There is an emanation from the heart

which cannot be described,

but is immediately felt and puts

the stranger at his ease.

~Washington Irving

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough...

.........and more.

It turns denial into acceptance,
chaos to order, confusion to clarity.

It can turn a meal into a feast,

a house into a home,

a stranger into a friend.

~Melody Beattie

Don't be satisfied with stories,

how things have gone with others.

Unfold your own myth.

May my life be like a great

hospitable tree, and may

weary wanderers find in

me a rest.

~John Henry Jowett

Thursday, 29 January 2015

What's It Like?

When we were back home for the holidays in the U.S. last month and doing some last minute Christmas shopping, the young man who was our check-out clerk heard Stuart's accent and his interest was immediately piqued.  He started asking questions--or more accurately bombarding us with, "where are you from", "what's it like over there", and "do you like it"? He was sweet and genuinely curious though, a small-town by with big-city dreams.

His main line of questioning centred around what the difference is between living in the U.S. and living in Europe. Technically speaking, most British people don't consider themselves European and think of Europe as the mainland--but I knew what he meant. Living in Britain and Europe is very different than living in the U.S., but how to explain all of the nuances of those differences to an eager young man in the check-out line at Target?  I did my best but it got me to thinking--what are the differences for me?  Here's just a few I came up with:

SCARVES~  This is subtle difference, not immediately apparent, and in the larger sense of the world isn't a big deal -- but it's there.  I began my own scarf wardrobe when I visited my daughter living in Paris, and coveting the beautiful, creamy scarves the French women wore so effortlessly.  In the past 20 years since then, my array of scarves has grown to a number I'd rather not repeat.  Let's just say I have scarves for every mood, every outfit, every time of year.

The biggest difference with scarves though is that in Europe and Britain men wear them too--and not just as winter mufflers to keep out the chill.  I realize men on the east coast of the U.S. often wear scarves, but in the heartland and the west coast it's rarely seen, unless the wind chill gets below freezing.  Which is a pity.  Trade a baseball cap for a scarf and a man is on the road to George Clooney with one simple knot.

THE FOOD~  Wonderful and fresh food does exist in the U.S. of course, but I've found it much easier to find real food living in Britain or travelling in Europe.  America has regions or towns that are food wastelands and people must actively seek out real, clean, fresh, organic, non-GMO food.  It doesn't matter where we are in Britain, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options are on every pub or restaurant menu, and the most beautiful, organic, whole-food store I've ever been in was up in the Lake District, miles from any big city--Booths.  I'd commute there to shop if I could, but unfortunately it's a four hour drive from Oxford.

CARS AND WALKING~ When you live in a large city in Britain or Europe you don't necessarily need a car.  That's something unimaginable to many Americans, but it's true and I know many people here in Britain who don't drive much less own a car.  We have a trusty, old Land Rover for our forays to the Cotswolds, trips to garden centres and antique shops, drives to Heathrow, and our get-aways to the Lake District or the hinterlands of Wales.  But most of the time it just stays parked.

On a daily basis Stuart and I walk everywhere, which we both love.  It's not easy lugging home, on my narrow shoulders, everything we're going to eat for the next 3 or 4 days, especially on days like today when it's 35F and a brisk north wind, with some sleet thrown in for good measure.  But even so, walking everywhere is one of the things I like most about our life, and also one of the things I find most different than life in America.  Between Max's walks and walking to the shops, I walk 3-5 miles a day.  I would't trade that for the world or a shiny car, and as Dominique Browing said, "In Britain there is a disposition toward walking."

THE SMALL THINGS~There are many, many small differences, enough to write a book about actually.  For instance British eggs aren't refrigerated--that took me awhile to get used to. And then there are the language differences and having to get used to calling a washcloth a flannel or a facecloth, a trunk is the boot, and we queue up instead of line up for the cinema, rather than a movie. Here we clean our teeth, ring someone on the telephone, and watch the footy (soccer) on the telly. There's a whole lot of please, and thank-you, and sorry going on too; a cashier at the store will thank you for the money, and well for everything actually, before you've even handed them the money.  Another book could be written about driving on the left, traffic, and just driving in general.  I do drive here but I let Stuart do most of the driving, much better for the blood pressure that way.

THE HISTORY~  This is an obvious difference, but as a lover of history, archaeology, and all things Neolithic to Victorian, I never tire of being surrounded by it.  There's hardly a stone circle I haven't visited or a cathedral I haven't walked through, but the endless supply of history to absorb and experience never ceases to excite me.
Our house was occupied and a hub of commerce before Jamestown was even established in what would become Virginia.  New College across the street was 'new' in 1379.  Evidence of Neolithic (4,000-3,500BCE) structures have been found in areas surrounding Oxford--the Rollright Stones near Chipping Norton, causewayed enclosures at Abingdon, houses near Yarnton, and long barrows in the Cotswolds and Berkshire.  When Stuart and I have a break in March we'll be visiting Portsmouth and the Mary Rose, HenryVIII's warship that was raised and restored, and Dorset's Jurassic Coast.  I'll take a stone circle, a castle, or a cathedral over a sunny beach and Disney World any old day.

There are so many more differences and I see new ones every day. It isn't always easy living in a country that isn't my own, but it makes me feel like a perpetual traveller, always experiencing things as if for the first time, able to look at the world with new eyes.

"Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by 
demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, 
worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if
we try and understand each other, 
we may even become friends."
Maya Angelou

"Only own what you can always carry with you;
know languages, know countries, know people.
Let your memory be your travel bag."
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


  1. It is fascinating that although in the same country, I can see that your experience in America, growing up was much different than mine. I grew up in the northeast just north of Boston in fact -- a suburb of Boston, and our experience was much nearer to the UK, for obvious reasons, I suppose! All of our towns have their counterpart int he greater London area, and when I look at the map, I'm amazed how many towns we have and took for granted ALL came from that area. For, example, we played Stoneham, Winchester, Woburn, Medford, Wakefield In football. I lived in Reading. I worked in Bedford. We went to church in Burlington, We lived in Middlesex county. I could go on and on! Nearly all of the places I routinely went to have UK derivatives.
    Then, the scarf thing! All of the men and boys I knew growing up wore scarves -- especially to church and work, and of course we all young and old wore them for warmth in the Winter. We also used public transportation -- of course, obviously, there is a lot more of it and it is good in the Northeast. Neither of my grandmothers ever drove, but they went everywhere! Even well up into her 70's and 80's, my Dad's mom would take herself to Boston, via bus, train, subway (underground). I loved growing up that way -- and frankly miss it here. I find the Midwest a bit boring, actually. I think I would absolutely Love England -- the towns, countryside, and even the bustle of London. I know I would love visiting Oxford. I have several connections there. And if I do come, will certainly book your B&B in advance!! I enjoy your blog so much!!

  2. Thanks for stopping by again today. I'm always amazed too about the place names and how many made the crossing to the colonies. Your experiences growing up do sound more similar to Britain--much different than mine in the midwest and the west coast. But from the moment I landed in Britain 25 years ago, I knew I was home--never once dreaming I'd actually live here one day. I hope you do get to England one day--it will be even better than you've dreamed.