England, England, land of hope and glory, mother of the free… what have you done to me?
As a lifelong lover of English, I knew that coming to England for the first time will be one hell of an emotional ride. And indeed it was, but not necessarily in the ways I would have expected. From sheer anger to pure amazement, from deep frustration to tears of joy, a true roller coaster my first week in the UK has been (and no, it’s not PMS). If I were to choose a single word to describe this country, it would probably have to be ‘ridiculous’. Ridiculously beautiful, ridiculously expensive, ridiculously cold and ultimately, ridiculously English.
My journey started off on the wrong foot with my flight being delayed for 2 hours, missing all my connections, having to pay extra to change them and spending about 3 hours on a bus that was absolutely freezing – it was about 15 degrees outside and the AC was on. Later on I learned that 15 degrees is considered tropical weather in the UK. You live and learn, what can I say.
So anyway, I finally get to Bournemouth, angry, frustrated and not feeling some parts of my body because of the cold. And then I find one of those perfectly English black cabs to take me to what would be my home for the next month. The car then stops in front of this beautiful Victorian house, with bay windows and delicate pink English roses in the front garden. Needless to say, all of the anger and frustration melted away in those moments.
England and its beauty
What followed in the next few days goes on in the same style. I walked around the streets everyday, in amazement of how beautiful everything is – the houses, the parks, the beaches. It all seems unreal, just like walking on a movie set. But every now and then someone breaks my bubble: they ask me where I’m from. I feel it like a punch in the stomach. I have to say it, there’s no way to dodge it. And then I see how their whole attitude changes in an instant. They’ll still be polite to you, but there’s suddenly a wall between you and them. And then I think about everything that’s going on back home and it all seems so wrong and unfair and I get this intense feeling of sadness running through every cell in my body.
But, hey, at least I’m here and I get to experience and enjoy all the good things that this country has to offer. Maybe during the process I can even change some people’s minds and make them see not all of us are that bad. Every little victory counts, right?
Do I even mention how much green there is everywhere and how we’re chopping down all our trees?
England and its dogs
One of the things that I like most about the English is their love for dogs. You can talk trash about them, their family, spouses, children, just don’t say anything bad about the dog. Go to any park in the country and ask them about their dogs. They’ll talk to you for hours, telling you what the dog eats, how he sleeps, what he likes to play with, his character and so on.
The other day I was walking the dogs in the park (I do that for the lady I’m staying with) and as usual all the doggies and owners were gathered together. A lady joins us, she had her dog with her and a baby in a stroller. They all greeted the dog, asked about his name, age, preferences. During the whole time I was there not one person even looked at that baby in the stroller. I felt like I finally found my people, right then and there. Fellow dogs lovers, you get me, right?
England and its charity
Another interesting experience was going to a Conversation Club, organised by the church (which by the way is a great thing to do when you’re in a new country and trying to learn the language). Now, I personally am no big fan of the church and I have my own very strong beliefs, so I was a bit skeptical at first. I actually discovered some very nice, open-minded and accepting people. Sure, they did bring Jesus into the question, but it didn’t feel like they were trying to convince us, but were just simply very passionate and liked talking about this. We all got a chance to talk about our beliefs and not once did I feel judged (try doing that in Romania with people of the church).
Anyway, the point is these people were doing this for free, out of the sole desire of giving back to the community. And that’s the thing: their whole culture and education is so focused around the concept of charity, of helping out those in need, of being there for the people. Maybe that’s why everything works in this country, maybe that’s why they have such good lives? Guess we’ll never know, huh? Or…? (don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’ve landed in Shangri-La, but compared to us, they do have it good).
Cristina and the culture shock
Coming from, I’m sorry but I have to say it, a third-world country, all of these things, that are so natural to them, feel
so weird to me and I have moments when I don’t know how to process it all. I have traveled extensively throughout Europe, but for some reason, everything I’ve seen and experienced here seems so different. Good different. And I’m happy and grateful to be here. But I’ve also felt the gap between where I come from and the civilized world stronger than ever. And it hurts like a motherfucker.
Just to end this on a more positive note, the other days I met a guy who had just gotten here from the Middle East and I thought ‘If I’m having such a hard time adapting, how are things for him?’ I guess it’s all about perspective after all…