29 August 2014

Living the Everyday

Waking up to the hiss of radiators, I feel cold air rush up to meet my bare feet as I swing them out of bed. Groggy, I nearly bump my head on the low eaves and pull back the curtain to find bright sunshine at this ungodly hour. I wash my face under burning hot and freezing cold water from the double taps, and squeak across the floorboards to the toilet down the hall. 

Welcome to another day in England.

Looking back on the posts I've written since coming to live here, I realize how little I've talked about the everyday things. Of course there's the usual shopping for foodnavigating outlet-free bathrooms, and breaking into Chinese restaurants, but as a blog reader recently pointed out, I haven't really said whether I like living here as an expat on a day-to-day basis.

The answer: yes. Hands down.

At first I wondered if the charm of Britain would rub off, if working and eating and reading and traveling in this country every day for a year would change the way I felt about it. It hasn't. Of course some of the glitz and glamor has gone (see my post, The Dream Dies), but that wasn't the part that counted. The sparkle of my interest in Britain was like the powerful attraction that starts a romance. What is left when the first attraction has faded is a deep, abiding love.

Contrary to what you might have gathered from my posts here, I don't spend every single day tripping around the countryside, climbing hills and eating traditional fare in seaside villages. There's plenty of that, but most of my life involves stuff like this:

Fraternizing with sheep. There's a lovely walk around the grounds here at Capernwray (we call it "The Loop") that passes through several sheep fields. I walk that path so often, I sometimes liven things up by talking to the sheep.

Bemoaning my bank account. I've finally stopped translating £s to $s in my head every time I make a purchase, but I cringe whenever I look at my budget. There's no getting around it: living in the UK is expensive. Especially when you're an unpaid charity worker. Sad times.

Missing American bacon. No, I haven't gotten used to "bacon" being ham. British bacon is not bacon. It might be "back bacon," but it should never be mistaken for the streaky luxury that is proper bacon. (Before you tell me that streaky bacon is available in the UK, I will inform you that it may be in the stores, but it's not in the communal dining hall where I eat three meals a day.)

Taming the demon shower. I don't know if it's an issue with the plumbing, or an antiquated shower head, or what, but our bipolar shower has two temperatures: freezing and scald-your-scalp. Getting clean without suffering third-degree burns is a fine art.

Two of my favorite expats!
Connecting with fellow expats. There aren't too many American volunteers here at Capernwray, and I treasure my friendships with them. As much as I adore my British friends, sometimes there's nothing better than talking about the things of home. No one understands Chick-fil-A or supermarkets or business hours or politics or buttermilk biscuits like an American.

Singing in the rain. I love rain. No kiddingI think the climate here in the North of England is just two shades away from perfect. It gets dark too early in the winter (6pm I can take, but 4pm?), and the summer is too short, but I am an ardent fan of the weather. This must come of being raised in a place that turns into a humid oven for half the year.

Lazy days off. I admit itsometimes instead of getting a cab or a bus or a train to somewhere new and exciting, I spend my free time simply chilling in my room. I grab a good book and cuddle up on the couch and I thoroughly enjoy myself. This goes hand-in-hand with my love of rain. There's no better weather for a day off than gray, chilly drizzle.

Cleaning up. Yes, my adorable little room (part of the servants' quarters when the Hall was a manor house) does get dirty from time to time. This necessitates a good scrub down, and I usually have to vacuum using the world's most pathetic vacuum cleaner: the Henry. I'm sorry if you are emotionally attached to this cute cleaning appliance, but in my personal opinion every Henry ought to be chucked in the bin once and for all. I don't care if they have eyes.

Not understanding football. I'm sure some of you find it thrilling. Personally, I've been spoiled by American football.

Football in the rainBritish style
Working. Believe it or not, I actually work. I've learned to use an Apple computer (they're obsessed with them here), calculate VAT, and count British money in my sleep. I've learned a lot about office work in the past year, and I think most of it will be transferable. When I interviewed for a job in the States, however, my potential boss had no idea what "franking the mail" meant. Ahh, not the first cross-cultural misunderstanding.

Me in my little office.
Falling into the accent. I have too much pride to attempt a full-on British accent (any native would probably laugh), but every now and then I lapse into the local dialect. I start saying "post" like a Lancastrian, or now and then a bit of Yorkshire comes through, and I unconsciously mimic callers' voices when I talk on the phone. Then again, one of my coworkers is a New Zealander, and there are times when I sound like her too. I just absorb accents like sponge cake absorbs custard.

Disparaging Americans. This is the flip-side to my increased patriotism and homesickness. Every time I encounter an American in Britain there's a part of me that can't help thinking, "Please go home. We've got enough Americans already in this country. Why do you have to come and spoil the landscape?" Terribly hypocritical, I know. I've also become more sensitive to cultural stereotypes, and consciously attempt to separate myself from what is commonly perceived as "so American."

Tea and crumpets were made for each other.
Shaking my head over British food. I love British food. Love, love, love it. However, a few things boggle the mind. The obsession with flavorless baked beans, for instance. I'm a fan of beans myself, but I like them to be either sweet or savory, not a bland middle-ground. And the love of white bread shocks me. Try finding hearty whole wheat bread for a decent price at the supermarket. It isn't easy.

Indulging in scones and clotted cream. These are things that are hard to find back home, and I take just about every chance I get to luxuriate in the delicacy. It won't be long before it's beyond my reach once more....

Watching movies. I am a huge fan of Amazon.co.uk's LoveFilm by Post. You subscribe to the service (only £6.99 per month) and have access to nearly any DVD you can think of. Create a list of favorites and they'll send you two discs at a time by first class post. Watch them, send them back, and get two new ones. The turnaround time is about two days. Love it!

Glorying in BBC iPlayer. I may not have constant access to television, but there's always iPlayer! How wonderful it is to be able to watch British TV without worrying about region blocks and late release dates.

That's a random rundown of the issues and blessings that have characterized my everyday life in England. Taking the bad with the good and the good with the awkward and the awkward with the glorious, it's everything I could have asked for. They don't call it Great Britain for no reason.


  1. Great post. I agree with much of it. Glad to know you are enjoying your time here; it is an amazing country.

    As for bacon: you mention -- as do all Brits when I tell them I miss American bacon -- that "streaky" bacon is available here and it is just like American bacon. This is told to me by Brits. I am an American and I can tell you, it is NOT. If you want good, authentic, American bacon,you'll have to wait until you get back to the USA.

    1. Thank you for that information, Michael! I haven't wanted to pay/take the trouble to cook streaky bacon over here, but it's good to know that it wouldn't have satisfied my cravings anyway. Back in the USA in just over a month!


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