in an airless, windowless government building in croydon. i was told not to contact the outside world, that my phone would interfere with the equipment and the process. i was told to wait until my number was called. and then i was fingerprinted and photographed. and told to wait again. they were running an hour and a half behind schedule.

it sounds like a nightmare. and it was. but it was also the only time in england that accidental eye contact has been met with the same small smile it would have been met with when i lived in chicago. ah, my crowd. the outcasts.

i find myself really impatient these days.

impatient to work, impatient to socialize, impatient to adapt, impatient to be accepted. impatient to feel normal again.

during the recent local election, parties erected giant billboards about immigrants. the phrase ‘unregulated immigration’ was thrown around quite a bit. while i spent my days calling the embassy, tracking down my passport, phoning the home office, completing visa applications. and it’s as though my daily insecurites about being ‘other’ were magnified and transformed into a poltical platform. ‘we don’t want you here,’ winston churchill glares at me from on high…on a billboard. ‘you are an asshole, and you’re ruining our lives just by being around.’

i’m sort of having difficulty discerning whether the english people i meet like me or are wishing for my death. it’s a distance and a dearth of warmth that shocks me, even though i tell myself over and over that i’m prepared for it. i want to be friendly, i want to be midwestern, but in this crowd i’m afraid it comes off as pushiness. i don’t know how to do this. i don’t know how to go to lunch with somebody in my own town. i go in between lamenting why i haven’t made local friends of my own yet and convincing myself to accept my status as a hermit.

i’d do really well as a hermit, actually. especially now that one can order one’s books from the internet. and i could wear really kooky hats.

oh, and i got married.

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* you’re not allowed to work yet
* you don’t fully understand how banks function
* you cannot drive
* you seem to regularly think of yourself as different/misunderstood/freakish
* you sometimes laugh at jokes even though you lack the cultural or historical understanding to really find them funny
* you have trouble finding your locker
* you know people are doing drugs, but you don’t know which ones, or how you can get them to share with you

visitor

18/02/2009

even the strongest person can forget who they are and what’s great about them when they’re separated from the people who have known them the longest and love them the most.

today i remembered.

one is moving away from america.

i suppose if i were an orange in a bunch of oranges, i wouldn’t feel very orangey until you put me on a plate of sausages.

and apparently, when you put an orange on a plate of sausages, the orange cries whenever she watches a television program about, say, stephen fry visiting orange groves and talking about how peculiar and maddening but utterly charming they are.

another thing that makes one feel more american is moving away right as one is actually happy about the country.

i got this strange tingling sensation in november. i finally identified it as pride. which i don’t know that i’ve ever really allowed myself to feel about an elected official. it wasn’t just that the guy i voted for actually won this time. [and a quick aside for anyone who questions my right to participate in an election right before moving out of the country – i’m still an american citizen, paying american taxes, and following the ‘money talks’ rhetoric of my birthplace, he’s my president, too.] i’m a democrat. i voted for kerry, but even if he had made bush a one-termer i don’t think i would have been able to describe my reaction as pride. i wasn’t proud of clinton, i wasn’t proud of gore, and i certainly am not proud of nader. why am i proud of obama?

remember when bush was campaigning against gore, and people really got miffed that he was expected to know the names of leaders and countries and stuff? like, foreign policy crap. and many times over, the average american joe on the street was interviewed by the journalist guys in suits, and average joe would say ‘well, hell, i don’t know that stuff either. he’s just a regular guy, just like me, and i like that.’

fuck. that.

i want the person in charge of the country to know a hell of a lot more about a lot of things in this life than i do. i’m tiny. my daily life is limited to very small things. i would like to go about those things knowing that i wouldn’t be able to beat the president at trivial pursuit. i want to know that the guy in charge knows so much that every decision he makes probably takes a little too long because he’s weighing all the sides and options. because the decisions he makes are literally life and death. i don’t want someone who’s going to shrug and laugh it off. i want someone who will be better, as a human and a leader, than i will ever be.

