Pekin-based author shares the humor of being an American on British soil
Moving is stressful. Moving to a foreign country is a whole different level of stress. But most people don’t expect major culture shock when the foreign country is England. Sure, Brits drive on the opposite side of the road, but they speak English, don’t they?
In 2009, Claire Craig Evans moved to England with her British husband and found out just how wrong that assumption could be. Now, she’s turned her sometimes-traumatic, often-humorous experiences into a laugh-out-loud travel memoir — High Tea and the Low Down — for anyone who fantasizes about life in the British Isles.
Growing up in Springfield, Illinois, Evans remembered watching British television on the local PBS station.
“My mother and I would watch Are You Being Served? every Saturday down in Springfield when I was a teenager,” Evans recalled. “I think it was on at nine at night. That was just what we did. But then they would show other shows, The Vicar of Dibley and Father Ted and Fawlty Towers.”
Those hours of television established her as a lifelong fan of British culture.
Meantime, Evans went to college for mechanical engineering but switched to journalism. After graduation, she decided to pursue law. In 2001, between her first and second year in law school, Evans discovered that Notre Dame offered a summer law session in London. She jumped at the chance to immerse herself in all things British.
“I got to know that great city as you do only by living as a local,” she said. “I thought it would be easy because I already spoke the language, which I found was a faulty assumption.”
Evans enjoyed the experience, spending her time studying, taking in tours, and writing extensive emails home about her travels. She returned to the United States just before September 2001 and never expected to live in the country again.
That changed when she met Ben Evans, an Englishman working in Peoria on a two-year assignment at Caterpillar. The two connected online in 2005 and eventually married. Ben was able to extend his short-term position until 2009, when he was called back to the Caterpillar facility in Peterborough, England. The couple packed up their lives for what they thought would be a permanent move overseas.
Evans encountered many struggles after the move, from learning how to drive to accidentally offending people with common words. She noted that the word “concessions” in England means a senior or military discount instead of a place to find a hot dog, and that mistaking the two will anger the volunteers at historic sites.
There was also the difficulty of finding fulfilling work, since her experience in Illinois criminal law wasn’t transferable. She found a volunteer position and later a job with the Citizens Advice Bureau in Cambridge. Evans enjoyed working with a non-profit that offered citizens advice about everything from energy issues and money management to benefit entitlements.
On the weekends, she would explore the country with her husband and began blogging about her experiences. Her renewed interest in writing led her to take a travel writing course through Cambridge Writers with Dr. Jane Wilson.
“[Dr. Wilson] and a group of like-minded people would sit and do critiques on each other’s travel memoirs,” recalled Evans. “That’s how I got to thinking that maybe this [blog] should be something more. So I had a huge chunk of [the book] done, and then I came back to the U.S. It sat on a shelf from 2012 to 2022. For 10 years, it was warehoused.”
The couple moved back to the United States in 2012. Their daughter was born, and Claire became a stay-at-home mom. In 2018, she was looking for a way to talk to more adults, so she began giving library lectures on British baking, British tea culture, and real locations found in the Harry Potter series. The programs went virtual in 2020, expanding Evans’ audience from central Illinois to New England and Canada.
During the lectures, a common question kept surfacing. Attendees wanted to know when Evans would write a book about her personal experiences in England.
“I had the material to put the jigsaw pieces together,” Evans recalled, referencing her emails from law school and the travel memoir she began at Cambridge Writers. “So that’s what I spent my time doing.”
What emerged was High Tea and the Low Down, published in August of this year. In the book, Evans talks about the notoriously tricky “Life in the U.K.” immigration exam and how she needed to pass it to stay in England once her provisional spouse visa ran out. The 24-question test over British values, history, traditions, and everyday life only has a 70% pass rate. Evans walks the reader through her traumatic but humorous experiences to show how she learned the required information.
A recent Kirkus review called High Tea and the Low Down “a lively transcontinental adventure teeming with clever humor and cross-cultural insights.” The Kindle version of her book reached #1 on Amazon’s England Travel and Travel Humor categories.
“The fact I rank above Rick Steves is pretty unexpected and amazing,” she said.
Book project completed, Evans jumped right into recording the audiobook, which she expects to be released by the end of the year. She also has added a talk about the book and the most shockingly different terminology between British and American English to her lecture series. The 48-year-old Evans seems happy just to share her experiences with others, and she gave 131 talks all over the U.S. last year.
I found that, to my delight, a lot of Americans had this underlying underlying … fascination with most things British like me. So, I felt that I was really lucky that I got to live this fun life. Was it always fun at the time? No. But in hindsight, yes, it was.”
Locally, Evans’ book can be found at Relics and Book Nook in Peoria, as well as Tails of a Bookworm in Pekin. To learn more about Claire Craig Evans, her book, or her virtual lectures, visit https://teawithclaire.com.