Saturday, May 9, 2009
One Year Anniversary
Last Sunday was my one-year anniversary in London. I celebrated it with a lovely home-cooked English breakfast made with ingredients from the Islington Farmer's Market, a shopping trip on Regent's Street (where I picked up a pair of fabulous platform sandals), cocktails in Canonbury and dinner at Sabor on Essex Road.
It's hard to believe it has been a whole year since I arrived in the UK. Simultaneously it feels like yesterday and a million years ago that I packed up all of my worldly possessions and got on a plane and moved here. Sometimes I look back and revisit that moment when I boarded a Virgin Airways flight, and looked out the window as we took off, shut my eyes tight and counted to 10, and I'm surprised that I actually did that. But I did, and I'm so proud of myself; my biggest achievement was not getting on that plane, but everything I accomplished since then.
Sitting here with my cup of tea (natch) and a BBC documentary about the South Pacific islands on TV in the background, I've been rereading Bloody Brill posts from this time last year. I've grown so much as a person since moving to London, in nearly every way. I feel more mature, more poised, more confident, more balanced, and more myself than I have for quite a while. Professionally, I feel like I've learned more in the past year than I have in my entire career. I was just Skyping with an old friend who lives in Brooklyn – I told him that even when I'm unhappy here, I'm happier than I was back in New York.
I've posted a lot about my love of New York City on this blog, and it has not diminished in the slightest. But that love has matured - it is less of an infatuation and more of a fondness and acceptance for the city as it truly is. Leaving New York for another international capital, one with a completely different culture and attitude, gave me an insight into how New York lives and breathes that I never could have understood had I stayed. And leaving also gave me permission to accept that maybe New York isn't the end-all, be-all of urban centers.
Beyond gaining a deeper understanding of New York City, I've also learned more about myself as an American. Living in the UK means having to deal with humor in a completely different way, and I've learned that Americans just can't deal with the searing cruelty of British sarcasm. We're just too earnest - we love what we love and care deeply about everything (mostly ourselves), and anyone who dissects our carefully constructed selves with a rapier sharp wit is not appreciated. I've had to grow a thick skin and gracefully let the jabs fall away. I've noticed that since stopping my protests and annoyance, I've gained a lot more fans. Probably the best compliment I received in the last year was from one of the more sarcastic Brits I've met, who told me I impressed him with my ability to fit into British office culture.
But being earnest isn't bad, and I was reminded of the British reaction to Obama's inauguration earlier this year. What was one of the US's finest moments was quickly derided by Brits, who made callous jokes and mocked our austere pomp and circumstance. It was one moment when I was truly angry at the UK, for allowing their smugness and cynicism to shadow a moment that belonged to so many more people than just Americans. It helped me refocus my perspective of British culture, see the balance between the UK and US, and see another facet of our nations' "special relationship".
I think the most confusing, yet rewarding part of moving to another country is assimilation into the multifaceted behaviors in social rituals. Something as simple as a greeting and complex as buying drinks at the pub are windows into how a population views itself and society; one takes them for granted in one's native culture, but sees them as an outsider in a new land. On the surface, my life in London isn't that much different from my life in New York: I have the same job, work for the same company, live in a neighborhood that has a high proportion of Americans, shop at a farmer's market. But English and American culture differ in subtle but radical ways, so even the shared elements of my US and expat lives are completely different.
Beyond assimilation, my life has changed simply because I have so many opportunities to travel and see the world. I've been to new places like Amsterdam and Spain, and old favorites like Paris. I'll be returning to Italy, where I studied for a summer during college, in September and also exploring Croatia. My proximity to parts of the world I'd never considered visiting has opened my eyes to new and varied experiences that I once thought were beyond my reach.
One of the most poignant aspects of this past year is realizing which of my friends kept in touch and who has drifted away in an out-of-sight, out-of-mind way. I've been pleasantly surprised by those who have made the effort, those who I talk to nearly every day as if I'm just up the road and not across the ocean, and especially those who I've reunited with either virtually or in person. And of course my grandmother makes me proud by regularly reading this blog, Skyping and emailing me. On the other hand, the friends I've made here are some of the best friendships. Even when I'm homesick, I feel comforted and genuinely welcomed into this crazy land by lovely, lovely people.
So I'm embarking on year two... still typing my z's instead of s's and dropping extra u's out of words left and right. It's not been an easy year, but one that I wouldn't exchange for any other experience. My one year anniversary truly was a milestone and an achievement, but I'm definitely looking forward to an even better year two.
PS: Thank you to all the Bloody Brilliant readers. It's really rewarding to know people enjoy the blog. I hope you all keep reading, and if you have any suggestions please do let me know. Cheers!