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To worry about making friends in London? And people's notions about Americans?

(216 Posts)
Begentleimnewhere Wed 30-Dec-15 16:46:33

We are preparing to move to London from the U.S. as a result of my DH's job transfer. I've been so always loved London and my kids are little enough that they won't complain (6 and 4). My DH has committed to stay for at least 3 years, but if all goes well it could be a lot longer. His company is paying for private school and giving us a generous housing allowance, and a bunch of other financial incentives, and equalizing the taxes to what they are here, so we will probably have a higher standard of living in London than we do here, even though it is so expensive there. We've found a nice flat and narrowed the schools down to a few choices that have space for my older DC.

Last night I spoke to a friend of a friend who recently returned from living in London for a few years under similar circumstances. I've met this woman several times and as far as I can tell she is friendly, smart, and fun. I was looking forward to getting some tips from her, but to be honest she kind of took the wind out of my sails. She ultimately enjoyed her experience but she said it was very, very hard for her to make friends. She met lots of moms at her kids' schools, neighbors, etc., and they were all pleasant and polite, but nobody was receptive to her efforts at getting to know them. This woman is a bit outspoken, but not inappropriately so, although I wonder if the line of appropriateness might be different over there. She ended up making most of her friends through clubs and activities geared toward other expats.

I'm a bit more shy than this woman, though still not what you'd call an introvert. I will be leaving behind a great group of "mom friends" from my DC's preschool, and they are a big part of making life as a stay-at-home mom bearable. Obviously it took time to build these friendships and I know I can't instantly recreate what I have here, but I also know I won't be happy alone with my kids all day every day for 3 years.

So be brutally honest: what should I be expecting as an American mom moving to London? (Speaking in huge generalizations, obviously.) I'm not expecting a welcome party, but will I eventually be able to make real friends and feel like a normal person? I know there are plenty of Americans in London and they all seem to love it so I'm hoping it can't be that hard.

Also should I be worried about fitting in with the other parents at an expensive "pre-prep" school? I'm told we won't get DC into a decent state school mid-year and the international schools that have space aren't convenient to my DH's office. Where we live now the public schools are excellent and even wealthy people usually use them. We are reasonably comfortable financially, but TBH it would be a big stretch to afford the flat and school if DH's company wasn't paying. I'm a normal mid-30s mom who is still carrying a bit of baby weight and wears yoga pants a bit more than I should. I make an effort to dress nicely --when I'm not too frazzled-- but I am far from a fashionista. Am I going to feel poor and frumpy next to the posh private school mums?

Is there anything I should specifically try NOT to do in order to avoid fulfilling negative stereotypes about Americans? I won't throw any baby showers but that's about all I've gleaned from MN so far.

Sorry this message was so long, I hope at least a few people actually read it. Thanks very much!

MrsH1989 Wed 30-Dec-15 17:09:31

I don't see why you should have any problems. I am in the north of England so cannot speak for mum groups in London but I think the hardest thing is the fact that people lived quite fast paced lives over here. Many parents on the outskirts may have long commutes into the city for work and won't have time for a chat at the school gates. Fashion shouldn't be a problem, many mums don't bother. I'm not sure what else to say really, DH has an American friend and everyone makes fun of the way she speaks but I am sure it would be the same for an English person in the US.

Mustdosomework Wed 30-Dec-15 17:14:13

Congratulations on your impending move. London really is a fabulous place to live and raise children. For different reasons we found ourselves in a similar situation. I think it can feel hard to "break in" to existing friendship groups but I threw myself into school activities, PTA, volunteering in the classroom on school trips, organising playdates etc. As one of your DC is about to start school presumably there will be other parents who are new to the school and the class and may be more receptive to making friends. I've also found that parents of only children are often keen to ensure their DC have lots of friends so are sometimes more receptive to linking up children/adults. In London generally and esp central London there will be any number of people of who have recently moved there from other countries and other parts of the UK so I don't think you will stick out.

Also,depending on where you live the fact that you're American may make you more interesting to somesmile

vulgarbunting Wed 30-Dec-15 17:14:20

I can't speak for mothers, as I am not one, but I moved to London 5 years ago, and have been welcomed with open arms. Yes it is more transient than other areas. Yes you will need to make an effort, and yes, compared to super welcoming Americans (because you guys are the warmest culture) it might be a bit different. But you will love London.

