Tag Archives: friends

May 2016

By May we knew that we were going home to the UK, and soon. We had been discussing possible reasons for returning for a while: I really needed to get on with my career, but I couldn’t find work in the US that would give me a visa, and wasn’t allowed to work on my current spousal visa; my sister had just had a baby; R’s sister was pregnant; we missed our friends and family in the UK; and we missed London.

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A conference trip to Chawton in Hampshire coinciding with the birth of my nephew rather decided me on the matter…

 

There were reasons to stay too: we hadn’t made it to the Grand Canyon yet; we loved our lifestyle in DC; and we had great friends. We had really fallen in love with the America we had found in DC and on our travels and had (mostly) felt accepted and welcome.

 

My work restriction sucked, and the process of getting a new visa had been horribly stressful, and doing tax in two countries is the absolute worst – but apart from all that it had been a really positive ‘immigrant’ experience which had us at times considering how we could find a route to live there forever and bring up kids there. It’s funny to remember that now, given the current action being taken by Trump.

In May changes at R’s work and an offer of a new job based back in the UK decided us – we were going home. It was sad and exciting in equal measure, but there wasn’t much time to think through it all. Things had to happen quickly; there’s no grace-period with an H1-B visa, so as soon as R’s notice period expired we were technically illegal – which didn’t give us much time to pack up our lives! In the meantime all our friends wanted to say goodbye, so there were lunches and drinks, but we also had R’s mother coming to stay, and wanted to take that opportunity for one last road trip…

Related post: going home

Going home

I write this as I wait for the movers. We’ve separated out what’s being shipped and what’s coming with us in our huge suitcases. I’ve washed up for the last time; we’re now reduced to drinking water (or gin) out of red solo cups. We don’t fly until Tuesday. Luckily we don’t need to ship the furniture – we have an almost identical set of IKEA things waiting for us back in London – so we’ll have a bed to sleep in and a couch to sit on until the junk removers come on Tuesday morning. I’ve declared a moratorium on washing – whatever’s not washed by now will have to come with us dirty.

Quite a lot has happened in the last couple of months. The big news is that R got a new job, still with the opportunity of travel, but based in the UK. This was great news, especially as R’s work had some issues when their biggest client decided to bring much of the  work in house…  There was the possibility of job hunting in the US, and transferring the visa, but given our experience of how slowly these things move, finding a new, UK-based job was a better option for our sanity.

Also, in happier news, I’m now an aunt for the first time, and R’s sister is also expecting a baby this year – so it’s really exciting to be moving closer to family.

Still, we’re sad to leave DC, and all our friends out here. Goodbyes have had to happen quickly if at all – there’s no grace period with an H visa in which to pack up your things and leave the country. It’s so hard to say goodbye to people we feel we were just getting close to – especially with such short notice. ‘But we’ll see you again before you leave?’ people exclaim, and it’s really hard to answer ‘maybe not…’

Because as anyone who has moved countries knows, there’s lots to do! Apart from the packing, there’s all the financial things to sort out – we want to leave in good standing after all! One thing we had to do – which we only knew because of Tomaz’s blog – was to make an appointment at the tax office to apply for a ‘sailing permit’. This consisted of a tax office employee checking our latest tax returns and checking that we had no tax outstanding. If we had, we would have had to pay there and then; however, in the case of them owing us – which is the case – they get to pay us in their own sweet time…

At any rate, we’re coming to the end of our to-do list. And the movers are here now, speedily wrapping our plates in paper while we stand around awkwardly. By the end of the month we will be back in our old flat in London – waiting for our things to cross the Atlantic on a container ship. (By the way, if you’ve ever wondered what life is like on one of these ships, you should check out the Nicholls retirement project blog – written by someone who decided to return home on one!)

I’m sure there will be plenty to blog about as we settle back into the UK, and I also have a few saved blog posts on road trips in the US, life in DC, and on the intricacies of the visa system still to share. So although it’s goodbye to ’18+ months in DC’, it’s hello to ’26 months in DC (and after!)’.

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Integration – 4th of July

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When we moved to the states we decided that we didn’t want to do the ex-pat thing of seeking out other British people. We’ve not even set foot in a ‘British’ pub. It’s not that we’re antisocial, we just felt that we should attempt to make American friends, to better immerse ourselves in the culture.

And we have made some great friends. Friends who introduced us to baseball and explained the rules when we were lost. Friends who took us to brunch and made sure we got the full experience by ordering bottomless mimosas. And the friends that encouraged us to celebrate 4th July on our roof with steak, beer, ‘chips’ and red white and blue frosted cookies.

Last year’s party started early with inexpertly blended iced tea (we soon moved onto beer) and a soundtrack of all the patriotic songs we could think of. We endured the jokes about Yorktown and apologized again for 1812 (how could we burn down the library of congress?!), and wore our most American outfits to make up for it – we even had an American flag that I think went missing that night… By the end of the night we had proven ourselves with our grilled steak sandwiches and ability to put away the bourbon, and then it was time to introduce us to that American party classic – Cards against Humanity.

