We’ve been back in the UK for almost nine months now. That is, the girls and I have – S is still super-commuting, spending a few weeks here with us, then heading back to Austin for the next few. It’s not amazingly great for the family dynamics, but we’ve kind of got used to it, and enjoy the time we get to spend together even more. And to be perfectly honest, it actually beats the dreary commuter lifestyle from the provinces to London that most people in my immediate surroundings experience every day. I’d forgotten how grey-faced English people are, especially during the winter months.
Talking about winter, I am so deeply ashamed of all those times over the last few years when I was moaning about the lack of seasons, about how I missed rainy days and snow and all that stuff. I DIDN’T MEAN IT!!! I am so sick of the dark, cold, damp, muddy, rainy, grainy, grey, wet, drizzly, windy days we’ve had pretty much continuously over the last few months. Not to mention the many colds, coughs and flu incidents. I can’t believe I forgot how bad English winters are. Also, when we last lived here, we didn’t have a dog. I will have to repaint the entire entrance walls once the weather gets a bit drier, as right now they’re fashioning a rather dubious looking mottled pattern in shades of grey and brown, from the skirting boards about half way up the walls. He does like to come in and shake, and no amount of rain coats and toweling down will stop the flying debris of mud…
Of course, winter has its good sides. We just spent a week away from it all in the French Alps and enjoyed amazing snow in the company of very good friends. And I came back to a bunch of flowers a thoughtful friend had put out for me, along with milk and bread, and I felt so grateful and happy. Yes, life was really good for that week, apart from the incident when S and I nearly died. But that is a topic for another time.
Of course, the honeymoon phase of excitement about being back in Europe (well, it’s not really Europe anymore) couldn’t last forever. We’re now deep into the reality of living in the UK. Let’s say it hasn’t been the easiest of transitions. You can always convince yourself for a while that things are okay, but they do start to crumble inevitably, and at some point stock needs to be taken before everything falls apart. I think the main issue for me is the fact that I assumed I would just slot back into living here. I was expecting some hiccups, but I guess I didn’t expect to feel so different about living here. While I knew I had changed quite a bit, I hadn’t really thought it through how this new me would fare here. Having experienced different cultures for such a long time now, I’ve finally come to some conclusions about myself, my life, and what it is that is good for me and what isn’t. This transition is taking a bit longer than expected.
Knowing myself and my need for self-care during those periods, I’ve tried to squeeze in some time to make things, to paint, knit, and write. It’s helped me stay sane, for sure. And looking at the UK with fresh eyes, I’m getting quite a few ideas for my book on cultural observations…
Talking about the book, which is growing slowly but surely, to find inspiration and a few more ideas, I’ve been looking at some YouTube vlogs dealing with cultural differences. This has been hugely fun, informative and entertaining for me, as I find anything to do with observing and comparing people from various cultures endlessly fascinating. Anyway, as I was watching this English guy who lives in Germany talk about “Things the British do better” – of course this was all meant to be humorous, but well – he said, amongst numerous things including breakfast and airports, that the British do Brexit better than anybody else. The person interviewing him was utterly perplexed and (being German) asked him bluntly what the heck he meant by that. He explained it as being part of this other thing Brits do better, which is humor. And basically, taking it all with a dose of British “oh well, mustn’t grumble” mentality, i.e. why worry and stress about something that will ultimately be a major fuck-up and has the potential to completely ruin the country, but is happening anyway, so why add extra stress to it by wailing and moaning about it. Let’s just shrug our shoulders and get on with it. If that isn’t quintessentially British, I don’t know what is.
I’ve found that most people, when asked about their thoughts on Brexit, do exactly that. Shrug their shoulders, roll their eyes, and change the subject. I suppose things might be different in other areas, and every now and then I read in the paper about protests in London, but out here in the sticks (where the majority voted to leave the EU), Brexit is a non-topic. Or people are just not interested. E came home today and told me she had to explain Brexit to a 15-year-old classmate, as she didn’t have a clue what it was all about.
This is such a stark contrast to what’s been going on in the US those last couple of years. The election of Donald Trump has caused such a societal uproar. The amount of political engagement, passion and willingness of people to go out there and become active in their protest and defense of human rights has been remarkable, especially amongst the younger generation. British stoicism and phlegma seem to be the opposite. Americans will forever suffer from collective shame about making Donald Trump the president, but they’re trying damn hard to learn from it.
Here, I’m not so sure. You can go and watch Churchill epic The Darkest Hour, or Dunkirk in the cinemas right now. While no doubt excellent films, I just want to scream. Britain, can you please stop going on about the past and focus on the future, or at least the present?
All this behavior, these typical characteristics aren’t new to me, of course. But I do see them in a different light now. I guess when I first moved to England from Germany almost 20 years ago, I just accepted these things. After all, Germany isn’t all that different, albeit with bigger houses and more space in general. But my dear “fellow” Americans who live in the UK: How do you stand it??! The weather?! The lack of space?! The narrow streets?! The lack of parking?! The streets that would be just about wide enough for two cars but aren’t because cars are parked along the sides?! The cost of living?! The rudeness?! The lack of manners?! I think I’ve experienced more blatant rudeness in the last nine months in the UK than in all those years of living in the US. Yes, that is the truth, and if anybody tells me how rude and ignorant Americans are, I will give them the finger. Or actually, two fingers. Brit-style.
To my dear British friends, I’m sorry. Of course you’re not included in the above. I do appreciate you, I love spending time with you, and it’s been so nice for me and my family to be closer to you. I know that you share my frustrations for the most part. I just needed to vent. I’m sorry.
(Gosh, I almost sound British again.)