Facebook has publicised a lot of personal information, but I never thought I’d be reading a wall post telling me my mother had had a stroke in England.
Within 24 hours, my life had changed. Within 24 days, I’d moved from Manhattan to middle England, from a media career to being mum’s carer.
After a few days of bedside vigils, I realised that, if mum’s stroke had happened in the US, I would not have been able to afford the 15 weeks she was in hospital, despite my health insurance. I was very thankful for the NHS.
But from then on, my partner (also a transplanted Brit) and I would be working from a shed at the bottom of the garden in Northamptonshire, lodged between an apple and a plum tree, instead of gazing over the New York harbour with Lady Liberty in the distance. We had got used to ignoring the Westside highway groaning with sirens all day, yet now when we heard a siren in the countryside it really was quite exciting.
After seven years away, my first UK shopping experience was strangely hallucinogenic. The white clinical ambience of Waitrose made me feel as though I was in a cloud, or even an uptown Apple store. I loved gliding around with a massive trolley down the wide aisles. My local supermarket in Battery Park had aisles so small some people had to shop sideways.
And I’d forgotten about the fridges piled full of microwave meals. Five-minute fisherman’s pie! America may be the home of fast food, but not of prepared meals. Were they the reason behind the new obese Brits? I hadn’t remembered the English being this large.
Still, we relished watching proper British TV. In New York, we would be out most nights; now we stayed in to watch compelling TV dramas (and eat our microwave meals, of course).
Even American TV shows looked better here, as they weren’t interrupted by commercials every three minutes. We’d go to Yankee Stadium to watch baseball and wonder why the players would be kicking their heels every few minutes before we realised they were stalling for the ad breaks.
But we adore smart British TV ads. Yep, we’re fessing up: we’ve missed British satire and humour. You just don’t get that British edginess on the other side of the Atlantic, whether it’s in the jokes, the architecture, the clothes or the lop-sided haircuts I’m seeing everywhere. Even Family Guy always has a happy ending.
We have also realised how much we’ve missed British TV news: world events reported calmly without the whooshing sounds between each topic that Murdoch’s Fox News seem to enjoy. In Britain, particulary with the international reports, you’re made to feel as though you know about the world.
The weather reporting is a bit too quiet, though. I do miss the Doppler-radar psychedelic graphics and the American anchormen trying to see if they can get blown away in a hurricane.
There are other things to adjust to, too: English-pubs-cum-Indian-restaurants, for example, and the new cider snobbery. I have become totally addicted to sugar-free double-strength squash. (I once tried telling my American friends about the concept of Ribena. They didn’t understand: “Why would you water down a juice? Wouldn’t you buy it already mixed?”)
My partner and I are now being introduced into a very different British society, that of the UK carers’ network. We get support from various societies and departments we never knew about but which have become surprisingly invaluable. There is no Prince’s Trust in America to help carers, no wide aisles in shops where you can turn wheelchairs around, and not that many disabled parking places.
We have returned to discover a different Britain but one we’re keen to learn about. And to think we’d written it off.
Elisabeth H, 56, is a graphic designer from London, now living in Northamptonshire.
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