Sunday, April 06, 2008

Moving hemispheres.....

It snowed last night. It may well snow again. Spring? SPRING?? And I am the one who cheerfully told Jeana not to bother with heavy coats. Oops.

I have been reading her posts about staying in London, and I have been remembering what it was like when I first moved here. Well, I lived in the UK for a year when we were first married, but I am not counting that. That is worthy of a post of its own.

Prior to moving here in 1990, I had spent all of my life in a large, sprawling cosmolpolitan city, surrounded by sandy beaches and dominated by Table Mountain. An eclectic mix of people from all parts of the world, blended together to make a fascinating cultural combination. I remember doing a braai (BBQ) in CT for my son and his friends, and having 4 sheets of tin foil on the BBQ for 4 separate types of food. Kosher, Halaal, Veggie and ordinary. Complete with 4 forks and flipping things merrily without "contaminating" each other. No problem. I missed that mix so much when I moved here. I missed climbing over the fence to neighbours as a child for Jewish high days and holidays and them doing the same for Christmas. I don't think there is a single Jewish family living in this village. I forget when to send Jewish New Year cards. I used to know these things. My kids grew up knowing that you didn't offer your friends food or sweets when they were fasting. They understood Ramadan. Because their friends were sitting next to them.

Here the scale is small. It took me so long not to feel hemmed in in the houses. The ceilings are so much lower here. The rooms are small. I miss having windows on every side of the house. Now this might seem strange to some of you, I realise. The houses are so close together here, but then there are over 60 million people crammed onto this small island. Space is at a premium!
Little things. I rather enjoy having a fairly unusual accent. My British friends think I sound South African, and my South African friends think I sound British. Whatever. It is more the rythym of my speech which has changed than the accent. It does allow me a certain amount of latitude here though, as I can't be popped in a slot that easily! I also tend to have a colonial view of life. I think outside the box, and nothing irritates me more than heirarchy, and supposed class systems. Believe me, they still exist in some corners. With a vengeance.

Distance. Everywhere here is very close, and while my friends are all widely travelled, when I have conversations at the till (check-out) sometimes I discover people, usually elderly, who are horrified at the thought of me driving to London. Which is all of 70 miles away. "It's so FAR, can't POSSIBLY go all that way alone..." Mind you, there are people who have seldom left this village in their lives. Maybe to go to one of the 2 large towns close by, but that is that. And there is nothing wrong with that at all. It is just foreign to me and to them. We learn to live with our differences!

Attitudes about sun and sunburn. I once roared into the school carpark in a rage when I drove by and saw my 9 year old redhead son's class sitting at desks in the playground on a sunny day. No hats. No sunblock. With no sunshade. At midday. And delivered a lecture to the head on the dangers of sun. (And mad dogs and Englishmen....which was probably not that wise or tactful, now I come to think about it...) The head said there was cloud in the sky. I repeated the lecture adding that cloud is the most dangerous part of a summer day. The school changed its policy. I am all too aware of the risks of sunburn, coming from the southern hemisphere where the hole in the ozone layer is rather large.

Dress. In a large city, even when you slop around in casual clothes, those casual clothes are different to the ones I have been known to leave my house wearing here. I noticed the change when I went back to SA on a visit, and my clothing automatically changed, as did the way I "put myself together". Details. And the way I walked. Interesting, that. A friend of mine has moved to a large Scottish city, and she said she immediately knew what I was talking about. Her dress changed too.

I had never had gas in a house before, and it was a terrifying thing to me. The thought of a naked flame burning in my house was something it took a while to get used to. And central heating was a wondrous mystery to me too. I remember phoning the gas board when I first switched on the central heating, and it roared into life, rather like a Boeing about to crash onto my roof. They assured me this was just how it worked. I felt like a fool. Now I have a gas hob I cook on too, and I can't imagine going back to an electric one. I can adapt. See???

I NEVER had net curtains. I loathe them. I like to think I started a trend. I removed the ones in place as soon as I moved in to this house, and now, 19 years later, there are just 2 houses in this road with nets. I want as much sun in as possible. Or light. Any light. I am not fussy.

People here do not generally like to pay to have things fixed. They do it themselves. This saves a lot of money, and I am learning as I speak. I have just fixed the hot water cylinder. For the second time. And friends will always help with their skills. And gardens. Oh my...... you cannot live in the UK long before you start to garden. With passion. Things grow so amazingly, and as the gardens as generally really small, it is fairly simple to make them beautiful. It is in the air. British people garden. I never paid much attention to the garden I had in Cape Town. Now I find it hard to keep out of the nurseries. I want to buy all the plants.

Schooling was the most different. But that is a subject I am not going to touch right now.

I joined a church when I arrived, and I found it the most wonderful way to meet people and make friends. People here are generally very friendly, but may be a little reserved initially, or suspicious of the strange foreign woman who is invading their homeland. Once they see I am harmless, they are great.

Time changes. In South Africa, there is no time zone change, nor any seasonal change. It is NEVER light at 10pm, and this took a lot of getting used to here. The kids thought it was day time. I did not. That took a couple of years to adapt to.

