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An Ex-Pat in London

by Jennifer Garner

October 7,2008

I can’t believe that it has been a year since I moved to London. In some ways it has flown by and in others it seems like a lifetime ago that I was driving to work every day down Providence Road. I feel like quite the Londoner now and I can usually direct the tourists who ask me for directions the correct way to go. Well, there was that one woman and the Trafalgar Square incident….It is interesting how life in the Big Smoke feels like home now and how some things still feel foreign, and might forever.

Speaking English is still not the same language as American English and every ex pat has their story of the silly word that got them in trouble and caused the English to snicker behind their backs. Mine was a long involved tale about the black pants that had gone missing and how I just couldn’t find my favorite pair of black pants. The word I was looking for was trousers, pants are lacy and intimate and not something that one would tell a story about to one’s co-workers! I have acquiesced and now use a diary to make appointments in and ring friends on my mobile to make plans to go to the cinema on Saturday. I put the rubbish in the bin. But on the flip side, I have gotten my whole office to use “fall” for autumn and have taken it as a great triumph for America. And I will never abandon ya’ll, I promise.

The classic London landmarks some times don’t wow me anymore. I am busy tapping away on my Blackberry instead of noticing the lights on Big Ben and the stained glass of Westminster Abbey. But then I read Time Out and learn about an organic gastro pub in Smithfield and set on out a new adventure to try it. I never tire of the Italian deli around the corner where they welcome you with a call of “Ciao Bella” and their homemade proscutto stuffed chicken breasts and quarts of red sauce.

I have learned the tricks of big city living. The weekly bus pass is cheaper and gives you more flexibility. I have a standing order with the organic farm that delivers fruit and veg on Tuesday in my neighborhood and I know to avoid high-density tourist areas in the summer. Ed at the newsstand knows me now and rings up my Monday order of The Economist and Hello magazines.

But I am still an American, and the minute I open my mouth, I reveal my past and in that way and am still not one of them. I’m not sure what they will ask me about once the election is over; they seem to think that Americans have magic 8 ball and can tell who is going to president. I still feel an instant kinship when I meet another American at a party, even if they are from New York or California, we somehow have something in common and can fall into an easy parlance, a feeling that I have achieved with only a few of the locals.

I still giggle a little when we stand to toast the Queen or you see a line of people mindlessly queuing for one ATM when there is an open one right beside it. But I have fallen in line too. I have sent in my ballot for the Wimbledon lottery and noted the dates for the Ascot races and Henley rowing next May. Silly me booked a holiday with my sister during the height of the London season this year not knowing! I am making plans to go some where sunny in March when you can’t stand another minute of gloom and rain and I have learned to talk about the weather and appreciate a sunny day in a way that I would have never imagined possible while sweating away in Charlotte in September. It is easy to see why Peter Mayle spent a year in Provence; he couldn’t stand the thought of another English winter!

I think that the real confusion is how ex pats use the word “home.” When speaking of family and the best shopping bargains, we mean America when we say home. But when I picture my cozy flat and putting the kettle on for a cup of tea, home is the mansion block on Elm Park road.

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