Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lost in Transition

Now this is more like it.  Grey skies.  Nondescript weather.  For a good few weeks there I thought I had moved home to the wrong country.  Most disconcerting.  Roll on June and the rain, that's what I say.  You can't beat the first month of summer being completely rained out, can you...?  After all, I have just purchased some new patio furniture, so the change in the weather couldn't be more perfectly orchestrated.

For the most part I am loving being back in the UK and have transitioned easily, even after 10 years of absence.  I chose to move to an area that is relatively new to me - I have never lived in North London before but I fancied a fresh start and, truth be told, I do love the challenge of starting over where everything is new and just waiting to be discovered.  I have one dear friend in the neighborhood and my sister is still staying in the spare bedroom (God bless her, she is being a total lifeline even though her prediction of us living together - which she predicted here - is accurate in every way).

I am more than a little infatuated with the area.  Seeing London again and its surrounding area, with fresh eyes, sometimes stuns me to tears.  The greenery is so vivid.  Nearly every building seems to be imbued with heritage and ancestry.  There is an energy and verve about it - like a vital organ - which invigorates me.  And the hills!  Oh, don't get me started on the hills!  I have spent 10 years in reconfigured prairie land without a natural hill within hundreds of miles.  The fact that I can now walk down my local high street and peer down avenues of Edwardian houses, which overlook the whole of London, takes my breath away.  I am constantly stopping the boys in their tracks and forcing them to 'enjoy the view' and simply soak up the natural beauty of our surroundings.  I know, I know.  I'm on the outskirts of London and I am raving about the beauty of the landscape.  Obviously, the sun over the past few weeks has gone to my head a little.

Other things I am loving about being back in the UK?  Aside from the pretty money?  I am still a little obsessed with Sainsbury's, Tesco's and the M&S food hall.  I can get lost, browsing the aisles for hours.  Every single time, without fail, I am suckered into the 2for1 special offers or 3 for £10 and buy enough food to feed half the street.  Oh, the damage I could do if I owned an American sized not to think about it.

I have been freaked surprised at how genuinely friendly people are and the overall informality and pleasantness of customer service.  We hardly have the reputation of being leaders in this arena...however, given my comparative experience, I would beg to differ.  I have had quite the chin wag with representatives from Thames Water, British Gas, Virgin Media and even the local Council Tax people, to name but a few.  And don't even get me started on the cashiers in my local Post Office.  Never once did I feel they were talking from a well-worn script. In fact, everyone has bent over backwards to be helpful, understanding and personable.  I think this does reflect the fact that the Brits, in general, do love a good chat and for the most part are down to earth (verging on fucking hysterical, but again, this is just my humble opinion).

It has taken me a little while to adjust to the fashion sense.  I had always been a bit of (okay, a lot of) a snob about the superiority of British fashion while in America.  And then I arrived home to find everyone is dressed so incredibly casually - skinny jeans, canvas converse all star trainers for heaven's sake, army green parka jackets.  Where is the glamour people?  The effortless flair for accessorising that I have been spouting on about for years while over the pond?  I feel out of place in this excessively urban clothing landscape.  I'm not quite scruffy enough to be cool.  I am, despite not even owning a twin set, feeling distinctly middle aged.  I would usually feel quite gleeful about any excuse to buy a whole new wardrobe of clothes...but been there, done that where the grunge look is concerned.  Never thought I would say this Chicago...but really, you are quite a natty dressed little town in comparison so please forgive my aspersions to the contrary over the past few years.  I am beginning to think they may have been a tad misguided.

The one thing that has taken me back about being back in this country, I have to be honest, is the whinging.  If there is a situation to view through a glass half empty, most Brits seem quite happy to do so.  I have been astounded at the extent of cynicism and derision with which most people seem to view this country, the government, our monarchy, the economy, the NHS, can name it and you can bet your bottom dollar pound that it can and will be vilified.

Now, I have nothing against a good debate and I love the fact that this country demonstrates an interest in International affairs, as well as being up to speed on the state of our own nation.  But the incessant complaining about anything and everything is not what I would call constructive behaviour.  I have been shocked at how, even the sunniest of people with the most positive of natural outlooks, likes nothing better than a good bitch at the state of the UK today.  It riles me a little, but more than anything it makes me sad.  If only more people could spend time living in another country, because it might increase their appreciation level of life in Britain.  Is it perfect?  Not at all. But, compared to many countries, in my experience, it looks after its citizens really well.

