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Embracing the Britishisms

LifeHannah DrakeComment

Instead of my usual Expat Diaries post, today I want to talk about some of the differences in British culture that I've experienced in the last 14 months. Before my first trip across the pond, I naively thought the UK was simply a better extension of the US in many ways. And while a lot of it feels familiar, there's quite a bit that different. There haven't been huge things that have given me culture shock during my time here, but instead it's little things that I should know that just don't feel right. Like opening a bank account. My days sitting across from a Wells Fargo banker opening a new account or discussing my current accounts aren't that far off, but somehow opening a new bank account last summer was insanely frustrating and complicated for me.

A lot more is different than you would think, like I said, so today I wanted to highlight just a handful of those differences that I've noticed, some of which I enjoy, some I'm indifferent about, some have been difficult to adjust to.

LANGUAGE

I'm sure most Americans have their own idea of what words and phrases British people use. Some are probably fairly accurate, but I'm here to tell you I have never heard someone seriously say "pip, pip, cheerio" or "hello, governor". While I've embraced much of the wording and phrasing that Luke uses (for example, I say bin instead of trashcan, cinema instead of theatre, trainers instead of tennis shoes or sneakers, jumper instead of sweater), and I think I've fully accepted British spelling thanks to my time in the workforce, I still struggle with some of the phrases. Every once in a while, someone will use a phrase I've never heard. (The other day two people said "he likes to throw his toys out of the pram" as in he throws fits.) It happens less and less frequently with Luke now where we have to kind of find out what we're trying to say. Like when Luke said aerial, meaning antenna. I've also developed two pet peeves about British English. Firstly, people seem to use "myself" and "me" or "I" interchangeably and that just doesn't work grammatically. Secondly, a lot of people at my work call lunch "dinner" and dinner "tea" and while it might sound quaintly British, it drives me nuts. But I've also noticed that even if we have the same phrases, some are considered rude to the other. Maybe this isn't just a US vs. UK thing, but here's the biggest example in our relationship: If Luke asks me if I want something and I respond with "sure", he feels that's disrespectful, no matter my tone. On the flip side, if I thank Luke for something and he responds with "it's okay", I feel that's disrespectful, no matter the tone. We're trying to be better for each other. And for the record, I may not be great at recognising accents yet (unless its from Liverpool), but I'm happy to say that I at least understand more accents than I did 14 months ago.

UNITS OF MEASUREMENT 

It might not be a surprise that the UK uses different units of measurement. They use a 24-hour clock instead of a 12-hour clock. (I changed my phone and computer to be 24-hours a few months before I moved last year to try to get the hang of it. I think I've finally done it, but for some reason 17:00 and 19:00 always trip me up.) Baking was tricky at first because they work mostly in grams. I kind of straddle the line between grams and cups since most of my recipes are American, but I did convert some since we didn't have measuring cups for the longest time. Now I almost prefer grams because it's more accurate and seems to require less washing afterwards. Obviously they use Celsius instead of Fahrenheit, which has proven to be the most difficult. Truth be told, I'm a bit (okay, alot) resistant to it too (outside of the kitchen, because I have no choice but to use Celsius in our oven, of course) because 32 to 100 in Fahrenheit is only 0 to 37 in Celsius. I just feel like there's a difference between 74 and 75 and Celsius doesn't accommodate for that! ;) The UK does, however, use miles, which is different than the rest of Europe. They measure fuel efficiency in miles per gallon, but buy it in litres. I mean, what?!

SHOPPING

One of my favourite things about the UK is that taxes are included in the price on items at stores. So if you see that something is £25, you don't need to worry about trying to figure out the tax so you know how much you need to give the cashier. You'll give them £25 and they'll give you a receipt. So simple! One thing I can't make up my mind about quite yet is store hours. Shops close fairly early around here, mostly by 8:00 on weekdays and Saturdays, even the big stores at the mall. On Sundays, it's even earlier. Also on Sundays, grocery stores over a certain size are only open from 10:00 until 4:00, so you have to plan accordingly. There's nothing worse that realising on Sunday evening that you don't have everything you need for dinner. Smaller grocery stores will be open later because they're under a certain square footage, but they obviously have fewer items, so if you need something specific, you might be out of luck. However, I do like their reasoning for having shorter business hours. They're giving their employees opportunities to have a life outside of work and to spend time with their families. And if I remember correctly, most places were open a little longer around Christmastime, but it wasn't anything too extreme. And you would never see anything like Black Friday hours over here, especially running into national holidays. 

