Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Difference A Little Ocean Makes

Seeing it again took my breath away.  See the sandbags surrounding the drain?

I now officially live in the United States.  Sort of.  My "permanent address" and heart are in the UK with my husband and my passport says I should be living in the UK, but I am getting things shipped, such as my schoolbooks, to a US address where I'll be for the next four months (don't ask - it's complicated).

I arrived in Philly after an uneventful flight given all the hurricanes (are we on Lee now?) and quickly high-tailed it down to DC to prepare to host David McCullough at the National Archives and the Capitol Visitor Center Congressional Auditorium (a mouthful for a very cool new venue) next week.

In all the busyness that is entailed in preparations for such events, I couldn't help but notice the differences in my new, yet familiar environs:

* The Vice President's escort involved no less than fourteen vehicles, if I counted correctly.  I worked at the intersection of K Street and Connecticut Avenue for four years, yet never before had witnessed the VP's security caravan.  I must say that after seeing the queen's solitary Bentley on her official visit to Oxford, it all seemed a little much (OK, never mind things like Trooping of the Color where the gold-armoured cavalry is brought out - she pays for herself as a tourist attraction).

* If I step into a non-crosswalked portion of the street, I still have the right of way, and cars will slow down/stop. There are also crosswalks at the same intersections as cars, and I don't have to push the "walk" button - novel idea (in Britain, pedestrian crosswalks are separated, often, from car intersections, are barricaded off, and you can only cross half of the street at a time).

* Everyone has a nasal American accent.  Coming from a place where accents denote geography and class, I can't help but be more attuned to accents.  I miss the softer tones of the English.

* The paradox of choice.  I was overwhelmed by the selection of shampoos - within a brand - at CVS the other day.  Not helpful when I only had 5 minutes to purchase all of my larger-than-carryon-size toiletries.

* Rubbish bins, or trash cans abound.  Ever since a terrorist placed bombs in bins on the Tube, the English don't believe in having closed rubbish bins in highly-trafficked areas.

* All the architecture looks the same-ish.  London and Oxford are filled with architecture that tells the progress of time.

* The streets make sense.  I can walk down a parallel street and know that I can get over to the parallel street at every block.

* No gold-encrusted anything.  Rather, my tax dollars take the form of marble.

* People are more hurried.  It has been hurricaning, but people still go out in it.  When it pours, the British find shelter under eaves and awnings and the streets are nearly bare of people.  I think it is a difference in the pace of life.

Perhaps the largest difference is that I feel like a bit of a stranger in my own country.  Can two years really and truly change a person all that much?  Anyone else ever experienced that?  I must say, it makes a body feel a bit homeless.  


  1. I served in the London Mission, and as red-blooded American as I am, yes--two years can change a person quite a bit, especially when moving between two similar but also very different cultures on either side of the pond.

  2. Yes, it's actually a thing I think they call reverse patriation; i cant remember the term? I experienced the same thing after moving home from India. They say it's worse than moving to a foreign country because you expect to feel foreign there but not in your own country. It's very disorienting! Hang in there and do a Google search and you'll find very reassuring articles about this, it really helped me :-)

    Love your guts!