lot of it is accurate. We Brits do have some pretty interesting mannerisms.

I agree with one of the commenters that I have never heard anyone use the phrase "popped a sprog" and hardly anyone refers to baby sick as "posset" - my mum friends simply call it milk vom! And yes, Mumsnet is terrifying. My husband reads it for me whenever we need reviews of anything baby-related.

Finally, having recently returned to work full time after seven months on maternity leave, I am in awe of American mums who go back to work so soon after giving birth. I just don't know how you do it. I am so grateful for our comparatively generous maternity rights.

JnoneR said...

I can relate having grown up in the Uk and emigrated to Canada in my 30's. Although we speak the same language (English) the terms of words were hard to get straight right away. ENjoy!

holtkamp said...

So interesting! I love that you are bringing back this series, love it!

Rachel Cox said...

English born and bred mum here (not mom!). Fascinating insight. Agree with Kit Lane, some of the things Erin mentions are so entrenched in everyday life I wasn't aware of them as English characteristics before reading this. I probably say "I'm knackered" a little too much and, since having had a baby, can't face ordering posset (the dessert!) in a restaurant.
I would say - and I've lived in London and elsewhere in England - that if I saw someone crying I'd ask them if they were OK. Also mumsnet can be very judgmental but can also be supportive and funny. Class exists everywhere... but that's a whole big debate in itself. Maternity leave in the USA is shockingly low when compared with the UK. That said, even British society has a long way to go before pregnant women and women with young children are treated well / equally in the workplace.

jessica rose said...

As someone English born and bred...this post had me laughing as it's so bloodly true!! We swear a lot you missed that out...as for Simone never hearing the expression Popped a sprog not popped a sprig! blimey..and you say your English....your aving a laff mate!

simone antoniazzi said...

Okay okay.....I am aware of the existence of the word "sprog" (sprig was clearly a typo!) heard BUT no, I know no one who has used the expression "popped a sprog"....and one of my close friends is a midwife & all my friends have babies!! No one says that!

I am reminded of all Americans thinking that all English people talk like Dick van Dyke in "Mary Poppins" or Daphne from "Frasier"!!

Maybe it depends on age or location....no one where I live gathers round the piano for a singalong either ;) It's not 1950s East End!!

Katie said...

I'm an American in England with my English husband and kids. I remember feeling very proud of myself using the "knackered" word in front of my in laws thinking myself very clever for using it in the appropriate context. My husband was horrified. Apparently it usually means tired from excessive sexual activity. I don't use that word frequently anymore.

Donna said...

So excited for this series to be back, great start! I learned a lot about British english living in London for 6 months but none of the motherhood ones. SO interesting!

xo Donna
www.soyouagree.com

Mari D said...

I've had an American friend complaining to me once how hard she found to make friends with Brits.

Also, I have American friends with kids here in London and there's NO way they'll ever develop a British accent! When one of their kids accidentally drops a British word they correct them on the spot! It's so funny (but I should add that they intend to move back to New York at some point.)

Really great post! Can't wait to read the rest of the series.

xo

Linè Waterson said...

In South Africa we also use the words they use in England. Like "dummies", "cots", "babygrows", "prams", etc. :)

Michelle {lovely little things} said...

One of my favorite series, so interesting and informative. Keep it up!

Sarah said...

Great post! So accurate. We are Californians who lived in London for 10 years where our three children were born. Once the kids started school though, we started to hanker for the American "go get 'em" that is obvious and in your face. After so long the 'negative politeness' is actually a negative conditioning response. It is okay to be proud sometimes.

Adrienne Symonds said...

This is so funny! As a british mum, I had no idea that these things were "things" until pointed out! You have a beautiful daughter, I love her response to ice! As a child my parents did any thing to make me drink tea and would give it at set times of the day with a biscuit. Cold drinks were few and far between! Great post- all the best x

Anna said...

Interesting to see how people see the UK from more of an outsiders point of view. We seriously do not roll out pianos into the street and have a sing song...ever...though. She must live on a street from the 1940s. Life in London is not the Richard Curtis film people make it out to be, but it's brilliant none the less.

MrsW said...

Very interesting to read about England in this way. I'm English and have lived here all my life, but in the north. No piano's and wine sharing on my road, your road sounds like a real laugh. However, I think the not approaching people is more of a big city thing. In smaller cities and towns and definitely up here in Sheffield you'd be considered rude if you didn't chat to total strangers, in shops, on buses, walking the dog.

