Tuesday, November 2, 2010

New London, New Me

We've returned to London this past month in what can only be described as the craziest thing we've done (since Korea). My husband was accepted into a prestigious PhD programme, and I came here to work. It's marvellous except for one tiny hiccup: I have yet to find work in this city. London is a lot like what I imagine New York City to be, a city where you can truly make your wildest dreams come true. Except we have no such wild dreams. We are New World immigrants in reverse, come to the Old World to lose our fortunes and create a worse life for our children than they might have had back home! Okay, so that statement might be a slight exaggeration, especially the part about phantom children.

Having lived here once before, we have quickly adapted to our new neighbourhood, seemingly unaffected by culture shock. London's ethnic diversity is a breath of fresh air compared to the sea of white that is Brentwood Bay, BC, where the only diversity is of the goat-walking-hippie variety. I have immediately fallen in love with the Moroccan and Lebanese restaurants lining Edgeware Rd, the scent of shisha pipes trailing me as I walk down the street. I have discovered the delight that is the Asian supermarket in Queensway (it even sells Kimchi!), and in a fit of ecstasy realised that my all-time favourite Indian restaurant is but a 25 minute walk from our flat.

Many of my good friends still live in London, and more friends have moved here since our departure. With such a support network, it is easy to remain optimistic in the face of the EVIL JOB MARKET. So it came as a surprise to me when I eventually hit THE WALL. Any expat will know what I am talking about, and I can assure you it has happened to me numerous times in more than one country. The theory of culture shock describes this phenomenon as the point at which the 'honeymoon' or 'tourist' phase of living in the adopted country is over, and the frustration of reality begins. I beg to differ. I think that once you've lived in so many places, you become more immune to culture shock as a whole, and more susceptible to long periods of calm with occasional short bursts of nervous breakdown. You think to yourself, "everything is fine. I have it all under control. I've lived in numerous places... heck, I've even lived in this exact city before!" And then the bank denies you a bank account and ruins your entire day. You berate yourself for coming up with this crazy plan, you envy the ease with which your spouse fell into his busy schedule of studying, but mostly you hate the bank. And then you watch this scene from Mary Poppins and it all makes sense. British banks have obviously been weird and creepy for a very long time.

On the other hand, it's not like I actually need a bank account yet. So until I find someone willing to deposit large sums of lovely money into it, I won't worry too much. In the meantime, I continue to send my CV out into the cybervoid and fantasize about the day I can sit at home, making fun of my family in a weekly column like my idol, Tim Dowling. The new London is not unlike the city I knew three years ago, but my expectations have changed. I'm ready to make a go of it here, armed with little but my determination and skills.

Oh dear, what have I gotten myself into?


mental mosaic said...


I found you via NaBloPoMo, too, but I am merely a fellow blogger dropping by to say hi.

I have lived in Belgium and Italy and no what you mean about "the wall." Like the time in Antwerp when the electric company insisted on interviewing us in person before turning on power to our apartment.

We were brand new and barely knew Dutch, so we flubbed the interview. Plus, we'd taken time off work! Anyway, we returned a few days later with a friend to interpret, and suddenly the whole staff spoke English - fluently!

I love Antwerp, though, I've gotta say, and would love to go back.

Anyway, I'll keep checking back to see how your NaBloPoMo is going. I've done it for a few years now, and it is always so fun and inspiring.


Cait Espinoza said...

Hi MM! Thanks for your comment. I will definitely check out your blog too. I've never been to Antwerp, but my husband and I went to Brussels a few years back (the first time we lived in London as master's students). I know what you mean about pointless interviews, though. When I was a student in France, I had to be interviewed before I was granted a 'carte de séjour' to stay the whole year. The French embassy had already granted me a student visa, but it was a 3 month visa for a 1 year program. I had to get the rest of the visa in France and it was a major pain even though I speak fluent French.