Cover image for I'm a stranger here myself : notes on returning to America after 20 years away
I'm a stranger here myself : notes on returning to America after 20 years away
Bryson, Bill.
Personal Author:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
Thorndike, ME : Thorndike Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
458 pages (large print) ; 23 cm
Personal Subject:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Audubon Library E169.04 .B778 1999B Adult Large Print Large Print

On Order



No issue shames the New Labor government elected in 1997 more that the systematic destruction of Britain's pensions system. When Labor came to power, some five million workers enjoyed "gold standard" defined benefit pensions—which paid them a percentage of final salaries—and Britain had the most robust system of private retirement provision in the world. That number has since collapsed to 1.6m, leaving millions of Britons facing an uncertain future and, in many cases, the grim choice of working until they drop or an impoverished old age. The past dreams of a cottage on the South Coast or wintering on the Med or in Florida have long gone. Award-winning journalist Alex Brummer goes behind the scenes to explain exactly what has been going on. What emerges is a shocking story of cynicism and inaction, in which a government bent on penny-pinching, a civil service cowed in to submission, and individuals more interested in their careers than public service have all taken a part in fatally undermining a 100-year-old system. It's also a story of breathtaking hypocrisy, where those in charge have feather-bedded their own pensions while destroying those of ordinary people. And, as Alex Brummer convincingly argues, we're only just starting to live with the appalling consequences.

Author Notes

Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa on December 8, 1951. In 1973, he went backpacking in England, where he eventually decided to settle. He wrote for the English newspapers The Times and The Independent, as well as supplementing his income by writing travel articles.

He moved back to the United States in 1995. His first travel book, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, was published in 1989. His other books include I'm a Stranger Here Myself, In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words, Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe, Made in America, The Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson's African Diary, A Short History of Nearly Everything, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, Walk About, and Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, the Genius of the Royal Society. A Walk in the Woods was adapted into a movie starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.

