It has been an interesting 10.5 months here in the UK but, in 12 more days, my stay will be over. The computers will have to be packed up soon, so this is my last post from Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom. My thanks to you, gentle reader, if you’ve been among my silent audience all this time.
It has been a rewarding experience. It may sound like I’m stating the obvious, but British culture is quite a bit different from the US culture and, to my benefit, I’ve been here long enough to appreciate the subtleties that one just doesn’t see during a 1-2 week tourist visit. I’ve grown accustomed to them, too, so I’m braced for my return to the US and will post some of my post-repatriation impressions here.
Being an ex-pat is an interesting experience. Of all those friends who vowed to take advantage of the opportunity and come visit me, not a one did. I discovered who among them is a good email correspondent and who’s not. My appreciation of Federal Express and the US and Royal mail services grew. I came to appreciate the 1-pound coin and now think the US should do away with its $1 bill. I learned to walk carefully in a land where pedestrians do not have the right-of-way and learned to drive on the "other" side of the road. I became engrossed in watching rugby and learned to love traditional ale. I learned what it is to be utterly on my own for nearly a year, with no friends and no social life. I spent many weekends speaking to no one who wasn’t taking my order.
The people here are generally friendly, pleasant, and relaxed. Life is less hectic and less stressful. Their opinion of the US, despite George Bush, is quite good. Manners are valued and almost everyone on the other side of a sales counter from me, in stores tiny and large, addressed me as “Sir”. They take their free medical care as a given and cannot understand why we have such a kooky system.
On the other hand, the drinking culture here is out of control and dangerous. Public drinking is not illegal, and youth binge drinking is a serious and pervasive problem. Discarded drink cans and the smell of urine is common on Saturday and Sunday mornings in town. The laws allow police to take action only after a serious crime has been committed; excessive drinking is very often involved. CCTV cameras, 4.2 million of them, watch everything and everyone in England but seem most useful in solving, not preventing or deterring, crime.
I took in a lot of great places and sights – museum exhibits, theatre performances, historic sites, awesome art, and more. I took advantage of the greatest, free entertainment institution in the world, the Public Library, and read 62 books while here. I read the London Times and the Independent – both fine newspapers. I played the EuroMillions lottery every week and won nothing, but enjoyed comparing notes with the father and son who run my local news agent shop.
So, I’m now boxing up my stuff and preparing all those customs forms and will soon fly home. I’ll have one last night in London to take measure and reflect on my Life in the UK; the next day I’ll start the next chapter.