Sunday, August 8, 2010

Coming Home - Or Am I?

This week finds Toni back in her native land, with a few observations to make about it, and Mike reminiscing about recent trips “home” and what it feels like to be a stranger in your own country.


My 7 year old caused some mirth a few weeks ago when he told a friend that it was hot in England. I mean, it can sometimes be hot, but it's not a country that's generally known for its climate is it? Fortunately, the last few summers we've been there have seen relatively warm days in my mother's lovely garden, so that's obviously what's stuck in his mind.

However, we're now packing for this year's trip and the suitcase is mainly full of sweaters and long trousers. We've been in shorts and t-shirts here since early June, it's sweltering in Chicago, and now we have to fly to mid-60's Fahrenheit with occasional showers.

Come on England - this is our summer holiday fer cryin' out loud.

This whining apparently makes me sound more American than Brit (according to my mother), and now I'm worrying about what else I will complain about that it will make it appear I've gone over to the Dark Side?
Small fridges - well, it's hard not to really. My mother has a standard under-the-counter size fridge, which is perfect for her. It's when you quadruple the occupancy of her house that it becomes rather inadequate. I find myself buying food that has a four month shelf life, and encouraging my kids to eat everything the minute I buy it.

One bathroom - again, who needs more than one bathroom when you're living on your own? However, when the house is packed to the gills, it becomes a bit of a problem - especially when a need to pee is involved. Last year, we had so many people staying in the house that I walked over the road to my brother's house to borrow their shower. His only problem with that was I was still in my (bright pink and blue pyjamas) and he was washing his car in the drive way. I haven't seen him go that shade of red for a long time!
No air conditioning - well, that has sometimes caused problems, but this year it doesn't sound like we'll be faced with that one.

Roads that were not built for (two lanes of) cars - I know I  used to drive around these weeny streets, but I now find myself closing my eyes when I have to squeeze a car through a medieval market towns. Not a good thing when I'm the driver.

Speeding cars - ditto with them. I swear my mother reverses out of her driveway faster than I go forwards.
Maybe I'll just do my terrible American accent to go with the whining!


Like Toni, I often feel like a foreigner in my own country, but unlike her, I don’t find much to complain about; at least not at first.  In Britain it’s easy to find things to whinge about—laughably small appliances, cramped and uncomfortable flats, narrow, higgly-piggly roads and people who drive on them as if they are trying out for the Indianapolis 500, and a government that sits on your shoulder like a giant vulture ready to peck your liver out at the first sign of weakness.  But America is boundless and bold and unashamedly bounteous, offering everything you wish and holding out the promise of more.

Whenever I return to the States, I spend the first few days in a giddy state of delight, driving on wide, straight highways, enjoying unending hospitality, eating in good, inexpensive restaurants where the staff are abidingly cheerful and never fail to wish me a good day.  Even the weather is big and brash, baking you one moment, freezing you like a brass monkey the next and drenching you with sudden, though spectacular, storms in between.

But after a few days the vastness gets to me; I begin to miss the proximity of desired destinations and the palpable sense of history Britain exudes, and find myself longing for the snug and ancient little villages of Sussex.

And then I start to see the things that aren’t there: pavements are rare, and pedestrian footpaths non-existent, and public transportation, such as it is, is mainly the reserve of recently released felons or people too addled, old, poor or otherwise unable to drive a car.  Everything is an hour’s drive away and I suddenly feel myself attached to the rental car as if with an invisible umbilical cord, a feeling I don’t have in Britain, and one I don’t miss.

Then there are the bugs and other pests, all ready to bite and suck or otherwise make you uncomfortable.  And while medical attention is easy to find, it is difficult to pay for.

But I never complain; it would be churlish to complain when surrounded by such openness and opulence.  Instead, I file the feelings away and look forward to returning to the land I now call home, where I can, once more, begin missing the place that will always define who, and what, I am.

What about you?  How do you feel about visiting “home” and what do you feel when you are actually there?

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  1. Mike

    "a government that sits on your shoulder like a giant vulture ready to peck your liver out at the first sign of weakness"

    Absolute brilliance! Never before have I considered it that way, but it's so accurate, or at least it was under the last government, the jury is still awaiting further evidence on the current one.

    As Yorkshireman married to an American, but living in Yorkshire - I have the best of all options. I live in a place I know and love but get ample opportunity to enjoy all that Mike described. Whilst here, I look forward to enjoying the bounty at American supermarkets (even if they will insist on watering the produce AFTER it has been picked!) :-) and the multitude of interesting and not too expensive eating out opportunities. However, when I'm over there and the time comes for the visit to end, I know where I belong and apart from the return to work, I cannot wait to be back home and where I can still buy Marmite and HP Sauce.

  2. I am about to go back to the UK for the first time since coming to the States 15 months ago, so it will be interesting to see how it feels. One thing I won't miss are the bugs and mosquitoes, but other than that I wonder how I will feel about England. Although compared to the roads and drivers in New York, British driving will seem like a walk in the park!

  3. I think you both summed it up quite well. It's just so good to read what you have to say and know that I'm not alone in many of my thoughts and observations about the two countries. Although I thought the Brits were known for their whinging (whining)?

  4. I can't wait to go home next year (for the first time in 3 years at that point). I miss the humour and the informality of people that call me pet and love. I will dread driving but feel exhilerated once I slip right into it again and I'll zip around round-about like a pro. I'll eat fish & chis and pork & pickle pies and cockles.
    But I'll despair at the amount of young girls with strollers and I'll worry about gangs of hoodies and drunken idiots outside pubs. I am worried that I'll have to defend my kids accents and my American turn of phrase and hope that I can be good humoured about it and not defensive.

  5. Well put on both sides. I was wondering if I was going to feel like a stranger in my own home when I moved back to the States after four years in England in June. But actually I've slotted in incredibly nicely. Almost too easy actually. I think I have the best of both worlds now in Seattle: a liberal, walkable city with not-too-in-your-face friendliness levels, English weather and my British husband but with all the comforts and conveniences of the US. Plus amazing coffee. I highly recommend the Pacific Northwest for Anglofied Americans as a nice halfway house.

  6. One of the things that so far (day two) has made me feel like a foreighner is the bloody lack of chip and pin in my credit cards. While trying to purchase something yesterday in a small gift shop, the sales assistant had to call up the credit card company to get my card to go through.
    I now find that I'm terrified to buy anything before I first check to make sure they can take my cards. Pah!


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