An outsider’s take on America
Sylvie Koefoed-Nielsen, Reporter
In November of 2012, I moved to the Seattle area from Marlborough, a small town in southern England. Marlborough isn’t known for much besides its two obscure claims to fame: it has Britain’s second-widest high street, and it hosts the college that Kate Middleton attended.
When my dad told me that he’d been offered a job in Seattle, I had the same sort of excitement as if I had just been told we were going to the candy store on the way home. I was nine years old and didn’t have a very strong grasp on what it meant to move to another country. As it turned out, that move to America was a wonderful opportunity, but it also caused feelings of great loss and confusion.
In addition, I had no clue what I was signing up for. My knowledge of America consisted entirely of everything I’d learned from “Grease” — which I watched with my sister at least twice a week growing up — and TV shows like “Zoey 101” and “That’s So Raven.” I expected everyone in my new life to dress well, have perfectly dramatic social lives, have a ridiculous amount of money (and make it seem casual), and lastly, end all of their sentences with a slightly higher pitch, like they were asking a question.
Of course, Seattle in the 2010s is very different from Hollywood’s version of ‘50s California, and it was naive of me not to anticipate the necessity of learning about both a new culture and people with backgrounds entirely different from my own.
While I’ve been here for nearly seven years, I still get confused by common, everyday social practices.
Common courtesy in Britain is shown by, most typically, offering anyone who walks through your door a cup of tea. In Britain, the usual response is “Oh, alright then.” This is then followed by however you like your tea (milk? sugar?), whereas an American response is usually along the lines of “What kind have you got?” (For future reference, we are almost always offering English Breakfast tea.) I still have a lot to learn and accept about the differences in culture, from little things like food and music to more sweeping topics such as people’s values and their varied interactions.
In the past few years, I have watched America progress forward, sometimes stumbling its way through political and social challenges quite different from those in England. To me, America possesses a general lack of regard for life and peace that is all too common. Gun violence is treated with almost the same regard as a mediocre corn dog.
I have also noticed that military careers are regarded as much more of an honor in America, and advertisements are geared more towards youth than they are in Britain. This caught me off-guard, as military service in Britain hasn’t been seen as a common option; it’s usually something that runs in the family or is secured through social connections.
Police brutality is another key difference between Britain and America. While the job of the police force is to keep people safe, I frequently hear accounts of officers inflicting violence upon others. This problem is not as widespread in Britain.
Another clear difference can be seen in healthcare. When people are hurt or ill in this country, they are forced to answer questions about their financial options before being offered medical help, and, for reasons I refuse to accept, state-provided health insurance is seen as a controversial topic.
But there are positives about living in America. It has given me some amazing moments I never would have experienced if I had remained in England.
I’ve spent some of the most important years of my life in this country — from middle school through high school — and feel as if I’ve done most of my growing up here. I love how people in this part of the world are generally more approachable and open than they are in Britain, and I’ve made lifelong friends because of this.
I also have wonderful memories from classic American traditions, such as the county fair, school dances, and even rodeos. I enjoy getting to know people from all parts of the world, challenging my comfort zone in new places. I’m glad I’ve developed the skill to belong wherever I stay, something I never would have learned if I’d remained in the small town I used to call home.