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.
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…
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!)’.
We had to go back to the UK to collect our new visas. Our old visas ran out on the 15th October and we couldn’t get an embassy appointment until the week after. All of which meant we had to spend a nice long holiday (well, 2 and a bit weeks) in the UK!
There have been a couple of lists doing the rounds recently about the little differences between the UK and America (for example this one). So I thought I’d do my own list of 10 things I loved and had missed about the UK.
1. Pubs. We had so many pub lunches while we were in the UK! Some in city pubs – Wetherspoons and Nicholsons – others in proper country pubs with roaring fires and excellent beer and cider. Which brings me on to…
2. Pints. These are bigger, and we were able to practice what is considered a party trick in the US: carrying three pints at the same time from the bar to the table. Which brings me to…
3. Self-service. Sometimes I don’t want table service. Sometimes I just want to pop into the pub for a swift half on the way back from a walk. Buying in advance from the bar means I can just up and leave when I’m ready, rather than having to get someone’s attention and wait for the ‘check’. Which brings me to…
4. Not having to tip. Things feel so much cheaper when you don’t have to add on tax and that extra 20%. We tip around 12% when we feel it’s deserved but otherwise we really don’t have to. But let’s get on to…
5. British food. I wrote myself a list before we got to the UK of all the things I wanted to eat, and proceeded to cross them off. We have enjoyed:
Proper Yorkshire fish and chips (in Whitby), with crisp batter, vinegary chips (for me), bread and butter and Yorkshire tea.
Yorkshire pudding – as part of a great pub roast (beef) and as toad in the hole (I know this is a great mystery to Americans so see recipe here).
Homemade apple/apple and blackberry crumble – my favourite dessert.
Melton Mowbray pork pie and Scotch eggs.
Full English breakfasts (‘fry-up’s) with proper British/Danish back bacon (it’s nothing like Canadian bacon before anyone says anything), fried mushrooms, fried bread and black pudding.
Bacon sandwiches – not possible with anything other than British/Danish back bacon.
Crisps! – the British ‘chips’ come in way more exciting and varied flavours.
Malt loaf – does this really not exist in America (see here for what I mean)? Because I’d forgotten how much I love it for breakfast.
Curry – it’s always so reliably good pretty much anywhere in the UK.
Lots and lots of English tea.
6. Drinking to excess. I know this sounds bad, but I rather like the fact that in the UK it’s perfectly acceptable to order a bottle of wine even if there are only two of you – and it’s lunchtime. There’s also something about getting drunk with friends or family that just bonds you together on a deeper level… or so it certainly feels at the time!
7. Borough Market. R and I used to spend so many weekends here, and when we had a couple of hours before we had to get on to our next stop we just had to pop down and go back to our favourite stalls. It felt like no time had passed at all since the last time we’d stood in the autumn sunshine eating chicken burgers followed by treats from the Cinnamon Tree bakery. But this is just part of my love for:
8. London (and its integrated transport network!).
This city provides so many wonderful experiences, like browsing in Borough market, wandering the old streets around Mayfair, and enjoying the Thames at nightfall from one of the restaurants on the Southbank. But most of all I love the fact that I can dash around this huge city so easily using my lovely London buses and the most famous and best of underground systems – the tube. Since we were last in London the Overground had completed its extension so we had even more choices to get us to the mainline stations we were using to visit friends and family. Which brings me to:
9. Short distances. After traversing America and getting stuck in the comparatively close city of Boston, I really appreciated the way that you can travel to most parts of the UK really quickly and easily. We had so many people we wanted to visit and such a short time, that it just wouldn’t have been possible if the UK weren’t as small. In two weeks we visited people in Pickering, Sheffield, St Albans, Cambridge, Oxford, Winchester, Exeter, Chagford, and Tunbridge Wells. For many of these we used trains, but for the SW we hired a car. Which leads me to:
10. British driving. A lot of the things mentioned in the American’s list of 100 things I referenced earlier are related to this. After driving in the US we were very attuned to the differences. Apart from being confused that we’ve still not embraced automatic cars (when even parking is automated now), we mostly found this a pleasure. We were back to signage that made sense, was consistent and didn’t distract with too much text! We were back to a consistent speed limit that people pretty much followed! And when people flashed their lights, we realised, they were actually thanking us for overtaking in a considerate manner! I don’t think this is entirely an issue of national characteristics (maybe we’re more polite, but I wouldn’t generalise), but perhaps more of consistent enforcement. As that American noticed – ‘If you speed on a motorway, you get a ticket. Period. Always.
11. (Bonus!) The best thing, of course, was seeing friends and family again. Although we have made new friends in the States, there’s something about old friends. No matter how long it’s been you can just get right back to how you were, and it seems like you’ve barely been away.
So, as many of my family and friends know, we got our visa petition approved! I’ll write more about the saga that was our visa application soon but, suffice to say, it went right to the wire.
Originally we were only going to do our big trip out West of we knew we hadn’t got a visa to stay – we were going to use the grace period at the end of our current visa (four weeks when you can’t work but are encouraged to travel) to say a grand farewell to the States. But as we got to the end of our visa and still hadn’t heard if we could stay or not, we decided to do the trip anyway – it would certainly beat sitting at home waiting for an email.
And I’m really glad we did. I’ll write more about our adventures in the Black Hills, Yellowstone, Denver and Chicago soon, but right now I’m sitting at an airport bar trying to get my head around the fact that we were in Wyoming about two weeks ago and will be in London tomorrow morning.
Don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing trip, and I’m really really looking forward to seeing people in the UK, but I’m kind of looking forward to getting back to some kind of routine and writing about the minutiae of DC life. All this waiting to hear has been very disruptive, and I really got into travelling mode on our trip – all we had to think about was where we could drive to for breakfast, and where did Expedia and Yelp advise us to stay the next night. Getting back to my writing will be difficult!
Still, for now I have a couple of weeks of visits and travels in the UK to look forward to. Hopefully there will be Yorkshire fish and chips, West Country game and cider in nice pubs, and maybe even a curry in London. Certainly there will be plenty of fun with family and friends.