Experts say no matter how long you have been gone or where you went, moving back to your home country is unexpectedly difficult. My British husband, James talked about his reverse culture shock when we moved to England after being in the USA. He never settled back into British life. People sympathetically ask how he is adjusting to Texas after leaving “home” a second time. James didn’t miss a beat. I think it helps that he has a career that organises his time and schedule for him. It also gives him an instantaneous network of people- even though he home offices- so he has less time to fill, and less decisions to make.
Meanwhile, I feel a bit lost. As a stay at home mom, particularly during the summer, it is up to me to figure out our day, how we spend our time, what we buy, what we eat, and who we hang out with. I am beginning to see the difficulty of repatriation, although it is hard to put into words what is missing and different. Is it me? Is it America? What specifically is making it challenging to feel ‘at home’ again?
I could mention all the things I do love about America. The list is long. I’m glad to be back, but miss my friends in England, the depth of the culture, the landscape, our routine, and knowing which products to buy, what a good price was for produce, and where to spend weekends. I had a niche in England, too. I was “the Texan.” People always had something to ask me about- and I could get away with things my English friends said they couldn’t- like bartering or asking for upgrades at theatres.
Moving back, I’m now a parent to older children, just far enough away from my old neighbourhood and friends, and just changed enough in myself that I have refigure out almost everything. I feel like I “should know” how to operate, but feel a bit alien. I feel clueless about how the school system works, even though I’m a product of it. When I saw a police officer with a gun at the elementary school, I made a seriously awkward shocked comment about it. I only remember seeing an armed guard or police officer in England on very rare occasions.
I find myself sitting at long red lights where I could make a right as long as it’s clear, being shocked by sales clerks who are overly helpful, awestruck at the size of houses, people, cars, and portion sizes. I can’t revert back to using the word “restroom” and automatically request the “loo” or more awkwardly, “the toilet.” I picked up a weird inflection in my accent, but the kids are rapidly losing theirs. We’ve held onto words for Meredith like “dummy” for pacifier and “nappy,” but even she is using the American ‘diaper’ more regularly. My 7 year old drew me a picture and I was surprised that she wrote “Dear Mum” because I think she says “mom” most of the time. I’ll ask how many pounds something costs and prefer weather updates in degrees Celsius. I’m still on the Facebook pages for my old community, and find myself scanning them looking at things people are selling or people posting about missing pets.
My son ran into our bedroom in tears because of the raining and “yellow banging” and I found myself scared for my life at the thunderstorm just this weekend. I had forgotten how intense the thunder and lightening can be. The poor kids didn’t even know what it was.
My dreams are weird amalgamations of American places with English loved ones and very frequently, I wake up expecting to be in my old house. I despise how readily medication is given out by doctors- even though I felt the UK national health service was slow to intervene when it was necessary.
I am sad that the range of diversity is so much more narrow than England. I can’t even say I miss the English, because most of my friends came from around the world. I used to joke at my friends’ coffee mornings that we basically made up the United Nations. I’m sad my kids (and I) won’t be exposed to as many cultures.
I miss walking to the grocery store and going almost everyday. I miss my daily loaf of fresh bread- buying baguettes even though the packaging was too short and the end of it touched the basket and the conveyor belt. I was accustomed to a slower pace of life and one of less competition and expectation and options. Sometimes I’m paralysed by too much choice. There are 368 restaurants in my city alone. Buying peanut butter is exhausting. I have to shop at Aldi in America. I cannot yet cope with the numerous options at your typical grocery store. Living in such a consumer country- with drive-thru pharmacies, dry cleaners and banks, pay-at-the pump petrol stations- where every store stays open until 9 pm Monday-Saturday and 7 pm on Sunday is so convenient, but hard to get my head around again.
I find it crazy the amount of organised sports for four year olds and how happy and positive Americans are in general. It’s like everybody drank happy juice. I missed that when I lived in England, and now I’m puzzled by it in Texas.
I always said in England that the English don’t notice one another, and I’m constantly thrown by how much Texans notice and respond to you. I’m not invisible anymore. It sometimes takes my breath away. I had forgotten how connected you can feel with strangers everywhere you go- I used to be the one putting forth the effort to make connection happen. I used to play a game to see how many people I could get to make eye contact and smile at me. It was hard work.
America is a whole different place. People hold doors, compliment your parenting, engage your children, offer you their unused coupons, recommend a product to make your life easier– all without asking or wanting something in return. England is such a culture of fear and suspicion. I have been surprised by how much that penetrated into my psyche. The niceness catches me off guard a bit. My daughter asked me, “How do we know ALL these people mom?!” When I told her they were polite strangers, she glared, “It’s very creepy, don’t you think?” We just aren’t used to it yet.
I adjusted well in England. My husband always said it was a 3 year move for our family, but I kept meeting expat after expat, who intended to be in England for a brief period of time, but as life goes, settled and didn’t leave- 10, 20, and 30 years later. I didn’t want to half live in England. I insisted we sell our house, our cars, everything in America to commit to living in one place. As it turns out, my husband was right- we moved back to Texas after 2.5 years, and with less than 2 months of real notice.
Having to sort out the logistics of downsizing to 7 suitcases while pregnant and still parenting 3 young children and organising all of our new life from abroad- I haven’t had much time still to process the change in my head. I am having trouble buying things “for real” because it all still feels so temporary. Seven houses in 9 years will do that for you, I guess. I still feel like I’m in this transient space. Not really here nor there.
I didn’t want to half live in England, and I don’t want to half live in Frisco. I think I’m a bit emotionally and physically drained from the transition- and making friends, making a home and making breakfast, lunch, and dinner takes a lot of energy– and I suppose, making a baby. I’m going to have to put the same level of energy into making this home as I did England- accepting everything for what is and not for what it isn’t, and establishing the culture of our family regardless of our location or surroundings.
I’m still working on how and when is best to connect to old friends and family, constantly wishing the time zones weren’t so different. I’m thankful for FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Facebook. I guess, I’m thankful for the opportunity to have lived in two great places. I need to give myself permission to miss the old and welcome the new- to give myself time to find my groove again and be patient as things settle.
It’s 30 days until baby #4 comes. That feels almost too big to think about right now. On top of it all, I’m going to be nursing a newborn and lacking sleep. And yet, in the next breath, we have had so much transition and so many kids, what is one more?
We are slowly getting furniture in the house. Most of the downstairs is empty, but the kids rooms are getting there. Baby’s room is missing some details, like curtains and a crib skirt. There are a few blank spaces for shelves and photos, but I’m happy he has a place to sleep. The giraffe picture makes me ridiculously happy and set the inspiration for the whole room. I just love him.