Adjusting to any new place can be difficult. I've traveled to places as far as China where I couldn't even speak the language and yet, somehow, my first week in England has felt more foreign to me than any other place I've traveled.
The funny thing about moving to a place like England is the constant divergence between expectations and reality. As we both speak the same language and ultimately "my people" historically derive from this general area, I expected more similarities than differences. Every other sentence has a word I haven't heard before. A door handle that has to be turned up instead of down. Yellow meaning slow down AND get ready to go. Pull chains instead of light switches. Lefty loosey is lefty tighty. A microwave with no option to enter a time. Here are just a few of the things I've come across that I was surprised by:
- Coffee - Unbearable. Coffee shops are popping up everywhere right now, which is a relief because everyone I have met thus far drinks instant coffee like it's not some hotel bandaid for good coffee. "Did you try the Colombian coffee I brought, though? I think that's more of what you were expecting." My coworker said to me. So I looked in the cupboard. It was Colombian instant coffee by Nestle.
- Breakfast - I knew English breakfast pretty well, or so I thought, but I've observed a few new discoveries over the past week. Bacon IS NOT BACON. It's ham. If I want US bacon I have to ask for "streaky bacon". Avocado toast somehow made its way here, so millennials have clearly globalized. Diners and breakfast-all-day are apparently American things, or so I've been told.
- Soda - NOPE. If you like diet sodas and aspartame, step right up. But if you like American not-diet soda, don't even bother. The soda here- even American brands- have aspartame instead of sugar. It tastes miserable.
- Everyone hates the rain - It is 100% A-OK to not like the rain here. In fact, I never have to complain about it, because everywhere I go, someone else is already complaining about it. It's essentially a replacement for, "Hello, how are you?" People greet you with, "Miserable weather, innit?"
- Road rage - Or shall I say, lack of road rage. No one honks here. I have driven like a complete moron at granny-comparative speeds and not a single person has honked at me in Frome. There are speed cameras that will mail you a ticket if you are paced on a road over time as arriving at each camera faster than the speed limit calculates you can. And no one seems all that rushed about getting anywhere anyway.
- Stores - The grocery stores have several aisles dedicated to clothing, electronics, etc. like a Walmart would. The prices aren't bad at all. Malls aren't really a thing, but when they are, they tend to be outdoors so you can get rain in your shopping bags.
- Friendliness - While this probably isn't something you can label the entire UK with, I've found that everyone in Frome is extremely nice and polite. I had stereotyped England as such and was told repeatedly by friends that this was not the case. It is the case. I talked non-stop with the girl who did my nails and the lady who did my driving lesson. I can't ask any question in my office without the entire room chiming in. My landladies have emailed me so many times in the last week to check on me that I started feeling stalked. Everyone waves as you pass them on narrow roads. Flashing headlamps means "go ahead" and not "move, a-hole!"
- Driving - NOT AS SIMPLE AS CHANGING SIDES! The symbols are different, the colors are different, the lines are different, and very few of the picture signs have actual pictures to tell you what they mean. When I asked my driving instructor how anyone knows when a road has more than one lane since they don't use yellow lines to divide the road, she said, "Well, we don't really have many multi-lane roads" as though that was an answer XD
Mom and Dad took me to the airport. I thought I might cry, but I held it together, probably because it was easier knowing I would be back in a few weeks.
I was very stressed about the plane ride but managed to get an upgrade to Premium at the last minute. This was a huge relief, as I was booked in a middle seat with no meals by default without realizing until it was too late to change. I felt quite fancy hanging out in the "Escape" lounge in Oakland airport. There was a big free buffet of fruit and food, free coffee, free wine, and free wine. Did I say free wine? I took a coffee cup and stuffed it full of grapes to eat on the plane.
Premium had several empty seats. I nabbed an open row, Row 2, and got to spread out. As I waited for us to taxi, I suddenly craved grapes. About sixty seconds later, my coffee cup full of grapes looked like this:
The 10 hours on the plane flew by; no pun intended. I played Super Mario Odyssey, watched King Arthur, and slept a little. I occasionally glanced at the tv of the older gentleman in the row across from me. He watched chick flicks the entire way to England.
The food on the plane was surprisingly tasty. Unfortunately, I couldn't understand the stewardess's accent, so I asked her to repeat the meal options three times until she finally tried using different words to explain them to me. The chicken, the steak, and the cord. The chicken, the steak, and the code. The chicken, the steak, and the... code. The FISH. "Ohhhhh the COD!"
I had more wine but it didn't help me sleep. I swear the wine on the plane was just wine-flavored juice.
Customs in Gatwick was a zoo, as Customs tends to be. I waited around 45 minutes in line. I did a lot of people watching and noticed that every time I spotted a woman in black platform boots, she had a Ukranian passport, without fail. At one point, nearly everyone in line was coughing in a domino effect that made me want to crawl out of my skin. It's a miracle I didn't contract the plague.
When I cleared customs, the entire plane's luggage was rotating around on the carousel, unattended. Nearly everyone was still stuck in customs. I spotted my bags right away and yanked them off the carousel. My driver called and said he was waiting downstairs, so down I went. He was a young guy, my age, wearing a suit and a burgundy scarf, and holding a sign with my name on it. His name was James. I gasped with delight as we walked outside into the fresh air. It had been nearly a full day since I had breathed fresh air. There was no rain. The sun beamed through the clouds like a postcard of Heaven touching Earth.
I spent the next two hours and ten minutes in James's silver Mercedes trying not to drool as I stared out the window with my bloodshot eyes. The trees were all brown and leafless but the rolling hills were a vibrant green and went on forever in every direction. James didn't have much to say. We passed Stonehenge like it was just another farm off the road. I noted that every time we came to a roundabout, I had no idea when and how he was going to turn. They weren't like the US roundabouts I was used to.
It was about 3 PM when we reached my new temporary home. It was much more modern than the surrounding homes, or really any home I've come across since. Here's a video tour:
The staircases were so narrow, I had to unpack downstairs and walk armfuls of clothes upstairs to the master bedroom. I got about halfway through that before I more or less crashed.
By 5:00 I was exhausted. I had promised myself I would stay up until 8:00, but I was out at 5:30. I slept until around 11:30 PM, woke up, managed to go back to sleep, but by 3:30 AM I was wide awake. Jet lag, you miserable curse.
I'm behind on my entries so I'll cut here and start a new one for the rest of the week.