Expat Chronicles travel united kingdom United States

Communications Breakdown As An Expat

The idea of talking to someone is easy enough. You start with the standard “where are you from” or “what do you do.” You pick up on social cues and interactions, joining in a conversation where the group is talking about something you’re familiar with or directing the topic to something adjacent in which you have more knowledge.

For instance, someone begins discussing artists who tackle dark themes and you shift the convo toward a dark humor play you saw. I’m familiar with the ways of socializing, even when I’m not particularly social. But lately I feel my communication skills have left me. Why? I’m an expat.

Granted I’m an English speaking expat in an English speaking country but American english is quite different than the Queen’s English. And the people in the UK, they can be quick to tell you that they aren’t following you or you don’t make sense. I’m not speaking in riddles or, you’d think I could grasp the idea of keeping a conversation flowing but sometimes, being honest, Brits can be a bit aggressive, unwilling to truly hear you out.haha

Currently I’m living as a married American expat in the UK. London specifically. Things aren’t that different from what I’m familiar with, haven grown up in the Bronx and worked in NYC. People go to work, they talk about the weather, they complain, they discuss TV and relationships but the changes in dialogue, they are a lot. CH CH CHANGES.

In most conversations it’s made glaringly obvious that I have an Amercian-ness about me. I’m not ashamed of this. Actually, I think this makes me cooler in a country full of people speaking like Stewie from The Family Guy (I kid, SERIOUSLY). But sometimes, I feel my accent or way of developing speech has UK peeps and Europeans at a lost.

For starters, most people are used to writing words with a u (i.e colour and honour), why is that a thing. But there’s also just the way I phrase things.

Let’s say there are a group of people talking about the benefits of hazelnut chocolate and then here comes me, entering the conversation; I am easily misunderstood. You’re thinking how but I assure you I am. I’ll say something like “Oh wow, I totally heard that about chocolate. It can be a way to make you stronger.” To which someone replies “No, that’s not it. The chocolate with hazelnut makes you stronger, not just chocolate.” I wouldn’t think I’d need to clarify I was also talking about hazelnut chocolate if that is what the general topic was. Me saying chocolate would imply hazelnut no? This then requires me to explain further which makes it seem like I’m not on the ball or aware at all. To me, it can be tiring trying to explain myself or reminding myself to be hyper specific. People are ready to tell you no, you’re not right.

British people are sarcastic with hard edges. They don’t like upbeat optimism. That’s the stereotype anyway.

It could be that American’s are soft or call you out in a different way. All I know is my American-ness rears it’s head in certain social situations.

Most people can forget how rough it can be trying to build a connection while simultaneously remaining worried that someone will call you out for something that isn’t right but really, it is right or works just as well. What I mean is, it would be right in the US and still makes total sense here but because it isn’t usual, it’s odd. I’m not saying I want everyone to conform to my speech but perhaps we compromise? Maybe that’s too much to ask in a place all about Brexit. I joke again BUT not really, lol.

But think about it, you are a foreigner in a foreign place. You’re excited to be there and looking to make relationships. Your friends from home aren’t around but that’s the trade-off you made (one of many) to become an expat. Not everyone will be your best friend or even a friend but it does a person good to be able to have a conversation without always having to explain yourself. There are so many other challenges and hurdles to get used to and to have communication be a thing that makes you second guess yourself, girl please. We need all the confidence you can get at this point in life.

The moral of a story, being an expat is hard in some of the most simple of ways. I’m learning these things day by day. Do they get me down? For a brief moment. I go insane in the membrane, trying to figure out what makes me so wrong. But then I pick myself up, I remind myself of all the cliches (Rome wasn’t built in a day). I learn about new British phrases to implement, not conforming or changing in a way that isn’t me but building up a vocab that requires less explanation. Time will continue to smooth these little blips out but for now, I figured I share this expat woe with you all.

Is this something you deal with? Have you had expat communications breakdown in a place where you speak the native tongue? Let me know!


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