GROCERY SHOPPING

Here, you're going to get charged 5p per bag, no matter where you are. I experienced that in Boulder before I moved, and I'm reading that more cities and states are working toward that now, but it's e v e r y w h e r e here, even beyond grocery stores. If you want a cart, you have to put a pound coin (or a token you bought for a pound) into the handle to unlock it from the rest. That means you have to return your cart to a designated spot otherwise you won't get your coin/token back. There are no carts left around the car parks. It's genius! You also can't take the carts off the property, as they have a magnet in the wheels and will lock when you get to the edge of the lot and I think that's pretty cool. Grocery shopping is otherwise the same. I always feel like it's cheaper here, especially produce, but I haven't actually crunched the numbers with an exchange rate. And it's not like all American foods and products have made there way over here. Some ingredients that I would consider standard seem a bit more rare, but we're often able to find them in the Indian section. Like cornmeal or popcorn kernels. The grocery store we go to has a small "American" section where we often buy Kraft Macaroni. They also sometimes have root beer (you'll never see it on a menu), marshmallows, pop tarts, Reese's peanut butter cups, Mike & Ike's, and more. I guess I'm just an adult because I kind of love grocery shopping, hence why it has its own category.

TEA CULTURE

I've never really worked in a large office before, so maybe this is true in the States, but there really seems to be a tea culture here. At work, people offer to make tea or coffee for everyone else and most people prefer tea, especially in the afternoons. Are people just nicer here or do people do that in the States too? Because so many people enjoy a simple tea with milk and or sugar, there's less of a Starbucks (or Costa) culture of running out for a £5 coffee even just once a day. But that might just be the demographic of people I work with. Either way, I just think it's nice that people drink tea all day and make tea for one another all the time. By the way, the UK Starbucks rewards app sucks. Oh yes, you can't forget that people definitely have a preference on what shade their tea should be depending on how much milk is in it. Afternoon tea isn't a regular thing either. People may go out for a special occasion or every once in a while, but don't picture the whole country stopping every afternoon so we can all sit down for a tea and some cucumber sandwiches.

HEALTHCARE

I've talked about this on my blog before, but going to the doctor was a bit of a different experience. I made an appointment at Luke's GP's office to get established here earlier this year. They offered me really bonkers times, like 8:07 or 8:23 and my OCD brain just couldn't take it. When I went to my appointment, it was super quick. I didn't have to pay a co-pay and I pay for the NHS out of my pay check. (I also paid an NHS surcharge with my spousal visa.) "Free" healthcare is awesome, you guys. At my appointment with my GP, they referred me to a cardiologist (I'm fine, but I have a history of heart problems) and they said it would be about a 16 week wait. It's a non-emergency appointment so I'm lower priority, but even in the States you'd have to wait at least a couple of weeks. And bonus, I'm not going to have to pay anything out of pocket to have an appointment with a cardiologist!

DRIVING

If you've been around here long, you probably know I don't drive in the UK. I'm actually kind of terrified about it, and no it's not because of being on the other side of the road or car. I'm used to that now. I could have driven on my Colorado license until June, I think, during my first year abroad. And I even have a UK provisional license, but I've never used it. It's the narrow roads, the roundabouts, and different traffic signs that worry me. It seems like a lot of people here take driving lessons, at least the people I know, and Luke's been hoping I'll agree to take some soon. Also, you can't get your license until you're 17 in the UK.

MORE

One of the things I found most strange about the UK when I first visited was the lack of flat sheets. They only have a fitted sheet (although you can find plenty that don't have the elastic in the corners to really hook around the mattress) and a duvet. It certainly makes the bed easier to make in the morning!

You always have to ask for water at a restaurant and you'll have to specify that you just want tap water. A lot of places will give you small cups and the server won't be around every five minutes to top it up. Though, I haven't experienced having to pay for tap water in the UK like I have in restaurants in Denmark and Sweden.