american politics has very slowly turned into electing people out of fear. i blame lee atwater. what you do these days is, you present something that a majority of americans are scared of and say that if the other guy is elected that scary something will happen. it polarizes the nation. and it makes people not expect much, beyond safety from that one scary thing. that’s how bush got reelected. he held up gay couples and said ‘isn’t this icky?’ and even people who hated the war, disagreed with bush’s performace, and even disliked him as a man, voted for him. because yes, they thought. that’s icky.

i know conservatives in the u.s. call obama supporters naive, like we’ve voted in a fairy tale instead of a politician. what they’reĀ  seeing but not understanding is that we voted for him not out of fear, but because he seems like someone who’s going to hold us to a higher standard as citizens. not only of the country, but of the world. you can laugh all you want at ‘hope’. but the important part is that it’s not ‘fear’.

i’m going to cry tomorrow when i watch the inauguration. i’ll be a little bit homesick, and a little overwhelmed at the decision my fellow countrymen have made, but more than anything else i’ll be really confused at how much i identify myself as an american now. now that it seems like so many americans agree that it’s going to be awesome looking up to someone for a change.

today i received my NHS card in the mail. which entitles me to not die, in a free or at least very cheap way.

i know that the national health service isn’t the most popular organization in england, but i think any country that makes an effort to keep its people living without bankrupting them is civilized as all hell.

so thanks, england. i’ll be looking forward to my first illness/injury on your shores.

holiday highlights

06/01/2009

* champagne
* backgammon
* my boyfriend’s mother getting drunk and telling me she loves me
* lots of dishes made using fresh rosemary
* sharing a cigar
* laughing
* living in the same country as the person i love most in the world

there are few things more frightening to me, apparently, than seeing a near-empty produce aisle.

we went to waitrose for some salad and fishcakes and booze et cetera, and when we walked in something deep inside my american being seized up.

i’m used to the big grocery stores that stay open twenty-four hours a day. they might close early on thanksgiving and christmas day, but never before dark, and certainly never for more than twelve hours.

apparently here, the shops close for two solid days.

panic. panic.

apocalypse.

panic.

thoughts of zombies.

panic.

what if tomorrow i want fresh fruit and a little pot of stupid poncey waitrose sauce or chutney or something?

we ran into friends whose wedding i had attended earlier this year, and mr. english pointed to me and said ‘she’s panicking a little.’ i looked at them with very wide eyes. ‘what if i’m hungry later?’ i asked them.

there was no reply.

this builds on the smaller shock i had already prepared for, of not being able to walk to the corner after midnight on a tuesday and buy a gigantic bag of chocolate covered raisins or tortilla chips or some translucent tape or a fifty pack of dvd’s or something. in my last apartment in chicago there was a cvs right outside the front door. i could have gone in my pyjamas. (well, not that i would have. my roommates did, but they lack class and a sense of propriety. i, however, put on a fucking dress to do my laundry.)

i argue that this panic must be some kind of evolutionary response to my food source suddenly seeming to go dry. as though, i explained on our walk home so i didn’t seem so crazy, i had gone to my berry bush and all the berries were gone. sure, more will grow eventually. but what will i do tomorrow?

anyway. i got through it. i demanded a hug, and i drank a cold diet pepsi, and those things seemed to calm me down. also, i really do need a zombie contingency plan here. i think i need to ask which of our friends has the safest, most undead-proof house.

i walked to the store using the crooked shortcut way, and then i paid for my loaf of bread using exact change.

i know it doesn’t seem like much, but i haven’t been this proud since i graduated college. which was about a week and a half ago.

traffic(k)

22/12/2008

when i am in chicago, and i am crossing the street, it is that scene from that movie that everyone knows but few have actually watched. the one with little weasly dustin hoffman before he switched his career focus to playing only pinched-lip eccentrics of a certain age. and he is a tough guy walking, in a different big city than the one i am from, and a cab comes a little too close to his personal space and he hits the hood of the car and yells that thing about hey.