FrancesNiadova Wed 30-Dec-15 17:17:58

Over paid, over sexed and over here? fgrin
Only joking! fblush
I think that you can only be yourself. Some people will love you for who you are, some people might use the fact that you're American to dislike you, but some folk are able to find any reason to put anyone down.
Just be yourself and I hope that you have a good journey over & settle in well. I can't, for the life of me, understand why anyone from USA, Canada, Australia etc, would want to move over here, you must be bonkers flowers

Ta1kinPeece Wed 30-Dec-15 17:19:28

TBH the main thing I'm picking up is that you are going to be parachuted into the ultra competitive expat community of central / west London.

You might have a much more enjoyable time if you ask to be relocated to somewhere slightly more "in the sticks" outer reaches of the District line or 30 mins from the main train stations

then your kids will be slightly more of a novelty at school and you will be welcomed by a less jet set and more settled community

AntsMarching Wed 30-Dec-15 17:20:46

I'm an American living in surrey, although o started in London. I found it hard to make friends as so many people had friends from childhood and weren't that accepting of new friends. This continued until I had children and then I met loads of other moms. So you may find it not so bad because of meeting people through your children. I do wish you the best of luck and feel free to PM me. I'm happy to meet up with a fellow American, London is quite close to me.

asilverraindrop Wed 30-Dec-15 17:21:59

There is a massive, massive variation between different private schools in terms of parental income etc. Some MN threads give the impression that all are full of multimillionaires, but this is true only for some of them - obviously everyone who can afford school fees has a good income, but some are truly full of the very very wealthy and some aren't. There is also a massive, massive variation between different parts of London, so you might find it helpful to be a bit more specific about where you will be and see if that helps people advise you. My children are older now, but when they were the same sort of age as yours they were at a private school in Surrey where there were a good few American families over on two or three year contracts. There was a thriving social life through the school with events organised for each class each term, and the Americans joined in exactly the same as anyone else. I am still friends on FB with a couple of American mums who went back home years and years ago, and I know that some of my friends who knew them better have visited them and remained very close to them. So I would try not to worry too much but also try to choose your area with care to find somewhere that is not only full of international families on short contracts, for example. I wonder if the escalating house prices in London mean that the social mix is skewed in younger families to the point where you may find more "normal" people further out, but I only know about Surrey (which is a county SW of London, with many commuter towns/villages) and don't know many people in London itself these days - I'm sure others can advise. Certainly where I live, not all private school mums are fashionistas by any stretch of the imagination, but again I've heard that can be different in central London. Good luck!

goodnightdarthvader1 Wed 30-Dec-15 17:22:58

then your kids will be slightly more of a novelty at school and you will be welcomed by a less jet set and more settled community

<laughs hysterically>

Just don't move to Essex, you'll get told to "go back where you came from" and have kids making fun of your north american accent constantly.

By the way, OP, I was 6 when my parents moved to the UK. I may not have complained, but I had a shit time. If your kids are smart, move to somewhere where the kids are smart. They'll fit in more easily despite "talking funny".

asilverraindrop Wed 30-Dec-15 17:25:08

yes, exactly - if your husband commutes you would be mimicking the lifestyle of a lot of British people - I couldn't afford to live in Central London with children in private school, certainly, and if you do then you will be putting yourself into a more rarified circle, I'd say, as Ta1kInPeace says above. Good luck!

Ta1kinPeece Wed 30-Dec-15 17:28:19

Essex was not on my mind when I posted grin
I was thinking more Western reaches of the Piccadilly and District lines

- places like Wimbledon and Teddington have plenty of well heeled cosmopolitan people, some great schools and are easy reach for OP's DH to get to work
while not being as OTT as the central London postcodes.

raisin3cookies Wed 30-Dec-15 17:29:26

I am American and have lived in England (mostly the midlands) for 16+ years. I found it very tricky to break into friendship groups, but I've always had a baby or toddler in tow so I can't easily meet up for a coffee or join the pta. Definitely throw yourself into helping at school and a club or two of your own. You will meet lovely people; as a rule, I find southerners need to "weigh you up" a bit before committing to a new friendship. It's not a bad thing, as such, but something to be aware of. I would consider someone a friend while they were just settling into getting to know me a bit better! It's just a difference of culture; we speak the same language, but we really really don't.

goodnightdarthvader1 Wed 30-Dec-15 17:31:50

Peece I know Essex isn't like every outlying London region (thank god), but I was more laughing at the idea that "less jet set" equals "more welcoming". Not all cultured people are snobs, not all "everyman" people are nice. Ultimately OP wants to be where being American isn't unusual. The kids in my junior school had never met a real life North American in their sheltered little lives. It was shock.

By the by, I'm not brash, I was very shy.

