I Went Abroad and Didn't Cause an International Incident: Life in the UK As a (Non-Hyphenated) American

This place has been quiet lately because SO MUCH has happened in my life since the end of March. I received a new job offer, went to Disney World, quit my old job, and flew out to the UK to spend two weeks training for my new position. My time is winding down here and it (as always) is making me reflective. (at the time of publishing this I’m back home in Texas).

This is my first time abroad since i was a child, and my first time overseas alone. I was fortunate that my partner was able to spend the first week of my visit with me, but I’m also enjoying being able to feel like a “big girl” and get around town alone, explore a bit on my own, things like that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still incredibly paranoid and recognize that I’m still a young woman alone on the streets and can easily be pegged as a tourist if someone talks to me, so I keep my wits about me and only explore during the day. I got to see a castle, eat a traditional English Sunday Roast, and buy some really pretentious loose leaf tea.

But aside from that, the culture shock hit me more than I thought it would. Things that happen in the US become global news easily, and in my experience Brits aren’t afraid to ask you, a complete stranger, why the US is obsessed with guns or why the hell we let Donald Trump get elected. It took me aback the first time it happened, primarily because I was put on the spot in a train carriage jet-lagged after an 8 hour flight across the ocean. But because discussing politics is so taboo in the US — especially in a conservative state like Texas — it was refreshing to say how I felt in mixed company and dispel some of those stereotypes. I do love guns though, so I couldn’t do much about that one.

I don’t have much experience in other countries, but I can say that my time in England has been the first time I can recall that I’ve felt like an actual American, and not a Black/Woman/Queer/Other American. There’s a fundamental level of tension that marginalized people in the US especially exist with day to day, because we’re constantly on alert to brace ourselves for something out of pocket or well-meaning but disrespectful that someone says. When people asked me questions here, I didn’t need to speak on behalf of the Black community, I was speaking from my perspective as an American. When complaining about the weather, or the cost of healthcare, or the lack of seasoning on the food, or the backwards way they drive, I was speaking from an American perspective, not necessarily a Black one (seasoning complaints notwithstanding).

I would obviously explain things that are specific to Black American culture and say as much (like Beyonce’s remix of Before I Let Go), but no one asked me ridiculous questions about my hair or tried to use AAVE to seem cool. I’ve had more in-depth conversations about race, class, and social issues with my new coworkers after 10 days over here than I ever did with coworkers (except the ones I came to consider friends) in 18 months at my old job.

And I know England has its own issues with race/ism and other forms of oppression, but no one was outwardly discriminatory to me or even that annoying kind of race neutral “we don’t see color”. As someone who talks about racism and other -isms all the time, I still feel awkward bringing these things up around new people because you never know how they’re going to react! But it was refreshing to talk about the social issues in my country without being met with defensiveness or intentional misunderstanding. We had a great conversation about the importance of acknowledging race and other differences, because it’s part of our humanity.

Don’t get it twisted though, I am not on some American Pride wave, nor do I really believe that England is a progressive wonderland. I very much acknowledge that it’s a country built on colonization with an imperialist monarchy at its helm still and rising anti-immigrant sentiments pervading its politics. But for once in my life I’ve been able to experience what it’s like to be seen as American first, something I’ve never experienced at home.