Back in Blighty. Sorry, But We Are Foreigners Here!
We always knew our European travels would start from the UK. It's the place where we will register the motorhome as we have family whose address we can use as a home base. And it's where the majority of our family still lives so starting from here gives us a chance to catch up with them.
Iain and I left the UK in 1999. We moved to California over 18 years ago and that's a long time to be away. Through the years we have come back often to visit family but this is the longest period of time we have spent here since we relocated. Many things have changed, and many have stayed the same.
Firstly, what definitely hasn't changed at all is the weather! It's still as depressing as ever with persistent grey skies and rain making everything damp wet and muddy and it's supposed to be Spring! I'm just not into it at all. Whoever said "there's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing" was talking crap.
Another aspect that hasn't changed is the beauty of the countryside. Driving around central England these last few weeks we have seen endless vistas of green fields full of sheep with new lambs, hedgerows, thatched cottages, church spires and charming country pubs. It's not just stuff of Richard Curtis films - it really is like that here. If only it were guaranteed to be bathed in sunshine every day it would picture postcard perfect.
So what has changed? Well the food on offer has improved considerably. The variety and quality available in restaurants and pubs is so much better than we remember. In the past you could always rely on good Indian food, fish & chips and maybe the odd pub that served something tasty but now Britain is filled with quality restaurants, gastropubs and cafes.
We have also noticed a marked improvement in customer service. The idea that people working in retail or hospitality are actually there to serve you and make your experience better is second nature in the US but in the UK service had traditionally been lacking. While British customers may still be skeptical about strangers being nice to them, we welcome the change.
Another advance that seems leagues ahead of the US is the idea of being cashless. We have paid for virtually everything with our phones using Google Pay. While the US is starting to move in that direction, here they are years ahead. We've even paid for parking with our phone and the license plate recognition technology at the exit barrier makes sure that only we are driving our car out of the garage and not a thief.
Technology works both ways though. Speed cameras are everywhere, and not just one-off checks but cameras that monitor your average speed between various points on the motorway. I guess it's probably for the good of everyone but you definitely need to keep your wits about you.
The list of changes is probably as long as my arm - we'll talk about beer culture in a future post. However, what I really wonder is whether what has changed the most is us. We literally became Americans over the last two decades and I think that maybe it's not just our citizenship that changed. British people are unfailingly polite and apologetic. It's not uncommon to start every sentence with the word sorry. "Sorry, what size of coffee do you want?", "Sorry, are you ready to order?" is in part charming and in part annoying. It's as if people are uncomfortable interacting with each other; no-one wants to trouble anyone else about anything, even if they are doing something nice like bringing you a drink.
Presumably we were once like that too, but now we are much more direct, familiar and, dare I say it, American. I wonder if we come across as rude and brash. I feel like we are not participating in this oddly British dance of making the least amount of fuss possible. I am not sure we can or want to return to our old ways. While I still believe Iain and I have lots of Britishness running through our veins, I think our years living in the US have changed how we behave and honestly, I think it's for the better. I am not going to apologize for that.