Let’s face it. We all know that I was just using London. I was. I was using London to get Paris, and Rome, and Prague, and Bruges, and Amsterdam, and Munich…. blah blah blah.
Yes. Sadly, it’s true. I wasn’t in this for London. I wasn’t.
But London and I have been dating for a few months now, and I have to say… I think I’ve changed my tune. London is really growing on me. It’s beautiful and charming and complicated and mysterious. It’s casual, but sophisticated. It likes to be fancy, but it likes to just chill out in the pub too. It’s old and wise, and young and hyper. It’s lazy, it’s active. London and I might be a better match than I thought.
I mean… there is serious potential here. I feel terrible that I didn’t realize it before and I’m sorry. London has completely impressed me and IT didn’t even try. I like London for London, all on its own. And I hope it can forgive me for being so stupid.
WHERE WE STAND
We’ve been lucky enough to get out a little bit, between having Rich’s dad with us, and then my mom. We’ve seen quite a bit of the city, and talked to quite a few local strangers. We’ve gotten to know several of the neighbors, and Rich is integrating well into his new office.
When we first arrived I felt like the alien that I was. I felt like I would stick out solely by the way I (or the kids) looked. But that wasn’t true. We fit right in. Like, not perfectly. We weren’t wearing the same clothes and shoes as everyone else, but no one seemed to notice that we didn’t belong…. until one of us started speaking. As soon as you open your mouth everyone knows you’re from out of town. More so, they know you’re American. They get a little curiosity in their eye, and as the conversation goes they politely ask where you’re from. But you both already know what you’re going to say. They knowingly nod their head.
Often, when I tell people that we moved from Chicago to London, I got a lot of “Why on earth would you do that?” and “You moved HERE? From there?” This has been putting doubt in our minds. Did we make a huge mistake? Why are all these Brits confused by our actions?
Honestly, we still haven’t figured this one out. They seem to love their country, and their city… but I think maybe they are a little self-deprecating? Or can appreciate some of the more American conveniences? Either that, or they have a very idealized view of America. I don’t know. When I ask them this follow up question they mostly just say “Oh, it’s just so nice over there.” It does comfort us to know that even though the US certainly has some unflattering sides, the general image of living in America is a good one over here.
Every once in a while, though, they do take a stab at us.
For example; when Mom and I were at a Christmas lights show at Kew Garden, there was a little show at the front of the walking path. It was a Mrs. Claus, up on a stand with a microphone, welcoming us to Kew Gardens and “letting the show begin.” But as part of her show, she wanted us to see her tree first. It was the first thing that we saw on the walking path and it was all lit up and blinking.
She goes “Don’t you love my tree? It’s soooo over the top and flashy! I love it! It’s so… It’s so…. American! Haha haha ha!”
I think in general it seems like their relationship with us is a little complicated. They love us and hate us at the same time…. Maybe? I don’t know. I’m not really that worried about it.
After taking care of the essentials, we could not wait to check out some sights. Big Ben, Westminster, the Eye, Buckingham Palace, The British Museum.
MAN, was I impressed. Movies and pictures don’t do these types of places justice.
And once the Christmas lights were up, it was game on. This city is incredibly beautiful and I had no idea.
Mom and I went on a Christmas Lights bike tour.
We went to the Circus at Winter Wonderland. At first they were all like this:
And then the show started and they were like this:
CULTURE and PEOPLE
When Rich and I were running around taking care of essentials, like completing the Visa process, setting up a bank account, registering for school, and signing up for internet, we were impressed over and over again with how FREAKIN nice everyone was to us. Patient, polite, and kind. After a while we got the feeling that we were slightly annoying everyone (see complicated relationship above), and then I was even more impressed with their patience and kindness.
Total strangers, working in mundane offices, could easily be less than friendly.
All over, all the time.
Nice, nice, nice.
People in the city, on the Tube, on the bus, at the coffee shop, at the mall, at school.
Polite, nice, polite, nice.
And you know what? It never fails, people always ALWAYS offer to help us up the stairs at the tube station with the stroller, even when the stairs look like this:
Someone seriously almost always offers.
It’s like an epidemic. And you find yourself suddenly being a little more polite too.
I’m not saying people in America AREN’T nice. This isn’t a comparison game. We just noted that everywhere we went, it was the general feeling and I hope it never goes away.
This is a very diverse, huge, international city. There are alllllll kinds of people here. But, so far, my favorite kind are the very “Londony” looking ones. The ones I see on the tube when we’re heading into the city. I’ve never seen anything like these people. They are SO PERFECTLY pressed and put together. They wear all these completely put together perfect outfits on their slim bodies with perfect jackets and perfect shoes. They sit down and don’t get wrinkled. When they stand up their outfit looks like it’s on a hanger instead of somehow on a person. They smell great. They wear tweed and suede, and Burberry plaid. The women have nude eye shadow and red lipstick. They read the newspaper or hold onto their leather bags. They are a sight in themselves. And when you see them, you automatically feel like the frumpiest slob ever. Even if you had lots of time and money, and a full glam squad could you pull it off like they do. Sigh… They were born like this, and raised like this. They couldn’t be a slob even if they tried.