Shops. Food was something I missed most. Things like butternut squash. The bread tasted different. I couldn't get pawpaws which didn't look like mangoes. I was used to ones bigger than rugby balls. But now, every type of food, fruit or vegetable is in the local stores. The world is certainly much smaller in that sense. There is absolutely nothing I miss any more. And it never mattered a great deal anyway!

The city speed limit here is 30 miles an hour. In South Africa, it is 60km an hour. That is 38 miles an hour. It took me forever to adjust my driving. Thankfully, I never got a speeding ticket. And then I went back to SA and drove through the city at 30 miles an hour, starting a near riot of road rage behind me. No wonder I felt foreign there then!

I go to London now and then. And I always come home wondering if the people there have missed the plot. Strange. They all seem to be smart, walk fast and purposefully, unsmiling, making no eye contact. Things seem to move too fast. I catch a glimpse of myself in the store windows now and then and mouse has come to town. (Or good grief, you look like a 110 year old bag lady.) And I am always delighted to get back to my village. Where people smile, chat and know me. I don't like feeling so small and insignificant.

Football. I have never learnt to love it. I love most sports. I love watching rugby, but football??? Maybe not.

There have been many things to adapt to. Many changes. Many new and wonderful discoveries. Many new experiences. So many new friends. I have never understood people who move countries and then stay firmly rooted in little groups of ex-pats, clinging to their old life. I chose to move here, and in doing so, chose to embrace the British way of life. I love the freedom to roam. Public rights of way let you wander through the countryside. And, no matter what the papers say, crime rates are still very low where I live. Especially when you consider where I came from.

When we first arrived, I could not believe that the kids would run in for dinner, leaving their bikes on the lawn and the bikes would still be there after dinner. This was amazing. Getting used to a home with no burglar bars was another. I was used to being unsafe. It took a while to remember I was much safer here. And worth every one of those hiccups at the start.

I am so thankful that we live here. In this place. For now. I have changed. The village has changed. The country has changed.

But it is home.


meggie said...

I feel I am home too. I am away from my natural beginnings. We evolve, & we adapt, & we find our 'homes'. It really is, 'Where the Heart Is' & I feel we have many spritual 'homes'.

Jeana said...

I love this post. In spite of my saying otherwise, I'm afraid I've given the impression on my blog that I don't like Londoners, and that's not true. It's different, but I really do like it here.

Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

I found this post fascinating. I do wonder, though, if you're harmless. ;>

Needled Mom said...

Very interesting post of comparison. Glad that you have adjusted so well.

Penless Thoughts said...

Wonderful informative read and information. I enjoyed this very much. The most startling to me was them thinking 70 miles to drive to another city was so far. In this country we drive everywhere. My husband drives 50 miles each day just going to and from work. We think nothing of driving 600 miles to New Mexico to visit a friend, or 600 miles to Memphis to visit family. Of course with the price of gas rising like it is that part of our lives here in the U.S. may be changing some. I'm going to drive into Tulsa today at noon to have lunch with my younger son, Marc, and it is about 25 miles to his work, one way!!!!

Crystal said...

When I come to your blog, I'm always curious to see what your new topic will be. You are so profound and have so many interesting thoughts to share. I love getting to know you better this way!

When we returned from South America (my first trip to the Southern Hemisphere), I was struck by many of the differences in culture and customs. That's what traveling (and moving to a new country) does for one, doesn't it? I think I could write a post about some of those things too!!

Happy Monday Morning (I know it's nearly suppertime where you are already!) !!

Susie said...

Hi Linds,
I enjoyed reading all the comparisons you've shown here.
It gives me a better understanding of what life must be like in your village. It certainly has iys differences from life here in our city of over 100,000!
Although we've traveled, I've only ever lived here in this town. I'm sure many would consider that a very sheltered life.
Great post!

Barbara said...

Interesting to see my country through your eyes Linds. So much would not apply here. People here drive to Spain, Italy and the like. Must be the view of country folk as I remember in the nountains of North Carolina meeting folk who had never ventured further than 30 miles from their home.
I'm glad yu like it enough to stay though.

Dawn said...

Wonderful post. Once again, a gift from you to us - so well done. My brother would have a fun time visiting with you! Their church in Manchester is very diverse.

If I moved to England, I would much prefer a village to the city, I am quite certain!

At A Hen's Pace said...

I enjoyed learning so much about you--and SA, London, and your village! All the comparisons were so interesting.

I never thought about what your accent would sound like--but now I can imagine it perfectly, or pretty close to? Because our children's theater group is doing the musical Oliver--and the little boy playing Oliver is from SA! He was in a different show we did then, and I met his folks and thought their accent was hard to place. Certainly not Australian, but not quite British.

So if I ever meet a 110-year-old bag lady with a SA accent...

(Just kidding!)


Angie said...

Loved this post. So interesting to hear the comparisons. I'm doing so much comparing, being back in the U.S. now!