Ten years ago today I got off a plane at Heathrow with no return ticket to the USA. I’d lived in other countries before, but never longer than a few months and I’d always had at least an estimated return date. We had a vague notion of enjoying our British adventure for a while—I seem to recall talking about “two or three years”—and going home again. I say we because it was my husband’s job that moved us to what’s known here as leafy Surrey, the stockbroker belt, or the gin-and-tonic belt, though in ten years I’ve only met one stockbroker. On the other hand, the countryside here is beautifully leafy this time of year, and I am partial to gin and tonic.
So the two of us made the move, or the three of us if you count the cat. When the job offer came, we had 6 weeks to find a place to rent in the UK, pack up our household in California, decide what to ship and what to store, ship it, store it, and figure out how to import Tiger legally which meant getting her into a licensed quarantine cattery (the British are afraid someone will import rabies along with the family pet). There was also the small matter of finding a builder to renovate the whole California house, from new foundations up, while we were gone—necessary because we’d been saving for years to remodel our fixer-upper farmhouse without actually fixing much. No renters in their right minds would have come near the place as it was then, and to make this work and keep the house required tenants.
What followed was a sometimes-chaotic ten-year ride, handling things on a home front that seemed less and less connected with our daily lives, while getting to know a culture that at times seemed deceptively similar to what I’d left, but at other times seemed, and continues to seem, truly alien.
I’ve concluded that the essence of foreignness is a difference in common sense. In modern suburban Britain, no matter how similar the lifestyles seem to those in the US—English the major language, shopping at supermarkets, driving cars from the same car makers, seeing the same movies—what people consider common sense can be wildly different from what I expect. It follows that we and the way we do things must seem odd to our neighbors; fortunately Britain is known for its love of eccentrics.
In the coming weeks I plan to write about life here, what I find to be the same or different compared to my life in the USA, everything from the food (is it too much to expect a decent dill pickle?) to how we acquired British citizenship . I hope you’ll stop in and read from time to time, and maybe sip a virtual gin and tonic with me. Make mine with Bombay Sapphire, please, and lots of ice.