Dear Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle,
We are thrilled to hear the exciting news about your upcoming marriage and that Ms. Markle is going to live in the UK. You’ve certainly given us something positive and happy to focus on amongst all the depressing political and economic news snippets that pop up on our screens.
However, this blog post is not about that, it’s about the Royal Wedding and about warmly welcoming Ms. Markle to her new country. It will give her a brief introduction to some of the cultural differences she should expect to encounter and helpful tips on how to deal with typical English behavior.
As an American who has been living in England for many years, I’m proud to share the mistakes I’ve made, humiliations I’ve suffered, loneliness and isolation I’ve felt, identity crisis I’ve lived through and still live with at times. I wish that others who strive to make England their new ‘home away from home’ can learn quickly to feel contented, loved, and happy at home in England much easier and quicker than I did.
I hope Ms. Markle finds these hints and tips helpful as they all come from personal experience through learning to love living and raising cross-cultural children in England. Some are more complex, some are annoying and frustrating, and some are just facts that cannot be given up.
- Fancy dress means to dress up in a costume (like at Halloween), not to dress up for a formal event. Do NOT wear a fancy dress for any upcoming formal events.
- Mince pies are sweet, they do not contain minced meat. They are eaten at Christmas time only. During my first few weeks here, I bought five boxes of discounted mince pies thinking I was providing sustenance at a bargain for my new English husband.
- Import American peanut butter. Do not ever buy peanut butter from an English supermarket. The closest substitute I’ve found is M&S peanut butter but it was still wrong. I spend a small fortune on importing peanut butter so as not to deprive myself and my children!
- Math is Maths. You must say Maths and not Math. If you say Math, you might start an argument and this is why.
- Chuffed is a good thing. Even though it sounds like a made up word in all sentences, it means someone is happy.
- Slippy. This is a made up word. It means slippery and is used instead of slippery. Why? I have absolutely no idea.
- Always carry an extra sweater, cardigan or light rain jacket with you. Do this even in August and in 30 degree weather (86 degrees Fahrenheit) which is pretty much as hot as it ever gets here.
- Online supermarket ordering and delivery is a life-saver. Ms. Meghan Markle will love it, even if she doesn’t have to do her own shopping. She should just try it!
- Pub chips (which are really french fries) are a meal on their own, especially with a topping such as cheese. Seriously.
- English breakfasts are only tolerable (in my opinion) if you replace the tomatoes with hashbrowns, the beans with pancakes and “86” (or rid of) the mushrooms all together.
- Eventually, you will discover and come to fully appreciate that a ‘nice cup of tea’ actually does make everything better.
- When you have kids, make them American casseroles and cookies from authentic American recipes on a regular basis. They will not only love them, but it will be a gateway to their American heritage for them to share with their own children.
- If you haven’t already fallen in love with Liberty (a department store in London), you will. On that same note, you will also love M&S, John Lewis, and Waterstones. And you will, of course, love Tate, The Natural History Museum, Hyde Park, The V&A, and more. There are SO many great things you will love about London, not to mention ALL the great places in Britain. There is so much history, such breathtakingly beautiful scenery and so many fascinating things to discover. Go to Wales, go to the Peak District, go to the Lake District, go to Cornwall. You will love it all.
- If you say pants in front of British children, they will giggle because they’ll think you’re talking about underpants (even though you mean trousers… meaning pants).
- Remembering to drive on the right side of the road. It is generally an easy thing to learn; it just takes practice. However, it is easy to temporarily forget, too.
- British people generally speak indirectly. They might say “that sounds like a good idea” instead of “that’s a good idea” or “we could consider that” instead of “let’s consider that.” This generally means things take longer to happen or to ‘materialise’ which can be frustrating and time consuming. Go with the flow, be patient, and don’t try to rush people.
- An invitation to coffee isn’t a real invitation without a date, a place, and a time. It took me several years to realize that not actually being invited for coffee (after hearing an exclamation of “oh you must come for coffee!”) wasn’t a personal snub but part of the British politeness and paranoia which may conflict with the American ‘get up and go’ attitude.
- It’s easy to meet lots of people but making friends can take a long time. This is possibly a universally recognized challenge of moving to a new place, but I have found England to be the most challenging for me. It takes time and a lot of effort. Stick with it, it’s worth it!
- Learn to speak and spell British. Speaking and spelling American will become a thing of the past or at least something you’ll only do when back in the States. Color will become colour, minimize will become minimise, your r’s will become softer, and you’ll start to tell your husband how ‘knackered’ you are.
- Customer service here is very different to how it is in the States. It takes a lot of getting used to. To be honest, I still sometimes get frustrated by the lack of good customer service. Most people do not care, so the standard is very low compared to the standard of customer service in the States. My rule of thumb for shop, pub, and restaurant owners is this: ensure that your customers are neither outraged nor embarrassed on your or any of your employees accounts at any point during their stay at your establishment or else they will be justified to never spend money with you again. To be fair, Ms. Meghan Markle will probably have a completely different experience because I’m guessing as part of British royal family, she will not suffer from a lack of good customer service. So maybe she can use her influence to help change this, and make customer service in Britain better for us all!
- Don’t forget, Prince Harry, that even if Ms. Markle is surrounded by loving family and friends, she might still feel lonely, homesick or just simply ‘foreign.’ You don’t need to fix that. She just needs to know that you understand it. A few things to add to your reading list: Watching the English by Kate Fox, Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson, Very British Problems by Rob Temple, and a somewhat more in-depth look at cultural issues Third Culture Kids by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken.
- I bring a different set of values to my cross-cultural, mixed-race family. Hopefully, Ms. Markle will too and not be shy about that fact and will vocalize and celebrate them.
Best of luck to you both! There are times when I literally do not understand a single word my English husband is saying to me. What is worse is when I cannot understand what my own children are saying to me. They all have very strong British accents, of course, which can lead to some hilarity, much confusion, lots of laughter, but overall, love and acceptance of me being the ‘odd one out’ (the American) in our cross-cultural family here in England.
Latest posts by Meghan (see all)
- Royal Wedding: Letter to Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle - January 12, 2018
- Raising Mixed Race Multicultural Kids in Britain: An American Expat’s Story - February 15, 2016