Posts Tagged ‘US’

Something I Miss:

The chemist’s shop (pharmacy) in the little town where I lived in the UK was a step back in time, and delightful and frustrating for it in equal measure.  If it had disabled access, I was unaware — all I know is that it had a narrow doorway and an awkward step that was incredibly difficult to manoeuvre with a heavy pushchair.  The hours were posted on the door: Monday – Saturday, 9-5; closed for lunch from 1-2; half-day closing on Wednesdays.

Once inside, there was an old glass-and-wood counter on the right from which you could buy magazines, cigarettes, wine and whiskey, or sweets.  To the left was a rabbit’s warren of shelving units — packed so close that the pushchair only just fit through — offering a dizzying array of almost anything a person living in a small town might want.  The carpet was trodden to a manky brown-grey by a thousand muddy boots, and jarred with the sleek and brightly lit cosmetics displays.  The place smelled musty, always, as if what it really needed was for someone to throw open the windows and let the wind blow through.

At the far end of the shop stood the chemist’s counter, with the traditional set-up of the cashier’s till at the ground level where the customers were, but the chemist (pharmacist) work up high on a raised dais.  The chemist popped down regularly to answer questions and give advice any sort of ailment that was presented — in the traditional role of a sort-of doctor’s stand-in — but then went back up to the solitude and privacy of the mezzanine to work in peace.

The cashiers knew our names — it was a small town, after all.  They saved my favourite magazines for me.  And the prescriptions — every one and every time — cost £7.20.

Something I Love:

Here in the US, the girl’s doctor asks me which pharmacy we use, as she peers squinty-eyed at her computer screen.  I tell her and she taps in the prescription.  “Are you going straight there?  They’ll have it ready in about 20 minutes.”

When we pull up, the girls are asleep, exhausted from the adrenaline kick that a visit to the doctor’s always brings, so I go round the back to the drive-thru.  The cashier doesn’t know us, but she checks our insurance card and, as promised, the prescription is ready, all packaged up in its paper bag and waiting for us to collect it.  There are two more refills, and the pharmacy will hold those on file until I ring next month to say I am ready to drive-thru and pick those up as well.

And the girls sleep on — undisturbed and unaware — and I marvel at how easy this is.


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That I am an American has never been in question.  I need only open my mouth and — if you are a Brit — you will recognise the fact immediately.  If you are an American… well, twenty years ago you would have known right away — these days, you might be a wee bit confused.  But I was born here and grew up here, and — though I know am fully British as well (not half-and-half, but whole-and-whole) — my Americanness is not in question.

And yet my being American is just an accident of birth.  My parents, both Brits, were here only temporarily when I was born, working in the States for a few years — so the plan went — before moving back.  My father’s sudden death turned all that on its head and I ended up growing here… ended up an American.  And yet, if we had stayed in the UK and hadn’t moved back to the US last year, that fact would have become only an anomalous blip in a long and continuous line of Britishness: my parents and grandparents and all my ancestors completely British, my children and all my decedents just as British as well.  Indeed, when we go back to the UK, that will be the case again.  Pulling back and looking at it from afar, these two quick forays into America will become mere  interludes in a long line — generations — of  otherwise unbroken Britishness.

And that feels so very strange to me, because my Americanness is such a big part — such a real part — of who I am.    It’s really quite startling to think of it as an accident, as a blip…

We are going back — that is decided.  We knew it the morning before we left.  We both agreed on it a few months after we moved here.  We have been looking forward to it, and I have waxed lyrical here on my blog about it.  We are both quite settled.  We will all be Brits once again.

Imagine my surprise then when…  well, let me explain…

I was watching one of my favourite telly programmes — this was a couple of weeks ago, M had just got home from his trip to England.  It’s a property programme, a bit of eye candy, in which two experts guide househunters to their dream home.  I always watch it with a mix of excitement, jealousy, despair, and irritation.  The houses are interesting — the voyeurism is too — but the prices are ever eye-watering.  The house we bought here in the US would cost us five times as much in the UK.  And yet, their budget is always astronomical.  Where do these people get their money?!? It intrigues me, frustrates me — I can’t help but watch.

But as I watched it the other week, the sensation was strange, less voyeur and more uncomfortable than usual.  I was thinking about going home, thinking too much.  How will we ever move back? The figures never add up — even a two-up, two-down terrace in a questionable area of town seems beyond our means, and it always depresses me.  But there was more to it today… the sensation was strange…

And then the surprise, a quiet voice in my head: I don’t want to go back.

