The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

RANDOM NOMAD: Melissa Stoey, Former Expat in UK and Incurable Britophile

Place of birth: Northern Virginia, USA
Passports: USA
Overseas history: England (Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire + Shefford, Bedfordshire): 1988-91.
Occupation: Research technician (basically I do data analysis) and part-time professional blogger.
Cyberspace coordinates: Smitten by Britain: Home of the Britophile (blog); @SmittnbyBritain (Twitter handle); Facebook page; and Pinterest.

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
I’m intrigued by other cultures and more specifically by the British culture. I have been fascinated by Britain since I was a young teen. I have always had the itch for travel and I knew I definitely wanted to visit the UK, if not live there. My love for travel one of the reasons I joined the military. I put England down as my first choice for duty station and I got it!

Where were you stationed?
At Chicksands air base (Chicks for shorts). It’s now Royal Air Force (RAF) Chicksands. Britain’s Ministry of Defense has since taken it over.

You ended up marrying a Brit, right?
Yes. My first husband, and the father of my son, was stationed at what was then RAF Brampton, which is in Cambridgeshire. At first we lived in Huntingdon, but then he got transferred to a base in Hitchin, which is closer to Chicks, so we moved to Shefford.

Is anyone else in your immediate family “displaced”?
Ironically, my brother was stationed at Chicks three years before, so it sort of felt like I was meant to go there. Right now, I don’t have any displaced relatives, but my son is a dual national between the U.S. and U.K. I suspect at some point he may move to the U.K. after he fulfills his dream of living and teaching in Japan for a year. We’ll see! It may be a case of like mother, like son.

So you and your son now live in the United States?
Yes. His father and I are divorced. We came back and lived in Texas for a year, then West Virginia. We now live in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, his father has gone back to Scotland, where he is from.

How often do you return to the U.K.?
My son and I, and my second husband — I am now married to an American! — try to go every year or at least once very two years, depending on funds and time off.

Can you describe the moment in your association with Britain when you felt the most displaced?
The first night I was in England the culture shock was horrible. I lived around sixty miles north of London in a small village where there were no street lights, and when I looked out the window there was complete and utter darkness. It felt as if I’d landed on a different planet with no signs of life. This was 1988 when almost everything closed much earlier than it does now and wasn’t open on Sundays. If you switched on the radio you might pick up two or three stations, the television had only four channels and of course there was no Internet. It felt much more isolating than if you moved to England today; it has changed by leaps and bounds in the last 25 years as far as conveniences go. I envy current expats who have so many wonderful resources available to help limit the culture shock and make the transition easier.

Is there any particular moment that stands out as your “least displaced”?
We had a great night back in July of 2010 when we met a Glaswegian couple at a curry house in the west end of Glasgow. They invited us to the pub for drinks where we spent the night taste testing different whiskies. I felt totally at home, like I had known this couple my whole life. The Scots have a way — similar to Americans — of making one feel welcomed and accepted. I can say this because of having once been married to a Scot and having spent a lot of time there. My ex-husband was, and still is, one of the friendliest people I know.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your adopted country into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
My bag is always full of tea and sweets from England. I never return without them. I always pack a few British newspapers as well because my parents are Anglophiles, have been to England many times and enjoy reading them. Rumor has it that some of you Displaced Nation citizens are avid tea drinkers and readers, and that you rarely turn down sweets.

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

I will fix my favorite meal which is a nice Sunday roast that includes roast beef, roasted potatoes, carrots, peas, and Yorkshire pudding (I don’t do sprouts, thank you.) We’ll finish it off with a nice pot of tea and a slice of Victoria sponge, with jam and whipped cream.

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?
I’m feeling peckish. I say that quite often and it always results in the odd look or two. It’s just not used here, at least where I live. To feel “peckish” means to feel slightly hungry.

Earlier this month, we did a series of posts on Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. Incurable Britophile that you are, I presume you celebrated from a distance?
I watched the River Pageant, which was on early in the morning East Coast time, and then hosted my own Diamond Jubilee lunch (see photos on my blog). The food was great — we nibbled on leftovers for days! Even though I didn’t have a big party (it was just for my family), I was glad to do it to show my blog readers that you don’t have to be in Britain to celebrate properly. You can still enjoy yourself and take part in your own little way.

