When I first moved to the UK 15 years ago, I experienced a culture shock I hadn't planned on. I had to phone my husband at work and ask how to get the vacuum cleaner to work. There were a million other little everyday details that flummoxed me at first. How do I get the shower to work? What's the emergency services number? Is that the doorbell or the telephone? I also had to cope with not working and not knowing a soul other than my husband (though we weren't married yet), my new neighbours, and my (rather hateful at the time) future in-laws.
I read a lot of books. I listened to Radio Four. I wrote a lot of letters to my pals back in the US (who would never write back). I would gaze out the window at all the people going past and fantasize about knowing them and inviting them in for coffee and a chat. We didn't have a computer. The internet was in its infancy then. My two cats had to go into quarantine for six months. I would visit them three times a week, and that is how I learned to drive in this country.
I met an American woman who lived locally, and while she made it clear she wasn't interested in friendship with me, she did recommend I try to volunteer at my local Citizens Advice Bureau. That was a wonderful recommendation. I went for an interview with the then-manager. I did the training, and my time at the CAB helped me adjust to life in the UK greatly. And I like to think I helped a person or two while I was there. Most of the other volunteers were retirees who took me under their wing. One or two in particular were extremely helpful. I left the CAB a few years ago when I got volunteer fatigue and became dissatisfied with the direction it was going. But the friends I made then are still my friends now.
I got involved with an American ex-pats group in the early days, but gradually stopped going. The people who belonged to it were mostly wives of men sent here by their companies for three to five years. They were only here for a short time and then going back to their friends and family. I was here for the long run and had to make a life here. They would sit around and drink coffee and complain about life in the UK. I joined in but found over time that it was holding me back from accepting my life here and getting on with it. I think all ex-pats go through stages -- the first stage is Everything Is So Wonderful And Different, followed by Everything Is So Crap. If they stay long enough, they then enter the Everything Is Different But So What phase. I'm there now.
When I got pregnant, my social horizons expanded. I became involved (I do a lot of involvement) with my local National Childbirth Trust (a charity that promotes breastfeeding). Again, some of the friends I made then are still my friends now. It was having children that made me finally accept that England is my home. During my pregnancy, I fretted about having children over here, as if it were some third world country. I worried that my children would grow up liking different food and reading different books (haha, little did I know that I would produce children who don't like to read). But the NHS, despite its bad press, turned out to be a positive experience. The midwives were lovely, the doctors caring, the health visitor helpful. I needed their support as a new mother in a foreign country with hostile in-laws.
The weather is what got me down the most. I couldn't accept that sometimes July is worse than February, that August is usually rainy and dreary, except when it's not. I would come down with winter colds during summer. My sinuses still don't like it here (but they're not too keen on Florida either). Each morning I would pull back the curtains and exclaim "It's another crappy day." My husband took it personally. He would try to reassure me: "(Fill in the month)can be a lovely time of year in this country." I say it myself now. Bill Bryson's book "Notes From a Small Island" helped enormously too. In fact Bill Bryson is another reason I came to accept my life here. He loves this country, quirks and all. He's my hero, by the way.
The language was another hurdle. Simple words like shag have a totally different meaning here. I'd hear my husband use some words and assume I knew the meaning, then use them myself, to hilarious effect. Example: We had a houseguest, a rather distinguished older gentleman my husband had worked with. I thought I'd impress him with my knowledge of UK English and proceeded to talk at length about a certain person I described as a wanker. My guest's face registered shock. I didn't understand why. Didn't wanker mean something innocuous like jerk? No, my husband explained later, it's a bit stronger than that. I wasn't averse to using strong language during my newspaper career. However, I decided after the wanker incident that, for propriety's sake, I should clean up my mouth. Thus fanny has been banned from my vocabulary as have numerous other words (except in times of extreme stress and never in front of the children). Although I do say bloody from time to time. And I stopped giving people the finger when I drive because people do two fingers over here and I get all confused and forget which two fingers and the moment is past by the time I remember.
My husband and I had had a whirlwind relationship. We met May 31, 1991. By April 1992 I had moved over here lock, stock, and broken glassware. We'd only seen each other a total of five times in those months, and most of that was spent travelling to various places. We hadn't really known each other in our native habitats, so to speak. So I had a new relationship, new country, new lifestyle (I haven't had a paying job since moving to the UK). It took me years to adjust, but I did. Thank goodness I found help along the way because I couldn't have done it on my own.
Crystal Jigsaw has bestowed the Rockin Blogger on me. I'm having a really good week here. Thank you, Crystal, and I shall spread the wealth.