I stopped dead at that — every thought stopped as my brain tried to comprehend what it had just heard.  It had not been expected, not even suspected.  Had I really said that…?   Why would I not want to go back…?!?  I know I want to!  I didn’t believe it… it’s not true!  And yet… and yet…  I knew right away that it is true, at least in a little.

I’ve been thinking about it ever since, rolling that quiet statement around in my mind and trying to make it balance with all the other feelings I hold.  And I think I understand.  Our first year here was rough — we were fighting fires almost from the moment we arrived and we had hardly a moment to draw breath.  But, though we are still fighting a few fires even now, things have begun to slow down considerably.  There’s been a bit more time to to sit and relax, to enjoy the warm air of the summer, to go out and see a bit of the world…  to see a bit of America.

And I am beginning to remember what is wonderful about America.  We have been to fibre festivals, and driven through mountains and farmland and small towns to get there.  We have gone to lovely state parks, with deep woods and vast lakes, and sat in the sun watching the light dance across the water.  We have had dinner at grand and historic inns that sing out the vibrant history of the country.  We went to Gettysburg, and the place affected me profoundly, stopped my heart.  These past few months, I have seen the America that I had remembered, the America that I had hoped for.  These past few months, I have begun to fall in love.

But the problem is that when I say “we”, I mean my mother and I, with the girls.  The fibre festivals were daytrips during the week; the state park was a Tuesday with some old family friends;  Gettysburg was a quick break while M was in England.  My mother is so excited to have her daughter and grandchildren nearby, and she delights in taking us away like that.  M and I don’t have the money for getaways or dinner on our own — he toils away at work all week, and sees the same city neighbourhoods day after day, and then our weekends are spent at home, busy with domestic chores and conserving our pennies.  In the year-and-a-half that we’ve lived here, he’s got away for one weekend: it was a fibre festival that, yes, was set in some beautiful countryside but, to be honest, it’s quite possible he was too bored to notice it.

So we’ve been going on separate emotional journeys, he and I.  I have been discovering what there is to love — and loving it.  And he has been seeing exactly the same thing he’s seen since the day he arrived: the same dirty city from the same van, doing the same dirty jobs in the same dodgy neighbourhoods.  He is not much impressed and wants to go home;  I am being a surprised by that quiet voice in my head.

I’ve been honest with him about: told him about the voice, told him my feelings.  “We need to make sure we go on the same journey,” I said.  “When it comes time to go home, we need to have shared this, so we understand each other’s feelings.”  He agreed with a grunt.  But so far, we haven’t.  This weekend, I will take E1 to her tennis lesson while M works on the furnace.   Next weekend, he is working.  Perhaps in October…  I want so much to take him to Gettysburg…  and there’s another festival in New York, through some beautiful Pennsylvania countryside.  Oh, but the money… the money!

Money or not, I have to make this happen.  He has to get away — heaven knows he needs the break, and he needs to see America too.  But most of all, he and I must — absolutely must — go on this journey together, the same emotional journey.  Because when we do move back to the UK, and I do say goodbye to America… my America…  I will need him to understand what I am leaving.

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I walked out onto the front porch tonight, just for a moment, as the sun was setting.  It had been a hot and sweaty day, with the kind of direct bright sunshine that I’ve never liked, but the evening had begun to mellow all that.  And though it had threatened rain all day, it never come true on the promise, and yet the smell of  an impending storm hung in the air.

I was only dashing out for a moment to grab something that had been left outside — the children still needed to be fed and bathed and put to bed — but I found myself paused there on the porch.  It was just too seductive — so balmy, and quiet, the sunset golden pink…  I didn’t want to leave it.  It was utterly enchanting.

I have always loved English summers, with their cool freshness, their faint mildewy-ness, the warmish days and chilly evenings.  But they were all the forgotten — the last 15 years melted away — as I was transported to back to the summers I grew up with.  And I stood unmoving, frozen in place for a few moments, to drink it in.

English summers are blues and greens, gentle, and tender.  American summers are dusty golden yellow, harsh, and brash.

And beautiful, beautiful…   beautiful.

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I hit a real milestone in our repatting adventure the other day, one I wasn’t expecting at all.  Indeed, I hadn’t even given it a thought before.

Growing up in the US with an English mother, I was used to way people treated her because of her accent.  In shops, salespeople would sometimes just follow her about, ignoring other customers and hanging on every word she said — sometimes she appreciated the personal service, sometimes she disliked the intrusion.  A realtor once took her to see a $1million house, under the mistaken impression that we must be loaded just because she sounded posh to him.  And often, people would reply to her in an attempted English accent — I always noticed her slight flinch, but I never really understood it.  To me, their attempts were charming, flattering, funny, and usually, I thought, pretty good.