A couple of us on The Displaced Nation team thinks that the Queen deserves an Olympic medal for having survived almost being displaced by Princess Diana. Do you agree?
I don’t agree that the Queen was almost displaced by Diana; if she was going to be displaced it would have been due to her actions (or lack of) that left the British public feeling as if she was heartless and out of touch. However, I still don’t think she would have been displaced. Time heals and I think many of us now understand the dilemma she faced as a grandmother trying to protect her grandchildren who just lost their mother. However, as Head of State I do wish she had at least made a televised message to the public within the first 24 hours. Waiting five days was a bit much.

Americans seem to love the Royal Family. Do you think the United States might benefit from having one?
The idea of the United States having a royal family at this point is a silly one. It doesn’t fit our history or where we are headed as a country. Let’s leave that to the nation that does Monarchy the best.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Melissa Stoey 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 Melissa — 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: Melissa Stoey at Stirling Castle, Scotland, then and now — in 1989, when she was displaced (and cold!), and in 2010, when she was visiting (and warmer!).

29 responses to “RANDOM NOMAD: Melissa Stoey, Former Expat in UK and Incurable Britophile

  1. Karen June 27, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Yea! Cause she says nay to monarchy!

  2. Emily Henry Burnham June 27, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Melissa! I’m from just down the road…. Baldock, Hertfordshire and Kempston, Bedfordshire. I also always bring back tea when I return from England! As well as Bisto… I can’t eat my roast dinners without it. But I usually make Shepherd’s Pie when I want to impress Americans. They love it.

  3. Lynn K. Lees June 27, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Anyone who can make yorkshires gets a Yay from me!!

  4. T June 27, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Melissa is a rockstar! As an incurable Britophile myself, I was so thrilled when I found her blog and FB page many months ago. She has the best suggestions and connections to all things British, and is always linking me up to cool new websites. Definite Yay!

  5. Marci Gower June 27, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Absolutely! Melissa is BRILLIANT!

  6. ML Awanohara June 27, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    Well, I don’t know. On the one hand, I think it’s pretty displaced to join the military in hopes of being stationed in Britain! On the other hand, it seems to me that Melissa is playing it safe, as far as displacement goes, in sticking with the Celts. They’re a much easier group to fall in with than the English, in my experience of that part of the world. As Melissa says, they’re more like Americans!!! (And the ones who live in England feel as displaced as we do…)

    One more question for you, Melissa: Do you think you’re in love with a romantic image of Britain rather than the real thing? (If you are, then I’d hardly blame you! I think I am as well!)

  7. Denise June 28, 2012 at 7:31 am

    Yay for Melissa! One of her missions is to dispel stereotypes, the ones Americans have of Brits and vice versa. She does an excellent job at that which, in the end, makes *all* of us appreciate one another better. ML Awanohara, if anyone knows the real Britain, Melissa does. She knows the good and not-so-good and isn’t afraid to mention it.

    • SmittenbyBritain (@SmittnbyBritain) June 28, 2012 at 8:25 am

      Thank you Denise. As someone who is sharing the same experience I had (married to a Brit and living in England) your opinion meets a lot to me. There are plenty of Anglophile blogs by individuals who have done nothing more than visit the country a few times. There’s a big difference between visiting and living there. You have to live there to know what every day life is like for a Brit. My guess is some fair weather Anglophiles wouldn’t last very long. They are the ones with a romantic image of Britain.

  8. SmittenbyBritain (@SmittnbyBritain) June 28, 2012 at 8:07 am

    How can I be in love with a romantic image of Britain when I lived there and was married to a Brit? Hardly! The people who are married to a romantic image of Britain are usually people who have never been there, never spent more than a week or so or never go outside of London! I lived in ENGLAND for three years not Scotland and most of our every day friends were English. I’m not sure where you got the idea that I’m taking a side? You need to keep reading my blog.

    • Kate Allison June 28, 2012 at 8:22 am

      Well, I am a Brit, born and bred, lived there most of my life in various parts of England, but living elsewhere definitely gives me a romanticized view of my home country! In my mind’s eye it’s all Cotswolds cottages, country pubs, and tea rooms. And then I land at Heathrow T5 and think…Oh yeah, that’s right, I remember now. Traffic jams on the M1, Estuary accents, and sulky waitresses.

      The thatched cottage version is much nicer 🙂

      • SmittenbyBritain (@SmittnbyBritain) June 28, 2012 at 8:30 am

        Hi Kate, it’s easy to do when those are the images you see of England in the media, on TV and in magazines. We only get the *tourist* image of England here. That’s why I strive to bust stereotypes with my blog and Facebook page. I tell my readers to get out of London and rent a flat instead of hotel room to get a better sense of every day life as Brit.

