Becoming British


June 3, 2013 by talkaboutyork

This post was inspired by Potty Mummy who confessed a number of things that no Brit should do ever since she became an expat (in Russia). 

Now I have always held the belief that if you’re going to live in someone else’s country, you need to fit in. As much as you can. By not trying to fit in you’re basically saying, ‘I’m happy to live in your country, but you’re doing it all wrong.’ It’s not going to win you a massive amount of friends is it? But does that mean you should abandon your own culture and customs? In my case, apparently yes. Whether intentionally or not, it has happened.

I moved to the UK ten years ago (good god, has it been that long already?). I left my home country of South Africa three years before that. So it has been a good while since I felt completely South African.

When I lived in the US, I was constantly told by Americans that my accent was ‘so cute’.  I felt hugely foreign there. But England, now England is the mothership. It’s where all of my ancestors are from. So it’s not surprising that I found it relatively easy to become British. Because that folks, is what I am. I no longer feel South African. And this is how I can tell:

  • I no longer refer to roundabouts as traffic circles, traffic lights as robots, or BBQs as braais
  • My South African friends say I sound like a ‘right pom’
  • When I ask my children to do something ‘Just Now’ I mean immediately, rather than sometime henceforth, possibly never (although they seem to have the SA understanding and never seem to actually get round to doing what is asked.)
  • I comment on the weather – a lot. ‘Nice day for it’, ‘Spot of rain’, ‘It won’t last’, ‘Mustn’t grumble’ are now all part of my meteorological patter.
  • If the temperature gets over 18C I might be heard exclaiming, ‘Gosh it’s a scorcher, I must get in the shade’, as I did today while watching cricket, rather than reaching for my jumper as South Africans would as they bemoan the onset of winter (by the way, I now call jerseys jumpers).
  • I actively favour pork sausages over fatty boerewors. I might always have come to think of it.
  • My BBQs involve more salad than meat. I know, insane right? And I do the BBQing (in SA, a braai is a man’s domain. End. Of. Story)
  • I apologise if someone bumps into me, rather than the other way around.
  • I don’t like to complain but will tut if I feel suitably vexed.
  • I drink tea. In the afternoon. Sometimes with a scone.
  • If I see a cute child or someone doing something sweet, I say ‘Bless’ rather than ‘Shame’.
  • I think it’s normal to go to the beach wearing wellington boots and a coat.
  • And drum roll please……If England and South Africa are playing rugby against each other, I actively support England. There I said it. I know. Shoot me. 

Of course there are many little South African quirks I still cling to. Mrs Balls must feature in most meals. The only appropriate exclamation when you discover that your child has spilled hot chocolate across the new sofa is ‘Ag no man!’ If someone is a particularly vile person, I have been known to call them a doos said with just the right amount of guttural emphasis. Biltong is the food of the gods. African butt dancing is still my signature move on the dance floor. And apparently I am still a blunt South African who overshares rather than the more shy and retiring British folk. Well you can take the girl out of SA….

Most importantly, even though I know all the words to God Save the Queen, but can only sing as far as nkosi sikelel iafrica before having to make up my own words along the lines of ‘Man with a blue tissue has a bout of flu’, nothing in the world makes me feel more homesick than listening to a stadium of people singing that song.

I may be coming ever increasingly British, but there is a drum inside me that will always beat to an African drum.


10 thoughts on “Becoming British

  1. Expat Mum says:

    Lovely post. (I’m blogging about the very same sort of thing pending my visit to England this weekend.)
    But do you still say “how zit?” I wonder.

  2. I think “Ag no man!” is a brilliant exclamation.
    I, and everyone else I know who grew up in Hong Kong, say Ayah! under similar circumstances…

  3. Iota says:

    Mrs Balls?

    Great list.

  4. Iota says:

    Oh, I’ve just thought of something on your behalf.

    If you’re ever listening to Gardeners’ Question Time, and they talk about garden roots, do you think “The Garden Route” instead?

    Yes. Thought so. Must make such a huge difference to your daily life.

  5. Harriet says:

    I’ve just come over here from Iota’s and am very much enjoying myself! Delighted to have “met” you.

    Anyway, “shame” meaning “ah, how lovely”? Really? You learn a new thing every day. You really do.

    As an expat myself (not really – I live in Scotland) the similar thing that gets me is the use of “clever”. As in, “that was lovely sharing with your sister, what a clever girl”. I think my kids are going to get a massively over-exaggerated sense of their own intelligence…

    • Delighted to meet you to. Thank you for stopping by. And yes, Shame really means ‘ah how lovely’. It can however also mean ‘what a shame’ depending on the inflection given….

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