When I moved to the UK all those years ago, I had a perfectly American accent.  In reality, if you listened very closely, you’d be able to hear a tell-tale lilt that revealed there was something different in my background, but most people didn’t catch it.  Certainly the Brits I lived and worked with didn’t — to them, my accent was as American as apple pie and Chevrolet.

And, apparently, my accent was just too tempting as well — at least once a week, and sometimes more often, someone tried to imitate me.  I’d say something perfectly innocuous and what I’d hear back would come as a complete shock.  What were they saying?  What were they doing?  That strange sound!…  OH! It’s… it’s… it’s supposed to be me?!?  This is what they think I sound like?!?!?

And I’d smile… or wince — I was never quite sure which expression my face pulled — but no matter how I looked outwardly, on the inside I was always cringing.  They never, ever got it right.  No matter how many attempts at an American accent I endured, week after week, year after year, not one of them was anywhere near as good as the imitator thought it was, and every one was painful to hear.  Ah… at last, I understood why my mother’s face always registered that barely noticeable flinch.

But now, we are back home and I should blend smoothly back into the crowd.  Except that after years and years abroad, I don’t sound so very apple pie any more — most Americans, in fact, hear my now mixed accent and assume that I am a Brit born and bred.  It’s confusing to them — and amusing to me — when I explain that, actually, I was born just down the road.

So I should have been expecting it, but I wasn’t.  I was chatting away quite cordially with my neighbour yesterday when her voice suddenly jacked up an octave and she began speaking peculiarly, mangling her vowels and sounding a bit like the Queen being strangled.  For a moment, I didn’t get it.  And then she did it again, and I realised… she was trying to imitate me! And it was awful… awful.  That familiar feeling came over me, and I cringed inside.  But I tried very, very hard to be smiley on the outside while I quickly brought the conversation to a close.

And as I took the girls’ hands and walked back to the house I realised with a sigh that I’d reached, again, that most dubious of expat milestones.  And then I realised with surprise that I’d one-upped my mum… Oh, lucky me — I get it from both sides now!

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Something I Miss about Britain

Coffee served in a mug — or better yet, in a big cup and saucer, with a real spoon for stirring.  Over here in the US, it seems every coffee shop I go to gives me my coffee in a paper cup, regardless of whether I am order to go or to stay.

And a paper cup just doesn’t cut it for me — there’s no sense of leisure, no feeling that you can settle down and take your time and really enjoy your cuppa.  Holding a paper cup just isn’t anything like wrapping your hands around a real cup that sits heavy in your hand and goes clink when set it down.  Drinking from a paper cup makes me feel like I should hurry up, get on my way, get outta here…  It is the antithesis of what a coffee house is supposed to be about.  I have no idea why they use them!

Something I Love about the States

But the coffee that’s in that paper cup?  It’s rich and heavenly, every time.  It’s coffee that takes itself seriously, coffee that tastes like it means it.  Paper cup or not, the coffee here is just delicious.

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Today is quite a significant day and I feel I ought to write something monumental to match it, but no sooner do I start typing than all the words fall away from me.  I can’t catch them.  It’s been a year today since we moved to the US, and I don’t know what to say about it.  A year since we left England.  A year since we last saw all our dear friends.  A year — a year! — since I’ve walked through places that I can see with such clarity in my mind, that still feel so close that I should be able to just get up and go out the front door and go to them right now.  What words are for that?

It has been a hard year, there’s no doubt of that.  We’ve had a mysterious and devastating medical problem and E2’s diagnosis of multiple food allergies, which have both completely upended our lives.  We’ve had a sudden, frightening job loss and insurance problems and run up medical bills that we are still paying off.  We’ve lived most of the year stressed in a house that was being sold out from underneath us.  And we had a surprise tax bill that wiped out a huge chunk of our moving fund — the chunk that was meant to buy us furniture and bedding and all the stuff that makes a place feel like home.  I have really struggled to find a balance in my relationship with my mother, after 15 years of distant independence.  And there’s been a lot of loneliness.  And, for M, more heartbreak than either of us had known was coming.

And yet, for every set-back, there’s been an answer.  M got another job, one that suits him better.  And, as of the first of this year, we are all, at long last, completely insured.  The medical bills are being slowly paid off .   We have learned to manage our dietary restrictions, and even found a couple of safe places to eat out.  We’ve bought a house of our own which we both love.  And I’ve found a couple of friends whose company I really enjoy, and I’m working on making a few more.  And my mother has been an enormous help, an absolute force of love, provision, and care.

