I was sure we’d feel alienated when we got back. Have that same sense of culture shock that we had when we arrived in Canada and then the US. That faint sense that of having a dream where the world is slightly tipped on its side but everyone except you is acting as though things are perfectly normal. We’ve been gone 23 years after all and everyone here kept telling us that England had changed beyond recognition during that time.
Perhaps that’s how it seems when you’re here experiencing the changes, but it’s not how it’s been for us returning after 22 years away. Instead, arriving home has been like slipping on a comfy sweater (or should I say jumper!) and loose sweatpants before sinking into the sofa with a good book and a glass of wine. In other words, it feels comforting and comfortable. Safe and utterly normal.
Some things have changed for sure. There are American-style strip malls everywhere although here they’re called retail parks and tend to be arranged like an outdoor mall, rather than in a row along a busy road.
England has opened its doors to immigrants in the last 20 years which means it has a much more cosmopolitan feel. The food has improved exponentially thanks to the immigrants, the ‘foodie’ movement and celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey.
Average people have more money than they did when we left and they travel a lot more. America is much more prevalent in every day life with American vocabulary, fast food restaurants and memorabilia evident everywhere you go.
But all of these are surface changes – underneath, the country is exactly the same and people behave in exactly the same way. The BBC still runs TV channels and radio stations totally without advertising. You can actually tune in to listen to the radio without ever being bombarded with people shouting at you to buy a new mattress or get your tires checked. And the DJs are all still the same! (Who knew Terry Wogan was still alive?)
And the music they play! No more endless Eagles and Led Zeppelin. Instead it’s the stuff of my youth, the stuff that makes me dance just because I remember being young when it came out. “C’Mon Eileen,” for example, or this one that I jigged around the kitchen to tonight when I was washing up
James – Laid
And there’s that old sense of national pride buried among layers of self-deprecating irony. Every store is currently festooned with flags and union jack paraphenalia to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee and the upcoming Olympic Games. You can’t move without seeing a union jack. Just today we saw union jack mugs, union jack cushions, union jack lunch bags, union jack curtains and even a union jack leather sofa.
But because Brits aren’t comfortable with overt patriotism, it’s all done with an ironic wink – an attitude best summed up by the show Twenty Twelve, which purports to be a documentary about the planning for the Olympic Games, and which actually features Lord Sebastian Coe (Chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games) as himself. The show mercilessly sends up the whole (it must be said generally unpopular) adventure, mocks the mayor of London Boris Johnson, and takes the mickey out of clueless management teams the world over.
Clip from Twenty Twelve
In the end, coming home has made me appreciative and grateful of the things I expected to like – green fields, sweeping hills, custard tarts – but also of many of the things I didn’t. I don’t mind the Queen anymore – well at least as long as she doesn’t bother me. I can get through an entire Steve Wright show without throwing something at the radio. And these days I find Boris Johnson amusing instead of heinous.
Who knows how long it will all last, but for now I am loving being home. Rule Britannia 🙂