Julie said...

Yay!!!!! Motherhood series is back- so fun!!

Beatriz said...

Many thanks Joanna for the article! As a Spanish expat in the USA (NY) and mum is really interesting to learn the experiences of other people in our same situation. I have found particularly interesting to read that Erin thinks that it is difficult to make friends in the UK. After two years living in NY with my husband (German), we have hardly gone beyond touching base (coffee) with Americans in NY! We find extremely difficult to make good friends (apart from
Expats in your same situation who leave the country as soon as you are getting closer). It might also be NY though. Wishing Erin good luck with her book! Beatriz

Erin said...

Love this, and so glad to see the series back!

Rachael King said...

One important thing forgotten, pants means underpants in the uk! I constantly embarrass myself in the uk by using pants "incorrectly". for example "ill just be a minute I have to change my pants cos they are wet" after coming in from the rain to a brit sounds like you've pee'd your pants. Embarrassing!

Kiana said...

Beatriz, I'm in the same position as you but in Spain. I'm an American living in Barcelona for over two years and I have found it very difficult to make Spanish or Catalán friends. I think we're making some progress though so maybe it just takes time. Suerte!

Kate Wallace said...

Oh dear. I'm an ex-pat Canadian living in the UK since 2004. I have a three year old son and I'm afraid I disagree with most of this post, and have found very little of it to be accurate. It's more like a caricature of UK life, upholding outdated stereotypes.

It's me said...

I agree with Kate Wallace. The comment I most disagreed with is about negative politeness - this is VERY much a London city thing. I grew up in Yorkshire which is famed for people chatting to strangers on buses, everyone saying "hello" to one and other and general good naturedness. Similiarly, even if you venture to Essex's suburbs (not all that far from London), you'll find close knut communities with multiple generations living in the same area.
I guess the post should be retitled 'parenting in London'. X

Helen Jackson said...

What a fascinating post, I love that you feel breastfeeding in public is so acceptable here in the UK, many breastfeeding mums would not feel this way. I am also fascinated by your thoughts on negative politeness. I would actually always go up to someone crying and try to engage in conversation with strangers as often as I can!

Emily Orzel said...

Yay! So, glad this series is back. I'm not a mother myself but I find this series to be utterly fascinating!

Emily xo | emilyorzel.com/blog

Ashleigh Mitchels said...

YAY! I'm so glad this series is back. I'm not a mother, but just love it! Thank you Joanna.

Jemma In Words said...

This is just fabulous. It's very interesting to see how life differs from London, to more rural hamlets and villages around England.

Kirby Todd said...

My brother and sister-in-law just moved from LA to London with my 4-year-old niece and 3-year-old nephew so I just passed this along to them. I don't even have kids yet but found it fascinating, especially since I lived in Oxford for six months in college.

Little Miss Gift said...

I love this post. Erin has nailed it. Being a Brit who has lived in the States for the past 20-odd years, I'd forgotten some of the things I love about England.

s said...

My mum is English, and this post completely made me laugh - because having done a lot of my growing up in America, I feel like I've lived it in reverse.

jojo gadget said...

so i promise this is not a judgmental comment; i am legitimately curious-- you mentioned breastfeeding in the back of taxis. do you not need to have them buckled in their carseats? is that a common practice? i'm really curious bc i'm traveling to europe soon and can't figure out how to take the baby everywhere on public transportation. like on buses or trams, does the baby need to be buckled? or do you just roll a stroller on and hold tight?

Katie said...

I thought 'knackered' had sexual connotations as well! haha. Great post! Her book sounds right up my alley; I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

Jo said...

Love this series and this story. My sister in law moved to Luxembourg a couple years ago and while they have adapted a lot now she talked about how the culture shock hit her hard about 3 months in.

Alex said...

So interesting!

K said...

This is the best motherhood series post ever. How intuitive and funny is Erin. Loved it! Also i find Americans very overbearing and over consumed in their rules for things not just raising kids. The society seems more by the book than by everyday learning.

Jodie M said...

Being an Australian married to an American I can relate to these differences. My husband sometimes has a hard time understanding how reserved we are here.

Lisa said...

I would've liked to hear her thoughts on receiving prenatal care in England. How often does she visit the doctor? Are c-sections as popular there as they are here in the US? etc.