        By the way, don’t forget bad customer service! 😉

        • SmittenbyBritain (@SmittnbyBritain) June 28, 2012 at 8:33 am

          (It doesn’t look like my last comment went thru?)

          Another thing Kate, I had a romanticized view of my home country as well after living in England for three years. It came from being homesick. That view was quickly squashed a mere week or two after my return.

          • Kate Allison June 28, 2012 at 8:44 am

            It’s not that I’m homesick any more – at least, I don’t think I am – but distance does lend enchantment. Then there’s the hard reality check upon re-arrival (of M1 traffic jams, etc) and it takes a while to hit a reasonable equilibrium of seeing the good and accepting the bad. At that point I start to appreciate the smaller differences, like being able to walk on footpaths, and sheep standing stock still in the middle of very narrow country lanes, and Flakes in ice creams. The stuff that doesn’t make its way into guidebooks and coffee table books, in other words.

            • SmittenbyBritain (@SmittnbyBritain) June 28, 2012 at 9:21 am

              Right, there are things you can only know if you’ve lived there or spent an extensive amount of time there. Then your experiences depend on where in the country you’re staying and what your accommodations are like. I like to tell people to get a flat with a kitchen because it forces them to go to the supermarket or to take advantage of some of the local outdoor markets, not to mention it saves them money on eating out. There’s a greater chance they’ll try British foods and not just stick with American fast food. They also experience what it’s like to live in an English home with a wee kitchen, no dishwasher (this is for the Americans), a tiny washer/dryer combo, a small wardrobe, small fridge and two taps on the sink! Of course there are flats and homes that are exceptions but for the most part these things are still common. These are all experiences you miss in a hotel room.

        • Kate Allison June 28, 2012 at 8:35 am

          I try very hard to forget the bad customer service….

          • ML Awanohara June 28, 2012 at 10:16 am

            @Melissa @Kate
            I love this debate as it’s one I have constantly running in my head — do those of us with the “itch to travel,” as Melissa puts it, tend to be romantics rather than realists? Are we always thinking the grass is greener, at home or in the country abandoned? Are we permanent malcontents? (I count myself in that group, having spent close to half of my adult life living on two small islands, England and Japan, and having lived in a local way in both places.)

            In my case, I stayed in Britain long enough to grow tired of lots of things — the weather, the way people are so reserved, the Little Englander outlook (and prejudice against immigrants), and, oh, did I mention the poor customer service? 🙂 By the time I left, I was rather jaded — and I’d also been persuaded that the Royal Family needed retooling for the modern era. I wasn’t that into them, and I understood (while not actively supporting) the arguments for why they should be abolished.

            But now, from a distance, I romanticize so much about the place. At this very moment, I’m vacationing in Vermont — and what I wouldn’t give for an afternoon tea shop? It’s the perfect setting for one! Yesterday we found a cafe in a little town near St Johnsbury, and it came close — only there were no pots of tea, only mugs, and no scones. (Still, we did enjoy a rather fabulous chocolate bomb!)

            But I digress. Melissa, I think I was questioning how you could still be “smitten” by Britain after living there and even marrying a Brit? (I did that as well…) But I see that you aren’t so much smitten by the place as the experience of the place and all of its quirks. Is that a fair interpretation?

            p.s. It is my custom to give our Random Nomads a hard time since no one ever votes “nay” — and I think we should be a little bit fussy about who we let into our nation. But after seeing the photos on your blog, I’m persuaded. You’re a great talent and Britain should be glad to have you as a leading advocate! YAY!

            • SmittenbyBritain (@SmittnbyBritain) June 28, 2012 at 11:10 am

              Yes, you have to take the good with the bad as in any place or country. There are upsides and downsides to living abroad, just as there are the same for home. There are plenty of things that I like about America and don’t like about America. There are things I like about Britain and don’t like about Britain and I’ve expressed the latter when it was appropriate. But the things I don’t like about Britain are not bothersome enough that I would pass up spending thousand and thousands of dollars travelling there all the time. It’s the culture I love, not just the twee cottages and all the pomp and circumstance of the Monarchy which many Americans are most attracted to. In fact, I’m quite indifferent about the Royal Family. While I enjoy them, they are not what attracted me to the UK in the first place. For many tourists they are part of the initial draw. My interest is in every day Britain and British people.

