Monthly Archives: October 2011

As the sixth year starts…

I have been terribly busy. My 5-years-in-the-UK anniversary was two weeks ago today, and it already seems like a distant memory. My job has a fiscal year that starts in October, as perhaps could be inferred from the fact that that’s when I started 5 years ago, and that means the first few weeks of October are always absolute madness.

Because of this, I have not really had much time to think and reflect about my five years here. Some things have become quite normal and commonplace, while some things are as surprising to me as the day I arrived. I thought I might try to make a list. We’ll see how that goes. Feel free to chime in with suggestions. And you can tell that I’m a hobby blogger and not someone worried about a “brand” or “numbers” or anything because although there are posts about most of these things on this site, I am too lazy to try and dig up the appropriate links!

Things that still surprise me after 5 years in England.

  • Two tap sinks. Still totally useless IMHO, especially as a hand washing sink in my lab.
  • The way young girls dress. So much skin!
  • Public drunkenness. Which often leads to public violence and bleeding people in the street. And public urination (typically by drunk men in all three cases).
  • Cars parked facing each other. Cars parked half on the sidewalk.
  • Stephen Fry as a National Treasure. Not unrelated to… the existence of the show QI (which I watch regularly, but don’t know how to explain to people back in the states).
  • The school system. It’s so bloody complicated.
  • The fact that I have been here 5 years, am a scientist, and still have a tough time with temperatures Celsius and metric conversions of recipes.
  • The welfare state. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it.
  • The food. Try being a non-meat eater in a country whose cheffy chefs are in love with offal…
  • The language. I know from my trips back home that I say lots of utterly British things and sound very foreign to my American friends. But I also still struggle in my day-to-day life with words and accents.
  • Customer service. Or the frequent lack thereof.

Overall, I would say I’m rather well acclimated/acclimatized. Most of my appliances now are British plugged. My transformer for US appliances lives in the bottom of a closet for occasional weekend use with the one thing I have not replaced (my beloved Kitchenaid Stand mixer–I know, I should trade with someone who is heading stateside…) My closet is full of clothes acquired here instead of clothes imported from US shopping malls. Well, nearly on that last one. I still seem to occasionally come up with something that I simply cannot find here and must acquire abroad (Eddie Bauer no-iron button-down shirts, I’m looking at you!) I’m on my 4th UK cell/mobile phone and my third flat. My desktop and laptop computers were both bought here, along with much of my furniture. I love not needing to own a car, although I am seriously considering getting a UK driving license to be able to rent and explore this country that I have adopted.

For all of these reasons, I am seldom filled with the rage and frustration that characterized the early days of this blog. It’s kinda fun to go back and read the early posts, to remember where I was and how I felt back then. Life is not perfect–I am still sorely lacking in the area of good friends in my own town, but I suspect part of that is the fact that it’s quite tricky to find other 35 year olds who are childless and happy and thus share common lifestyles with mine. That would be tricky no matter where in the world I was, as I know from discussions with my fab sister both when she was living in China and now that she has repatriated to the US. I have hope that another few years will find me some improvement in that area. But overall, it’s hard to complain. Life lately really has been about day-to-day existence and rather little about being foreign, now that my residence visa is sorted and my job is in full-on crazy mode. I’m not traveling at all this fall, as I was unclear on the visa thing and so I’ve planned a few months of hanging around and enjoying my British life.

And really, I’m not complaining.

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Denouement

It’s been an eventful few days. I am happy to say that on Thursday my ILR (permanent residence) visa was printed and placed in my passport. As of Saturday my previous (5-year work permit) visa expired. Sunday marked the 5 year anniversary of my arrival in the UK. And Monday (yesterday) was the day on which I was reunited with my passport containing the new visa and the stress of it all finally lifted.

In retrospect, and one can always be more calm in hindsight, I really got my undies in a bundle over something that was unlikely to be as problematic as I was imagining. I can be a tad dramatic, and somehow I had convinced myself that this was going to be a big fight. People kept telling me things like “even in the worst case scenario you’re likely to be fine” and I focussed on said worst case scenario (having the original application rejected and having to appeal) instead of concentrating on getting the paperwork right the first time. I hired a specialist, in the end, and I calculate now that this process has cost me about £2500, including the fee to get my US passport renewed in expedited fashion back in June (something I should have dealt with months earlier), the costs associated with taking the Life in the UK test, the expedited visa service fee from the UKBA (so as not to have to wait weeks to months to find out the result) and the specialist who prepared all the paperwork and provided me all the information and assistance and frankly hand-holding that I needed to make it through the entire process. And the money, at the moment, does not bother me at all as the relief I felt yesterday afternoon, as I danced up and down the corridors of my office showing my visa to anyone who happened to be around, was worth every penny/pound/whatever.

I kept saying yesterday that I was the happiest girl in all of England. I’m sure it was true. I’m still pretty darned happy today. Celebrations continue tomorrow when I have dinner with another American who recently got her similar visa, although through marriage rather than through employment. I used her books to pass the Life in the UK test and am passing them on to another friend who is getting ready to gear up for her own process.

The fact that my imagination got the better of me becomes apparent when you, gentle readers, hear that at one point in late August/early September, when I was in the US on my annual beach trip experiencing earthquakes and hurricanes, I was threatening to fly back to the UK, to quit my job and pack up my belongings and move in with my sister in Baltimore while looking for a job in the US. Anyone who has had to go through a visa process in which their life as they know it depends on the thing will understand this seemingly irrational train of thoughts. Earlier in the year I had in fact applied for a bunch of jobs back in the US, some far inferior to the one I have here in England, in the hopes that I could escape from Europe before I had to deal with this. None of this is rational. I have discovered over the years that I quite love my job and my life in England EXCEPT when I am actually back in the US, and somehow the prospect of having to deal with the visa just amplified my temporary irrationality. I have, as it happens, the sort of job that many of my colleagues would probably kill for, and as of January it’s permanent. So I needed the visa, and now I have it, and I have an amazing job for life and the ability to stay in this country and work at it and all is good. But clearly you can see from the details I am now revealing that it was a near thing for a while. My good, scientific, common-sense attitude towards life completely deserted me in the last six months whilst this visa thing was hanging over my head.

So now I sit on my couch in England with a new lease on life, a really busy time at work expected for several weeks, and my entire autumn ahead of me with very few plans. I had turned down all travel opportunities for this fall on the grounds that I would not know when I would be free to travel, so now I feel like I should jaunt off to the Continent just because I can. Totally sensible for someone who just spent nearly three months’ rent on a visa, I know. In the end, this entire process was far scarier in my head than it was in real life, and for that I am eternally grateful. England, you are winning me over.