I, like many others, am happy that this series is back! It makes me excited to be a mother one day, and it also makes me eager to see more of the world. Looking forward to next week's post!

Unknown said...

This made me chuckle ( as an English Mother of two, living in Seattle). I found myself nodding my head and really associating with the things she said!

Annie Green said...

Yep, that's us Brits. Bung ho, old bean...

DreamCatcher said...

Love love love this series!
I wish you could find a mom that lives in Greece!

Kate at M is for make said...

Hilarious, I've never read one of these before from my own country. It sounds like she is living on the set of Mary Poppins!

Linda said...

Absolutely love this, as I live in Norway but is married to an Englishman..

Keep these posts coming!

LaGoz said...

As a South African living in the UK, I agree with a lot of this - the culture shock, the language differences (do NOT refer to your pants - pants = underwear), the class obsession (and that as a foreigner you're exempt, and everyone will deny that there is a class system), the reserve and the self-deprecation. The whole country has a case of tall poppy syndrome.

Gabriella H said...

I study English and just finished a course on British culture. So so many things in this article are very chliché, but not in a bad way! And probably only to me, because I just had a whole semester learning about negative politeness and class consciousness ;) It wasn't at all surprising to me when I read at the very end of the post that Erin is an author on this topic. She obviously knows her field well!

I'm really looking forward to all the other posts you have lined up, Jo! One of your best series, for sure! x

Louise Scott said...

As a pregnant Scottish expat living in the Middle East this article made me so homesick that I now want to cry. Wow I miss my country.

Teacher Adrienne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Teacher Adrienne said...

That comment about self-deprecation and not taking compliments being English surprised me. Perhaps it's regional in the US, but in the Southern United States (I grew up in Eastern Texas) both of these are the norm. If someone compliments my shoes, a standard response is, "Oh these? I've had them for years." Then I might shrug my shoulders. It's also common to hear things like, "Oh, well, you know Lucy is taking piano lessons and we've had to invest in ear plugs."

Southerners WILL, however, nose their way into your business, anytime, anywhere. ;)

My theory is actually that the Southern United States retains a bit more of the British culture since it was largely settled by the English, Scottish, and Irish and remained more isolated than other parts of the country for much longer.

All that being said, perhaps it's just me and highly introverted Americans may be more English than they'd care to admit. I tend to feel more comfortable with German and English culture than I do my own many times because I am so reserved. My sister would say I have something stuck somewhere that needs to be removed pronto, but I just don't see it that way. ;)

Anna said...

I also love this series. And this addition brought back many memories of when I lived in London. Even as an Australian I too had a similar experiences of cultural difference (although the tall poppy thing is even stronger in Australia than the UK). The slang that through me most was "Are you alight?" (said "You a'right") as a greeting! it took me a while to understand what that meant.

Victoria King said...

Whilst I don't have children, so many of these things ran true to me especially the one about friends and drinking! Im from Australia and moved to London 2 years ago, making friends with the English was hard and all the aussies moved home after a short time. Oh and the thing about putting on weight when moving here is def true - they even call it "The Heathrow Injection"!

Kate said...

This is fascinating! I am a South African and lived in the UK for a few months in my varsity days. I think English speaking South Africans retain a lot of the culture of our British ancestors. We say loo, lift, pram, dummy etc. and have the same aversion to vanity that we find in a lot of Americans. I grew up with a British granny and she was very classist - quite difficult to maintain in a country as diverse as SA but she tried :) I think Erin has it spot on!

Sofia Donatelli said...

Great read. I was just there and I loved to see the way the Brits dress their little ones. What a beautiful country. I always make great memories when I go there.

Love,
Sofia

stylishlyinlove.blogspot.com

Ruth said...

This was interesting and nice to see an American's impression of England. Some are a little strange though, I don't know anyone who would judge someone's class by whether they said loo or toilet, it's not that rigid. I don't know who you are mixing with! Quite posh people perhaps.
Also 2/3 two week holidays and 2 weeks off over xmas?! No way! I have 21 days a year and that is more than most.

Georgia said...

