Seattle and London, the Same Only Different
“America and England are two nations divided by a common language.” — Winston Churchill
Caroline Kay, BECAUZ COO, is an English rose who came to work in the U.S. five years ago. In both the U.S. and the U.K., five years is the “wood” anniversary. So we gave her some toothpicks to celebrate and asked for her observations on how working and living in the U.S. is different than in the U.K.
I arrived in Seattle from London on Halloween in 2010. (No, not on a broomstick. But on landing, I did question for a bit whether my arrival was a trick or a treat…)
It has turned out to be a marvelous treat. I’ve always loved traveling, so the opportunity to work in the U.S. was a dream come true. Mostly a smashing dream, though sometimes surreal. Only rarely a nightmare.
The highlight of the dream is this: the opportunity to work with a passionate, talented team of facilitators, coaches, and consultants who help companies survive and thrive in times of change. I get to be the wizard behind the BECAUZ curtain—running the firm’s operations and whipping up huge corporate events and conferences.
Then there’s the surreal part—like trying to figure out the more subtle differences between the U.S. and the U.K. in work and life. The accents and terminology differ, of course, but that’s the easy part. It’s what’s not said that’s dodgy: how people socialize here, how they find jobs, how you make friends, interactions in the office. Even how you greet people. In Seattle, it seems like the first time you meet a work contact, you shake hands. After that, it’s all hugs. In the U.K., it’s a kiss on both cheeks. Sometimes I forget where I am and my jolly greeting becomes an awkward jig of hugs, kisses, and bumped noses.
I’m getting used to how much more open and direct Americans are than Brits. At first, I was amazed by how open people are in business meetings compared to my compatriots at home—the things I’ve heard! (Intimate medical woes, men having the snip, spouse burning dinner last night… Blimey!) I’m still learning how to do this, to open up about my personal life to new acquaintances. “Putting it all out there” is decidedly un-British.
Some of things Americans like to share with me are their perceptions of Brits. So I’d like to set the record straight:
- Not all Brits have bad teeth.
- Our national sense of humor is not Benny Hill or Monty Python; I think it’s more the dry, wry wit of John Cleese or Stephen Fry.
- “Pants” are underwear in the UK. Brits wear “trousers” on the outside.
- No, I have not had tea with the Queen. (Though if she asked me over for a glass of bubbly, I’d consider it…)
- Yes, we frequently say “sorry.”
- It doesn’t always rain in the UK (Seattle people understand this misperception).
- And some English food is quite good! (Have you had Cornish pasties?)
On the subject of food, I admit that part of the dream is the food and cocktail culture in Seattle. Truly heaven…
But I remember the first time I went to an American supermarket, with shelves full of bewildering products towering over me. And the volume! Good heavens, how many kinds of cold cereal or tinned soup does one truly need?
(Though I admit I’m not immune to volume. Somehow the two suitcases of belongings I moved here with have grown to fill a house. Where did I get all this stuff and why?)
In the U.K., I didn’t buy many groceries. I had a tiny fridge. I went out a lot. Now I have a fridge the size of a British coat closet. I could live in there if I had to (the amount of bubbly in there could keep me going for quite a while.)
But I do love the “bigness” of life in Seattle. The big mountains, vast forests, endless water. I love hiking, so the mountains are lovely part of the dream. English landscape can be gorgeous, but it’s softer, always changing. It’s the classic English rose vs. Seattle’s big, dramatic, native rhododendrons.
The history here is intriguing and I always ask Americans about their heritage. Where their family is from and how they got here, whether it’s generations ago or more recently. The stories are fascinating.
The opportunity to live and learn in the U.S. has been amazing and I don’t plan to go anywhere soon. I’m lucky to get home often—to do business development for BECAUZ; to go to the pub with friends; to eat mushy peas and Yorkshire pudding. And mostly, to see my family and my dog Jack.