Movies. Movies are different here sometimes. From what I can tell, there seems to be a small UK market that releases films here that I don't think would come out in the States. But on top of that, sometimes film titles are changes (and it's reflected on my IMDb since they know where I am!). Like The Avengers. Here it's called Avengers Assemble to avoid confusion with a previously released film. Or I noticed on one of our TV apps that instead of the final two American Pie films simply being called American Wedding and American Reunion, they're called American Pie: The Wedding and American Pie: Reunion. Sometimes films will have different release dates too. We got Thor: Ragnarok and I believe Black Panther a week before the States, and we were supposed to get Avengers: Infinity War a week early too, but they moved up the US release date. It seems like we got Jumanji weeks earlier than the States, but other films, like Lady Bird and now Ant-Man and the Wasp have been a month (or more!) later. We saw the former while we were in Colorado in July, but it didn't come out here until 2 August. Also, with all this Movie Pass news happening across the pond, I feel I should say Luke and I both have unlimited memberships to our cinema for less than £18/month. It's a large cinema chain in the country and we can go to something like all but two locations. Plus we get discounts on concessions.

Phone plans seem to be incredibly cheap compared to in the States. Luke and I don't share a plan because it doesn't make sense. In total, we pay something like £30 a month for our phone plans, which seems like a drop in the bucket compared to some plans available in the States. Before I moved, I contributed something like $40 to a family plan to pay off my phone, have unlimited calls and texts, and less data than I have now. Phone plans don't need to be so expensive, America! Do you hear me, cell phone companies?!

People give each other their bank details to pay each other all the time and I still can't get used to that. You can't use Venmo here, so instead you'll just give someone your account number and sort code and they'll just pay you directly into your account. Both numbers are even printed on your debit card! Also, we've moved on to contactless payments, up to £30 per transaction, instead of just the chip. That means you just tap your card on the machine and don't have to enter your PIN. When we were in the States last, there were still shops that didn't accept the chip.

From what I've heard, the school system is a bit different here. I still don't fully understand it and I probably won't unless we have kids using it so my apologies for the lack of information. The school year is different, with school starting the first week of September, breaking for Christmas at the end of the first term. (They don't have Thanksgiving so no Thanksgiving break.) Then they go back to school until Easter, when the second term ends, and get another break. The final term starts when they return and then they go until mid-July. So two two-week breaks and a six-week summer. There are more differences, like what they call the grades (Year One, Year Two, etc.), requirements for how long they have to go, plus continuing with either school or formal training, how they apply to colleges (including only being able to apply to either Oxford or Cambridge, if interested in either), and more. Maybe part of why Hogwarts seemed so magical was because it was such a different system from the US school system, but it's quite obviously inspired by the UK schooling system, including O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s.

Bathrooms are a bit different here too. The toilet bowls are shaped differently, but it's hard to explain without having seen an American toilet for a bit. There also aren't usually outlets in bathrooms, even in homes, unless it's a new build and there's a plug for an electric shaver and that's it. (So people have vanities in the bedroom instead.) In public bathrooms, the stall doors don't have gaps around them so you can't see into the stalls, which is really nice. I've also noticed that a lot more public bathrooms are going green with dryers and environmentally friendly toilets. (See, climate change isn't a debate here. It's widely accepted to be fact and it's a non-partisan issue, with both sides working to curb our effect on the environment.)

The best part about living in the UK has got to be the number of holiday days you get per year. My company offers 25 days to all full time employees, plus eight bank holidays (including Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Years Day), and the option to buy up to ten more days off. It still boggles my mind. Especially because by January, Luke and I had essentially planned our whole year and used up all our holidays, including the five extra we both have. (With two long trips back to CO this year and our honeymoon, it was quite easy.)

Twenty Eight

LifeHannah Drake2 Comments

Another year over. A new one just begun.

Sorry, I couldn't say that first line without the second. Thanks, Beatles!

I turn 28 today and it feels kind of meh. I'm inching closer to 30 and further away from being able to remember how old I am. I think 27 never really registered and I've been stuck on 26 for the last year. Not for vanity reasons, but maybe just because there's nothing memorable about being 27. [Insert shrugging emoji here.]

As I think back on the last year, it's kind of bananas where I started and where I ended. Perhaps getting married (then wedded) was the only big thing that happened this year, but on this side of 27, I'm someone's w i f e and that still blows my mind. We're in the same house we were in a year ago, but we're not exactly in the same place. In addition to being married, we've travelled a bit in the last year. We visited Wales (it counts), Ireland, France, Scotland, and have been back to the States. We have two incomes this year instead of one. And of course I have the right to stay in the country for another two years as opposed to last year when I only had three months left on my visa on my birthday. But we're also different people. Our relationship is stronger. Our connection and understanding of one another is deeper. I feel like we've never been in a better place.