Bryson's titles, The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain, Notes from a Small Island and Neither Here Nor There made the New York Times bestseller list in 2016.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Bryson is the author of the best-selling A Walk in the Woods (1998), about his hike along the long stretch of the Appalachian Trail. Before that, he lived in Britain for 20 years with his English wife and their four children, working there for the Sunday Times and other publications. After his return to his native U.S., he was asked to write a weekly column for the British Night & Day magazine about his adventures and observations as he underwent the process of repatriation. These columns, written over a two-year period (1996^-98), are now gathered in book form. His subject matter is the idiosyncrasies of contemporary American life, and according to Bryson, speaking from the vantage point of having been away for a long time, we certainly have loads of peculiarities in our national "personality." This is humor writing at its sharpest, and his saving grace is that he does more laughing with us than at us. When he has problems with his computer and calls for help, he moans, "This, you see, is why I don't call my computer help line very often. We haven't been talking four seconds and already I can feel a riptide of ignorance and shame pulling me out into the icy depths of Humiliation Bay." Drug laws and the virtues of garbage disposal are only two of the many facets of American life that Bryson has fun with. --Brad Hooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ex-expatriate Bryson, who chronicled one effort at American reentry in his bestselling A Walk in the Woods, collects another: the whimsical columns on America he wrote weekly, while living in New Hampshire in the mid-to-late 1990s, for a British Sunday newspaper. Although he happily describes himself as dazzled by American ease, friendliness and abundance, Bryson has no trouble finding comic targets, among them fast food, computer efficiency and, ironically, American friendliness and putative convenience. As he edges into Dave Barry-style hyperbole, Bryson sometimes strains for yuks, but he's deft when he compares the two cultures, as in their different treatment of Christmas, pointing out how the British "pack all their festive excesses" into that single holiday. Bryson also nudges into domestic territory with regular references to his own British wife, the resolutely sensible Mrs. B. In a few columns, Bryson adopts a sentimental tone, writing about his family and his new hometown of Hanover. In others, he's more sober, criticizing anti-immigration activists, environmental depredation and drug laws (though he draws out the humor in these as well). Not all the columns hit their mark, and they are best read in small groupings, but this collection should sell well enough, although not likely to the heights of A Walk in the Woods. Agent, Jed Mattes. Author tour; BDD audio. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Getting reacquainted with America. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Mail Call One of the pleasures of living in a small, old-fashioned New England town is that it generally includes a small, old-fashioned post office. Ours is particularly agreeable. It's in an attractive Federal-style brick building, confident but not flashy, that looks like a post office ought to. It even smells nice--a combination of gum adhesive and old central heating turned up a little too high. The counter employees are always cheerful, helpful and efficient, and pleased to give you an extra piece of tape if it looks as if your envelope flap might peel open. Moreover, post offices here by and large deal only with postal matters. They don't concern themselves with pension payments, car tax, TV licenses, lottery tickets, savings accounts, or any of the hundred and one other things that make a visit to any British post office such a popular, all-day event and provide a fulfilling and reliable diversion for chatty people who enjoy nothing so much as a good long hunt in their purses and handbags for exact change. Here there are never any long lines and you are in and out in minutes. Best of all, once a year every American post office has a Customer Appreciation Day. Ours was yesterday. I had never heard of this engaging custom, but I was taken with it immediately. The employees had hung up banners, put out a long table with a nice checkered cloth, and laid on a generous spread of doughnuts, pastries, and hot coffee--all of it free. After twenty years in Britain, this seemed a delightfully improbable notion, the idea of a faceless government bureaucracy thanking me and my fellow townspeople for our patronage, but I was impressed and grateful--and, I must say, it was good to be reminded that postal employees are not just mindless automatons who spend their days mangling letters and whimsically sending my royalty checks to a guy in Vermont named Bill Bubba but rather are dedicated, highly trained individuals who spend their days mangling letters and sending my royalty checks to a guy in Vermont named Bill Bubba. Anyway, I was won over utterly. Now I would hate for you to think that my loyalty with respect to postal delivery systems can be cheaply bought with a chocolate twirl doughnut and a Styrofoam cup of coffee, but in fact it can. Much as I admire Britain's Royal Mail, it has never once offered me a morning snack, so I have to tell you that as I strolled home from my errand, wiping crumbs from my face, my thoughts toward American life in general and the U.S. Postal Service in particular were pretty incomparably favorable. But, as nearly always with government services, it couldn't last. When I got home, the day's mail was on the mat. There among the usual copious invitations to acquire new credit cards, save a rain forest, become a life member of the National Incontinence Foundation, add my name (for a small fee) to the Who's Who of People Named Bill in New England , help the National Rifle Association with its Arm-a-Toddler campaign, and the scores of other unsought inducements, special offers, and solicitations that arrive each day at every American home--well, there among this mass was a forlorn and mangled letter that I had sent forty-one days earlier to a friend in California care of his place of employment and that was now being returned to me marked "Insufficient Address--Get Real and Try Again" or words to that effect. At the sight of this I issued a small, despairing sigh, and not merely because I had just sold the U.S. Postal Service my soul for a doughnut. It happens that I had recently read an article on wordplay in the Smithsonian magazine in which the author asserted that some puckish soul had once sent a letter addressed, with playful ambiguity, to HILL JOHN MASS and it had gotten there after the postal authorities had worked out that it was to be read as "John Underhill, Andover, Mass." (Get it?) It's a nice story, and I would truly like to believe it, but the fate of my letter to California seemed to suggest a need for caution with regard to the postal service and its sleuthing abilities. The problem with my letter was that I had addressed it to my friend merely "c/o Black Oak Books, Berkeley, California," without a street name or number because I didn't know either. I appreciate that that is not a complete address, but it is a lot more explicit than "Hill John Mass" and anyway Black Oak Books is a Berkeley institution. Anyone who knows the city--and I had assumed in my quaintly naive way that that would include Berkeley postal authorities--would know Black Oak Books. But evidently not. (Goodness knows, incidentally, what my letter had been doing in California for nearly six weeks, though it came back with a nice tan and an urge to get in touch with its inner feelings.) Now just to give this plaintive tale a little heartwarming perspective, let me tell you that not long before I departed from England, the Royal Mail had brought me, within forty-eight hours of its posting in London, a letter addressed to "Bill Bryson, Writer, Yorkshire Dales," which is a pretty impressive bit of sleuthing. (And never mind that the correspondent was a trifle off his head.) So here I am, my affections torn between a postal service that never feeds me but can tackle a challenge and one that gives me free tape and prompt service but won't help me out when I can't remember a street name. The lesson to draw from this, of course, is that when you move from one country to another you have to accept that there are some things that are better and some things that are worse, and there is nothing you can do about it. That may not be the profoundest of insights to take away from a morning's outing, but I did get a free doughnut as well, so on balance I guess I'm happy. Now if you will excuse me I have to drive to Vermont and collect some mail from a Mr. Bubba. (Some months after this piece was written, I received a letter from England addressed to "Mr. Bill Bryson, Author of 'A Walk in the Woods,' Lives Somewhere in New Hampshire, America." It arrived without comment or emendation just five days after it was mailed. My congratulations to the U.S. Postal Service for an unassailable triumph.) Excerpted from I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America after Twenty Years Away by Bill Bryson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 11
1. Coming Homep. 15
2. Mail Callp. 20
3. Drug Culturep. 26
4. What's Cooking?p. 33
5. Well, Doctor, I Was Just Trying to Lie Downp. 39
6. Rule Number 1: Follow All Rulesp. 44
7. Take Me Out to the Ballparkp. 50
8. Help!p. 57
9. A Visit to the Barbershopp. 61
10. On the Hotlinep. 67
11. Design Flawsp. 73
12. Room Servicep. 79
13. Consuming Pleasuresp. 85
14. The Numbers Gamep. 91
15. Junk-Food Heavenp. 97
16. How to Have Fun at Homep. 103
17. Tales of the North Woodsp. 108
18. The Cupholder Revolutionp. 117

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