Ruth I couldn't agree more! My fiancé grew up in London and I read a couple of these statements off to him. A few he agreed with but the class comment he was totally thrown by. Then again, I am marrying a working class fellow who says toilet, so what do I know? :)

Lauren S said...

there are some really interesting contrasts here (i am british myself) and it's a shame we do depreciate ourselves because we don't want to be seen as too snobby or as showing off - i guess we should be more thankful !
Lauren x
Britton Loves | Fashion Lifestyle + Photography - www.brittonloves.blogspot.co.uk

Unknown said...

I love motherhood around the world! Thanks for bringing it back!

Laura Hall said...

I loved this - I'm a Brit living in the southwest and agree with a lot of posters that this is a London thing. But I've never really thought much about our negative politeness - I feel like I just don't want to embarrass someone who's already having a bad time so I don't get involved in the street if someone's crying - and our class system/hang ups must seem nuts to you guys in the US. It's all very unconscious I tell you!

The making friends thing is funny - I don't think it's that hard, but it's definitely more difficult in London where everyone's busy busy all the time. I definitely do coffee with people I've just met - we're not all stiff and reserved!!

Callie Glorioso-Mays said...

SO glad this series is back!

Sarah Becker Lillard said...

TOTALLY love this series (I'm not even a mom!) and so excited its back! This was a really interesting one.

Angela said...

I absolutely love this series. I'm from Northern Ireland and I think I identified more with this post more than the one about my home country. I agree about the difficulty in making friends... even when I moved to the next village or change jobs its difficult to "get in there" with new people. I think its because they don't want you to think that they need new friends themselves - it makes them look needy and that's just not proper!!

upwithjoyblog said...

All the sudden I want to move to London! Loved this post!

Anne said...

Erin's line about London being comfortable for introverts perfectly captures what I've always felt about the city - that it's good to be alone in. Nice to hear someone else agrees.

Ellen Cleveland said...

Love this series- as a mother of grown children, it is comforting to realize all mothers just love their children unconditionally.

msn said...

I loved this article, thank you so much, very interesting!

smash said...

So glad you brought back this series. That was so fun to read!

Lizaboo said...

This was a fantastic read. Being a Brit I loved reading about how we are perceived by our Americans cousins. It was so spot on and to the point. Lots of british love for them x :o)

Abigail Joan Politzer said...

Wow! I befriended Erin when we worked in book publishing together in NYC right after college. Very funny to think of the many park lunches we enjoyed as second base! This post is fascinating, and I'm excited to check out the rest of the series. I like to think of myself as an Anglophile, but your post gave me some insight into how little I know about living in London. I can't wait to read your book!

megan said...

I love this series!!! I love that they take more vacation time and don't feel guilty about taking it. I wish we did this more.

Mollie D said...

Fascinating again, so glad this series is back, it's been my favorite ever on this blog

jessica rose said...

Simone you have a really bad attitude. North London are we? That explains...not sure what your sing along piano reference was for? I'm really sorry I've offended you for hearing of the expression *popped a sprog* I was born and raised in London and it happens to be an expression I've heard, so you know a Midwife?

Next time we shall all just agree with you..as you obviously like to be right.

secretstylist said...

Very funny, I'm a Brit living in nyc so I sent this to my nyc mummy friends, we often get lost in translation :)

Joanna. said...

I live in the North East of England and I absolutely love this post. So, so funny to read someone translating what I say all the time. Some other words for knackered that we use up here are 'jeffed' and 'pooped'. I use jeffed all the time, not only for when I'm tired, but when something's broken or if someones buggered something up.
The self depreciating aspect is something I've noticed myself with everyone I know. I read once that men don't like women to turn their compliments into negativity so I always try to say Thank You when someone says something nice to me - unless they're trying to be nice and it's about something obviously terrible.

ps. that pub with all the flowers on it was featured on a gardening programme just a few weeks back called Gardener's World, I'd recommend watching it. The owner is a fantastically dedicated man.

ohhellojo.blogspot.com

simone antoniazzi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
simone antoniazzi said...

Jessica Rose....I honestly don't have a bad attitude, I have no idea what you are talking about. But I'm not going to respond on another blogger's feed....very unseemly.

This is a fascinating series....and, as usual, Joanna Goddard encourages comments FROM EVERYONE, those who agree & those who don't.

Erin mentioned the piano playing....and I've HEARD of the word "sprog", I just know no one who would use it ....another commenter said the very same thing.

Have a good day.

I read the post & simply did not recognise the London that I know....nothing wrong with saying that, it would seem quite a few commenters think the same.

pixiedusk said...

