Toni: Expat Mum
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to the USA, etc.
I’m Toni Hargis, a Brit who’s lived in the USA since 1990. I live in Chicago, have three children, one dog and an American husband. I am originally from the north east of England, went to university in Bristol, England then worked in London before my jump across the Pond. I am the author of “Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom” (2006) and “The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students”, which came out this summer. I also write for the BBC America’s “Mind the Gap” web site, the Expat Focus web site, and I blog as Expat Mum.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I have been blogging since 2008 and write about life as a Brit in the States as well as about anything else that takes my fancy. (As I write, my current post is about the word “selfie” being crowned Word of the Year by the Oxford Dictionaries.) I have always enjoyed writing so when I became aware of blogs, and the fact that anyone could join in, it seemed like the perfect outlet.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Hmmm…I have a memory like a sieve so remembering good blog posts doesn’t come easily. I did write a “letter to the teacher” a few years ago which still gets a few laughs, probably because it’s 99% true.
Tell us about the ways your new life in the USA differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
As a Brit I didn’t expect there to be so many differences. I mean, we speak the same language right? One of the reasons I wrote “Rules, Britannia” was for friends going to live in the UK; I wanted to help them make a smooth transition to their new, strange life. It’s a huge change for Americans, who are used to massive washing machines, and restaurants that let you take your leftovers home. And they say “fanny” all the time, which is definitely not the done thing in the UK.
The weather in Chicago has also been a challenge for me. The summers can be very hot and humid, which I can more or less deal with. The winters, however, are brutal. As a parent it’s hard because it’s often too cold to take the kids outside, so you end up indoors for months on end. It’s also strange to lose all the greenery in your garden; nothing survives so we spend about five months of the year staring at bare trees and brown lawns.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in the USA? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I wasn't prepared for the weather having lived in Dallas beforehand, but everything else has been pretty straightforward.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Oh goodness…so many. Actually, one of the funniest ones wasn’t actually my error. My mother came to stay shortly after I came over here. On her first night, worried about jet lag and not getting up in the morning, she turned to my (American) husband and said “If I’m not up by 8am would you mind knocking me up?” Fortunately, he had lived in the UK for three years and knew what she meant.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in the USA?
- If you have a choice in where to live, do your homework. Chicago is a busy city and the suburbs can be remote and “quiet”. Both can be hard to get used to.
- Jump in. Make the most of Chicago – there’s tons to do so you won’t be bored. Take the time to expand your circle of friends and acquaintances, and don’t just mix with other expats – they move around a lot and you can easily find yourself alone. If you have children, school life is very hands on here so that’s a great way to meet people.
- Don’t bother bringing a winter coat if it wasn’t bought for Arctic weather. Nothing you can buy in the UK, for example, copes with the cold here.
How is the expat community in the USA? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There is a thriving expat community here in Chicago so if you want to meet people from your home country it’s very easy. As I mentioned however, expats move around a lot, so if you’re going to be here a while, it makes sense to make friends with people who are also sticking around.
How would you summarize your expat life in the USA in a single, catchy sentence?
Still learning… after all these years.