what i miss most about the U.S. (Seattle vs. London)

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.

West Hampstead--our old neighborhood

West Hampstead–our old neighborhood

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.

Watching the changing of the horse guards

Watching the changing of the Royal horse guard

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.

Captain Charlie

Captain Charlie

2. Ease

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.

Borough Market--my favorite London farmer's market.

Borough Market–my favorite London farmer’s market.

3. Green

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.

Yeah, we shouldn't have gone to Borough Market on a sunny Saturday

Yeah, we shouldn’t have gone to Borough Market on a sunny Saturday

4. Space

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.

Sunny (cold) day on Primrose Hill

Sunny (cold) day on Primrose Hill

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.

Lieutenant Lucy

Lieutenant Lucy

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!

xoxo

Jen

Comments

  1. Really good piece. I’m so happy for you having this amazing opportunity, but I can see how it could become tiresome. As you said, just savor the moments there, save the memories for another time, and enjoy each day as it happens.
    XO

  2. Sarah J. says:

    I’ve been following your adventures for a while now and I must say you are brave! I know how hard it can be to live in a new place without family or friends! Enjoy your time, knowing it will all change again soon enough. BTW it was really weird but as I was thinking about what to make this week for dinners I thought of you (we adore your beef and broccoli recipe!)- so it was a bit freaky to see you pop up in my feed just a few hours later.

  3. I can’t resist letting you know that I know how you feel. Two years ago I moved with my husband and my three year old son from Seattle to a big city in the south of Brazil. I spent the entire first year wanting to go *home*. I couldn’t get over how little personal space people give you here and how up in your business everyone is. I trolled blogs from the cities I used to live in (Seattle, Portland, Berkeley) just thinking about how much better everything is back home. Then, as the second year here began I relaxed. I realized that I knew the best places to buy produce, the little shops where I could buy imported things that I missed from home, how to navigate the city and speak the language. I developed deeper friendships (people here are very friendly) and settled into life here. Right as we hit our two year mark of living here we decided that we will be moving back to Seattle in January and now I love to look around and realize all the things that I will miss about living here. In these two years my son and I have learned Portuguese (my husband is from here and therefore already spoke the language), our second son was born, our older son turned five, I developed a close relationship with my husband’s family and an understanding of the Brazilian culture. I am looking forward to going home with great longing, but am also so thankful to be having this wonderful experience. My kids and your kids will remember this time. It will be a part of who they are somehow in a beautiful way, just as it will be a part of you too.

  4. Just made the marinade for Cuban pork and got caught up on life of the Miller’s. Sounds like a great adventure and know that here in Seattle lately we all miss the rain 😉

    Sending random unexpected love to you and the family! Still teaching and think about our brief time as classmates fondly.

  5. Barbara white says:

    My daughter married a norwigian man- 2002- he tried to get citizenship here for 2 yrs.- then they moved to oslo , Norway (area)- my grandkids are being raised over there- I got to go visit for a whole month whole month last year- what a difference- it’s hard on her but thanks to Skype- we talk often- I thought it would be nice to share – you are not the only one- GOOD LUCK honey!!

  6. Yvonne Bright says:

    I grew up just outside of London and came to live in the US for two years. Still here after 40 years and US citizens after 5. Love everything about the USA and our children thank us for moving here. All our family are still in the UK, but have a bigger family in the USA. We lived in Holland two years because of my husbands work. Although a beautiful country we were glad to be back home.. Glad you had the opportunity to know the UK and Europe. Make the most of your stay, you will never regret the experience.

  7. Hi, I read your impressions of London vs Seattle and I think it is more a case of extremely large city vs smaller city. I grew up outside of New York City and was taught not to make eye contact or talk to strangers. I taught my children the same thing. I see my granddaughters learning the same thing. It is a safety issue. I have lived on my block in New York over 20 yrs and know I wouldn’t recognize all my neighbors.Until I retired up to coastal New England for the summer, I never had a neighbor drop in and still wouldn’t go to anyone’s place uninvited. Life is too busy for casual get togethers. The pace of life is often that everything has to be done the day before yesterday.

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