OMG this is like written by me! I can so relate to everything as in everything that she said! =)

The Jinkins Family said...

Hands down this is my favorite series on any blog, ever. Thanks so much for bringing it back! And thanks for sharing Erin!

blissoutnyc said...

Having just moved to the US from the UK at 8 months pregnant, I love reading this because I'm now at the opposite end, learning the American-isms for all the baby-related phrases and words.

I think the author is quite correct in her depiction of English society/life in London; I reckon more specifically that she's based in West London or Kensington, as many of the attitudes and behaviours exhibited seem familiar to me as from that area.

This is perhaps why those leaving comments from other parts of England don't find some of the statements to ring true. It's very region-specific.

Great post, made me miss London!

Lizzie said...

As someone from Edinburgh living in London and raising kids there, can I add my peeve that we are British!! Not English! We are one country!

Rant over, thanks!

Karen said...

What an accurate and funny article! I am London born and bred and nearly all of those are true. I think we have a reputation as being unfriendly, but this is not true of everywhere. My part of North London is very friendly, people are very quick to strike up converstions, especially if you have young children, I guess they are an ice breaker. Having said that, London is very international and I think some of the positives of other nationalities, like openess and good food is rubbing off on us?
The part about booze at parties is spot on. We always provide alcohol, although not at 10am. Nobody admits to reading Mumsnet but we have all tried it, mainly to whinge about schools or the early days of motherhood.
I look forward to her book.

simone antoniazzi said...

I rarely comment on this blog, I think I had better stick to that!

For what's it's worth KimSukie, I agreed with your previous comment too :)

Hlazare said...

Hooray! I'm so glad the Motherhood Around the World posts are back. This was a great one and I'm looking forward to the next! Thx, JO!

Nicole Harris said...

This was such an interesting article! I'm glad to see that this inspiring series is back.

Nicole
www.meetmeinmidtown.blogspot.com

This Small Old House said...

I reallllly love this column. I'm pretty sure I would read a motherhood around the world post every day if available. :-)

Steph said...

What fascinates me is how similar this is to Canada (albiet more diluted here, but still...). I guess English colonization really stuck around here when it comes to parenting!

Karen said...

One thing the writer missed out is the rivalry between the different areas of London, namely north vs south, plus north south divide across the country. Usually it is just fun, but I think some take it a little too seriously as expressed by Jessica Rose. It is very immature to assume that another commentator is from North London. London is extremely diverse these days and a better place for it. As the writer has pointed out, there is still a class structure, although thankfully it isn't very important these days. Phrases such as 'pop a sprog' and 'havin' a larf' may well be commonly spoken in the East End but far less so in say Chiswick or Mayfair. I am sure most Londoners and British, lower to upper classes will have heard these phrases but they may not be widely spoken everywhere.

Graphic Foodie said...

Either this person moves in very middle class circles or is living in some strange Hugh Grant England. Still makes for interesting reading.

We’re enduring little Tommy’s efforts of learning the violin. Pass me my brolly!

And only chavs get drunk at children's parties :)

Kris said...

Happy to see this series back. It's my favorite!

Taylor said...

LOVE this series! I think it is fascinating! I always read every word of these posts! Thanks for sharing!

Sarah said...

@jojo I live in SF and kids and babies are regularly on public transit & ride in cabs (I think the same goes for NYC and other cities). Most parents wear babies on public transit, and kids sit on laps or on the seat next to them. I've buckled friends' kids in cabs before (who would otherwise be in a car seat in their own car). I'd take kids out of a stroller, and fold it up on a bus or train. It takes up way too much room for other passengers!

Morgan B said...

Thanks for sharing! I'm also an American Expat. :) I had to go through this culture shock in terms of different childcare language as I worked as a nanny for my first year here while I was in school. I must live very close to you in Kensington, as the picture of the Churchill Arms on Kensington Church Street is right next to the art gallery I work in (Calken Gallery). It's such a beautiful area!

Curly boy said...

As an American bloke living in the UK for the past 12 years with my Enhlish wife and 4 year old son, I have to say that your post is spot on! It's a bit different up here in t' North (basically outside the M25). I've tried for years to sum up the differences but have never been able to quite so eloquently. Well done!

Carolyn Page said...