ValancyJane Wed 30-Dec-15 17:34:38

One of my closest friends (who doesn't have children though) has moved around a lot and joins meet up groups in new cities for people or who are often in a similar position. She always has a brilliant social life so it must work!

SummerMonths Wed 30-Dec-15 17:35:44

I live in central/west London and there are lots of ex pay mothers, including many Americans, around here. It's v easy to make friends as people move in and out and so newcomers are welcomed. There are lots of of stay at home mum's so lots of people who want coffees and social interaction. Join the school PTA or something as soon as you arrive. You will be fine.

SummerMonths Wed 30-Dec-15 17:36:00

Ex pat not ex pay!

Ta1kinPeece Wed 30-Dec-15 17:37:22

I had an intermittent yank accent for much of my childhood - fitting in can be hard

ComposHatComesBack Wed 30-Dec-15 17:43:57

Bring lucky strikes, chewing gum and nylon stockings. Worked a treat 70 years ago.

ClaudiaWankleman Wed 30-Dec-15 17:51:25

I'm a Brit but I have lived abroad and have many friends who have moved to London, so I'll attempt to speak from both sides.

I do agree that many people who move to London do have some degree of difficulty in feeling a connection with others here. I think that's partly because Brits do socialise in a different way than in other parts of the world. What may seem like unfriendliness is sometimes just how Brits do things.

The most successful way that I have seen friends integrate was through a book club. It was set up with 6 school mums and has grown, in 4 years, to have 15 members including many expat mothers. It's the main social group for the members that I know. You could consider setting something like that up if you didn't find these structures already in place.

From personal experience abroad, I would strongly suggest making the first steps of friendship with everybody - neighbours, school mums, husband's colleagues and colleagues' wives. But don't cling. You have to accept the in at least 9/10 cases, those people will already have full social lives, not be your type of person etc. Remember though, it only takes one friend who can then introduce you to similar people and you've suddenly got a great group.

A final tip, when you're first talking to other people, focus on the length of time that you will be here for, not the past or the future when (if) you go home. No one wants to feel like a temporary friend or one with an expiration date!

You might be able to find mums who are also moving to London at a similar time to you if you post on local or on the expats forum.

Good luck and sorry for the essay!

Maudofallhopefulness Wed 30-Dec-15 17:54:19

When I lived in London I knew lots of American people. Very few people in London are from London. I knew Aussies, kiwis, Zimbabweans, Scots, Japanese you name it. I have a good friend who was there in similar circumstances to you. She's from Boston but she and her family stayed for about 3 years while her husband worked. I met her on a gardening course and we became part of a big gang of friends. I can't imagine why you'd find it hard fitting in.

If your friend had trouble I imagine she was unlucky with twatty playground mums rather than London people and Americans in general.

Indiana50 Wed 30-Dec-15 17:56:06

I'm friends with an American lady, who I got to know through my daughter, whose own daughter was in the same class at school. She's fantastic, friendly, welcoming. Kids are great for making introductions, where adults (at least us Brits) can be more reticent. Before I had children, I would have had the same reservations as you, but being a parent is a whole parallel universe.

Rivercam Wed 30-Dec-15 17:57:26

I'm sure you will,be fine and Welcome to England.

Go along to mum and tot groups, and take your children to clubs they enjoy. Make the first move, and invite mums to yours for coffee, or meet at Costa/Starbucks etc.

I'm sorry your friend don't have the best of times, but don't let her put you off. London is a very cosmopolitan place, and you should have a great time. London is a great place for kids.

And definitely don't have a baby shower, or believe everything you read on mumsnet!

whatsagoodusername Wed 30-Dec-15 17:58:45

I'd say English people are harder to get to know, but that this has been the experience of all foreigners I know in London - and there are loads of foreigners, so loads of people to meet without the support networks of the native English. But the English people have always been welcoming, it's just breaking into old friendship groups which is hard anywhere.

My DC are at a pre-prep in SE London. In DS1's class there's a French girl, Chinese, several Indians, a few Africans, half-American DS - he and I are unremarkable. Parents are all middle class and welcoming.

WorraLiberty Wed 30-Dec-15 18:00:23

Just don't move to Essex, you'll get told to "go back where you came from" and have kids making fun of your north american accent constantly.

Yes because everyone in Essex is the same, obviously...

merrymouse Wed 30-Dec-15 18:06:30

If you are living in central London the worse that will happen is that you make friends with loads of ex pats. On the other hand London is full of people who weren't born there, so it's not really the end of the world if most of your friends weren't either.

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