Individually, I think I've grown a lot this year. It hasn't exactly been easy adjusting to life in a new country and I think sometimes people (myself included) downplay it because it's only England. We speak the same language. Our pop culture overlaps quite a bit. They have a handful of Chipotles (and despite my pleading on Twitter, no plans to open one in Birmingham). Even the NFL--and now the NBA--play here a few times a year. But it's not the same and sometimes it's genuinely culturally shocking. As someone who knows a lot about pop culture, I've never felt more useless than in a trivia round about sitcoms because they're all British shows my peers grew up watching. Besides that, I've focused more on myself this year than perhaps ever before. I've embraced self care and self love. I've been working on changing my inner dialogue. I've explored my creative side in multiple ways. And I'm trying not to put so much emphasis on what people think of me. It's an everyday battle, but those are things I wasn't doing so much of at 26.

Last year, I declared 27 to be the age I would get married, find my next dream job, and buy my first house. One outta three ain't bad. I'm still working on the dream job and buying a house in the last year would have been wildly optimistic considering our financial situation the second half of 2016. But this year is a chance to fix those last two. (And if I don't, it'll be okay.)

I also set some goals and intentions for my year ahead and I'd like to do that again this year.

PRACTICE PHOTOGRAPHY EVERY WEEK

For the last year or so, I've really been interested in photography, and even more so since we got our Panasonic Lumix in December. Lately, I've fallen into only getting my camera out when we're travelling or doing something special. This year, I want to focus on documenting everyday life and sharpen my skills by photographing both ordinary things and special things.

REACH FOR A BOOK INSTEAD OF NETFLIX

I've had a bad habit for years where I just always have TV (usually Netflix) on in the background. It's caused me to watch the same ten sitcoms in their entirety dozens of times. Lately, I've been watching less TV thanks to my love of podcasts, but I'm still neglecting books. Last year, my goal was to read 27 books, and I completed approximately four. That's unacceptable! I need to change my mindset to where discovering a new story via book is more appealing that diving back into a world I've already visited a number of times on TV.

FOCUS ON PRESENCE

Again, instead of constantly reaching for my phone to mindlessly scroll through social media or play another round of Two Dots, I want to be present where I'm at. Especially if that's with friends or family. And especially if that's in my marriage. This year, I want to say goodbye to evenings on the couch with Luke with the TV on and our phones in our hands. That's not quality time together and it's not sustainable for our relationship. I want to be present in my own life.

PRACTICE MINDFULNESS

To me, mindfulness is more than just meditating regularly. (Though I do want to get back on track with that.) I want to be more mindful of what I say. I want to be more mindful of what I eat. I want to be more mindful of how I spend my time and with whom I spend my time. 

MOVE MORE

This year I've gotten l a z y, I'm sad to say. It makes me believe that the only thing that (sometimes) kept me moving over the last few years was working at a fitness studio. I haven't found a gym or anything remotely similar here in England, but I also haven't looked much. Luke and I did one hot yoga class in the spring, but we haven't been back. I've talked about doing yoga for 30 days in a row, but I've even fallen out of my morning yoga habit recently. Even though walking is one of my main modes of transportation now, I don't really move beyond that. We'll always start working out again "tomorrow", but tomorrow never comes. So this year, I want to move more. I want to find some way to move my body that I can hold on to and keep doing week after week.

KEEP EXPLORING

I told Luke around my one year anniversary of being an expat that I wanted to explore more of the UK and I'm still clinging to that goal. So far, the dream life of jetting off to a new European country every month has mostly proven to be just that--a dream. But there's really no excuse for me to have seen so little of my new country 14 months in. So this year I want to tackle more places on my list for the UK, explore more of my own city, and yes, of course, see more of Europe.

SEEK OPEN MINDEDNESS

In this toxic political climate, with all its divisiveness, I've found it easier and easier to shut myself off to outside opinions. In recent months, I've built up an echo chamber for myself on social media, particularly on Twitter. A few weeks ago, I decided I would start following Colorado Representatives from the other party, not just mine. After all, they represent my voice too. I'm starting to trickle it in a bit, but mainly I want to stop judging people for differing opinions and start listening instead. I would love to be one of those people who can calmly ask questions and have a thoughtful discussion rather than trying to "win" an argument. That's not productive and that won't result in any change, especially in this day and age.

REACT WITH KINDNESS INSTEAD OF ANGER

This doesn't feel like an easy undertaking, but I'll be the first to admit that a lot of times when something hasn't gone my way, when I'm inconvenienced, when I'm asked to do something I don't want to do, I get short and snarky with people. I let them know I'm annoyed in my voice, my words, and my body language. I'm rude in the moment and then I turn around and carry that anger forward with me for a while. It's not hurting them anymore, only me. I don't exactly know where to start with this one and it seems like it will take a lot of practice, but I'm willing to commit to trying today.

