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The Things I Miss: Fourth Month

How long does it take to adjust to a new place? Ninety days? Six months? No matter where you turn, it seems some blogger confidently suggests you either should have adapted to the "new normal" by now, or alternatively "need just a little bit more time, be gentle with yourself, this stuff is hard."

As if it's possible to consider all the variables inherent in the question itself: the personalities involved, the circumstances, the climate of the world or a place or a culture.... I suspect there are people out there in the world who could be plucked out of a penthouse apartment in Manhattan and deposited on the Mongolian steppes and think, "Yeah, y'know, this is alright."

I am not one of those people.

Change is hard, probably for all of us. I guess maybe I'm in the middle of that spectrum. I'm getting better at adapting to change, at least in terms of the nuts and bolts of functioning in new environments. Emotionally, though, I don't do as well. I envy those who do, those who truly "go with the flow." On the outside, I might appear to be doing exactly that, but inside each step of the way I'm hyperventilating and glancing over my shoulder and wondering if it's too late to go back the way I came.

So I've been here in the UK, in Wales, for about four months -- nearly five. I had been counting the weeks at one point, jotting the number in the calendar margins. [That's right, I keep a paper calendar. I'm old.] I've sort of forgotten whether that number represented UK residence or instead time spent at my current job (which I dislike), and whether those numbers were intended to provide solace and encouragement, like mile markers alongside a trail, or instead a sort of countdown off my various contractual obligations, such as work or my rental house. No matter. Much as with growing children, I suspect at some point you simply start referring to your child's age as eighteen months rather than ... however many weeks that'd be. I'm into "months" now.

Regardless of whether weeks or months, there have been a lot of changes since moving to the UK. No surprise there. That's sort of the whole reason I came over here, right? For the change of it? Still, as with anything else, there will always be unanticipated manifestations of those changes. I was consciously expecting: the shocks of accents and vocabulary; driving narrow roads (on the left-hand side); bland foods, ... But I wasn't anticipating: the inability to buy a mop that doesn't look like it came from a Carol Burnett skit; unabsorbent household paper products which simply push fluids around; baking flour that remains steadfastly clumped in spite of sifting and whisking. And other unpleasantries: a paperback novel so poorly glued that the mere act of turning the page pulled that page (and the ones after) from the binding; exorbitantly priced and poorly made dog beds; the generally poor quality of textiles -- towels, sheets, blankets. The list goes on.

Every ex-pat guidebook emphasizes the caution against comparing the new to the old. Fretting about how things used to be, and wondering why "that" can't just be done "here" is a certain recipe for unhappiness. It easily gives way to the next step of painting the entire culture with too broad a brush, and usually not a very positive one: "These Brits, they sure are like [XYZ]!" As if that's possible of any group of people, much less an island of sixty million.

So I've tried to keep my judginess in check. But I do think it's only human nature to miss the things that comfort you: clean and cozy tumble-dried flannel sheets; air-conditioning on a hot summer day; food flavored with more seasonings than just salt and pepper -- or, y'know, just salt. Books whose pages remain bound throughout the entire reading.

I think it must be part of any culture how these choices evolve. And they must be, actually, choices -- at least on some level, whether conscious or otherwise, right? I mean, just across the Bristol channel, there's France -- right there. And if anyone knows how to work the ingredients of the earth into flavorful culinary creations, it's the French. And they are only a stone's throw away. So it does no good for the Brits to claim ignorance of alternative cooking options, because prime examples of other options are just RIGHT THERE! Instead as their guest I have to accept they have for some reason chosen to remain in the land of bland cuisine. Perhaps it has something to do with famine and world wars and austerity and deprivations. I may never know. I can only live here.

Yesterday, I thought I'd try again at the little corner "farmers' deli" -- to support local business. This tiny -- and I do mean tiny, with the entire footprint only about a hundred square feet -- shop has a small deli case, as well as selling local ice creams, vegetables, sauces, beers.. Just a few of each, what will fit. I picked up two small pots of primrose for the garden, as well.

"I'd like a sandwich, please. What's good today?"

The shopgirl offered up the gammon (ham) and salad (slaw), which is what I had last time (disappointing), or a "cheese and [incomprehensible due to a combination of face mask, Welsh accent, and probably also unfamiliar vocabulary]."

"Sure, I'll have that." "The cheese?"

"Yes, please. The cheese."

I didn't watch her make the sandwich as I was too busy scanning the shelves for other things I might want or need, and also wanting to further support the shop's business. So when I got home and unwrapped the sandwich, I found it to be a disappointing construction of white bread (homemade but not much different than Wonder bread in texture), butter (all bread is buttered here -- it's the law, somewhere, I'm sure), a couple slices of cheese (type unknown - maybe cheddar?), and a tiny amount of pickled relish of some sort.


Look, I don't want to complain about British food, because surely someone has devoted an entire blog, or book, or Netflix series, to this topic. But it's rare that I finish eating anything here without wondering why they couldn't have just added ... something. Lettuce? Chili pepper? Vinegar? -- And Friday after work I stopped at a local grocery to pick up a take-and-bake pizza, and I'll be damned if I could find one that had any sort of vegetable on it at all. I simply do not understand.

... Sorry, I said I wasn't going to complain. I mean, I'd have to be some sort of idiot to come to Britain for the food. Or the weather. World-renowned, both of those. No, I knew and am trying my best to accept it as part of the big picture. But the little things really do sometimes come as a shock. Meanwhile, I'll just settle in under my scratchy blanket, with a cheese and butter sandwich, to start reading yesterday's new book delivery. I hope the pages stay in this time.


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