So I’ve come to a strange point in my expatriation journey, and that is the realization that England is not my last country after all. When I moved here in 2006, it was with the the tacit internal understanding that I was not going to move again. Old Blighty was going to be my home, I would work towards settling here, and here I would stay. I’m a nester, not a nomad–or so I’d like to think.
6 years on, I’m starting to think about it very differently. It’s a bittersweet process. I’ve realized that my destiny is not irrevocably linked to England no matter how much I might love the place at times. I’ve realized that there are new and exciting places out there, and that I have the capability and the opportunity to go there and live life just as fully as I have in the US and the UK.
But underneath all of that? I’m thinking about the things I’ll be glad to leave behind.
Look, I’m not trying to be the harbinger of doom…there are just things about England that I really dislike. There’s a few I love as well. Without further ado, here are some of those things.
I love; The NHS(at least, up to this point). Granted, it’s not perfect and I’ve had my share of misdiagnoses and doctors in need of a good people skills training course. But for what it’s worth, being able to get free or very affordable health and dental care is very valuable and has improved the quality of my life immensely over the six years that I’ve lived in the UK. The only problem really, is that I’m always getting sick because…
I hate:the dirt. England is DIRTY, man. I used to think it was just Manchester, but nope, it’s everywhere to some extent. Litter and pigeon poo and dog poo and green and black canals with floating garbage at the lock end and grimy alleys full of rubbish bags and just…yuck. Now to be fair, England isn’t as dirty as some places I’ve been. (Warsaw, I’m looking at you.) The problem is, though, that England isn’t dirty because it can’t help it–it’s not a poor or besieged country and nobody here is making a living from subsistence scrounging and trash picking. The infrastructure and capability to be a clean and inviting place exist here. It just seems sometimes that people are expecting someone else to do the cleaning up for them, or are just not bothered by disarray. Folks here will litter and not clean up after their dogs and vomit in public without much stigma. As my very Mancunian co-worker says, “People just don’t care.”Whether or not that’s true I can’t say, but when I go on a walk in the Peaks and find empty crisp packets and condom wrappers along an otherwise pristine trail, it certainly looks that way. The mess and general uckiness of the streets is even more disappointing because…
I love: The organization. It may be a stereotype, but it’s very true…the Brits are organized. Everything has a timetable, a schedule, and a form and everything actually operates according to the timetable, schedule and form. (Except for the Arriva buses, but that’s another blog post entirely.) You can find a bus schedule, train schedule, ferry schedule, and plane schedule at the tips of your fingers, and there is usually a process of permission for anything you want to do–whether that’s hold a block party, dispute a gas bill, or enter the country with a foreign passport. Speaking of foreign passports, though, that brings me to my next thing…
I hate: the xenophobia. Brits will swear up and down that they are not racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic but they are. It just doesn’t show up obviously because it is not considered cool to be nationalistically British in any way shape or form. (Although I personally think that English population would do well to positively reclaim their Britishness and restore a national sense of identity and pride–no matter how un-English a thing that is to do). Then again, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that everyone, everywhere, is a little xenophobic even if it doesn’t show, so this one could be said of everywhere.
Okay, the next two are pretty heavy…you ready for it?
I love: The English. The people that I have gotten to know and love the best while living in this country are the ones who are very unapologetically, often eccentrically English. I’m talking old ladies in velcro-closure brogues riding bicycles with wicker baskets on the front and a mismatched kerchief tied round their hair. Seasoned gentlemen in galoshes with rosy cheeks and Yorkshire twangs so thick you could pour them over pudding. Soft-spoken ladies who keep gardens, save for Spanish holidays, and correct their children’s pronunciation at the dinner table. Lads in tight cardigans, shiny shoes, and strange haircuts who listen to indie bands and go to the pub every weekend. Girls in flat shoes and dark tights who keep an umbrella in their handbag at all times and straighten their hair every other day. I like the English. Not a lot of people seem to. But I do. There’s something very self-effacing yet eager about English people and English culture. Young English people should embrace and enjoy their heritage. There’s more to it than empire. But that said, the flip side is…
I hate: arrogance and mediocrity. Lest anyone get stuck at these two words and decide to flame me for being anti-English, please remember two things. One; I am a little bit of a xenophobe just like everyone else, and two: overall, I like England and the English. I spent nearly four years volunteering(i.e. working for free) for a youth and community work project meant to address some of the social ills plaguing inner city England at the moment(and if you want to dispute that, go look at this news story about child poverty in Manchester and holla back.) I did that because I love England and English people. I’m not saying what I’m about to out of malice or superiority. England has serious social, economic, and political problems right now. I don’t see them getting any better any time soon for two reasons. The first is that England can be arrogant. There is still very much an attitude of England knows best and everything else is abnormal and strange and deviant, especially if it has the nerve to take place on English soil and not be of English origin. England still behaves like an empire even though right now it is only one country holding on to its superpower status with IOU’s and reputation. And because of this, England has fallen into a pattern of mediocrity in some areas. The general expectations when it comes to education, criminal justice and morality are frighteningly low for many people and it’s because many people expect that England–Britain, really–is great and will continue to be so without a committment to excellence and innovation on the part of its people–if they even care about England at all. I’m not patriotic for my own country, let alone anyone else’s. but I do honestly see the potential for great things in England’s future being hamstrung by an over-reliance on England’s past.
Add to that issues of precariousness, insecurity, and the slow trickle of uppity foreigners like myself who hang around for a while, get sick of the pigeons and rain and eventually wander away shaking their heads–and you have quite a puzzle being poured into the international playing field’s hands.
As always, there’s loads more to say, but I’ll leave it at that and hopefully, some of you will come along and share. Peace!
Oh, and in the grand new tradition of picking song lyric blog titles that have nothing to do with anything, here’s today’s. Be warned, it’s more 90’s rock, but that seems to be what I’m re-into lately.