And though the funds for buying furniture disappeared, we’ve managed to pick up a few pieces  — a second-hand dining table and china cabinet, a family friend’s old washer and dryer.  And today, something that has really lifted my spirits: my father’s office was getting a new couch for their lobby and throwing the old one out, so he grabbed it for us and brought it round this afternoon.  I had assumed it would be…  well… probably pretty  awful — perfectly usable but not all that nice.  But to my utter surprise, it turns out that it is a low-line, sleek and modern, leather sofa of exactly the sort I would have chosen if I were paying for one.  I have spent the afternoon standing in the living room just staring at it in joyful disbelief!  And not only at the sofa itself, but at the way it has transformed the living room — which, up to now has contained only a rocking chair, an end table, and the china cabinet and, thus, not felt like a living room at all.  And that, in turn, has somewhat defined the feel of the whole house: empty living room led onto strangely unfurnished family room led onto bedrooms with mattresses on the floor…  It makes a home feel unhomey, to be so spare.  And it makes a person feel unsettled… uncommitted… transitory…

But this couch has changed that.  The room felt like…  a room.  I found myself today mentally arranging end-tables and coffee tables and area rugs and potted plants.  I feel I could invite someone around now without embarrassment and endless explanations as to why the place feels so odd.  I feel inspired to unpack the mound of moving boxes that has acted as our one design statement for the last two months.  …It’s amazing what a couch can do!

But there has been one set-back for which there has been no answer…  there is no answer here.  M’s heart is broken at being so far from his older two kids.  And no amount of house, or couch, or homeyness, or — the reason for the move — financial stability can make up for that.  And what financial stability we have achieved has all come at his expense anyway.  He hates that he gets no paid sick days, no holiday this year and a meagre five days next year; he is weary from working such long hours in this extreme weather (it was an 11 hour day on Friday, when the temperature was -20C); and despite his hours — and paycheques — being painfully short of late, he has had only two days off since Christmas weekend — and he’s on call again this weekend as well.  To be working so hard, and to be going to school at night as well, to be stressed by the erratic hours, to feel the pressure of his upcoming exams, and all while missing his kids so desperately…  Well, I know it feels like he is being kicked while he’s down.   There is only one solution for that, and I know he wants it badly.

And so, on this one-year anniversary of our arrival in the US — one year and one day since M asked me to make sure we came home someday — it feels appropriate to announce that we have decided to move back home to the UK in the next three to five years.  We’ve been talking about it on and off for a while, waffling and unsure, but once we made a firm decision, agreed on it, and put a timescale to it, it felt like a weight had been lifted off our shoulders.  It certainly felt like a weight had been lifted on mine — M, I think, was walking fully a foot off the ground.

Don’t get me wrong — this has been an amazing, changing, growing experience — and necessary to get us out of the hole we were in in the UK.  I am grateful for the gains we’ve made (and hopeful that the world economy will continue turning on its ear so we can somehow afford the move back) but they have come at a great cost that we can no longer shrug off.  When it comes time to leave the US, I know my heart will break afresh.  The truth is that I have two homelands and it will tear me up to leave this one, knowing it will be for good this time.  But M and I both know, in our hearts, that this is not right, being here is not right.  For all that has gone right with it, there is one crucial wrong that just cannot be ignored.  And that, in the end, has trumped everything.

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I’ve just realised that I never finished the story on our impossible immigrant insurance situation and wanted to just quickly correct that in case anyone is ever reading this blog because they are trying to find a solution to the same dilemma.

We finally found that Assurant were able to give cover to the girls and me on a short-term policy because we are US citizens. If I recall correctly, they were the only company who were able to do this — all the other insurance companies I contacted had residency requirements that meant that we didn’t qualify. If it weren’t for this one company, I honestly don’t know what we would have done — and I find that deeply concerning in an overall sense.

Assurant were also able to offer M a “travel policy” which would cover him. It’s called the Patriot America version of the Patriot Travel Medical plan from IMG-Global. Again, that was the only* policy that I found to cover him and, again, I don’t know what we would have done if it weren’t for Assurant.

I am utterly stunned and more than a little concerned that there seems to be only one source that provides a solution to this problem!


*I did find something called the “Inbound Immigrant” plan which would cover DH but not us (ie, non-US citizens) but would only go up to $100,000, which is inadequately low — more like doll-sized insurance than something for a full-grown person.

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