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Posted May 11, 2011
I was looking forward to reviewing this book having made Michael Harling's journey in reverse; traversing the pond from east to west. Like him I'd assumed life couldn't be so very different when the two nations spoke the same language and came from common stock. How clueless we both were.
Harling comes from a place several miles beyond small town America and became an "accidental expat" when he met and married a Brit (a man of taste obviously), moving his settled and ordered life to Sussex, England. His observations on the oddities and absurdities of his new life were originally documented in his blog; a method guaranteed to save his sanity in his early days of cultural adjustment.
Harling will inevitably be compared to Bill Bryson but they are two different people with diverse experiences. I am a huge fan of Bryson so had great expectations of Harling and wasn't disappointed.
I found his detailing the differences in the minutia of daily life riveting - bath taps, storage heaters, television and daily shopping; things we can all connect with. I also understood that feeling of familiar things being slightly off-balance and skewed, never allowing you to feel entirely settled or at ease.
He relates with gusto his inevitable brushes with bureaucracy and left me feeling every country is bad as the next when it comes to form-filling and paperwork; from getting a social security/national insurance number to opening a bank account in the US with a non-American spouse. If you fit the guidelines all is well; be different in any way and chaos ensues.
Harling has a unique skill to make wry and humorous observations without causing offence to anyone. His curiosity and sense of the absurd shine through the writing as he comes to understand why Brits do things they way they do.
His growing affection and understanding of his adopted country are obvious in the conversational and engaging style of his writing. This is a great read you can pick up and put down which will leave you feeling upbeat and positive.
The spirit of Harling can best be described by something he wrote himself "being amazed by your life is a great way to live." I'll second that.