We live in the family friendly southwest boroughs of London.
The people where we live… they are real. They are real moms and dads. They are not the ‘Londony’ people that ride the tube into the city to work. In fact, fancy clothes and make up are hard to spot. One day, out of curiosity, at school pick up I tried to spot someone wearing mascara or lipstick. And I only found 2 women. The standard uniform for moms is UGGs, leggings, and a parka.
These are my people.
To top it off, they’re all very lovely and pleasant, and have been nothing but extremely NICE and POLITE.
As far as I can tell, the general attitude here is more laid back than we’re accustomed to. People don’t get all worked up over a Starbucks cup or a bad photo or the wrong words. It’s not to say that they don’t have opinions or things they feel passionate about – I think they’ve just gotten better at accepting and respecting each others differences. They disagree, but it doesn’t get hateful. It’s a good example for us to follow. In fact, part of the motto of the boys’ school looks like this:
“to create and enforce a clear and rigorous expectation on all schools to promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.”
And while we’re talking about the boys… they haven’t picked up an accent at all but they have definitely picked up a few little British sayings from school. They say things like “That was quite nice.”
And “Daniel was being rude.”
And “They told me off.” (I think this means to tell on someone)
And “You’re right, I didn’t look properly.”
Things move at a slower pace (see school post). When we called to get the internet, we were told that we were ‘high priority’ and they would get to us quickly…. in 13 DAYS. 13 days is high priority? Oooookaaaaay….
And after waiting 10 minutes at the doctor’s office, our name got called but then the nurse excused herself to go grab a cup of tea before she walked us back….
Stores close early, and some aren’t open on Sundays…stuff like that.
The food, like any major city, is diverse and plentiful. We have many great take out options near the house ranging from Sushi, to Peri Peri, to Pizza.
And when we want “English” food, we can go to the pub.
Me like Pub.
Pub make me happy.
It really is like you see in the movies. We have nothing even close to a real pub in America, not to my knowledge anyway. Because a Pub is old. A pub is original.
A Pub is warm. A Pub is cozy. A Pub has good food.
They are everywhere. And despite what you might think, most are kid friendly!
Pub is short for public, and its thought of as an extension of your living room. They have great names like Park Tavern, Clarence, The Slug and Lettuce, The Ship and Shovel, The Crown and Anchor, The Porcupine, and our local favorite: the Pig and Whistle.
Pig and Whistle has a fireplace, low ceilings, thick wood tables, built in bookshelves full of books and games, comfy couches, and most importantly, delicious food and… beer, for those of you who care. Now – listen. Not all pubs are created equal. If you go to a pub and the menu is all perfect and chain-like with pictures and laminated, turn around and leave. Your food will not be good here. If you walk in and everyone turns and stares at you, because you just literally walked into their house – STAY. This is where you want to be.
So, I order and have delivered 85% of my groceries and IT IS GLORIOUS. There are many grocery delivery services here. Prices are competitive, delivery is free, and the selection is great. When my first delivery came and was deposited straight into my kitchen, I knew this was going to change me. I can have, and do have everything delivered. On my delivery site I can order everything. Everything from body wash, to matches, to tomatoes, to steak. It all just shows up at my door.
For in between grocery deliveries, we have a small grocery store near the house, called a Local. I can walk there in about 5 minutes and they have all the basics.
If I’m feeling adventurous, we have a mega grocery store I can muddle around in. But remember – I’m restricted to whatever I can carry, or load in the bottom of the stroller:
I can come here and find a good variety of choices, learn about ingredients, and check out items so I know what to order on my grocery website.
I underestimated how different buying food would be. In fact, I was so intimidated and short on time that I literally and completely truthfully did not make dinner for the first two months we were here. I made chicken nuggets and pizza for the kids, and we ordered take out for the adults for every meal.
Like… hhh… food is sort of the same, but it’s usually called something else. Or, most often it’s similar but it’s packaged in a different way or shape. In other words, I can’t just run in and grab stuff. I have to look… and read… and google. The grocery store is organized slightly different too. There’s entire aisles dedicated to pudding and yogurt. There is, of course, an entire aisle of tea.
THEN there’s these: my familiar American brands, but they’ve changed slightly. Whyyyyy?
Other things just flat out have a different name. Eggplant is aubergine, zucchini is courgette, cilantro is coriander, hamburger buns are baps, tomato sauce is passata, and flashlight is a torch…. stuff like that. And there are new things to explore like crumpets and sultanas.