I’ve heard that this game has made it to the UK by now, but at the time it was the strangest thing I’ve ever done to download the cards, go to Kinko’s to print them out, and then spend much of my afternoon using their guillotine to cut them all out. I remember while I was doing this a young boy came over – clearly fascinated by the guillotine – and wanted to help. I spent the whole time he was ‘helping’ making sure he looked after his fingers and that he didn’t look at the cards! In case you’re unfamiliar with the game, this is an example of what he might have seen:

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Some of the less pornographic/offensive cards

I kept his attention by trying to explain 4th July to him. He knew there were fireworks, but didn’t know why. When I told him the UK had once run the US he was somewhat incredulous.

By the time this year’s 4th of July came round we felt like old hands. We had our own small grill as we knew that the gas-grill on our roof cannot be depended on, we added some of this year’s favorite hits and some new-found country to our patriotic play list, and we bought a new flag to replace the one that got lost last year. We also made our signature guacamole, and stocked the fridge.

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Plus we made sure there was room in the freezer for plenty of ice and a friend’s delicious contribution of ice-cream cookie sandwiches.

Sadly the weather was not as good this year as last. We were grateful that our balcony is mostly covered as the rain came down mid-afternoon and we were able to continue to drink our Sangria and American IPAs outside. Luckily the rain held off while we grilled on the roof, and the fireworks could still mostly be seen despite the cloud and mist. At some point a couple of guys started singing the National Anthem and we all joined in – even us Brits.

We’ve often been asked what our favorite thing is about America. At this party it was suggested that we all went round the circle, saying our favorite thing. My answer is usually the positive outlook we’ve experienced in people here. I can be ironic and urbane with the best of them, but there’s something about living in a more positive country with generally sincere people for over a year that I think’s made me happier, and a lot less insecure. My other favorite thing is how our efforts of integration have been thoroughly encouraged – perhaps especially when these efforts involve throwing a roof party with beer and steak!

Friends and ‘friending’ – social networks abroad

(This post is part of a series. See also: Then and Now, and Here and There – Apartment Hunting)

My life has its share of lost or dropped friendships. Reminders of some of the important ones fill my home. A pewter photo frame from Woolworths, with the engraving ‘friends forever’, holds a photo of me with my secondary school friends; my favourite coffee mug was a Christmas present from a boy I met on holiday about twenty years ago; and I just can’t throw away some now threadbare penguin socks, which were a birthday present from a much-loved college housemate. These objects remind me of how long it’s been since I properly caught up with all these old friends.

Luckily, in these days of the internet and social media, we rarely lose touch fully with people. I keep up with what my old friends are doing on Facebook, and what they’re reading on Goodreads, and sometimes we comment on one another’s posts. In my virtual world I have many friends and acquaintances who are all to some degree interested enough in what I’m doing/posting, or fond enough of me, to have not culled me from their contacts yet. It’s nice to know that these bonds, however loose, still exist. And this was an especially nice thing to bear in mind when I moved to another continent.

In my first few months living in DC I practically lived my life online. From the early morning till my UK friends and family went to bed in my late-afternoon I was getting updates on UK events from Twitter; catching up with family and colleagues via Skype, and constantly checking Facebook and my new blog for comments from friends. The internet really was a lifeline at this point.

But I knew that this ‘living virtually’ was a temporary fix – that soon I would have to make new friends in my new city. In fact, in some ways my clinging to old friendships was actively preventing me from integrating. For a while I resisted ‘friending’ American acquaintances on Facebook, in fear that they would be offended by my complaints as I struggled to adapt to life in DC (sorry about that guys!). And I was getting so used to interacting on a screen, in the quiet of my apartment, that socializing in bars was becoming an exhausting contrast.

Gradually, though, I loosened my grip on the old friendships. They’re still there – I know I can call on them when I need them and they’ll be happy to see me when I visit – but I don’t have to check in on them multiple times a day.

I began enjoying socializing in bars with R’s colleagues. Initially it took me a while to keep up with the speed and volume of Americans’ conversations, but now if I’m in the right frame of mood you’ll find me yammering away with the best of them.

And I embraced the different ways I found over here of making new friends. Sometimes it can seem absurdly formal, but someone I now have lunch with relatively regularly became a friend because she gave me her business card when I met her at a party for one of R’s colleagues; I contacted her a couple of days later. A mutual acquaintance became a friend after we were set up on a ‘date’ (this is a term used not only for romantic assignations – think ‘play-date’) to discuss her joining the choir I’d been a member of for a while.

People had told me that DC was a good city in which to make friends: because you continually get new arrivals, people are often in the same boat in terms of not having an established circle of friends. Using Meetup (http://www.meetup.com/), and finding an amateur choir that prided itself on its international nature (http://www.washingtoninternationalchorus.com/), enabled me to find a diverse range of these new arrivals to DC – as well as some more established residents whose social life has altered as friends have moved away or started new lives as parents. It helps at these times to be a ‘joiner’ as my family call it.

The other day I found myself drinking wine at 5pm with someone I met just before Christmas at a book group. It was happy hour and we had finished our work and we just sat and talked. We complained a bit about work, discussed her upcoming holiday, and planned restaurants we would go to with our husbands. It felt normal. And it made me realize that wherever I end up, it will always be possible to find people to be friends with. Especially if those people like wine.