We made it to and just past our one year mark of living here. Wow. I took some time to go back and read what I wrote on the blog when we were first here, and I’m happy to report that life is much smoother now and we’ve learned so very much in the past year. I sort of feel badly for my past self and how overwhelmed I was! However, going through some of that was a necessary evil in order to get us to where we are now. Anyway, we took some time to sit down and list a few things we’ve learned over the past year.
Get ready for a monster post. I see this as a good thing though – it means we’ve learned and grown and that living here has been worth all the initial stress.
About what we’ve learned:
We have grown up a lot in the past year. I know that’s healthy, but in some ways as I type that it sounds negative. I want to be youthful and carefree. I want to have the spark of creativity uniquely found in children. However, I’m grateful we learned (even if it was difficult at times) things like how to set up an international bank account and transfer money overseas. We moved to an entirely foreign city and within two weeks picked a neighborhood we had never heard of and found a home. We
learned are learning how to parent a toddler as opposed to the little baby that moved here with us. We’ve been forced out of our comfort zone and into a new culture.
We’ve learned and analyzed cultural differences and similarities. In learning about British cultural norms and traditions it’s caused us to reflect on our own culture and things we took for granted or expected. We’ve also been to a handful of other countries and seen snippets of other European cultures. While I don’t think it’s possible to understand the nuances of another culture if you’re only there for a week, we’ve still accumulated enough knowledge to compare and contrast some cultural differences in the 10 different countries we’ve been to in the past year.
We’ve learned about traveling. We’ve gotten more efficient in what we bring on trips. We have determined that traveling with a baby/toddler is a whole different ball game than with just another adult and it has its pros and cons.
We have figured out that there’s more than one way to travel and people travel differently. On each trip we’ve done something different. For example Italy was an all trains trip in which we tried to be efficient and picked hotels close to our train stations (to reduce walking too much with suitcases) and we chose a handful of cities we wanted to see. In Ireland we drove around an entire island and stayed wherever seemed easiest for the night and saw as much as we could without spending too much time in one place. In France a few weeks ago we took the train in and out of Paris, only going to Disneyland (outside of the city) for a day and spending the rest of our time in the city. With each trip we did what worked for us and what we wanted to do. We have developed a greater appreciation for immigrants or other ex-pats particularly if they move somewhere with a second language. There are still times when someone says something to me that makes no sense. Either I didn’t quite catch the words through an accent or there are words used differently that we’d use them in America. This happened a lot more frequently our first three months, but it still happens. And English is my native language. I think if we had moved somewhere that was non-English speaking it would have been really isolating and much harder overall. We also would have probably been somewhere with a more diverse and different culture and would have been able to add language proficiency to our list of skills.
Each time we move I re-learn that it is human nature to build a network of friends. The people we meet and interact with are so necessary to our comfort level and sense of security. I can be really introverted when it comes to making new friends. Small talk is painful and I don’t always want to invest in a new friendship if I can’t tell instantly it will be worth it. However, I know that making and developing friendships eliminates loneliness and fills our hearts with the love we need when our family is so far away.
We have found that we appreciate what’s around us more than most people who are from here. We’ve seen more of the UK than most of our British friends. Castles aren’t nearly as exciting to them as they are to us, but that’s because they grew up around them and went to castle ruins on school field trips. Whereas the idea of going somewhere Queen Elizabeth walked is so novel and exciting for Derek and me.
Contrasting that, some things that are taken for granted in the states are totally unexpected. For example, free refills are a rarity here, 2 cars in one family is much less common, as are guest bedrooms or second or half bathrooms. People get by with less. That doesn’t (necessarily) mean they are less wealthy, but just that there is less of a pressure to prove your status by the size of your home or car. I acknowledge this may have to do with where we live. If we were in London I might feel differently.
We are in the process of learning that we sometimes appreciate just staying home, especially with a young child. We are finding that it can be better to have more nights at home together. In some ways I think it has brought us closer together as a family.
