Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I suppose the pilgrims must have been rather English, too

The security guard smiled at my children as he checked our passports against our boarding passes. "Are you leaving home or going home?" he asked. We all looked at him and then each other. There was some head scratching and some hemming and hawing. None of us could quite formulate a response. Clearly this was a larger question for any of us than he'd anticipated, and I'm pretty sure the consternation with which we'd all responded to his casual question made the guy sorry he'd bothered to make polite conversation. We were still mulling over our answers as he waved us along.

Our second trip back to the U.S. since we moved to London was motivated by a need for pumpkin pie and family togetherness. We purposely didn't even tell friends we would be in the country this time around, choosing instead to spend a quiet Thanksgiving in the company of our family. (If you're just now finding out we're in town as you read this entry, please don't think we're just snubbing you... we're snubbing everyone!) I think that was the right choice; without a hectic visiting schedule, we've all been able to relax easily and just enjoy being here. American life feels familiar. It feels lovely. But it does not, truth be told, feel entirely normal.

I'm delighting over American prices and products, but I'm finding it hard to make change in dollars and I'm not such a fan of driving from strip mall to strip mall to make my purchases. I find little changed here and that's comforting, yet for some reason I keep finding myself talking about "this country" as if it is an entirely foreign entity. And just as I am tethered to my computer in London in order to feel connected to friends and family in the States, so do I keep logging on here to laugh at a complicated thread of emails from a group of my friends back in London who have been trying to agree on a date for a girls' night out.

Meanwhile, I've watched Evan delight at the sight of a 'Merican flag just like the one he has in London and Julia beeline for the American Girl section of the local library, both of which seemed like good signs that they had retained at least a bit of American identity. And yet when Julia commented (and Evan agreed) that America was a good place to visit because people speak English here, it became very obvious that this is a vacation destination for them rather than a homecoming. Our perspective, our priorities and our frame of reference have all shifted... subtly, perhaps, but not in a way I can ignore or deny, either. We may be very American in London, but here in New York, I daresay we're more than a little bit British.

Two days after our trip through Heathrow, I'm sure our small family has long since slipped the mind of the kind security guard who chatted with us on our way out of London. But I've been thinking about him and his question this whole time, unable to escape the feeling that there's far more at stake to my answer than just social niceties. Were we leaving home? Going home? It took me a while, but I think I finally know the answer. We were doing both.


Anonymous Gretchen said...

Beautifully put -- and, of course, true. Have a great holiday and love to your little family from ours.

2:48 AM  
Blogger Patois said...

Welcome back, however brief a visit it may be. And may you hook up with your best friend. I'm thinking you already have. Good. My best friend is, indeed, going to move to NZ. No more denial, here. Just finding bittersweet happiness at little things we do. Today, we took the kids into San Francisco to go ice skating at the rink erected annually. Being a Wisconsin girl, she's a skater. But it was the first time for her girls. I'm glad I got to be there for one of the last firsts of theirs I'll be around for.

3:36 AM  
Blogger denzylle said...

When you do eventually leave 'home' in London and return home to the US, it will take some preparation and adjustment, I'm sure.

I expect you'll visit the UK again to see some of the new friends you have made here, but 'home' will be the US, once again, which is why I used the quotation marks in the way I did in the first para.

Happy Thanksgiving!

12:23 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

Glad to hear that you are able to relax and enjoy being with family for the holiday. Enjoy the time together!!

And, I think you found the perfect answer.

8:20 PM  
Blogger Badness Jones said...

I felt like that coming 'home' after a year in London....and although I love Canada more, I think I'll always miss England.

9:08 PM  
Blogger Iota said...

Oh help, have I gone and ruined Britain forever for myself by moving away for a while?

"Home" seems a much more complex thing than it used to be. I met up last week with a couple who we'd known in Scotland, who are now home in San Francisco. They had a very hard time adjusting to being back. Their daughter, who was in Scotland between the ages of 3 and 7, still keeps in touch with friends she made there, five years down the line.

I like to think we are broadening our horizons, but it's moments like this that make me feel we are just complicating them.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

"Home" can be an interesting concept sometimes. I've been thinking about you and your trip and wondering about how things are going on this trip, in that regard. Can't wait to hear more.

5:37 PM  
Blogger Edward said...

Though this was months ago, it seems to me that the correct answer to the Heathrow agent would have been, "Both."

8:34 AM  

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