Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Anglo Files

The Anglo Files (Sarah Lyall, 2008) is an amusing and snarky, if not especially profound, look at British life through the eyes of a long-term expatriate American. (She moved there in the early 90's and is raising two British daughters with her British husband.) I lived in England myself in 1997-98, and while I experienced culture shock, it was on a lesser scale--probably partly because I was only there for a year and had friends and coworkers explicitly trying to be nice to the guest, and partly because by the time I got there the economic boom of the 90's was already well in motion. Other than the houses and cars running a bit smaller, England seemed just as wealthy and consumer-oriented (for better or worse) as America. The food was fine, though I did get homesick for good Italian and Chinese, and you should NEVER express a liking for broccoli to people who might someday invite you for dinner in England, not if you only like the vegetable in question raw, stir-fried, or VERY lightly steamed. But my local Tesco had as good a selection as any suburban American grocery store of the time, and I had plenty of decent pub grub, not to mention the best Thai and Indian food I'd ever had. And I honestly can't remember anyone being rude to me, unless you count the kind of questions you get from people who expect you to be the spokesperson and apologist for your entire home country of 300 million people.

That said, I wish I'd read the chapter on the WWII generation before moving in with the older woman who was my hostess for the year. It would've saved a lot of culture clashing, and at least I would've understood WHY she kept the heat turned down so low I'd regularly sit around the house wearing a turtleneck, a sweatshirt, and a fleece while wrapped in a blanket. I knew about the Blitz and children being sent out of London, of course, but I'd already returned to America before I really knew how much harder the British had it in the years immediately following the war.

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