The 'deprecating your own children' comment is an interesting one - there seems to be a lot going on there. It's partly about not bragging, yes - and teaching your children to fit in and not break the rules about self-promotion. But it's also about taking the pressure off, the pressure to be amazing. It reminded me of one of the wisest things I've read on your blog, Joanna - or perhaps on any parenting blog. You said 'What are the best six words you can say to your child?' and the answer was 'I love to watch you play'. Not that they're 'Great' at it (performance pressure and sel-consciousness). It's a great gift, the English have, not taking yourself too seriously.

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Loved this post! I'm an Anglophile, too (mother's family from Lake District) and I have lots of English food (and tea) on my blog. We have friends, wife American, husband English, who raised their daughter in England up to about age 7 then moved to US. Sad to see her losing her accent!

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Loved this post! I'm an Anglophile, too (mother's family from Lake District) and I have lots of English food (and tea) on my blog. We have friends, wife American, husband English, who raised their daughter in England up to about age 7 then moved to US. Sad to see her losing her accent!

Amy Diestler said...

I also love Bourbon Creams, but as an American, I don't have access to them. To satisfy my cravings, I found a recipe on the Tesco website, and converted it to American measurements. These are so good!

http://kitchenfailure.blogspot.com/2014/05/bourbon-cremes.html

Elle said...

I think the mark of a civilized nation is how well new parents are accomdated...in the US, capitolism seems rule out a national plan that supports growing a family on any practical matters. We're just supposed to figure it out for ourselves, not that that's necessarily a bad thing, we just haven't yet come up with a solution or lobbied for it yet.

Nina Leung said...

My favorite series! Love, love, love. Please continue, it's so fascinating!

Rachie @ A Chi Chi Affair said...

I love this series! I'm british with a South african husband and I'm going to send this to my inlaws as I'm always trying to explain what its polite to say and what it isnt and the class system which is just ridculously hard to explain but definitely is still an issue in society (even though lots of people say it isnt!) I think this post sums it all up perfectly!!

Rachie xo

PS: As a mum to an 11 month year old I am always knackered!! (Use this expression all the time!!)

likeschocolate said...

Thanks for sharing your life in England.

Dawn Lantero said...

Our family was lucky enough to live in England for one year. This post brought back so many great memories. Thanks. You might be interested in reading my parenting blog at http://splashparenting.blogspot.com

shi said...

Thanks for the interesting read, I am from Canada and found myself thinking about how my own parents must have felt moving here.

From the post and personal experience, I think that here in Canada its a mix of little American and mostly British behaviours. Luckily class structure is seemingly is only a point of discussion in some multi-cultural communities, it feels completely foreign and unsettling when you hear it.

Emily said...

This article couldn't have come at a better time in my life - my family (my husband and our 2 1/2 year-old daughter) are relocating to West London in early September. A friend passed this along. I very much look forward to the experience as a whole and found this perspective extremely helpful. Thank you for your honesty (or... I suppose 'candor' would be a proper British way to put it!) :)

lola said...

This was so spot on - as an American who had a baby in London, I remember it all well. We've just had our second baby in the States and having a baby here feels foreign to me. One of the other things I found in having a baby there was that the generous leave policy meant that there was more time and interest in making real friendships with other moms. I am still in touch with my NCT class and often long for those days of mommy & baby yoga, walks around Hyde park, lunches at Whole Foods. Thanks so much for the nostalgia.

emily said...

I recently moved to England from the US with my 5 year old, and I have a question about toilets/loos/restrooms/whatever you want to call them. In the US, I feel like there were bathrooms everywhere. When my kid needed to go, we found the nearest store and asked to use their bathroom. No problem. In the UK, I've found this to be much more difficult. Almost no where lets us use the bathroom. Where can we find bathrooms to use when we're out?

daniella beattie said...

Some of this post actually made me laugh out loud. As a Scottish expat living in Dubai for the last 13 years, reading about living in London from a American perspective was hilarious, and actually made me quite homesick.

The part about seeing someone on the bus crying and just 'leaving them alone' is classic British-ness. Love it.

Sadaf Trimarchi said...

I wish I had gotten this advice four years ago, before moving to Bermuda. There's such a heavy British influence here including a large Brit ex pat community. I've often felt like despite speaking the same language, I have no clue what they are talking about!! It's taken time, to crack the code, but all of your comments were spot on!

Best,
sadaf

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