The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

RANDOM NOMAD: Lynne Murphy, American Expat in UK & Champion Linguist

Place of birth: Western New York State, USA
Passports: USA + UK
Overseas history: South Africa (Johannesburg): 1993-97; Texas, USA (Waco): 1997-99 — definitely a different country!; England, UK (Brighton): 2000 – present.
Occupation: Senior Lecturer in Linguistics, University of Sussex
Cyberspace coordinates: Separated by a Common Language — observations on British and American English by an American linguist in the UK (blog); @LynneGuist (Twitter handle).

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
What made me move were jobs. I am a theoretical lexicologist. Not many places want a theoretical lexicologist, so I applied far and wide and have been rewarded with some very interesting jobs and living experiences.

Is anyone else in your immediate family “displaced”?
I was the first person in my immediate family-of-birth to own a passport.

Can you describe the moment when you felt the most displaced?
The night after the American student Amy Biehl was killed in South Africa, in August 1993. At that point, I lived in a granny flat — an outbuilding behind a house in a Johannesburg suburb. I came home to find my neighbours in the main house packing up and leaving for a safe place to stay, as they’d been robbed during the day. As they left, they told me the thieves had taken the spare keys to my flat — and had already come back to steal the bicycles from the garage. At that point, I had no car, no telephone (setting one up there took FOREVER), nowhere to go and no way to get there. I stayed up all night with the lights on and with a newspaper with the story of Biehl’s murder on the front page, feeling very alone and very scared.

Is there any particular moment that stands out as your “least displaced”?
Sometimes it’s funny to reflect on the fact that my own child speaks with an English accent, and I feel most absolutely at home with her. But I also often feel really divorced from the US when I read the news. When the hullabaloo about “Obamacare” was going on, I just couldn’t believe that I came from a place where many people seem not to see good medical care as a basic right for all. And it especially galled when I saw some Americans spreading lies about how British healthcare works and others willing to believe those lies. The National Health Service isn’t perfect, but it has saved my life, and I have more confidence in its care for me than I had in the insurance-industry-driven care I had in the US.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your adopted country into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
From South Africa: It’s the art that’s lasted! Two pieces by Ezekiel Madiba, a print and one of his printing blocks — which is nice because it’s sturdy enough to put in a suitcase and to hug every once in a while.
From Texas: My doctor’s instructions on what to do the next time I’m stung by a fire ant (to try to avoid being bed-ridden for a week, like the first time).
From England: My wedding ring. It’s a one-off, made by a Brighton goldsmith, and it’s a curiosity, because I hadn’t thought I was the marrying type.

You are invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on your menu?

Starter/Appetizer: South African biltong. A nice peppery one—but I don’t mind if it’s beef or game. Maybe a selection.
Main course: For this, I’ll bring together the British and the American — not fancy but delicious. I haven’t given it a name, but here’s the recipe: Toast crumpets. cover with cheddar cheese and put under the broiler/grill. Slather on A1 Steak Sauce. Eat with knife and fork.
Dessert: Eton mess with raspberries instead of strawberries.
Drinks: South African wine (I never had a South African wine I didn’t like while I was in South Africa– the exported stuff is of more variable quality, in my experience); Castle Lager (a South African beer); and Schweppes Bitter Lemon (a popular soft drink in South Africa, no longer being produced in this part of the world as far as I know).

And now you may add a word or expression from each of the countries where you’ve lived to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
From South Africa: Putting hey? on the ends of sentences. It was so easy to start doing, since I’d grown up using the “Canadian” eh? (Though I hadn’t realized I said it till I moved from upstate New York to Massachusetts, where they don’t say it.) It’s been a while since I lived in South Africa, but I still find myself doing it.
From the UK: There are so many great expressions, but the thing that’s invaded my language most is lovely. When I write emails, I have to go back at the end and take out half of the lovelies because I say it so terrifically much.

This month we have been doing some posts on Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. How did you spend the Bank Holiday weekend? Did you celebrate?
We’re not much into the monarchy in my house, so we just enjoyed the extra time off. But we did go to a friend’s house and eat red-white-and-blue cupcakes — which we should probably have called “fairy cakes” if we wanted to take the whole Rule Britannia thing seriously.

A couple of us on The Displaced Nation team thinks that the Queen deserves an Olympic medal for being on the throne for so long. Do you agree?
I respect the queen for handling many awkward situations with grace, but all she has done to be on the throne so long is not die yet. She got a national holiday for the occasion—I think that’s sufficient!

Readers — yay or nay for letting Lynne Murphy into The Displaced Nation? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Lynne — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s episode in Libby’s Life, our fictional expat series set in small town New England. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures and/or check out “Who’s Who in Libby’s Life.”)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

img: Lynne Murphy looking rather other-worldly — or  “out of this displaced world,” as we like to say — in a Brighton pub.

7 responses to “RANDOM NOMAD: Lynne Murphy, American Expat in UK & Champion Linguist

  1. Deri June 13, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Yes. Double-dip displacement has got to give an extra twist to “compare and contrast”, and she can talk about talking.

  2. Kate Allison June 13, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    Oh, a definite Yay from me — I love Lynne’s site 🙂

    I know exactly what you mean about your daughter speaking with an English accent, since I’m in the same boat but facing the other way (if that’s not taking the metaphor too far.) I don’t notice my kids’ American accents until I stop and think about it. It never seems strange, though — yet many people seem to think I should find it so.

    Something I have noticed is that I’m so accustomed to hearing both English and American accents during the course of a normal day, that I have to pause sometimes to work out which one I’m hearing, particularly, say, on NPR where they have a lot of BBC news correspondents thrown into the mix. Both accents seem “normal” now.

  3. ML Awanohara June 14, 2012 at 12:12 am

    Gosh, darn it! Lynne, I forgot to ask you the most obvious question of all — so are we (separated by a common language)? What’s your overall assessment?

  4. Deri June 14, 2012 at 4:27 am

    When I moved (in 1975) from Canada to London, I noticed a delivery van with the signwriting saying “Harrods Pot Plants” and thinking ‘wow, that’s liberal’. Then I saw a shop sign describing the traders as “Family Butchers” and thinking ‘wow, that’s severe’.

  5. lynneguist June 14, 2012 at 5:31 am

    Our common language unites us, but we’re also separated by it. If not, I wouldn’t have been able to write about 400 blog posts about miscommunication!

  6. Tony James Slater June 14, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Yay! Anyone who believes that crumpets with cheese and steak sauce on is a main meal, is okay in my book! In fact, you could be the first person I’ve heard of that I could invite over for dinner, cook for, and you not be disappointed!
    Sounds like your experience in SA was pretty terrifying, I’ve always been a little nervous about visiting there because of all the crime and violence. Rather have a cup of tea and a scone in old Blighty, methinks – lovely!

    • lynneguist June 28, 2012 at 7:53 pm

      Tony–that was one bad night in ZA at the start of my stay there. I stayed four years and would love to go back and visit. It’s a beautiful and extraordinarily interesting country. Give it a go! 🙂

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