Pauline: Pauline Wiles
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to San Francisco, etc.
I was born in England and spent the first thirty years of my life there, with short stints in Scotland and Germany. My husband works in IT and when he was offered the chance to move with his company to northern California, we decided the opportunity was too good to pass up.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
My blogging life has had a few incarnations, with my first blog focused more on home décor and then organizing topics. Currently, my blogging supports and promotes my writing projects, including my first novel which was published last year. It includes reading and writing topics, plus musings on the quirks and delights of Britain.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
The page on my website which consistently gets the most hits is this collection of resources for buying British food in the USA.
Tell us about the ways your new life in San Francisco differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I was super lucky; we moved to a like-minded environment and the language barrier was only minimal! The first few months, without a work permit, were strange, but I made myself seek out volunteer roles to have a reason to leave the house. The biggest ongoing difference in lifestyle is that I’m so much more active here: in London my fitness was sporadic, with my longest run being just 5km. Here, it’s much easier to be outside all through the winter, and running beside the San Francisco Bay is such a pleasure. I now run three times a week and completed the Napa Valley marathon a couple of years ago.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in San Francisco? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
We moved here in the hope it would be permanent and that mindset helped me behave more like a resident than a visitor. We were also fortunate that, with my husband’s company behind the move, certain logistics and expenses were taken care of. Without assistance, the US visa process would be pretty daunting. The hardest part of the move is being so far from family... the cost and time needed to get back to England makes short visits impractical, and I don’t want to spend every holiday in Blighty.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Our first month’s accommodation was arranged by my husband’s company and we were expecting an upscale, furnished apartment. After our lengthy journey (made even longer when SFO airport was evacuated for a bomb scare), we arrived for our first night on US soil to find the apartment entirely empty. It hadn’t been cleaned and there wasn’t a stick of furniture, just a mangled dog chew lying in the corner. Happily, things improved after that inauspicious start… but we still talk fondly about that dog chew.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in San Francisco?
- Budget with caution: housing here is expensive and the cost of healthcare, if not provided by an employer, is downright eye-watering.
- Flaunt your accent – it’s a great conversation starter and if you’re lucky enough to have a British one, it will serve you well both socially and in your career. Attractive American women love to tell my husband how much they adore his accent!
- Pack warm clothes too: your notions of the California climate may be misleading. Winters can be nippy and summers, if you’re in a foggy part of the city, even colder!
How is the expat community in San Francisco? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
I honestly don’t know, although I imagine the expat community here is a strong and happy one. I made no effort to seek out other expats when I arrived, and never felt an urge to connect with other Brits. Once I began working, I found new friendships easily enough. The reality of living in different countries is you will inevitably want to blend the best bits of all of them. For me, it’s easier to try to live in the moment than spend time discussing what’s going on ‘back home’. I make an exception, of course, for Downton Abbey and royal weddings. ;)
How would you summarize your expat life in San Francisco in a single, catchy sentence?
A Brit who misses Blighty, but is having a blast in the City By The Bay.