Living in one country while bearing the nationality of another, I seem never to be in the right place. As you read this column, I am recovering from a ten-day trip across the oceans to bestow my twice-yearly Parental Visitation upon my loved ones.
While in England, I was referred to as “the woman who lives in America” but, now I have reappeared in Sundance, I have switched back my persona as “the English woman who lives here.”
You see the problem, yes? I have somehow acquired the ability to never quite belong to the country in which I stand: wherever I am, I am not quite from around there.
“Welcome home,” said one of my friends, as I whinged bitterly about the jetlag. “We tidied up for you.”
“It wasn’t easy,” added another. “Wales needed quite a lot of hoovering.”
And just like that, I was back in the land I understand. One in which I am not the only person to refer to a vacuum cleaner as “the hoover” and your winter survival kit consists of a small umbrella, rather than a full set of thermal underwear and a zero-degree sleeping bag.
England, my England, where I am in absolutely no danger of being mauled by a mountain lion. The same soap operas are showing as when I left two years ago (with largely the same plotlines), comedians are on a par with rock stars and every street corner features a traditional English pub.
It was a relief… at first. Unfortunately, I have adapted more than I realised to my new homeland and soon found myself judging anyone who left the house without a spare pair of socks.
I repeatedly climbed into my mother’s car and wondered how I’d ended up in the driver’s seat and, like my husband before me, spent almost two weeks with absolutely no idea what time of day it was, thanks to the overcast skies of the European winter (and, for Terri Cronn: as my hometown is by the sea too, also the fog!)
I discovered that passive aggressive tutting is a much less effective strategy for dealing with absent-minded pedestrians than I remember it being, suggesting I have begun to lose the knack. In hindsight, the better methodology during my transatlantic flight, when an aggravating little man invaded my space and jiggled his leg for a full eight hours, would have been to slap him on the knee.
I am, however, sorry to report that the Brits showed a distinct lack of interest in my adventures and no desire to hear about “the bringing together of the best of both cultures.” It’s possible I was regaling the wrong people with my observations.
Shop assistants were not, for example, clamoring to know why I was purchasing a bumper pack of teabags or that it’s been such a long time since there were any decent quantities available to me (other than the measly box of 40 PG Tips they sell in Safeway) that I forgot all about buying in bulk.
I presented my Survival Pack to the girl at the checkout, containing: 300 teabags, three gallon-sized tubs of proper English gravy, two cans of aerosol deodorant (because such an innovation apparently offends Safeways’ shelf stackers) and a nose sniffer thingy for sinus pain (because they won’t give me one in Walmart.) I expected comment or at the very least a raised eyebrow but, as far as she was concerned, 300 teabags will last an average family the weekend and no decent meal is served outside a bath of gravy.
The curator of the museum of Victoriana that I visited with my father was even less interested in my reasons for buying a coin commemorating Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. It’s difficult to convey the panic of longer living under the kindly care of a monarch to someone with no such experience; perhaps I should write them a column about it instead.
Of course, some might say I’m looking at this from the wrong angle; our two cultures are naturally disposed to blend. On my last trip to England, for example, I had the good fortune to sit next to a lady who was journeying to my nation’s capital from Sioux Falls to contribute traditional Native American dance to the Diamond Jubilee festivities.
Not only did an American neighbor give me a peek at the Queen’s upcoming schedule (which pleasingly included a non-negotiable 45-minute morning break specifically for tea), I was able to provide insight into the London Underground and help the troupe select a less circuitous route to rehearsals.
My husband describes England as a parallel dimension; a country in which the culture is sufficiently similar as to be familiar yet two degrees removed from normality. While this makes navigating the unknown much easier for vacationers, it turns out that the slight variations can really throw you when you regularly switch back and forth.
Our countries’ opinions differ on festive traditions, ruling bodies and the makings of a decent cup of tea. We enjoy very different weather systems and you people drive on the wrong side of the road. We do, however, share a set of ideals, a language, a long historical friendship and, particularly in the case of Wyoming, a sense of humor.
Consequently, you might say that, when it comes to the finest things in life, there’s not much need for adaption at all. In addition, I now have two homelands so, really, whichever direction I’m travelling in, I’m always going home.