September 01, 2014

The Britophile Diaries: Living the Everyday

Waking up to the hiss of radiators, I feel cold air rush up to meet my bare feet as I swing them out of bed. Groggy, I nearly bump my head on the low eaves and pull back the curtain to find bright sunshine at this ungodly hour. I wash my face under burning hot and freezing cold water from the double taps, and squeak across the floorboards to the toilet down the hall. 

Welcome to another day in England.

Looking back on the posts I've written since coming to live here, I realize how little I've talked about the everyday things. Of course there's the usual shopping for food, navigating outlet-free bathrooms, and breaking into Chinese restaurants, but as a blog reader recently pointed out, I haven't really said whether I like living here as an expat on a day-to-day basis.

The answer: yes. Hands down.


At first I wondered if the charm of Britain would rub off, if working and eating and reading and traveling in this country every day for a year would change the way I felt about it. It hasn't. Of course some of the glitz and glamor has gone (see my post, The Dream Dies), but that wasn't the part that counted. The sparkle of my interest in Britain was like the powerful attraction that starts a romance. What is left when the first attraction has faded is a deep, abiding love.

Contrary to what you might have gathered from my posts here, I don't spend every single day tripping around the countryside, climbing hills and eating traditional fare in seaside villages. There's plenty of that, but most of my life involves stuff like this:

August 29, 2014

10 Tips for Survival in Britain

Whether you're moving here or just visiting, here are ten random (and in some cases, hard-won) pieces of advice on entering British culture.

10 Tips for Survival in England
My tips for a smooth landing

1. Don't badmouth the NHS, or give your opinion on any politics for that matter. You think you know all about it, but you probably don't. Either take the time to research in-depth and form an educated opinion, or just keep quiet. 

2. Ask questions. Tons of them. This is just common sense for any traveler, but I'm amazed how much time someone (ehem...me) can waste time and money being clueless instead of asking a local. "Which platform does the Glasgow train come to?" "Can you recommend a cheap chippie around here?" "What is the password for your WiFi?"

3. Try the food, even if it sounds weird. 

Try the food
Eat scary food.

August 26, 2014

The Benefits of Being a Tourist

Tourists in London

If you're like me, a foreigner obsessed with Britain, then you've probably realised more than once that you're an outsider. 


No matter how hard you try, you won't be able to change your natural accent, your cultural background, or your preconceived notions about how the world works. No matter how you immerse yourself in a foreign countryeven if you move there and get a job and start a familychances are good you will never be "one of the locals." 

You can know all the facts and figures and historical tidbits, even perfect the vocabulary and embrace the cuisine, but there is an all-too real boundary between "us" and "them."

I have two friends from the States who have married Brits and moved to England. One has been here for several years, the other a couple of months, one in a city and the other in a small town, and both deal with this on an almost daily basis.

Checking out at the grocery store, 
"So, are you on holiday?" 
"Um, no. I live down the street." 

This used to frustrate me to no end, and sometime it still does. I consider a large chunk of my soul to be British, but I know that even if I lived the rest of my life in this country, I would still be an outsider to a certain extent.

But I've recently had a little epiphany. There are actually some good things about being a tourist rather than a local.

August 09, 2014

Rent: The Only Way to Travel Britain


Where you sleep matters. 


You can marvel at Stonehenge, scream down the roller coasters at Pleasure Beach, and take romantic walks along the seashore, but your once-in-a-lifetime trip to Britain could be ruined by a noisy hostel or 82 steps to your bed and breakfast room. The last thing you want is to have your holiday memories obscured by that dingy hotel with cockroaches, sticky pillows, and gurgling noises from the drain.

One of my all-time favourite travelling experiences was when my mom, grandma, and two cousins came across the Pond and we visited London, Edinburgh, and the Cotswolds. It was an amazing trip, and I think a big reason we all enjoyed it so much was because we stayed in private homes. 



We didn't know any of the owners. In fact, we only met one. The rest were known only through computer messages and notes attached to complimentary bottles of wine. Using websites like airbnb.com and VRBO, we rented two flats and a cottage, each experience better than the last. We found homes that were close to public transport, big enough for 5 people, and had oodles of character.

August 04, 2014

The Britophile Diaries: 7 Benefits of Living in the UK

For the last 10 months I've lived in this great country we call the United Kingdom. While I've not had to pay taxes, or use the healthcare system, or vote for politicians, I have worked and travelled here, made friends, struggled with homesickness, and drunk many, many cups of tea. In fact, I'm drinking one as I type.

I'll be leaving this blessed place in less than two months. It will have been an amazing year, the best of my life so far. I'm looking forward to seeing my family again, but will miss Britain for so many reasons.

Today I decided to write down a few of those reasons. There are many more, but here are seven that sprang to mind:


Real Food

I might get exasperated at the expiration dates, but it's nice to eat stuff that tastes real and isn't loaded with chemicals.



July 31, 2014

Thatch-Happy Cotswolds

For some reason, a house with a thatched roof is 110% better than a house with any other kind of roof. There are many kinds of roofs in this world: slate roofs, metal roofs, glass roofs, shingle roofs, bark roofs, even roofs of living grass. But there's something about a thatched roof that captures the imagination. 

Lattice windows. Ancient hedges. Fragrant roses. China teacups. Cottage gardens.  


Taste of the Cotswolds: Part 3




When I visited Chipping Campden with my family we made a beeline for Sheep Street, a quiet road chock full of thatched houses, each one more charming than the last. We gasped, pointed, and clicked our shutter buttons until our fingers grew sore. If you're ever in the area, I insist that you visit Sheep Street. Supposedly the village of Stanton also has some beautiful examples of thatch.



July 25, 2014

Chipping Campden: Mossy, Charming, and Woolly


You don't go to the Cotswolds for thrilling adventure or happening nightlife. What you do go for is beauty, peace, and old-world charm. No town demonstrates this so well as Chipping Campden.

At the end of a long trip through Britain and France, my family and I were more than happy to relax and take things slowly in this picturesque village.


Taste of the Cotswolds: Part 2



I did research on Chipping Campden before visiting (you know how I love to research) and read descriptions like "incredibly beautiful" and "just touristy enough to be convenient." On our second day in the area I couldn't wait to visit this village. Imagine the journeyfive giddy American women sitting at the very back of the bus, peering out the windows, oohing and aahing as more and more thatched roofs appear. It was a beautiful ride, and we were dropped off right on the high street of the village. 



Our mouths must have hung open a little for at least half an hour as we walked the streets of town, and the locals probably shook their heads. But seriously, for someone born and bred in the USA it's jaw-dropping to walk through a town made of stone, with crooked narrow roads designed for horses and drinking establishments that predate our nation by several centuries. 
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