In addition, England is stricter on their food standards so most packaged goods have less salt, less sugar, and less preservatives. This makes the expiration dates much shorter than I’m used to – which is fine, because my fridge is small. Also – when you get to the check out they ask “Do you need bags?” Because bags are not included. You either bring your own, or pay for theirs.
Things I absolutely cannot find: applesauce, fruit snacks, cheese sticks, spaghetti squash, hand sanitizer, garlic powder, and borax.
Oh – and, looking for eggs? Don’t waste your time in the refrigerated section.
BY THE WAY – Do you know how ridiculous a person looks taking pictures in the grocery store? I will never make fun of a person taking a picture ever again.
At the risk of looking like a weirdo, I took pictures at the grocery store. For you. I shouldn’t even say “at the risk” because I totally and completely did look like a weirdo. No risk, it was for sure that I looked weird.
Honestly food shopping has been a real struggle. I have felt frustrated, confused, and inadequate. My only food shopping related high happened one morning when I was out for my coffee run. I stumbled on our local farmers market. Oh, man. It is just the loveliest damn thing. It takes place right in our local school yard, a 4 minute walk from the house. I just want to live there and/or throw all my money at it. Everybody is happy there. The vendors are happy, the shoppers are happy. There’s fresh cheese, bread, and baked goods. There’s beautiful flowers and produce. There are fresh eggs and fish and chicken and everything. Organic, local, grass-fed, free range, whatever. It goes on every Saturday all year long. You feel like a winner just being there.
All the other worries aside, I’m finally learning the lingo and slowly regaining dinner time.
Shopping -I was so ridiculous. Everyone kept telling us how expensive everything was going to be in London. Even just clothes, outrageously expensive. And so I had in my head that I might be shopping only at little boutiques for all of our clothes, things would be very pricey, and I would only be allowed to buy one pair of pants for each kid. I didn’t know, OK! While things are admittedly more expensive (like, I shipped over a big order from Carters. Even with $40 in shipping, it was still cheaper than what I could buy for Viv here), the shopping is great. Like, duh. Of course. It’s a very familiar scene, and I’ve had noooo trouble navigating it.
We had also heard about the Brit’s being notoriously iron obsessed. I think this picture clearly illustrates that:
I mean, the last time I bought an iron in America I think I went to Walmart. There were two, maybe three, and I had to dig around in the shelf to get to it because there was probably a Keurig or something in front of it.
Then, of course, the tea kettles.
Not having a car – The public transportation system here is incredible. The underground rail is called the tube. It is extensive and runs smoothly and efficiently. The buses do as well. There are frequent stops by train or by bus all over the entire city. We live right by a bus stop and a tube station, so we can get to almost anywhere very easily. The boys LOVE the tube and the bus. Their favorite spot on the bus? The top, of course, in the front. It was weird, and slightly scary, to think about us not having a car. But now that we’re here I can’t imagine having one. I don’t know what I would use it for, and both of us are honestly intimidated by the thought of trying to drive here. It’s nice not having a car. It’s one less worry, and we haven’t wished once that we had one…. Not yet anyway. We’ve barely mastered crossing the street, let alone trying to drive.
Weights, temperatures, and measures – Celsius, kilograms, milliliters. Basically, we use Google a lot. Reading food labels and British recipes is STILL very challenging for me. It took us forever to figure out how to use the oven… and the stove(or the hob, as they say)…and the washing machine…
Coins – They are still a thing here:
Green Space – Have I mentioned how lucky we got with a house in a great location? Lots of green space within walking distance.
A New addition to the family – No, we aren’t having another baby.
After much consideration about various aspects of our new lifestyle, we decided to hire and host an Au Pair. We did three interviews. Shortly after making an offer to our favorite candidate, we found out that Harry was going to be switching schools. This only confirmed how much we were going to need her, because having Harry and Finn in two different schools is obviously logistically challenging.
It’s hard at first to know if you can have a complete stranger live in your house full time. Turns out, I can. I totally can.
At first there are a lot of unknowns. But when it comes down to it, you just have to trust. You have to trust them and they have to trust you. And both of you sort of have to take a leap of faith.
Her name is Rica, and she is from a small town in Germany. She ‘works’ for about 28 hours per week. She helps with the school runs, watches Theo and Viv while I work out, feeds breakfast to Viv, lunch to Theo, and dinner to the big boys after school. Then every other weekend, she watches them in the evening so we can go out.
She’s a smart, fast learner. She’s clean and quiet, and most importantly she’s a natural with the kids. She does the dishes, sweeps the floor, and keeps the laundry going.
Basically, I love her. She’s my second, and she’s part of the squad.
This is the best I can do to adequately describe our first few months here. I’m not sure if I’m being fair or if I’ve formed a complete or accurate opinion just yet. I know I probably forgot something important. Even after these few short months, I find it hard to remember what it felt like to ‘arrive’ here, because it’s really began to feel like home.