Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Observations of a OneTime Outsider.

People ask what we notice coming back here & I hardly dare mention two of the glaring ones because they are such sensitive subjects. But for the sake of documentation accuracy I will tell you. Suffice to say, I am not passing judgement, I am just observing:

1. the number of seriously obese people
2. the number of different nationalities living here.
3. the cost of living in Britain.

1. I have been to America many times & it feels like America in this way now. According to statistics 1 in 10 adults in Britain are obese. British women are the most obese in Europe, though still behind their American counterparts. In 1980 the average BMI for women (body mass index, healthy being anything between 18.5 & 25.9) was 24.2. Now it is 26.9 for British women. fro British men it is 27.4 (the 4th highest in Europe if you're interested)



2. Ok, so we live in Oxford & visit London, both of which are highly international places. We also have lived in the most homogenous society in Europe, so the contrast is stark. Nobody 'immigrates' to Albania, so apart from its handful of missionaries, NGO workers, embassy staff & for some reason a small Chinese population (the communist connection perhaps??) EVERYONE is Albanian. So much so that they really don't know how to treat ethnic minorities at all. A West Indian friend living there used to get called 'monkey' & such like in the streets.

But where I live here in Oxford, when I travel on the bus, I am a minority in terms of language certainly & colour sometimes. When I shop at Lidl, apart from elderly couples, I only hear other languages around me. I can't work out why other normal British families don't shop there. Ok so you can't get everything there but it's SO much cheaper, yet it's pensioners & foreigners who shop there, because, like me, they find Britain frighteningly expensive. Maybe other Brits aren't feelign as crunched by the economy as we are.....

The net result overall of all this is, it just feels very different &, to be frank, a bit disorienting. I am surprised it has changed so much in 6 years, but it really has. I guess living abroad you feel your 'Nationality' much more, I felt very British & identified strongly with my British roots. Coming home, I'm not sure anymore what that means....

3. As for the credit crunch, much as I said I want to have some space before commiting to anything, as well as training the puppy when we get it, decorating the whole house (which I keep putting off) & helping my children adjust, as the cracks are beginning to appear, I think I may have to go out to work to supplement the charity salary my husband earns. Maybe it's just 'set up' costs & once we have replaced the boiler, bought a car, decorated the house, things will ease up a bit.

One thing I loved about living abroad & working for an NGO, is they look after you & we could live within our means. Easily. And you could afford to have a cleaner, a shared driver, believe it or not, for the school run (it was cheaper than me driving everyday), eat out, employ babysitters frequently, travel, get private health care as part of the package, & stuff like tennis lessons etc were really cheap too. I guess I was very spoilt in some ways despite it not being an easy place to live. It's quite a shock, & one of the anomalies that whilst living in a developing country, with infrastructure issues, power cuts, pollution, horrendous traffic & much less available in the shops, you did have these significant perks, which I must admit, made the frustrations a lot easier to cope with. So I need to adjust now to a different & much more thrifty lifestyle.

The good news is I can do supply teaching, which is well paid; the bad news is it's soul destroying, & the very worst aspect of teaching there is. I have just met anAmerican woman who has moved here & put her children in the local state school (in middle class Oxfordshire. Ha!) & frankly it's horrific. The kids swear at the teachers & nothing is done about it, the walls inside the school are covered in grafitti, their daughter says there is complete lack of respect for the tecahers, the children talk all through the lessons, they have had no homework in 3 weeks, the Head of year has told the parents that they don't need to keep coming in (this was on day 2) when they have had NO information at all, the kids haven't had timetables even. her son went to the wrong lessons for an entire week. How could that happen? I couldn't believe it. Ok so not all schools in Oxfordshire are like that (though the primary schools have the worst Key stage 1 results in the country & are in the bottom 10% forLink Key Stage 2) I have taught in 6 of Oxfordshire's secondary schools & whilst 3 were pretty tough, none were that bad & certainly had better discipline & support structures in place.

So I am not looking forward to the prospect which couldn't be further from my 'perfect job' in GDQ International School in Tirana. I fear this reverse culture shock is going to take me a while to process....

10 comments:

PantsWithNames said...

It took me ages to adjust to being back. The diversity in the UK is amazing - but I found it so strange to see so many women wearing the veil when I'd been living in a Muslim country and barely seen it at all.

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

yes, ditto. Albania is said to be 70% Muslim yet no one wears the veil, very few of the women cover up at all. I guess it's that thing you mentioned in yr post that when a person is away from their country they identify more strongly with it & so wear the veil, when they might not do so when in their own country.
The diversity is amazing. In fact one of the checkout girls in Lidl is an Albanian! It made my day:o)

nappy valley girl said...

Well, I probably won't be struck by obesity, diversity or high cost of living when I go back as all of these are present in New York (although actually, there aren't many obese people in this area - they tend to be gym bunnies). But I agree, these are problems for the UK. Very interested to read your take after a few years away. I know many expats struggled after years in Hong Kong having had maids/cheap childcare/nice house provided, then returned to England to a much lower standard of living.

nappy valley girl said...

PS didn't mean that diversity is a problem - that sounds terrible! Is a good thing, but obesity and expensive living are not.

Midlife Singlemum said...

I have been away for almost 24 years. I love where I live in Jerusalem but also yearn for the England I left behind. I think the truth is htat the England I left behind doesn't excist anymore.

Expat mum said...

I'm not convinced that the US is that much cheaper than the UK but I do find myself in Tesco saying "How much" in the vegetable aisle!!!
And I love the diversity of language you hear on the buses and tubes. Although the US is supposed to be one big melting pot, it's very segregated so you often don't bump into "different" people.

Michelloui | The American Resident said...

Interesting reading your take on repatriation! Both the things you observed and the adjustment you're facing. Those do all sound like start up costs, and if so, then at least you won't have to supply teach for long!

Iota said...

I've recently been wondering whether I would really find in existence the England I imagine when I'm here.

I like to think that being in England for long summers means I'm a hybrid creature, equally at ease in both places, but it's a very different thing, being a visitor to being a resident. I'm sure it all feels very different once you're back there for good.

The obesity issue is a real shame. It's such a hard trend to reverse - I feel the NHS and government ought to be doing more to tackle it. Just like in the life of an individual, gaining weight is so much easier than losing it, seems like that is true in the life of a nation.

Anonymous said...

Really interesting view of the uk ....I have long been a lidl shopper and live on the oxon Borders ...our lidl in Bicester only just opened and you are right most people here wouldn't step throughout the door !!!

city boy said...

Hiya, gotta post a hello here cos i still don't know your local co-ordinates! any chance of mailing me at work? - your car loving friend from essex. for other readers and for the record i am not as slim as i used to be so fear i'm adding to your shock levels altho can concur with cost of living changes even tho i've never left!xx