You’ve gone all New York!

The New York TimesThis past week, I’ve had several experiences that have made me reflect on what it means to be a Brit in New York – the highs, the lows and the ways it can change you.

I had some visitors over from London, so got to show them the New York that I’ve discovered so far, a step beyond what an ordinary tourist might experience. During their stay, we were joined by one of their old university friends from Britain, who had been living in New York for several years. Her accent had morphed into some kind of weird Transatlantic Loyd Grossman twang. Aaargh! Is this really what happens to Brits after just a few years? Oh please no.

Later, I attended a birthday party of another Brit who had also moved over from London a few years ago. Thankfully, his accent was completely intact but his wife greeted me when I arrived with “You’ve gone all New York!”. She was referring to my appearance – slightly unshaven with one of those big ridiculous fluffy puffer coats to keep out the biting cold. I thought it safer not to mention that I’ve also invested in one of those furry deerstalker hats to stop my ears falling off from frostbite.

But going native carries its own risks. Also at the party was another Brit who had been here for several years but who had recently lost her job and was on the brink of being forced to return to the UK unless she found a new role within two weeks. Such is the precarious visa situation for many Brits (myself included) that if the job goes, so too does the cosy life you’ve built for yourself in New York. Without a Green Card, we’re all just one step away from deportation.

This was underlined by another experience this week. I disappeared for several hours into the labyrinth that is NYC bureacracy to obtain an ID card from the Department of Motor Vehicles. This, as I’ve discovered, is entirely necessary to avoid carrying round your passport (complete with visa) as proof of age. Remember, this is the country in which they card you just for the hell of it and have been caught out on this front numerous times.

Anyway, after eventually obtaining an interim ID Card it very distinctly stated that I was a ‘temporary visitor’. I guess, that’s a step up from ‘non-resident alien’ (which is the officialese for a Brit on a visa over here). In other words, you don’t really live here – you’re only here by the grace of God – and don’t you forget it!

As a Brit, it’s hard to feel like a real New Yorker when the rug could be pulled out from under you at any moment. Depending on who you talk to, you’re only a genuine New Yorker (a mysterious concept in itself) after 6-10 years. This makes most Brits over here what they are – aliens in a strange land.

The other thing that struck me is that most of my friends here in Manhattan are American – very few are British. More by accident than design, socially and at work I don’t tend to hang around much with other Brits. It’s no wonder then that in day-to-day speech I’ve started to refer to apartments, elevators, restrooms and cellphones as a matter of course. Perhaps I really am starting to go all New York…

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