Still.  It doesn't stop most people having a sense of humour.  I love the comedic asides that I witness on a daily basis, the willingness to take the piss at the drop of a hat.  The inability to take anything too seriously or earnestly for long.  Love it, love it, love it.  I haven't seen one instance of sincerity on steroids since arriving home and, personally, that is just how I like it.

Other quick observations...I have missed standing out from the crowd.  There are many Brits who go to live in America and very quickly tire of the constant compliments on their verbal diction.  I was not one of them.  Right to the bitter end I loved the fact that, pretty much everywhere I went, strangers would comment on my lovely accent and a conversation would ensue.  Without any effort whatsoever on my part, people would automatically attribute yours truly with an incredibly intelligent and educated personality.  It was great.  I have never understood other people in my position who have tired of this superficial adoration.  Really, what's not to love?

Meanwhile I open my gob to talk here and nobody gives a monkeys.  I sound just like everyone else and the shock of this sudden anonanimity was quite depressing.

Here's another thing - in Chicago my name also stood out from the crowd.  Most people had simply never heard it before.  Isn't that strange?  Who would have thought the name Nicola would be so unusual, anywhere in the world?  It was always commented upon.  It was a fantastic means of making yet another positive and memorable impression, which is totally lost on the gits people in the UK of course.

Mind you, my name would be complimented mere seconds before it was ritually butchered.  Apparently the name Nicola is in the Advanced Pronunciation Category for many of the people I met.  I would frequently have to dig my nails into my own palms when being called "Ni-Coal-EEERRRR".  Making an effort to correct people..."no, no, no - it's Nicola, as in rhymes with Ricola" was typically a fruitless exercise.

So it is quite nice to be back in the land where 'everyone knows your name'.  Now all I have to do, to satisfy my own inner celebrity, is find another means to be noticed (as the accent/name combo have  gone by the wayside).  Jeez, does this mean I may have to develop an actual talent?  Looks like I am going to have to get used to a life of relative invisibility I guess...


  1. I think you need to perfect your American accent and pretend to be one of those posers who dropped the English accent as soon as they got here. ;-)

  2. Oh and BTW, thanks for making me long to get over to England even more. It's feckin' freezing here at the mo. Kids are back in ski jackets. I kid you not!

  3. What a great post. It made me feel much more positive about returning to the UK in two years - I'd love to know more, too, about how the boys are finding it. If only we Brits could, as you say, actually see what's so great about our country and stop whinging.

    I never knew that Nicola wasn't a common name in America - although thinking about it, I don't know any here. Quite a few Nicoles and Nikki's, though.

  4. After my 10 years, I'd had enough of the American's love of the British accent and of my nickname. Now, it's a different story. Every time I go back, I enjoy the novelty of it, standing out in a vocal crowd. xx

    Expat mum: Ski jackets? Really? T-shirts and sandals over here. Come back to the UK, all is forgiven.

  5. Yes, yes, yes, I love your observations. I too stand out - in a sea of chinese speaking, black haired, brown eyed short people, I am blondish, blue-eyed and tall, with good English! When I go home, I'm nothing special, but here, I'm very different, something I have a love/hate relationship with.

    And don't you notice the small things when you are home - the clean supermarkets brimming with enough cheese, ham, bread and great chocolate to make your head spin, beautifully presented meat at the butchers and clothes that I can actually fit in to.

    Oh I can relate so well. As always dear Nicola, your life is like looking into a mirror.


  6. Firstly, welcome back. I have caught up on your other posts but have been so manic that haven't had a chance to comment. But I have reguarly wondered when you'd be returning to the blogosphere so am massively thrilled that you're back.

    And I love this post. Because we just went through these exact same musings about which would be better: UK or US and ultimately, while the UK has it's faults, I was amazed that the grass really is greener here (literally and figuratively). Well in my book anyway.

    Look forward to reading more. And hopefully (quite soon) I will have more time to dedicate to my blog.

  7. Anonymous19 May, 2011

    It is weird, getting used to being the odd one out (me in Singapore last year) and then coming back to being one of the crowd. I wonder if that's how a washed up pop star feels when people start to walk past them in the supermarket and ignore them?

  8. Hi, I am a new follower to your blog.
    I am originally from west London but we have been living in Canada for the last four years and I have no intentions of moving back as yet but I miss M&S and Sainsburys and I am starting to really miss our architecture and history we have. I never really appreciated it all before, everything is so new here.
    I look forward to reading your past posts you have a great style of writing!