Come summer we will have officially been expats for a year. It’s been wonderful and terrible, joyful and full of tears. We’ve seen new countries, met new friends, and experienced amazing things I never thought we would. We’ve grown closer as a family, become more self-reliant. I wouldn’t trade the last year for anything, but I also deeply miss my home, my friends, my family and my beautifully green hometown.
To an American, you wouldn’t think Britain is a “foreign country” as they speak the same language (although more correctly and articulately) as we do. Or at least on a scale of foreignness it’s lower than say, moving to Pakistan. But I’ve found that the customs, way of life, social stigma, and way of looking at the world are completely different, at least coming from a very friendly, compassionate city like Seattle. Here I’ve come up with a list of things I miss most about daily life in the US and how my daily routine differs living in a place like London.
1. Being nice to strangers
Yeah, I surprised myself with this one since sometimes in Seattle I wish I were invisible. In Seattle you say hello to another human being passing on the street. Cars stop for pedestrians whether you’re in a crosswalk or not. When I was pregnant I had more strangers’ hands on my belly than I could count. You know your neighbors and it’s (fairly) easy to make new friends.
But in London (though not everywhere in the UK) people keep their heads down and thoughts to themselves. You DO NOT speak to strangers on the tube. You DO NOT make eye contact on the tube, or anywhere else for that matter. This distance between strangers makes for super awkward interactions when trying to get to know someone. My closest Brit friends I’ve only seen outside of school say three or four times apiece, and that was after months of “courting”: getting to know them in small, brief conversations in passing and deciding if we had enough in common to see one another outside of school. It’s a lonely way of life.
Everything was easy in Seattle. Grocery store? Hop in the car, load up the trunk. Furniture? Go pick it out and borrow Dad’s truck. Want to meet up with a friend? Text them and load up the kids. Date night? Great! My friend recommended a really good new babysitter. But here we don’t have a car, and I’m not convinced if life would be easier if we did since there is nowhere to park. Yes, public transport is amazing, but you can only haul four bags of groceries on and off the bus in the rain so many times before it starts to get annoying. And on the friendship front, see number one.
My allergies back home would be in full swing this time of year. But in London I haven’t popped so much as a Zyrtec. Why? Trees and greenery are reserved for parks. The rest is cement-covered, smog-soaked streets and brick buildings. When I blow my nose there are always little black specs in my snot (TMI, sorry, but gross!). I miss the water, the mountains, the lakes and rivers and trees that surround Seattle. Yes, the parks here are amazing. But on a sunny day if you want to go stretch out on a piece of grass, so does everyone else in London. Good luck finding a spot next to someone who isn’t puffing a cigarette.
I’ve gotten used to living in smaller and smaller spaces, and that’s fine. I don’t miss the space of our house (in fact it will feel huge after we get home) so much as I just miss the comforting familiarity of our house. But after a while, London just starts to feel crowded. Being jolted by a backpack on the tube, crashing tiny shopping carts at the grocery, dodging clueless tourists as they meander down Baker Street—it all just feels claustrophobic. I miss walking down empty sidewalks and cruising down the spacious aisles of QFC. Even a trip to the farmer’s market here is a full-contact sport. Trust me, I have the bruises to prove it.
5. My support network
I no longer take for granted my amazing family and friends. Back home if I were having a bad day I could call up my mom and bitch about it. Or if I needed a break from the kids—some adult time—I had friends who could come over for a playdate, coffee and a good old gossip session. I miss bumping in to my bestie at Target and randomly seeing friends at the park. This isn’t just a London issue (though as in #1, meeting new people has been hard), but an expat issue. The 8-hour time difference means I can’t call people back home anytime I want. And when it’s the end of the day and I’m beat, I don’t always feel like a Skype session while the girls tug at my arms begging to watch Play-Doh videos on YouTube and whining “get off the computer, mom!” First world problems, I know.
One more year and we’ll (likely) be back home. I’m trying to savor every moment we live in Europe because it’s such an amazing experience (that and Charlie has a little British accent that is too cute—I’ll try to post a video soon). But on long, wet days, I yearn for my own home, my own bed, a hug from a friend, and the comforting smell of Seattle after a long rain.
Next up: a post about the things I love about London. Yes, I promise I do actually enjoy a lot of it!