Additionally since we can’t just call family all the time it’s brought Derek and me closer together. Derek said that it is amazing that we haven’t had more emotional breakdowns because we don’t have many people to vent to or commiserate with which would thereby alleviate some of our stress. Although thinking of my stress levels a year ago I’d say I got some of those emotional breakdowns out of the way right away and have been pretty good ever since. 😉
I have learned and taught myself a lot about allergies and cooking for them. We figured out right as we were moving that Daughter was having reactions to several different foods – gluten, dairy, and eggs. Derek and I aren’t following the same diet as she is, but our family meals are mostly GF and DF right now. This has meant a good amount of time on my part learning new recipes and reading ingredient labels.
Bagsy as in “Bagsy that’s mine.” American translation – “I call that chair! That chair is mine.”
Chav – less than polite term for someone who is lower class. American translation – PWT
Tipex – white out
Guillotine – paper cutter. This one was just learned yesterday. I balked a little when a man at church asked if I knew where to find a guillotine!
Vest – undershirt or a baby onesie. Although for some reason when I first asked what someone meant by vest (I knew they didn’t mean this) I thought they were describing something like this! haha
Turrah – goodbye
Anti-social – behaviour that lacks consideration for others; negligence as opposed to the American use of the term meaning someone doesn’t want to socialize or chat with others. (dictionary).
And a slew you of words that have started making their way into our vocabulary that you probably know: nappy, lift (elevator), cot (crib), washing (laundry), plait (braid), fringe (bangs), colleague (instead of coworker), corridor (instead of hallway), trousers, pants (underwear), rubbish (as in I’m terrible at that “I’m rubbish at tennis” or as in trash), bin (trash can), bap (bread roll), lorry (semi-truck), mates (A guy term. For example: “you up for footy tonight, mate?” “Naw, thanks mate.”), footy/football, shattered (exhausted), bits and bobs (odds and ends), cheers (a thanks/bye hybrid).
I like “You alright?” as a common question or greeting instead of “What’s up?” though I do think that’s more of a Midlands expression. Also, “Is that nice?” instead of “How is it?” or “Taste okay?”
I’ve also been taught some new nursery rhymes/toddler songs that we don’t sing in America. Did you know Row, Row, Row your Boat can have lots of different verses?
After writing this post I thought I would never use the word loo, but I totally did the other day without even thinking about it. Whoops!
There are really so many more. One of my friends who has had lots of conversations with me about what we say and what’s normal (or not) in America said something about how we practically speak different languages the other day. There have been moments she is so right and I feel utterly unintelligent asking someone to repeat something for the third (or fourth…) time.
Some things I currently miss
I miss being able to call up friends or family member whenever I want and when I’m out and about and walking around. It is just less simple here. We do have the ability to call on our cell phones, but it would be quite expensive. So to call friends or family for free we have to be home and on wifi and most importantly know what time it is where we’re calling. Derek’s parents are 8 hours different from us, so if they want to Skype and see their granddaughter we have a narrow window of time from when they are up and ready and we’re not busy with a bath time bedtime routine.
I miss walking to friends’ houses in downtown Chicago. Some of our dearest friends lived in the high-rise next to us. The commute to their place was longer vertically than it was horizontally. We didn’t even have to go outside to get to their house as there was a tunnel connecting the two buildings! Just tonight I realized I had cooked a rather large dinner, but knew by the time I called any of our friends here they would have had to leave right then to get to our place in time for dinner. Alas, it was up to us to eat a lot of food.
We miss having friends in the same phase of life – most of our friends in Chicago were just starting their families, as we were, but here more of our friends have more kids. It’s definitely not a problem (!), but there’s something really nice about having people close that are going through the exact same thing as you.
I miss knowing the lay of the land. I still don’t feel like I know Birmingham nearly as well as I knew Chicago. I know our neighborhood and the city center, but there’s so much more to the city.
As much as I do miss the above five things, we were the most homesick and missed those things the most our first three or four months here. Now it seems pretty normal and it’s less of a big deal, but for the sake of this post I still felt like they each needed to be included.
Dollars. Even though Derek is earning pounds and the dollar is weak, things would be just a little bit cheaper if we were spending dollars in America.
