My new life began in a shopping centre in the north of England, sitting in café Nero, drinking a rather bitter double espresso, killing time until I got the keys to our new flat.
And I’ve been almost silent ever since because my new life began without internet access, which ended after an overnight in a Tulip Inn with free Wi-Fi that I took advantage of until check out time.
Already it’s strange – I know enough to queue up in cafés rather than take a seat and wait to be served but I was totally confused when I sat down in a pub one lunchtime and got table service.
Out on the street I’m not entirely sure which direction the traffic is coming from and I turn helplessly from side to side trying to figure out when it’s safe to cross the road. I find the money hard to handle – it feels foreign somehow. Though in truth I found guilders easy enough but I was never entirely comfortable with Euros. The prices are impossible to work out: is £3.50 a lot for a double espresso and a fizzy water? No one else seems to mind. I’m trying not to convert it back into Euros, that wouldn’t work anyway since the Euro is so strong right now.
On the plus side I quickly got the hang of chip and pin, and though I don’t have a Boots card or a Nectar card, I redeemed myself a little by remembering to present my Waterstones card when I bought a guide book to the city at the weekend. Though when the assistant asked whether I was saving my points I had to mask my confusion with a confident nod.
More often that not I can’t understand what people say when they’re speaking to me – it’s not their broad northern accents, it’s just that my brain is convinced that anyone in a shop or bar must be speaking in a foreign language.
I know it’s reverse culture shock and it will pass, but for the moment I feel like foreigner in my own country. And the biggest sign of that was the first morning, wending my way through an annoyingly indirect pavement system from the Tulip Inn to the shopping centre (complete with warnings at regular intervals to stay on the approved route) when I felt irrationally pleased to be heading for an enormous retail park with a huge welcome sign and a one way system.
In the end our flat turned out to be rather scobby* – no one had been to check it out before we moved in, not even the letting agent. The oven door was hanging off, but that doesn’t matter too much – the oven doesn’t work anyway. The flat hadn’t been cleaned for about 2 centuries, not good for a woman with a dust allergy. The grey carpet turns out to be cream now that we found the vacuum cleaner, locked in what we found out almost a week later when we finally got into it is a cupboard containing the controls for the hot water and a washer drier.
But we have a view – not an Amsterdam view but an incredible cityscape all the same. I’ve enjoyed a few evenings watching the clouds dance across the deepening blues, golds and pinks of an evening sky. Did I mention that we had no television, not even a radio to amuse ourselves with?
Gradually, we’re getting ourselves sorted out. We’ve borrowed a tv, and bought a digital radio with a pause function so I can take a phone call and not miss an interesting interview.
The flat is almost totally descobbed – and once we have internet at home I’ll feel much more settled and begin the search for work and a new home in earnest.
We’ve had our first house guest – Dumbfunk came over at the weekend and experienced our first Saturday night out with us. More on that later.
I’ve managed to squeeze in a train journey to the Midlands, a beer and curry lads night out, drop in on friends, and a trip to the south west coast where in true seaside fashion I ate fish and chips and strolled on the beach. Almost everything I do contains some sort of revelation, and while other people complain about petrol prices and the house price crash I am seeing the country with fresh eyes. I’m rediscovering all the little things about this country, the values I carry with me, the inescapable core that no matter where I live and how I feel about home I can’t change because where I come from is part of who I am. And I’m experiencing at first hand some of the things I have missed during all those years away.
And even though I know it’s just reverse culture shock and it will pass, it’s all good.
*Scobby – dirty or nasty, stained and in need of a good clean.