Saturday, May 1, 2010

Are Americans ever happy when they pack up and move to Britain? If so, someone please direct me to their memoirs. I've found one lovely account (see below), but otherwise, most of the stories I've read don't turn out so well. I was once again seduced by a pretty cover and the promise of reading about the adventures of a newcomer to British shores in the book Sixpence House by Paul Collins. In this book, the author and his family move to the book capital of Europe, Hay-on-Wye. I love to read about Britain, and I love books, so this sounded as if it would be a perfectly charming memoir. Sadly, this book quickly turned into an indictment of all that's wrong with Britain and how much better everything in the U.S. is (as seems to be the case with books like this).

Paul Collins had just finished work on his first book when he and his wife decide to move to the UK with their infant son. As inhabitants of San Francisco, they are eager to give their son a more quiet upbringing in a rural setting. The family moves to the town of Hay, and the author is immediately offered a job setting up an "American section" in one of the town's many bookstores.

The author's parents were British immigrants to the U.S., so he has dual citizenship. This allows him to move overseas, but he never tires of pointing out "I'm an American," or "As an American," or "To an American" followed by complaints of how inferior and/or backward basically everything in Britain is to its American counterpart. My, how much better stocked the American supermarkets are. How much simpler the real estate market. And don't even mention the plumbing situation . . .

Since the author's parents were British, he supposedly visited British relatives from time to time as a youngster. Why on earth he wanted to drag his young family to such a underdeveloped and clearly second-rate country is beyond me. You will not be surprised, then, when at the end of the book, he decides he can't stand it a minute longer and bolts back to the U.S. After a slight kerfuffle at immigration, where he tries to enter the U.S. on his British passport, the immigration agent tells him, "Don't ever try to be British again." If only someone had told him this before he foolishly attempted it.

Clearly, there are some books where the differences between the two countries can be pointed out in a humorous and good-hearted way, as in the wonderful Postcards From Across the Pond by Mike Harling. Sixpence House, on the other hand, is just an extended complaint about living outside the US.

Final verdict for Sixpence House: 0 Gherkins, for being an extended whine on how much better everything is in the US by someone who should never have left


Unknown said...

This review made me chuckle, but thanks for being honest. I will give it a miss.

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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The Gherkin Scale

5gherkinsb Brilliant!

4gherkinsb Good, innit?

3gherkinsb Fair to middlin'

2gherkinsb Has some good points

1gherkin Oi! Wot you playin' at?

0gherkins3Don't be givin' me evils!

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