This is a guest post by Sarah Tyler.
For a person who had always been very passionate about British culture, I was surprisingly unprepared for the experience of dating a Brit. Sure, I knew my pasty from my ploughman’s and had enough pop culture facts to win even the most difficult pub quiz, but as it turned out, a successful intercultural relationship required more than this type of understanding about Britain. I think Americans have a tendency to view the British as extended family members who merely speak in a different accent, underestimating how large the cultural gap between our two societies really is.
As an anglophile, I seem to have been subconsciously drawn to British men like a moth to the flames, and those experiences have taught me a lot about British culture and myself. Looking back on those relationships, things would have gone a lot smoother if I had been aware of certain cultural differences. It is impossible and inaccurate to classify a richly diverse nation of people into a handful of stereotypical mannerisms; however my experiences have taught me that there seem to be certain fundamental differences that would have made my life easier if I would have understood them in advance.
One of the areas of difference between my American culture and that of my British counterpart’s was our attitudes about health and wellness. I had grown up being coddled by people when I was sick and had developed the understanding that an important way to show you care about someone is to look after them when they’re feeling under the weather. However, the Brits seemed to always downplay their illnesses and didn’t feel that something like a case of the flu was worth fussing over. In a situation where I would seek help or sympathy, they usually preferred to go on with their lives as normally as possible and trust it would get better on its own. In the long run I think being around this attitude was a big benefit for me – it has helped me to carry on strongly when situations were less than desirable. However, at the time it was difficult for me to recognize that people have different outlooks and ways of showing affection. It took awhile to understand that if I received a little tough love from an British boyfriend when I was sick, it wasn’t because he didn’t care enough about me, it was that he had a completely different cultural perspective on how to act in that situation.
Something that was not nearly as detrimental to my relationships but that took some getting used to was the British drinking and pub culture. Coming from a family who never drank or kept alcohol in the house, it was really surprising to me to see what an important social role the pub plays in British life, and how frequently my boyfriend would want to go there! In the small, rural town that I’m from, bars have something of a negative connotation attached to them. They are nothing like British pubs, which are frequented by the entire community and are a vital aspect of social interaction. In America, for example, many people prefer to watch important sporting events at home, where they can throw a private party with their friends and family. However, in England it can be very expensive to purchase the networks that broadcast these events so instead everyone will go to watch the football match at the pub. If you are dating a British person, chances are good that the pub will become an important fixture in your life. I grew to really love my local, it offered so much more than the bars back home. Delicious, cheap coffee and lunches, fun quiz nights and sports matches – it was a great place to relax and unwind after a long day. I soon came to appreciate it just as much as my fellow Brits, and understood why my boyfriend ascribed so much value to it.
One really great thing about dating someone who is from Britain is that you get to learn about a new culture and you also get to see your own culture from a different perspective. Any new relationship is exciting but if you are dating a Brit, everything becomes exciting. From something as simple as the different ways you pronounce words to learning about new music, TV shows and stores – an intercultural relationship gives you so much to share with someone. However, it’s very easy to get caught up in these aspects and to overlook larger issues of compatibility. If you are going to date someone from Britain, you need to make sure you are prepared to encounter many misunderstandings and cultural differences, and that you are also prepared to change your perspective on the world. If you’re up to the challenge, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience.
Sarah Tyler is a lifelong anglophile currently completing her bachelor’s degree and plotting her big move across the pond.