This week we are delighted to have guest blogger Erin from 'Cross the Pond, to talk about being an expat in London.
Seven months ago I boarded a plane with my husband of six and half years, our two-and-a-half old daughter and our 11-week-old son to move from our comfortable and happy life in New York City to the wilds of London. We didn’t have a clue. I was completely game, thinking it would be an adventure for us all and we’d skip through the historic streets of London singing pub songs, quoting Shakespeare to the jolly Brits while eating bubble and squeak and washing it down with a stout English pint.
So delusional! Okay, maybe I didn’t really think it would be that great, but I did have a bit of a rude awakening.
For a country that has had women as Queen and Prime Minister (at the same time), they are not very women friendly – bank-wise at least. Because I don’t work in the UK our bank would not allow me to open an account – not even a joint account. We moved here but without a permanent address (we were still in corporate housing) so they would not allow it. I still don’t have an account in my name – just a joint account. I felt like we had gone back in time to 1950 and I was the little housewife depending on my man to bring home the bacon for me to fry up in a pan! After 20 years of working my arse off it was the biggest pill to swallow. I still resent it.
But once I came to terms with that I started to look around the place. It is lovely, and historic and has that wonderful feeling of being European: old, fascinating and full of possibilities. I felt like a kid again...until I realized the new prime minister was born the same year I was – six months AFTER me!! Shocking. How could I possibly live in a place where the guy running the joint is younger than me? I need supervision and have little business running the household – how could he possibly be qualified? I consider myself a kid but I guess I’m not if the leaders of the free world are of my generation!
There have been some serious culture shocks. I figured it would be an easy transition from one English speaking country (one that was previously owned by England) to another. Wrong. The language isn’t the problem – although some of the accents (Cockney, Liverpool, Scottish) I’m straining to understand. It’s just different. For example: the portion sizes are much smaller here. I like that – a lot. Few places have built-in closets – ghastly! I’ve had to give up half my wardrobe because I don’t have the space. People are not as welcoming – they stick to themselves – very polite and lovely, mind you – but no one is inviting us for drinks, etc. I’ve been told it’s because we Americans can’t differentiate ‘acquaintance’ from ‘friend.’ Maybe not – but I still want to have a dinner party with people other than Americans. Paper towel rolls are a joke here – give me Bounty!! And don’t get me started on the nickel and diming: council tax, water and gas, electric, a license to watch TV – madness! And television – you must have cable or a giant library, there is no debate here.
But all said and done London and New York are a lot alike while being completely different. While NY is really a lively, happening, living-breathing entity unto itself – the city that doesn’t sleep, the city so nice they named it twice, etc. - London is steeped in something so extraordinary you can feel it in your bones. This is the land of Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, Churchill, Queen Elizabeth (I and II!), the guy from House, Stonehenge, Victorian everything – it’s the place where all that truly speaks to me was born. And I can visit all of them (except for the guy from House as they have laws against stalking)! All the great castles and churches are within driving distance. I love the Museum of London and the Victorian and Albert Museum – to name just two. Even as I think about it I get excited wondering when we’ll see it all – and we will see it all. It’s fantastic.
But New York is still home in my heart. I miss the bustle of the subway and Times Square, Broadway, my favourite haunts, my office, my old apartment and buddies in Brooklyn; hotdogs and Fourth of July bbq’s; great television and TiVo; and H&H bagels with a schmear. Heavy sigh. It’ll still be there when we get back with the Statue of Liberty welcoming us home. I’ll be bringing half of Fortnum and Mason back with me - though.
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