Having a car. This was a tough decision for us, and one I question every so often. When we decided not to buy or lease one it was after spending a fair amount of time stressing over insurance and if we wanted to pay for driving lessons here and other factors. In the end we said that it was cheaper and would work out just fine to rent a car (including insurance) for a month than to lease one so we said we’d just rent one whenever we had a need. While we have done that, there have also been quite a few times when it’s been pretty inconvenient. Ultimately we’ve saved a lot of money and probably some stress, but added different stress here and there.
Mexican food (me), dill pickles and Reese’s (Derek). You can buy mexican food and Reese’s here, but there’s not as much variety or quality for either.
Like I mentioned above, Daughter has a handful of allergies, so I miss the wide variety of gluten and dairy free options in the states. There are options here, but since it’s less trendy to go on elimination diets there are fewer options, especially when eating out.
Somethings I already know I’ll miss when we head back home next year
People. I know I’ve mentioned people in Chicago and family elsewhere in the states, but we’ve made some wonderful friends here. I try not to dwell on the fact that our dear friends that live here will be much more difficult to visit than anyone living in the states will be once we move back. It’s hard to predict a reason to come back to Birmingham other than to visit friends. Even though I do see that as a viable reason, it is an expensive trip for some hang out time.
I know we’ll miss our current proximity to fabulous things to see and visit. We love that we can be in London with a 2 hour, £6 train. Or that a flight almost anywhere in Western Europe is under 2.5 hours and under £200. Play groups. Daughter and I made some wonderful friends at play groups right here in our neighborhood.
Some of the sweets and chocolates. We find that we buy more chocolate and cheese here and less ice cream and pizza.
(Good) pub food.
Extra mature white cheddar. So yummy. Thankfully, I think it’s close to the Cabot Seriously Sharp cheese sold at costco.
British weather. It got much less cold here this winter than it did in Chicago and never gets to I’m literally dripping with sweat and I’m not even moving heat. It’s just more mild on both ends.
Somethings I know I won’t miss
This house’s crappy (and expensive!) heating system. Particularly in that we occasionally need the heater during the summer.
Faucets (specific to our house) that only give too hot or too cold water to wash little hands.
Slugs. In my book they’re worse than spiders. I also won’t miss wood lice or ants – all three of which we’ve had in this house.
Feeling self-conscious about how I speak (not a common occurrence, but it happens).
Driving on the left side of the road and mostly manual cars. But I haven’t driven the whole time we’ve been here. Embarrassing? Sure, a bit.
British weather. When we go for a weekend trip I feel like I have to pack for all weather possibilities. Just today was chilly and rainy in the morning, but by 5 this evening I was worried about getting sunburnt.
A few more tidbits about our lives here
I know stresses about health care are a big deal in the states right now. When we moved here we had the choice to go on private insurance here or to use the National Health System. Since neither Derek nor I have any real health issues we went the NHS and we have been, for the most part, pleasantly surprised by our experience. We’ve taken Daughter in for a few well-baby type check ups and a few more pressing appointments. I was really pleased when I called to have her seen to get eye drops for conjunctivitis at 2 pm on a Friday and we were able to get an appointment for 4pm that day. Easy peasy. Plus, that wasn’t the only time I had a positive experience like that. When I made an appointment to get her allergies checked out it did take a few months for her to be seen by the dietitian and allergist as it was a less pressing health concern. So while it was a bit annoying to have to wait so long for 2 doctors to tell me what I had already figured out in the meantime, it wasn’t a big deal.
It has been interesting as we come to our 1 year mark recognizing what we were doing a year ago and how much we’ve grown. Hence this post. This past weekend I went on a campout with a group of women from church. I went to the same event last year after only being here for a week, but last year I was worried about who I would talk to and would I fit in, whereas this year I know and love the other women that were there and was more focused on the fact that it was the first night I’ve spent baby free in almost 2 years!
We’re really grateful that we are extending our stay here by a few months. Initially our end date was this August, but now it is next spring. I think if we were trying to enjoy our summer to the fullest and getting ready to move internationally again we would super stressed. I’m also really grateful for Derek’s steady job and a company that’s be so amazing to us.
Ultimately I’m happy we’re here. And to all those people we miss – come visit!