Through Fresh Eyes

There is a new member of my group and she happens to be an American and a she. She arrived just over a month ago, and regular meetings with her have really been amusing. See, she is going through the inevitable adjustments of being an American in England, trying to settle in and focus on her day job, while being reminded constantly of the fact that she is not from around here. Interestingly enough, this has made me realize that my blog tag-line is starting to be a little bit less true than it used to be. After more than five years in England, with permanent residency and a permanent job, I am a little bit from around here. And nothing reminds me of that as much as chatting to this new arrival.

I mentioned this to her today when we were meeting, when she was discussing the difficulties of adjusting to separate taps, life without a tumble dryer, with only mini-refrigerators under the counter, with food that seems like it should be familiar (salads and sandwiches) inevitably being different in some unexpected way. Of course, these days I’m fairly well-adjusted, and although I would very much like an American-style washer and dryer, otherwise I’ve managed to find comfortable accommodation with modern conveniences and my daily life is no longer as surprising because I’ve had five years to adjust to the local cuisine. She caught me out big time, saying I was “complaining about having nothing to complain about–how American!” and she was right. I don’t sound angry these days, and if you go back to the blog archives from the first two years, I definitely sounded angry at times. I spent a lot of energy in the early years worrying about my sense of other-ness, something that I hardly notice any more. And this is both being acclimated to being foreign and having adapted–in particular, I’ve adopted more local pronunciation and vocabulary than I care to admit, and she kept reminding me of that while we were speaking.

It sounds stupid to be wistfully sentimental for the early days of being an expat, but strangely enough that was how I felt after speaking to her this afternoon. At times in the early years, I was happy for a day when I went about my daily life without much of a reminder that I was in a foreign country. Now, the country is not so foreign, and I miss the days of remembering that! I suspect part of this is resignation to the fact that the ‘current economic situation’ is such that I am happy to have a good job and the likelihood of me making any big life changes soon is virtually nil. I can’t be the only person who craves change and craves adventure after a number of years of equilibrium! For now, I will stick with being cautious about what I wish for, and try to enjoy the feeling of fitting in.

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12 responses to “Through Fresh Eyes

  1. I think every expat hits a sort of wall where they suddenly realize “Boing! I’m not really so expat anymore!”. I know I hit mine when I’d lived in Germany for three or four years. Now I feel a little fish-out-of-water when I go back to the US.

  2. We Americans still enjoy your insight, even if you’ve been here for a while now. We are all in different stages of adjusting. I feel a bit behind still, as I haven’t been able to work (hooray fiancee visa?), but it’s refreshing knowing that people are going through / have been through the same frustrations and excitement that I’m experiencing now.

    Really enjoy your blog — thanks for writing!

    Lauren

  3. Hey thanks for the mention, nice surprise! But regarding your post, I love the title–sums this feeling up completely. There was one point a couple of years ago in my blogging when I was trying to write about what I felt when I first moved here and it all came back–and it was a really weird, interesting, but fab feeling. Yes, there was bewilderment in the first months (still is, to be honest, just in more measured doses), yes there was frustration and irritation (ditto!), but there was also that awesome magic of being in a new country, new scents on the air, new sounds out my window when I wake, new flavours when I go out for a meal. I LOVE encountering new expats because they bring all that magic back to mind.

    And you’re right. You’re not so angry anymore. But I can see why you were before. And what a great collection of blog posts you have here, chronicling your adjustment to this life. eBook material…?

  4. Yes, great post. I almost feel like I’m bi-lingual when I have to explain American things to a newbie here, or to visiting family members. I never really think about how much I’m used to things here now (after only 21 years), but when I explain customs of words to other Brits it’s almost like I’ m living in a foreign country. Oh wait….

  5. Love this post – I have lived in the UK and occasionally look at blogs of otehrs that have moved here more recently. I guess what I am looking for is that feeling of nostalgia for when the experiences were all new.

  6. Oops I meant to say I have lived here for over 30 years

    Peter

  7. You are not alone in that craving for the heady excitement/adrenaline rush that characterised the early days in a new country. It’s those highs (when you successfully apply your new knowledge in a foreign land) that make us forget the agony and want to jump into the unknown all over again!

  8. You could have written this post for me. Our 5 years anniversary comes up next month. The post says exactly what I feel. In the early days, I longed to fit in. Now I do, but I miss that edgy awareness of difference. I don’t miss the weariness that goes with it, though. It’s so tiring, living your life and watching yourself live it, trying to assess how you are doing in a strange culture all the time.

    When Nappy Valley Girl moved to New York from Clapham, I went through what you are describing here. She blogged with a freshness and surprise that made me a little nostalgic for my own early days. Though I wouldn’t want them back, not for anything. I am a settler at heart, not a pioneer.

    Very well written post.

  9. It’s funny – I’ve lived here in the UK almost as long as I lived in New York, but still I feel more like a New Yorker (I’m originally from Texas) than a Brit, despite having my UK passport. Just the other day I was thinking about how I’d “just” arrived. About 9 years ago…

  10. I found your blog about a month ago through Almost American and have enjoyed reading back through a few of your posts. I find it interesting to read what you think about my country, although I haven’t lived there for the last 17 1/2 years! But I’m struck by a singular point, as much as I occasionally read and enjoy expat blogs, does the very fact that you (and others) write continually about being an expat mean that you’ll always be Not From Around Here? I’ve realised that I hardly mention expat thoughts or issues on my blog (even though my blog title alludes to the fact that I am “Abroad” (and not A Broad as the American tend to read it!)), but that’s not a conscious choice of mine. However I do still feel more English than American, as you can probably tell from my spelling, but I do feel that I have a broader view of the world as a whole. Although as an American friend wryly pointed out a couple of years ago, I’m definitely “haf and harf” these days, or quite possibly, just a bit more tolerant!

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