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Interview with Michael – an American expat living in West Sussex

Updated 11 Feb 2010

Michael was born and grew up in rural, upstate New York. He never entertained the notion of moving to another country until he visited Ireland in 2001 and met a Sussex gal. Six months later, he had quit his 25-year civil service career, given up his apartment, sold his brand-new car and was married and living in Sussex. He immediately began posting his experiences on his blog Postcards From Across the Pond and published a book chronicling his adventures in his new home.

For more information about the United Kingdom read the Expat Arrivals country guide or read more about expat experiences in the United Kingdom.

About Michael

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Kinderhook, New York

Q: Where are you living now?
A: Horsham, West Sussex

Q: How long have you lived here?
A: Eight years

Q: Did you move with a spouse/ children?
A: No.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I moved to England because I married a British woman.

About life in the UK

Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life?
A: Horsham isn’t a city but a large, medieval market town. It is within easy reach of London, however, which is one of the things I most enjoy about it. From my flat, it is a short walk to the train station, where I can go directly to London, Chichester, Lewes and any number of other attractive locations. An even shorter walk takes me to the bus station, where I can catch a commuter bus to my office in Brighton.

The town itself is clean and friendly and oh so quaint, with its cobbled streets, ancient buildings and market square, where markets are held each Thursday and Saturday.

The quality of life is high. It is an affluent area with lots of pubs, shopping, restaurants and other amenities.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: They tell me, for the younger people, that Horsham is a bit boring. But at my age, boring is good. I can’t think of anything I miss about the US except maybe macaroni and cheese in a box, A-1 Sauce and Boston Brown Bread. Not at the same time, mind.

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat?
A: Pretty much anywhere in Horsham is a good place to live. As with any place, you’ll tend to end up where your salary takes you. That said, some of the more affordable neighbourhoods are very nice, and if you have shedloads of money, you’ll just end up living with the outlanders in the gated communities, staring down at the locals from your balcony with a brandy in one hand and a London Times in the other saying to your wife, “Clementine, look! Indigenous people!”

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation?
A: The newer flats and houses tend to be smaller but with all the modern conveniences, such as central heating, double-glazed (thermal pane) windows and indoor plumbing (just kidding). Your older structures, such as the flat I live in, which was built in the 1960s and never upgraded, have “character”. However, that character includes spacious rooms, large windows and a balcony. It’s a trade-off, but overall, the standard is high.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: Frankly, I don’t mix with many people. My wife and I spend much of our leisure time together and occasionally visit friends (locals) or go to work functions. There are a lot of expats here, so it is hard not to mix with them at events, but I do not seek them out specifically.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: An emphatic “NO!” The famous British reserve is alive and well. I gave them a break because I spend a lot of time with my wife and at work, but in eight years of living in close proximity with thousands of other Britons, I have not made a single friend. But maybe it’s me. Make of that what you will.

About working in the UK

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: Not at all. As someone married to a British National, I received a “Leave to Remain” in a few weeks, which allowed me to look for work and basically afforded all the rights of a British Citizen except voting. A year later, I got my “Permanent Leave to Remain”, which allowed me to stay indefinitely. Five years later, I applied for citizenship.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city? Is there plenty of work?
A: It’s been better. But even with the downturn, there seems to be enough work.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: The British (and the Europeans in general) are very big on taking holiday (vacation). The standard amount of vacation is five weeks. And you need to take it during the year. Also, they are not quite as bad as Americans when it comes to working all the hours God sends. So the work-life balance is a bit better here.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare?
A: The NHS is adequate. It’s bloated with government regulations, bureaucracy and managerial incompetence (the people on the ground—the doctors, nurses, aids, etc. are marvellous), but it limps along despite all. In short, it’s better than nothing.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: It’s an adventure. Enjoy it. Mix in. Do what the locals do. Drink the bitter. Go to the panto. Try the haggis. And, most of all, have fun.
~ Interviewed January 2010

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