Tag Archives: UK

Missing the States

At this time when America is so much in the news I’m missing all those things that were America to us.

I miss:

  • Watching NFL in a bar on a Sunday all afternoon…
  • Wearing a baseball cap and really casual clothes…
  • Drinking American IPA in sensible sized pints

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Though London and the UK more widely are catching up to what a great game this is, because of the time difference it’s really hard to watch our favourite teams live. Unless you have Sky TV (and can stay up real late) you can only catch the early Sunday afternoon matches – at very select bars. We found out that our local does show these, from 6pm UK time, but at 7.30pm the football is relegated to the background as they have their pub quiz (or trivia as my American friends know it).

Matt Herschberger has written how American casual doesn’t really fit in large parts of London (I reacted to his article here). I’ve tried wearing my baseball caps and Nats gear, but I’ve had to give in to the increasingly hipster vibe and be a bit smarter on the weekends.

Talking of hipster culture, the UK is also really catching up on the craft brewing front. I’ll go into this in more detail soon, but my area has recently acquired a whole mile of breweries, all of which do decent IPAs. Half pints are available, and indeed are to be recommended for the really strong beers they’re brewing round here now.

But I also miss:

  • Being able to hire a car that we can both drive…
  • Getting on the road and driving for hours through the most amazing scenery…
  • Singing along to country music.

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This last one we’ve been able to replicate thanks to Youtube and Spotify, but we have acquired a reputation as having slightly strange music taste. In terms of car radio music, we have enjoyed reacquainting ourselves with British cheese, especially eighties music, and we did have quite a bit of fun finding some typical French rap when we were driving to Bordeaux back in the summer.

But the attitude to hire cars – and street car schemes – in the UK is very different to the States. It’s more expensive to hire an automatic and there are quite high extra charges for each additional driver. Back in the US I don’t think they even asked to see my licence when we hired a car – the fact that we said we were married was enough to give me driving rights with no extra charge. This was great because I only had a learner permit, and I got to practice while driving my husband around the vineyards of Southern California… The hire car place in France was also fine with my American licence and our marital status, so I got my first experience of driving the narrow country roads of the old wine country. There’s just something about being able to skip the mediocre hotel breakfast and drive down to the nearest village for pastries and espresso…

Which brings me to some other things I’m missing:

  • Being able to reliably get good coffee…
  • And good (cheap) brunch.

img_0288I was at a conference centre recently with truly awful coffee. It was cruel and unusual and should be illegal.

I took coffee and brunch for granted in the States. And while I think we probably can get some good brunch in London if we make a date for it, maybe book, and travel a bit, it’s not the same as being able to go across the road to the Diner. On the upside we’re getting good at making our own eggs and pancakes and we can now get our favourite bacon and brunch on bacon sandwiches.

Other good brunch/lunch options that have opened up in our area are a really good salt beef and pastrami place – Monty’s Deli. And, round the corner, Maltby Street Market has an interesting looking waffle stall. So there’s definitely potential.

However, there are some things we can’t replicate. Here are some of the bigger, intangible, ‘this is America’ type stuff that people weave a national identity around, and that I miss more than I thought I would:

  • Going to the baseball (I can see why this is practically a religion)
  • Celebrating 4th July, or Halloween, and Thanksgiving… and all the other holidays…

Not because I particularly liked all the holidays, but because we got to celebrate with enthusiasm in the States. There was irony – ‘Merica! – but not often, and only on the surface.

  • Freedom!

Now I’m being ironic – especially seeing as how recently we’ve taken control back from Europe (more irony).

  • DC politics…

I know it might sound strange, but there was something about being in the DC bubble, where sports bars showed the debate, and the local paper went into great detail on local, regional and national politics. Though I couldn’t vote I certainly had my own strong views on abortion rights, gun control, and statehood for DC and Puerto Rico.

So right now I’m missing lots of things about America. I’m also worried for this country that welcomed me in for a while: is it going to become more right-wing, more misogynist, racist, more disruptive to world politics?

I’ll certainly be watching the election tonight and hoping that the result is that which will preserve everything I loved about America. Good luck friends!

Homecoming

I’m back at the table I wrote my PhD on. The tree outside the window has grown in the two years we’ve been away, but otherwise things are pretty much the same with our little flat. The story is a bit different outside – an Italian restaurant and deli have closed, and a new deli has opened. Also, a tiny new café has appeared in an old potting shed. It has proven to be yet another good source of artisan bread. Further afield, we have a new Mayor of London. Unfortunately we missed the good mood my friends have reported settled on London after the election of Saddiq Khan, instead returning to London in the anxious week of the EU referendum.

But I’m not sure I can write about that debacle yet.

In many ways we returned to life as normal: the same flat, neighbourhood, gym, markets, restaurants. And I was waiting for the repatriation malaise to set in. But then there was the excitement of the referendum and its fallout – the resignations especially – and it feels like a completely different world. It certainly distracts from any feelings of homesickness for America. In fact, America hardly features in our conversations with our long-lost friends, as that topic is completely overtaken by current events.

So here I’ve tried to capture my various repatriation thoughts and emotions, in the spirit of this blog, but in the knowledge that this is hardly a representative experience…

 

Trains of thought on returning to the UK in June/July 2016

Oooh, I’d forgotten how pretty the UK countryside is…

Yum. Farmers’ markets and proper, unpasteurised cheese!

Hmmm, at least one of these farmers wants to leave the EU according to the signs on his van…

Ah, British pubs and pub gardens…

How British – a slightly awkward tea party half inside and half outside, with bunting and sparkling wine, and a toast to the queen on her birthday.

bunting

Surely we won’t leave the EU…?

Do I miss American craft beer more than I’m loving British bitter and cider, or vice versa? This will take some research…

Why can’t you get a good burger in a British pub? I miss American bars.

But at least we can hear ourselves talk… and it is nice not to have to tip at the bar.

What a crazy debate! Surely no-one could vote for Boris as Prime Minister? Hagis?!

Thank God to be back in the land of M&S – have they ever been properly recognised for how they enable modern couples to fully commit to their jobs without compromising on nutrition? Dinner is so much easier now!

But breakfast is so much harder! Was American brunch so cheap because of terrible wages and conditions? Now I feel bad for missing it.

Seven hours of campaigning in the rain – surely we’ll stay in the EU?

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What just happened?!

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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Favourite things about a trip to the UK

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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.

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‘Hovis’ Hill (despite the advert’s implications, it’s not really in Yorkshire at all, but in Dorset – its real name is Gold Hill) and my mum in the foreground (taken back in 1981).

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!).

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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.

Interlude – a trip ‘home’

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.