hey.

i am walking here.

except i am a very tall girl, fair of brow, and i don’t plan to ever switch my focus to pinched-lip eccentrics, and i am yelling ‘you’re in the fucking crosswalk, asshole!’ i yell this to every asshole whose car is stopped in the fucking crosswalk during the time when the walking light is green and the driving light is red.

to be honest? i’ve been in the uk for a few days and i sort of miss that.

to be a pedestrian in england is to be frightened. to be a pedestrian in a large city in america is to be a movie star from the 1970s yelling tough things to anyone who dares challenge your status as (s)he who has the right of way.

(i also miss big gulps, but that’s an entirely different story – one of addiction, and shame, and my closest friend saying that a big gulp, even when it is coke and diet coke mixed and not just regular sugary coke by itself, is a ‘boombalatty drink’, and even though i am not technically a fatty boombalatty and am actually quite thin and not trashy in other ways generally, my love for big gulps leaves a trace of all of those things on me, like a skeezy film that i cannot wash off. i love her for saying this because it is mean and funny, and she is also something i miss immediately and strongly like a withdrawl.)

considering all of this, and with the rule in my head already firmly established that i will not get too mushy in this blog about the reason i am the expatter…i am glad i’m here. it’s home. because in our house, there are things that smell like him all the time. and there are foods that only he eats. and all of that makes me very happy indeed.

familial

18/12/2008

i’ve never really identified as american.

during my many visits overseas, when someone asked where i was from, i’d answer ‘chicago’.

‘oh, you’re american!’

‘yes.’ i suppose. if you’re going to get technical about it.

‘i love new york,’ they’d respond. which is kind of like going up to julia roberts and telling her you loved ‘when harry met sally’. it has nothing to do with me and is vaguely insulting.

europeans rarely understand how large and diverse the u.s. is. and as a native chicagoan, i know that few people outside of my city recognize the middle child complex we have.

new york is the older, sophisticated sister. she married well and she makes condescending remarks about your reading material. when other countries ask ‘how are the girls?’ the first anecdote told is always about new york. with whom she’s had lunch, how well her new play is being received, how her dog was just given some prize for something or other. nobody really criticizes her, because anything said is written off as jealousy. and it makes you look really ugly to be jealous of new york.

los angeles is the wild baby sister. she’s too blonde and too tan and frequently a total fucking mess. you get calls from her in the middle of the night. raging wild fires this, falling into the ocean that. her santa ana mood swings are overlooked because she’s just so cute and charming and everybody’s pulling for her to really make it work this time! people see what she’s wearing and chuckle and wag their heads slightly. ‘that’s just so kooky,’ they say. ‘where she gets her ideas i’ll never know, but i’ll be damned if she doesn’t look fantastic!’

chicago pushes up its practical yet unflattering glasses. we could lose the weight if we wanted but you know what? that would be playing into their game. that would be competing with the other sisters. and there is no competing. but every once and a while when we were growing up, some eager suitor would arrive at the door looking for new york or los angeles and the sister wouldn’t be ready for their date yet. so we’d invite that guy in, and we’d sit on the sofa and chat with him, and he’d say, ‘wow, you’re really funny and easy to talk to.’ and we’d smile at one another. but then the intended sister would appear, all shiny and right and smelling pretty, and we would be forgotten.

tomorrow i get on a plane to england. it’s a one-way trip, and one that i’m expecting to be permanent. there, i can only imagine my familial role will be that of the embarrassing cousin. a little too loud, a little too emotional, a little too…too.

the man waiting for me on the other side of the atlantic once said to his mother, ‘it’s a good thing grandad is dead, so he won’t have to see me with a yank.’

this is both funny and a pretty good indication of what i expect to experience during my time as an expatriate.

tonight i listen to joy division and take a sleeping pill. tomorrow i get on a plane. friday, i am officially the grown cousin sat at the children’s table.

also, i plan to use ‘expat’ as a verb.

let’s go.