I just returned from my local grocery store on one of those glamorous Tuesday night missions. The person in front of me in line at the grocery store had an assembly of items that looked remarkably familiar: a single white plate, a single white bowl, some pasta, some pre-made heat-and-eat pasta sauce. It was like looking at myself… three years ago this week. On the 8th of October, 2006, I got on the plane from Minnesota to (horror of horrors) Gatwick airport with two suitcases and a small carry-on bag. I arrived in the UK on the 9th of October. I struggled to get from Gatwick to my town, unaware at the time of the beauty of the car service that now lugs me back and forth to Heathrow whenever I need to travel. I stopped into my new workplace briefly, then went (with suitcases) out to my temporary furnished flat to pick up the keys. By this point it was nearing dinner time, and my suitcases contained things like bedding and clothes but no food or cooking items, and although my flat was furnished with furniture, it was not in possession of a fully-equipped kitchen. So back to the town center, to my (now) local grocery store, for some rudimentary food and the exact same single plate and bowl, along with some cheap cutlery and a coffee mug. I’m guessing I bought instant coffee at that time, since I had no other choice, and a cheap electric kettle (that I still have to this day). It was about four months before I was in my current flat, surrounded by boxes and furniture that was shipped over from the US.
In some ways, those were halcyon days. I had a shower. I had very little in the way of “stuff”. In the months after arriving, but before the arrival of my American stuff, I accumulated more things: a single non-stick pot, a square baking dish, a loaf pan for bread, a plastic bowl and some measuring cups. I started to discover the local clothes shoppes and equipped myself with work clothes to supplement the few things that had accompanied me on my journey over. My flat was not exactly right by the grocery store, so I learned to shop nearly daily–a practice that I have maintained, thanks to life with a tiny dorm fridge. Perhaps that is not so bad.
I had not thought in a while about my early days here, not until I saw the woman–who could have been me three years ago–with her single plate and bowl. For four months, that was all I had–there were no dishes to accumulate and things had to be cleaned every day in order to eat again. And yes, it does make me look around at my small but stocked kitchen–the kitchen with a potato ricer that allows me to make gnocchi, the new flatware from last year’s “expat-iversary”, the Nespresso machine that makes coffee much better than the instant I suffered on early arrival. Suddenly it all starts to look like a pretty good life–albeit a little cluttered. So this weekend, for my expat-iversary round three, I will be purging. I will be trying to get back to my early, halcyon days in England when there was just not as much stuff in my local environment.