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The American


With his trademark folksy charm hiding a razor sharp view of his subject, Bill Bryson has written a book that highlights the moment that the United States became a superpower. He tells The American about it, and his expatriate existence


s most readers will know, Bill Bryson spent his first 20 years in Des Moines, Iowa, but he is probably better known as the genial American expat whose wry observations of his adopted home are equally enjoyed by his compatriots old and new. As his middle name is McGuire, his mother’s maiden name, and she was of Irish descent, had he ever been tempted to live in Ireland rather than Britain? “No, but not because I have anything against Ireland! I have been several times and I like it very much but I don’t have a close relationship with it, and it wouldn’t have been convenient for the things I do. I married an English woman and my life, for work and marriage and parenthood reasons, is spent in Britain. Quite unexpectedly I met my wife nearly 40 years ago and got a bride and a new country, and I’m happy to say that I’m still with both. To me, it’s the most natural thing in the world to live here - I’ve been doing it for nearly two-thirds of my life. This is home. “I was on a ‘gap year’, but in the middle of college, and it was a lot easier to land a job in a foreign country like Britain. It’s a tragedy that it’s so difficult now. Young Britons and Americans ought to

12 December 2013

be able to enjoy some kind of free exchange of movement, as a young French person can here. If you’re from the First World and you’re well-educated and prosperous, you’re obviously not an economic immigrant. When I see how my life has been enriched by coming from America to Britain, it’s a shame how difficult it is for young people now. Not just Britain, they might like to go to Australia or Italy or France, but they’re forbidden, and treated like some kind of Romany or something. At least give them a couple of years to enjoy another culture when they’re young.” After returning to the States to finish university, which was particularly important to his mother who was from a blue collar family and had seen his two elder siblings drop out of college, Bryson moved back to Britain “semi-permanently” in 1977, with the odd break back in the States and other places. “It wasn’t a rejection of America,” he avers. “But I love the British countryside, I think London is the greatest city in the world, I like the sense of humor and the sense of history. I live in Norfolk now, and every morning I look out of my window and see a church tower that was built 900 years ago. You

don’t get a lot of that in Iowa! If you grow up without something and then it’s brought into your life, you often appreciate it more than if it’s something you’ve always had. That’s another good thing about immigration - anyone who is here as a voluntary immigrant is here because they like it, and they can see a lot of attractive things that the natives overlook.” I guessed British food in the ‘70s was not one of those attractions. “Well, like most people brought up in the ‘50s I was not a sophisticated eater in the first place,” he laughs, “so Britain and I discovered decent food together, which is probably the best way to do it! Because of our dominant culture it’s easy to grow up culturally impoverished. But it’s easier to be an American living abroad - all the best things that America produces will wind up wherever you are in the world: the best music, television programs, movies, and so on, so you don’t miss out. What you do miss out on if you live in America is all the other things - if I hadn’t moved here I would never have discovered the minutiae of British life: Morecambe and Wise, pork pies. My life has been doubled.” Bryson is eligible for dual British

The American Issue 728 December 2013  

The American has been published for Americans in Britain - and Brits who like American culture and lifestyle - since 1976.

The American Issue 728 December 2013  

The American has been published for Americans in Britain - and Brits who like American culture and lifestyle - since 1976.