Aug 25 2014

An American in London

Published by at 2:15 am under Family,Personal

Almost exactly a year ago my family and I moved from Northern California to 20 miles west of the capital of the United Kingdom, London.  It was the start of an adventure that’s exposed us to a new culture, cut us off from most of our friends and family and made massive changes to how we see the world.  We’ve had to make huge adjustments in our expectations, our lifestyle and how we drive, but my wife and I both think it’s been worth it.  The children seem to disagree, if you believe their loud and frequent complaints.  But these seem to be fewer and fewer as time goes by.

The first few weeks we were living in an apartment a few miles from where we live now.  It was a good landing spot while we waited for our shipment to arrive.  But being a family of four in a two bedroom apartment was its own special level of hell when you’re used to having a little privacy from time to time.    Thankfully our stuff arrived in fairly short order and we got to move into the house we’re living in now.  Everyone has their own space, though my wife spends most of her time in the kitchen or her office, while the kids spend theirs on the computer in the reception room we designated their office and I spend mine in an office that was converted from half the garage.  It’s a good house, about 100 yards from the station, with two trains an hour into London’s Waterloo station.

Learning to drive on the other side of the road wasn’t difficult and we’ve only made the mistake of driving on the right side of the road a few times each, thankfully in parking lots for the most part.  Getting used to roundabouts was more of a learning experience and I know I got honked at more than a few times that first month.  Now I’m fully adjusted and wondering why they’re being used so badly in the US, when they really do contribute to traffic flows when used properly.  The biggest problem I’ve had adjusting has been the bathrooms here, with the light switch on the outside, separate hot and cold water taps and toilets that just don’t seem to work as well as I’d like.  There’s also the shopping, but over the last year we’ve managed to decipher the English equivalent of American products, even if it doesn’t always look or feel exactly like we’re expecting.  There are a few products we still can’t get, like proper stuffing and chocolate chips.  But my occasional business travel to the US makes those limitations livable if we’re frugal in using our resources.

The children are the one’s who’ve had the hardest time adjusting though.  School has been a step back for them, since the UK schools don’t seem to be equipped to deal with exceptional children and this has frustrated them greatly.  They miss their friends, which is sometimes harder because they can get on Skype and talk to them whenever their sleep patterns allow.  What they absolutely hate the most is when the wife and I say, “You’ll look back on this when you’re older and realize what a great opportunity it was.”  Tomorrow’s appreciation is for tomorrow, while today’s whining and complaining is for today.   What they don’t realize is that they’ve seen half a dozen countries in the last year, more than many Americans will ever see in their entire life.  I hope they don’t hate us too much until the light of appreciation dawns upon them.

This is the end of the first year in England, with at least two more to go, barring the unexpected.  We’re settled in as a family, I’m settling in more to the role I’ve chosen at work and at least the wife and I are glad we made the choice to leave the US and immigrate to England, at least temporary.   We spent a week December exploring Munich, my wife spent her 50th birthday visiting museums around Amsterdam and we took a train into London on Saturday to explore Brick Market and Old Spitalfield Market.  These are the kinds of experiences we came to Europe to have.  And this week we have both friends and family visiting from the States.  I hope I survive the experience.

We’ll always be outsiders in England.  But life here almost feels … normal.

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6 responses so far

6 Responses to “An American in London”

  1. Nick Don 25 Aug 2014 at 3:44 am

    Nicely put, and always interesting to see a different view of my home country. I’m surprised that you didn’t mention how small everything is, usually north americans comment on the relative size of the cars and/or the houses and/or the people ;)

    As for exceptional children…. unfortunately private schools or public schools appear to be the way to go, time for a pay rise?

  2. Martinon 25 Aug 2014 at 3:57 am

    Nick,

    The cars we expected and have gotten so used to that it’s not even something I’m conscious of any more. The houses aren’t as apparent to us because we are renting a place built more along American standards than British. And private school would be nice, but I’d need to be a few levels higher in the food chain in order to get that sort of money, since it’s really, really expensive to put your kids in a public (UK English)/private (US English) school.

    If I were trying to list all of the things we found different between living in the US and living in the UK, I’d be writing a 75K word book, not a 750 word blog post. And since there are more than enough of those out there already, I’ll let someone else spend the time and energy on it.

  3. Andyon 25 Aug 2014 at 3:58 am

    I love and hate this argument:

    “What they don’t realize is that they’ve seen half a dozen countries in the last year, more than many Americans will ever see in their entire life”

    The U.S. is big, really really big. It takes, if you’re really pushing, four days to drive from one side to the other. Germany is less than 400 miles across at it’s widest point. Belgium is only 100 miles from France to the Netherlands – it can easily be biked in less than a day.

    As for the kids. One day they will look back at this experience and love, but that will be years from now. I only wish my parents took us more places as kids, it wasn’t about the money – my parents were just cheap, we got one week at the Jersey shore each summer and that was it.

  4. Martinon 25 Aug 2014 at 4:40 am

    Andy,

    Part of my motivation for making the move was a field trip one of the Spawn went on in fifth grade. The class went to the ocean, 30 miles from home, and three children out of thirty had never seen it before. And our neighbor told us as we were moving out that she’d never been outside of California.

    Sure, the US is huge. But ask around and see how many of the people you know have been to more than 4-5 states, maybe a dozen if they live on the East Coast. There’s a lot of people in the US who have no desire to see more of what’s out there and will always think home is the only place for them to be. But not me or mine.

  5. dangerseekeron 25 Aug 2014 at 6:19 am

    Europeans think 100 km are a big distance,
    Americans think 100 years are a long time.
    8-)

    The two things many Americans don’t get is the rich history and the diversity of cultures in Europe.
    If you start in France, drive through Germany and settle for the night in Poland, you did not only drove 500 mi, but visited three totally different cultures with different languages, different histories and different lifestyles.

    Have a nice day,

    Dangerseeker

  6. Shaneon 08 Sep 2014 at 6:44 am

    Martin, a year ago we did something similar, only we are in Germany rather than the UK. So far, we have only been to Denmark, Luxembourg, and France as additional countries to see, and are trying to see more of Germany than just some major cities and attractions. Last weekend, for example, we saw the 1000-year old cathedral in Speyer – I had no idea it was that old, or that impressive. One of our neighbors was born in Austria but married a German and moved here, but she’s never been to Paris, a five hour drive away.

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