              I would like to point everyone to a post on my blog in which one writer reveals what England is really like.

            • ML Awanohara June 28, 2012 at 12:10 pm

              Great post! I can really relate to the items on Tim Gillett’s list, although I must admit, I never noticed any bicycles in rivers. But he did remind me of a couple of things I’d forgotten — the sunburn and all the moaning.

              But as the years go by and I visit Britain less and less (though I happened to make several trips to London and East Anglia in the recent past), I find that my thoughts about the place include more and more of the elements on Alan Titchmarsh’s list: cream teas (as evidenced by my comment above), ploughman’s lunches, John Constable landscapes, Eaton mess, Wimbledon/lawn tennis, and of course Miss Marple & now Downton Abbey (thank you, PBS!).

              So maybe we ex-expats are as bad as the tourists?!

              Overall, though, the thing I miss most about Britain is the sense of humo(u)r — not so much the Monty Python stuff (much of which crosses the line imho), but the ability to take a mundane, commonplace event and make it very funny in the telling, often by sounding a note of self-deprecation. (One of our TDN writers, Tony James Slater, is a past master of this art.) I guess it must be an acquired taste as I find it rare to come across people in the United States who have, let alone “get,” this sort of thing. We Yanks tend to take ourselves a little too seriously…

          • Kate Allison June 29, 2012 at 7:33 am

            Hmmm. You know, such a lot of items on that list can apply to America too!

  9. Simon June 28, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    I think you really have to stretch the definition of ‘displaced’ to include a person who lived for a short time abroad 20 years ago. I have to agree with ML Awanohara on the romanticizing bit–I had to unfollow the Twitter feed because I couldn’t take it anymore!

    • ML Awanohara June 28, 2012 at 8:50 pm

      Actually, I think you can be displaced even if you live in your native country all your life yet don’t feel you belong there somehow — wrong time, wrong era, wrong physical surroundings. As Anthony Windram, one of TDN’s writers, once pointed out, Proust was the ultimate in displaced — and I don’t think he ever left France?

      I find it very interesting that Melissa finds herself drawn to Britain despite being from the United States, despite only living there for a short time 20 years ago. In fact, she was so drawn to the country that she joined the U.S. Air Force in hopes of being stationed there! Now that’s displaced!!!

      I should let Melissa speak for herself, but clearly Britain has captured a piece of her heart. Is that because she has a son who is half British? Or because it offers things the United States doesn’t? Or both?

      Admittedly, I had a different trajectory. I lived in Britain for long enough to go sour on lots of aspects of the life there. But now that I’m back in my native U.S., I find myself feeling nostalgic for things British. A case of “familiarity breeds contempt” followed by a case of “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” I guess…

      But for Melissa, familiarity did not breed contempt, and I for one find that admirable! Especially as her marriage to a Brit didn’t work out. And, as she points out above, it’s not as though she’s blind to Britain’s less-than-attractive features.

      • Kate Allison June 29, 2012 at 7:32 am

        Well, maybe Melissa isn’t physically displaced from her home country anymore, but there’s no doubt that she’s left a piece of her heart in England – so that qualifies 🙂

        • ML Awanohara June 29, 2012 at 10:50 am

          You are right. I’m not displaced from my home country any more but that doesn’t disqualify me from feeling displaced.

          And on the point about length of stay, some people can imbibe the essence of a country very quickly. Remember my interview in March with Jennifer Scott. A Californian, Jennifer mastered the lessons of Parisian style in just six months, on a study-abroad program — to the point where she’s written a much-praised book that has just been picked up by a major publisher.

          Some people are quick studies — and I’d bet that Melissa falls into that category. Just look at the photos on her blog or follow her on Pinterest: she’s a phenomenal collector of all things British and also has the ability to transform where she lives into a British environment with just a few touches (decor and food). It’s extraordinary!

  10. michelloui July 2, 2012 at 7:18 am

    Love those photos Melissa! I also enjoy the slightly romanticised view of Britain you have. I don’t even know if that’s the right phrase. Your blog is called ‘Smitten By Britain’ so there’s no mystery, you will blog and tweet about all the things you love about Britain! I think this fills a gap in the market, where most guides to countries–expat or traveler, are filled with useful tips, cautions and sometimes a light-hearted moan.

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