I’ve now lived for two decades in Britain after moving here from America when I met my Englishman when he was at theological college (US: seminary).
Over the years I’ve made many a gaffe, not understanding the cultural mores and customs, and I think I’ll never understand irony or banter. But I can now communicate without so many misunderstandings and, especially in multicultural London, don’t feel like such an outsider. I know, for instance, not to chat loudly on the Tube with visiting Americans or not to ask a native’s name until we are nearly best friends.
That name thing – isn’t it odd the withholding of them, or is that just how it feels for a friendly American? When I was right off the boat, so to speak, living in Cambridge as Nicholas finished off theological college, I went to a meeting of the spouse’s group. As we sat in a circle, they introduced me as a newcomer to the community. I thought they’d then go around the circle telling me their names – but no. We moved right on to the next thing on the agenda. I was gobsmacked (US: dumbstruck). Maybe, I reflected later, the sharing of names had to be earned.
Not changing the essence of who we are
At times I have felt I’ve had to edit who I am to be more acceptable to the surrounding culture, making sure I’m not too loud or brash or opinionated. Although that editing has been a response to cultural expectations, it’s probably more about me learning to accept who I am in Christ and not being afraid of how others perceive me. Yes, I need to be culturally aware, but no, I don’t have to change who I am at the core.
Meghan Markle will have many advisors on hand, but she will still need to learn what to do and what not to do, what to say and what not to say. Her first interview showed she is starting well; I don’t think she will lose the essence of who she is even though she is changing her life completely to marry the man she loves – who just so happens to be a prince.
Anticipating the changes with excitement
I watched them as they sat together, his hand clasped in hers, and I could feel their joy. The interview captured the couple anticipating the big changes to come, with the actor-activist soon to leave behind her country, family and career as she embraces life in the royal family.
I’m delighted that a fellow American will be entering life at the top echelon of British society. But I can’t help but feel slightly concerned as I remember my own excited anticipation before our wedding – and my crash afterwards. But of course my concern could be mislaid, after all, I couldn’t jet back to the States when I got homesick or have some proper Mexican food made for me if I had the whim, which I’m guessing our newest American import will have access to.
I wondered as I watched the interview how long it will take Meghan to adapt her speech patterns and vocabulary
We are, in the famous quotation often misattributed, two nations separated by a common language.
But even the language isn’t the same, and I wondered as I watched the interview how long it will take Meghan to adapt her speech patterns and vocabulary. Will she start to lose her American accent? I hope not; I know for some people it’s not a conscious thing as they adapt to their new environment. But for others, like Julie Montagu, better known as Viscountess Hinchingbrooke, who married the son of the Earl of Sandwich in 2004, her nasal Midwestern accent will forever shine. She said in a recent interview: “You don’t want to lose who you are as a person…I’ll always have that nasally American accent, but it’s something that I’m incredibly proud of.”
I hope that Meghan, as she relinquishes her career and life in North America, will remain filled with that shining optimism and joy that we could see emanating out of her during the interview.
I reflected on my own initial culture shock again recently: I stood at the table, knife in hand before our guests who were gathered for a Thanksgiving-in-England celebration, ready to cut the pies. I said: “When I first moved here, Nicholas and I were at a meal at a church member’s home. It was time for puddings – which I would have called dessert – and she asked us which we wanted of the two selections. I said: ‘Could I have a small bit of each, please?’ to which she bellowed out: ‘No! That’s not how we do it here! You may come back for seconds if you like!’”
I paused for effect, knife still in hand. “You know, I’ve never forgotten that shameful moment so many years ago. And so at my table, in our home, you may have a small slice of all three pies if you like!”
I can sense that Meghan will make their home her own quickly and, who knows – maybe she’ll institute a regular Thanksgiving meal at Kensington Palace too!