When you tell British people that you’re moving home, many of them ask “will you be able to fit in? A lot’s changed since you left.” Which is no doubt very true – after all, every place is changing all the time, but when you live there you notice it less.
It’s like growing old with your friends but there’s that one guy who moved away and when you do finally see him again, his appearance is a shock. Even though intellectually you knew he was growing old all that time, somewhere in the back of your head you pictured him frozen in time. That’s how it will be going home I’m sure. There will be lots of things that are different and lots of things to get used to.
And we’ve changed too of course, because you do, all the time. We’re American now in all kinds of ways, with a little bit of Canadian thrown in. I’m not as cynical as I once was. I don’t make jokes when other people are trying to be serious. I say ‘truck’ instead of ‘lorry’ and ‘vacation’ instead of ‘holiday’ and ‘sweater’ instead of ‘jumper.’
But there are some things that haven’t changed no matter how long I’m away. Here are my top 5.
1. Thinking it will get cooler in the afternoon
If it’s 85 degrees at lunchtime, I still think ‘I’ll go for a walk later when it cools down’ except it doesn’t cool down after noon here. It just keeps getting hotter and hotter, so if I do finally try to head out for that walk, I have to turn right round and go back inside. I really need to learn that in summer, 7am is as good as it’s going to get on most days.
2. Not wanting to make a nuisance of myself
I am absolutely terrified of the dentist and I always tell new dentists this (I change dentists all the time, maybe hoping that one day I’ll find one who doesn’t scare me). But inevitably when I’m done, they tell me I did very well and that they couldn’t even tell I was scared. They don’t know that’s because I’m British. The only thing worse than the dentist’s chair is the idea that I might make a show of myself in the dentist’s chair. So inside I’m all roiling terror but on the outside, no one would ever know. The same characteristic kicks in at the doctor’s – I don’t want to make a nuisance of myself, so I tend to downplay symptoms – and then of course, come out feeling annoyed with myself because the doctor didn’t take me seriously. *sigh*
3. Believing England has a chance in the world cup
I suspect this one is genetic. It doesn’t matter how many times I have experienced the opposite, I still think this time England won’t play like complete idiots. This time they’ll make me proud to be British! And then they do what they always do and lose ignominiously and I think ‘I won’t fall for that again.’ Because after all, I was three the last time England won the World Cup! But by 2014 I’ll probably be back in England and you just know I’ll be caught up in it all over again. It’s hopeless.
4. Feeling embarrassed by overt patriotism or overt religiosity
Americans love patriotism. They take any opportunity to sing rousing songs and wave flags. And I don’t begrudge them their enjoyment at all – I just don’t know how to behave when it’s happening. It’s the same with open religious expressions, which happen all the time here. If something bad happens to someone people don’t say ‘I’ll be thinking of you’ they say ‘I’ll be praying for you.’ I once told a Christian friend that I didn’t want her to pray for me and she said “just a tip – never tell a Christian NOT to pray for you. Most will think it’s a sure sign that you need praying for, and they’ll double their prayers.” Not long ago, the governor of Texas actually dealt with a drought by calling for a day of prayer throughout the state. I just have no idea how to respond to that.
5. Forgetting to say ‘how are you?’ at the start of a phone call
Every phone conversation here starts this way:
‘Hello it’s Louise.”
“Hi Louise, how are you?”
I’m good, how are you.”
“I’m good thank you.”
After that, we can have our conversation. There are certain people I call several times a day but even in these cases, this ritual has to begin every call. I don’t have anything against it. I think it’s nice. I just can’t remember to do it. So if you’re an American and we’ve spoken on the phone and I just launched right into the reason why I was calling without asking you how you were first, please don’t take it as an insult. I just forgot.