Monday, October 5, 2009

More existential London thinking

Whoa, flurry of posts! Sorry about that, kids. I thought I set it for future posting... ah well!

Since the holiday, I've been thinking about life as an expat in London, and whether I really "want" it. I mentioned before about having been here for 1.5 years now and that it's time I start really making my life here. Yes, I've got the Irishman and we have a great relationship (a big change for me!), and great colleagues at work that have migrated to friends. I'm really making an effort this fall to get out and meet people - preferably British people, not fellow expats - and make new friends and develop a social circle of my own. But that is hard, takes time, and every so often when I reflect on myself here I think that actually, I don't think they want me.

I know that's not true. English culture is, well, English, and they hardly welcome anyone that isn't English (that's right, even the Welsh and Scots aren't exactly their favorites) with open arms. But they are pleasant and if you prove yourself to be a genuine, tolerant, and warm person, they do reciprocate with a friendliness that cannot be matched. Sometimes, though, I pass by some English girls linked arm in arm, giggling at whatever joke they've just shared, and I think, actually, I'm not like them. My sense of humor isn't calibrated to British eccentricity, and I'm far too sensitive for the sarcasm.

And if I'm going to do this, really enter into British society and culture and assimilate, I need to change my American mannerisms in an unnatural way. I'm going to have to start adding U's and replace Z's with S's and not call Fall Fall but Autumn. If I do these things to fit in here, I automatically renounce my American pop cultural citizenship: how many people do you know who are mercilessly taunted for affecting an English accent? The first question people asked me when I announced I was moving to London was "will you get an accent?" - like I was going to rush down to a corner shop and pick one up immediately. What if I actually DO pick up the accent?

So what I think I've stumbled upon is the weird grey area in which every expat lands eventually - not quite a native, and no longer a full-fledged member of their own culture. My Irishman is like that; he's spent many years, on and off, in London, a few in Australia, and traveled extensively to the point where the English make fun of him for being Irish, the Irish make fun of him for sounding English, and he isn't really sure he likes either. But in the end, there is a reason why we do this. I have no intention of going back to the US any time soon, and the Irishman flat out refuses to move back to Dublin.

A friend of mine shared with me this blog post about why people like me put myself through this. Apparently, it could be DNA. But I also like to think that it is because doing this - entering the grey area, where nothing is defined and you have to fend for yourself - is actually better, more enriching, and ultimately more valuable than living a life at home where you know there is something out there that's bigger than yourself and the microcosm in which you were born. Seeing, understanding, experiencing it all... not just through movies or books or TV, but through your whole being.

When the grey does get to me, and I feel like saying to myself "what on earth are you DOING here?!?!", I remind myself of that article and the fact that I wholeheartedly believe that doing this, like doing anything challenging, is completely and 100% worth it.


  1. Hi Danielle, I wanted to thank you for providing this wonderful blog. I'm currently in school for social work and it is my plan to eventually move to the UK when I finish. I particularly like this blog and the link to Greg Wesson's site.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful words, experiences and pictures.


  2. Hi Kristina! Thanks for reading. It's so great to know that people are enjoying what I write and learning from my perspectives. Sometimes it feels like my own little online rant/diary, and to know that it's helping you as you prepare to move. If you'd like to get in touch about anything specific to moving over here, please feel free!

  3. I completely relate to this post. I think everyone I told asked me if I would be getting an accent, and followed up by being disappointed when I visited home and didn't have one

  4. Sorry, everyone I told that I was moving to London that is!

  5. Haha, thanks for sharing Melissa. It's always so reassuring when I hear people have had the same experiences!