My Christmas list for 2010 was chock-full of British goodies, but one book that I really wanted was called Rules, Britannia: An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom. My precious parents got it for me and I devoured it on our next road trip. It was even better than I hoped it would be: funny, fascinating, and extremely informative! I couldn’t resist reading about half of it aloud to my family as we drove. If you’re a genuine American Britophile, or are considering a hop across the pond anytime in the future, this is a must read.
This Wednesday I’m bringing all of you something very special, because I recently had the privilege of interviewing this awesome book’s author, Toni Summers Hargis:
Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? How did you meet your husband?
I grew up in the far northeast of England and stayed there till I was 18. After attending university at Bristol (southwest of England) I went to work in London. I met my American husband there as he was on a three year secondment* from Dallas. When we married I moved to the States and have been here almost 21 years.
And what inspired you to write Rules, Britannia?
Almost from the moment I got here people have asked for advice when planning trips to the UK, or for relatives and friends who were relocating. I took to keeping notes and when a good friend moved to England for a long stint, I ended up handing over 40 pages of “what to expect” type information. Needless to say, she suggested it should become a book and several years later, it did in the form of “Rules, Britannia: An Insider’s Guide to Life in the UK” (www.rulesbritannia.com).
In your book you do a great job of warning Americans against committing “social faux pas” in the UK. Have you ever done something silly or embarrassing, in either culture?
Probably because Brits and Americans kind of speak the same language, people never expect there to be many differences. The reality is that although it’s not like going to another planet, there definitely are language and cultural differences, many of which can cause huge confusion as well as laughter or embarrassment.
I haven’t really made too many social faux pas although my sense of humo(u)r is sometimes still too dry for Americans. I have to be very careful with sarcasm as it can sometimes come across as mean or just isn’t understood.
On my mother’s first trip to my new American home, she went to bed one evening worrying about what time she was going to wake up next day. Finally, she turned to her new son-in-law and politely asked him to “knock her up” at 8 if she wasn’t up by then. Fortunately, because he’d lived in the UK for a while he knew that she meant knock on her bedroom door rather than get her pregnant, but she has never lived that one down!
Your book is a wonderful compare/contrast of life in Britain and America. Describe one unique thing about being an expat.
Having lived for so long in the States, I do get a little impatient with the slower service when I’m in the UK. Everything in the US is done at a super fast speed, from dining out to getting your clothes dry cleaned and checking out at supermarkets. I have to really bite my tongue when in England to try not to come across like an American tourist!
Is there anything about America that you’re especially grateful for?
If there’s one thing in the States that I really appreciate it’s that you get a guaranteed summer. Granted, in Chicago it’s absolutely freezing for 5 months of winter and the spring can be pretty cold too (like this one!) but you know you’ll get decent weather in the summer!
Is there anything about the UK that you really miss?
I really miss good British sausages although there’s a company here called Spencers (www.eatspencers.com) which now makes delicious pork and pork/herb sausages. I also always treat myself to good fish and chips when in England, as well as ham and pease pudding sandwiches.
Apart from food items, I really miss my family and long term friends. My husband’s family is very small and when we’re in England we get together with cousins and second cousins as well as immediate family. I always advise people to think about this before moving far away.
Thank you so much, Toni, for giving us your time!
*Secondment is Britspeak for a temporary transfer to another job or post within the same organization.
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