Thursday, March 02, 2017

British Expat: 5 Things I Absolutely Miss About Britain

Don't get me wrong: living in America has been an indescribably fruitful experience. From the dazzling mountains of Colorado to the cityscape of Chicago, the United States is a profoundly beautiful place and I feel lucky for every single day of my residence here. Well, almost every day; I once had gastroenteritis. That wasn't pleasant.

But two years removed from a full decade in the country, I still miss certain aspects of British life. I can't help it. Who could? Britain was my home for 27 years, after all.

And so, in the interest of making sure I don't forget these elusive British elements in the future, I figured it would be best if I wrote them down. 

So here goes.

1. The Weather
Admittedly, it's not often you'll hear someone from Britain declare his or her longing for the drizzly, overcast skies of the Motherland. Indeed, eight years ago, I'm not sure even I would have put forth such a bold proclamation. But then I was introduced to the American Midwest, whose Jekyll and Hyde climate made Britain look like the Mediterranean. 

As I negotiate my way through my first Chicago winter (mercifully warmer than usual, owing to the majestic gift of climate change), my thoughts turn routinely to the puddles at the side of British streets. There's something oddly different about British water accumulation; I'm not sure if it's the precipitation itself or if Britain simply specializes in extra-pungent sewers. But there's definitely a unique smell and—more importantly—colo(u)r to its puddles. And, despite all of my best qualities, I somehow miss that. 

2. Walks in the Lake District
I once got lost in the Lake District. My ex-girlfriend and I had been looking for the house of William Wordsworth and—for reasons I cannot quite explain—we took a wrong turn that took us instead to a pub reminiscent of the one at the start of American Werewolf in London. Our entrance into said establishment—disheveled and bewildered as we were—even elicited a similar response from the locals. To this day, I adhere to a self-imposed ban on social interaction during a full moon. Believe me, this in the public interest.

But it was the spontaneity of such walks that always spoke to me. Google Maps was in its infancy and it was before the days of smartphones; furthermore, your electronic devices would likely do you little good in the hills and mountains of Windermere. We had relied on nothing but local chit chat, road signs, and our own faulty intuition, as we hiked our way through miles and miles of English inclines. Getting lost in the countryside is the very definition of adventure—no matter which part of the country you find yourself in. But there's something very grand—and, at the same time, quaint—about the Lake District. When it comes to wandering off the beaten path (literally), few things appeal to me more.

3. British Money
The older I've become, the less attached I've grown to material possessions. But there will always be one material possession in particular that I've somehow come to miss: British money. There's something oddly agreeable about the Queen's face and its presence on every item of currency. I also enjoy how, for example, the five-pound note and ten-pound note bear marked design differences, whereas their American equivalents appear—Abraham Lincoln and Alexander Hamilton notwithstanding—virtually identical.

And those coins! America—determined at every level to dabble in shapes that admittedly make complete sense (Colorado is almost a perfect rectangle) doesn't have an arm of currency quite like the fifty pence coin. Britain is perfectly at ease with its geometric quirkiness, evidenced not just by its oddly shaped shrapnel (slang for coins), but by the next entry on the list.

4. British Streets
Whether they're cobbled, paved, or tarmac'd, the streets of Britain remain a meandering enigma that—to a great extentwere a gift from the Romans. Such is the non-grid-like nature of British town-planning that it's perhaps little wonder that the Beatles wrote a record called The Long and Winding Road (though the jury is still out on their earlier track Why Don't We Do it in the Road?). But while I do derive a nerdy satisfaction out of Chicago's inner-city grid system, there's something uniquely inviting about the hidden alley ways, the confusing back streets, and the endless twists and turns. What can I say? I like my streets the way I like my women; curvy, strong on character, and with a good sense of humo(u)r.

As you may have detected while reading entry number two, I have this odd affinity for losing myself in a place. Just as the Lake District had sent me off course all those years ago, so did the occasional nightly, potentially drunken stroll through the city of Lancaster, the place where I'd attended university. Indeed, it was during my student days in particular that such aimless wandering led me to the warm, cozy interior of a local watering hole. And that's where we reach the fifth and final entry on the list... 

5. British Pubs
America tries. It really, really tries. Indeed, in my early years living in the U.S., "authentic" British pubs were a great source of comfort for this confused Brit. However, such imitations do have this bizarre tendency to adorn their walls with an unrealistic number of Winston Churchill portraitsjust in case you didn't get it the first time. And there's a good reason you might not, because dotted either side of the Prime Minister are dozens and dozens of 32-inch HD television sets, often showing the sort of football to which us Brits are not attuned. 

Frankly, what American pubs often fail to capture is the scratched-in, dimly-lit nature of Britain's finest establishments. A place that goes by the name of The Fox and Hound should never be in the business of cleaning its decor so meticulously that it produces a reflection; its decor should be full of stories, battered and chipped, and with a hint of the cigarette stains that once assaulted it. The smell in the air should not be of disinfectant, but of spilled Heineken and crushed peanuts. Because that's the pub I accidentally wandered into while looking for Wordsworth's house; that's the pub I frequented every Friday night in Lancaster; that's the pub I really miss.

Sometimes, it's better to watch me. Click the red button below.


Laurence Brown is a British man writing his way through the truly bizarre world of America - a place he sometimes accidentally calls home and a place he still hasn't quite figured out after seven years. Thankfully, his journey is made 12% easier by the fact that his accent makes him sound much smarter than he is. For evidence of this, subscribe to his popular Lost in the Pond web series over on YouTube.

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