So long, The UK…

Besides, as long as I have access to this, I’ll be ok.

While I was prepared to experience a degree of culture shock on my move to Berlin for my year abroad, nothing could have prepared me for the culture shock of moving back to the UK at the end of it. Granted, the first few months of my time there were as disorienting and painful as being smacked square in the face with a frying pan. I had a terrible time. But somehow I got the hang of the place and the language and the people and by the end felt myself truly at home; and yet, also looking forward to being back in my ‘real’ home in good old Berkshire.

I hurtled in a rabid frenzy through my exams, sent off squintillions of job applications, and finally got a job. At that point I began to acquire the time and the brain-space to notice all of the things about the UK that now began to strike me as…well, irregular.  People on the street would rather disembowel themselves in the middle of the road than make eye contact with you. They complained about money and things being expensive, as everyone does, but this time things really were expensive and nobody had any money. All the bread had perfect right-angles and tasted of foam pipe lagging. Hell, you weren’t even allowed to eat bread anymore because carbohydrates were poison and bread doubly so.

I spent what felt like eons of my life waiting on or for trains that were struggling to make it through the day. I roamed the streets like a hungry wildcat just looking for a place to get a coffee that wasn’t Costa. I gave up shopping for shoes and clothes when I realised that in the UK everything was now made of clingfilm, sellotape and that strange material ‘jeggings’ are unfortunately made of. Living in my new house, in a crummy town in the grey middle of a beige nowhere, I couldn’t compare it to the rainbow variety of Berlin. When a LIDL opened near my house I rejoiced and dragged my mum (who was convinced it was a low-budget emporium of tat) around the shelves showing her all of the products which look tacky compared to the varnished baubles in Tesco but are in fact brilliant and genuine German treats. I filled the house with sauerkraut and gherkins and Schwarzwalder schinken and pretzels, and baked mountains of Lebkuchen and Kaiserschmarrn.

Finding yourself out of place in the place you grew up is an utterly jarring sensation. It’s as if you have had the same hairstyle for your whole life, and then try on a wig for three minutes and finding your old hair alien and repulsive when you take the wig back off. I quite literally found myself occasionally thinking, ‘Bloody English…’, like a meta-racist. Trying to explain this feeling to the people you are close to is difficult also; my mother, who has always hated this country and wanted to emigrate to space (don’t ask, but this is true) sympathised to the point that she now also appears to be on the verge of skedaddling one night while everyone’s asleep. Other members of family would simply sigh, ‘Yes, that’s just the way things are,’ in that foundationally English way, before then shuffling off to stare blankly into a cold mug of tea. Others would just beam at me glassy-eyed, not actually listening to a single word, and than begin talking about Hannah Montana or jeggings. Truly, all I needed any of them to see was that I felt like an extra minifig-head among a complete set of LEGO: I probably belonged on the Viking warrior from that other set in the loft, but had somehow got mixed up in the pirates’ cove.

My German, meanwhile, seemed to be trickling out of my head slowly but surely like syrup. German-speaking friends of mine would correct my appalling mistakes with sweet sympathetic smiles, but these were not individual mistakes. They were the symptoms of muscle wastage; my German muscle was invisibly growing smaller by the day. I needed to get it back up to strength before it shrivelled entirely.

So, here I am, a second time in the Hauptstadt. No, I don’t have a job yet, but there are plenty of possibilities I am exploring. I have a place to stay and heart-rendingly terrific people around me who have helped me and welcomed me in ways I will never be able to repay. I am going to carve my niche in Friedrichshain because it is one of the best little pockets of the world to be in. I am going to drink more and worry less and dress up snugly in winter and all of the things I should have done the last time I was here. And most importantly, I am going to bring this blog up to a better standard than it’s been in the last weedy few months and write about ex-pat life, about crafting and cooking, and about the highs and lows of learning French and Web Design (yes, that’s the plan). 

And if all else fails, at least I also have my jar of Marmite in my suitcase to keep me going.

Rose T