I'm excited for 28! And I'm excited that it starts with what's sure to be a delicious sushi dinner with my husband tonight.

You Can't Go Home Again

LifeHannah Drake8 Comments

Today, I wanted to share some of what I've been reflecting on after my first trip back "home".

I've been thinking about that saying "you can't go home again". Home is never the same. You're never the same. And I think in this case, it's true. I was gone from Colorado for almost exactly 13 months. A lot changed in my pre-England life. People have moved away. New buildings have been constructed and old buildings have been torn down. A lot at my old job has changed. And even though I slept in the same bed I did before I moved and drove the same car I did before I moved, it still felt different. I said to people it felt like an extremely long weekend in my "old life", but something was still slightly off.

When my mom picked us up from the airport, I didn't even think twice about getting in on the passenger side. At lunch that afternoon, Luke mentioned that the cars in the intersection were freaking him out and I thought, "oh yeah, we're on the other side of the road." I took that to mean I wasn't as assimilated to my English life as I had thought. Interestingly enough, I had no problem adjusting back when we got in our car at the airport in London.

A friend who had lived abroad but now lives back in Colorado, where she's also from, said, "Why can't you belong to both places?"

For the most part, I was quickly submerged back into life in Colorado. I didn't need to look for directions except for maybe twice when I couldn't quite remember how to get somewhere. I did a lot of the driving, which I hadn't done since I left the States. I felt at home in my mom's house, and as comfortable as I did before at my dad's and my sister's. The food we had tasted as good as I remembered it. The mountains were where I left them. And it was as hot in July as it ever was.

But in other ways, it was really hard and really sad. There were people who didn't reach out to see me at all before or during my visit. There were people who, when I texted them, didn't seem interested in trying to see me at all. There were people who I just simply never heard from, despite our connections on social media where I was so obviously back. There were people who reached out too late and we didn't have any time left to schedule something.

Of course communication is a two way street. I could list my own (poor) excuses and take my share of the responsibility. But some of that really hurt my feelings. It was tough to come to terms with the fact that some of my friendships are one-sided, some of my friendships aren't a priority to either party, and that some of my friendships are just gone. It's something I've been thinking about a lot lately, even before going back. I've been trying to cut ties with people when the friendship becomes toxic for me. When I'm stressing about why this person hasn't texted me back but has posted a new Instagram or trying to read between the lines of a message. It's not healthy and it's not worth it. But that doesn't mean the ending of those friendships don't hurt. And my visit home seemed to bring the apparent ending to some friendships I didn't think were over.

We'll be back later this year and maybe some of that will change, but that's where my head and my heart are at right now. None of those relationships are beyond repair, but from where I'm standing right now, it looks like it would be a lot of work. And that's what long distance friendships take anyway.

While we were there, we did see a lot of people. We were able to catch up with friends and family. We got to see a lot of people at my brother's wedding as well. It was great seeing family friends I hadn't seen in years and family and friends who weren't able to make it across the pond to our wedding. We answered questions about our wedding and our life abroad. People kept bringing up my lack of driving and now Luke is really pushing for me to take lessons. It was a lot of the same, as those things go, but it was also a reminder that this isn't my home anymore. I would have seen a lot of those people in the last year. I would have caught up with them more frequently. I would have met some of my friends' kids already. 

The most frequent question we were asked is if we would ever move back. The reasons that we chose the UK a year and a half ago haven't changed, so it's difficult to say. We're both open to the idea of moving back eventually, but it wouldn't be under these circumstances. I suppose moving back would be tough as well because the longer I stay here, the more here feels like home. We'll always be leaving behind people we love and places we'll miss. We'll always be closing the door on a chapter of our lives and even if we arrive back at that door, we won't be the same people as the two who left. 

Maybe this post seems depressing or all over the place. But the truth is I'm still processing being home. I'm still digging to the bottom of why in the middle of one night while we were there, in the darkness, I buried my face in Luke's arm and quietly asked him not to hate me for wanting to move back right away. I'm still digging to the bottom of why when we opened the door to our house when we got back, I felt a wave of relief and peace come over me at the threshold to our home.

Sometimes it feels like I don't belong in either place. Like I'm straddling both worlds, unable to fully commit to either. But I keep coming back my friend's words: Why can't I belong to both places?