Becoming a Southerner in England

I’ve always thought of myself, and proudly, as a Northerner. Growing up in Michigan, the vast snowy peninsula that snuggles into Canada, I developed the liberal Northern politics. I have the accent, the affinity for apples and gingerale and lakeside fishing, the reckless driving, and the tough ability to withstand extreme cold temperatures and condescend to any snow days south of the Mason-Dixie line (tbh probably any snow days south of Detroit)…

That is, until I moved to England.

The first time I lived in England I lived in Exeter…this time around it’s Plymouth. Both cities snugly and firmly in the county of Devon, in the southwest region. Also known as the “English riviera.” I’ve become familiar with palm trees and old ladies who swim in the sea in January…

No, it’s not some tropical oasis, this is still England, but it’s just, well, southern.


For a while, I’ve wondered if the UK north – south divide is as profound as the USA, or even similar. It’s difficult to tell, obviously there was no civil war in the UK, and I honestly just don’t know enough people from the North to have a conversation about it. After the Brexit vote, though, it seems there might be a sharp divide. Just look at any map of the results and you can see the “remain” votes of the north fade into the “leave” votes of the south… But what does that make me? A little Northern American transplant in the guts of deep southern England. And I love the south!


So I had an interesting time this past weekend in Liverpool! Maybe not the north-est city in the UK, but I haven’t been north of London since I moved to Plymouth in September, so this was my weekend in the north.

I met up with my mom (!) who is visiting from the USA, and we stayed with old friends who we met in Michigan but now live in Liverpool (they are English, and proud northerners…both in the UK and USA).


Their gorgeous house looks over the Liverpool Cathedral. We had a relaxing time eating, exploring, catching up, and desperately watching the news channel in the aftermath of the referendum.

We had some interesting conversations about the north south divide. I was intrigued what someone from the north would say, as honestly in my experience, people from south England don’t give the north much thought except a “psh” or mocking of the Geordie accent  when prompted.

I was informed that it’s “typical” of a southerner not to venture north of London. That the south is more rural and well to do and the wealthy seat of the government. That the north was the original home of the industrial revolution and now with the shutting of factories it’s born the blunt of recession. It’s working class, determined, diverse, tough, innovative.

In short, this is the story line I was fed  growing up in the north of the USA. Michigan was where the car was invented – but also where the 2008 recession detonated on the auto factories that supported nearly everyone I know. So I have deeply ingrained in me the story line of a tough northerner. It’s a familiar story line that feels like home.


But hearing it from the mouth of someone else, in a city of someone else’s, I somehow felt “other.” I was being told this as a southerner, as one of those people that hardly sees north of London…

And I wondered, am I a southerner now? Can I be a northerner in the USA and a southerner here… Or are they mutually exclusive? And what does this say of the global north and south…

In short, it was just an interesting conversation in passing as I explored Liverpool with my mom and old friends. But it does make me ponder these stories, and stereotypes, that we are fed about our geographic identity, and how we proudly internalize them. Because honestly, it feels good to belong.


I wouldn’t go so far as to say the “north-south” stereotypes are damaging – I’m still very proud to call myself a northerner in the USA context – but we should acknowledge how complex they are. Within each stereotype are hundreds of thousands of different kinds of people.

Within the British south there are American northerners (me!), there are people from the global south, there are people who have moved there for university or family or a job…there are people who voted leave, people who voted remain, people who put cream on their scone before jam, and people who put jam on before cream (God forbid!).


As humans we love to categorize – but they’re not always truthful or healthy. As I’ve made a home for myself in south England, I’ve become to identify more and more as a southerner…as my experience of feeling “other” in Liverpool showed me. And it’s only made me more aware, I think, of all the thousands of different kinds of people you can meet if you only put stereotypes aside.


So what do you think? Are you a northerner or southerner? Or do you pick and choose the best of both worlds?


Sarah xx

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  1. Mmmm. Quite thought provoking. Personally I’ve always felt a strong desire to ‘belong’. I’ve lived in several (very) different countries. In Japan I lived in the north, and (we) were regarded by people in the south as unsophisticated and I’ve even heard the word ‘monkeys’ used. But I adopted the proud attitude of being a maverik. In Australia I went to a working class school and in retrospect adopted all the proud typical working class attitudes, then was one of the few who went to University, life changed &etc. Probably at the end of the day we are all just ‘us’, individuals. Nice conundrum :).

  2. Lovely post and so interesting to read your thoughts. The North vs South divide is always interesting, it’s funny that even within London we have that too. Of course most of it is a joke, but still! For me, I’m in a South Easter Londoner but living in Central Chile 😉

    1. It’s funny how such a small country has such a big divide! Even in my home state, 1/50th of the USA, there is a huge divide! We are divided into two peninsulas though…

  3. I’m from south Portugal and I now live in South West London. London itself is quite south, so yeah guess I’m a southerner 🙂

  4. Great article Sarah, I didn’t realise it was the same in the US. I absolutely love travelling up and down the UK and London is one of my favourite cities – but instinctively if I’m ever asked the question I will always be a proud Northerner! (although since the whole Brexit situation I think I’m edging towards being known as a proud Mancunian instead)

    1. Yes, there is quite a stark divide in the US dating all the way back to the civil war. Some people even still fly “confederate” flags in the south – but that’s quite taboo. And same – that’s the best part of being from many places – you can pick and choose which title you go by based on how you feel in the moment…can’t say I’m particularly proud of Plymouth after Brexit 🙁

  5. Fascinating post! I am especially interested by the conflict for you being a former northerner and current southerner. It is good to hear those other perspectives – we Londoners are definitely so insulated in our bubble – hence the shock from Brexit. Thanks for linking up!

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