Expat Life at Almost Two Weeks In…

We are starting to settle in here, as tomorrow marks 2 weeks since we arrived in the UK. Andrew’s job has provided me a resource to help me get settled and they sent me some reading about culture shock. Until I read it, I wasn’t really thinking we were experiencing it.

Culture shock is funny in a country like England because on the one hand the language is the same, there are many, many similar stores, brands, foods, media, etc, that are helpful in navigating everyday life and add some familiarity to a new place. On the other hand, we are in a totally different place from where we were before, with its own unique form of English and a culture shaped by different influences. Culture shock here is much more subtle than it would be elsewhere in the world.

The primary manifestation of it in our household is frustration. Things that were once mindless and easy are a little bit harder here as we adjust. We’re still waiting on getting a bank account opened, despite being really prepared for it (so we thought). Everything from renting a flat to signing up for the gym requires a bank account (which requires an address, isn’t that nice for renters? haha), so not having one yet has been challenging. Luckily Andrew’s job helped us secure our flat – I don’t know how others manage such a move without as much help as we’ve received!

For me, the shock has definitely been physical. I got a cold almost immediately, and I guess I am not familiar with our surroundings quite yet – I walked into our bedside table and gave myself a nasty bruise yesterday! Gross. My cold is basically gone, yay, and I’m doing my best to make sure we’re getting our sleep, staying hydrated and eating our veggies. My renewed love of Waitrose is helping us with the latter two. I can be pretty weird about tap water that isn’t Boston tap water (I’ve been drinking it for so long!), but our Brita arrived yesterday, so now my neuroses can be quieted and I can enjoy a nice cold glass when I’m feeling thirsty.

Speaking of water, it has been an adjustment getting used to the insanely hard water here in London! I am decidedly not adjusted yet. I have a feeling this will be one of those struggles we’ll be grateful to leave behind when we get back home.

Water is considered “hard” when it contains lots of minerals. Some of the lovely side affects of hard water are water stains on everything, limescale, dry hair, dry hands, stiff laundry, etc. Luckily my face is oily, so the hard water has it bordering on matte (good), bordering on zombie/sallow dryness I’ve never experienced (…bad). Thankful for my Josie Maran Argan Oil! (I really love it – you can find it here, I use the light version).

I read about hand dryness and the struggle is real! Before I painted my nails and read about it, my hands were looking quite interesting. Let’s just say I am very glad I packed my hand cream and cuticle oil. I may need to look into some new products, but I think I’m getting the hang of it and luckily my skin is staying clear. Just need to remember to moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!

My hair is another story. I forgot to pack up my usual hair products. We went to Boots on our first day here, and I picked up some promising looking things. There were many different curly hair products available, more so than the usual selection in the States, so that was exciting. I was not prepared for the water, however! My hair has been a dry, frizzy mess, but it actually looked pretty decent yesterday, so progress is being made. Thank goodness for coconut oil (though if you think it’s expensive in the States… it’s crazy expensive here)!

Luckily our clothes have not been coming out of the wash as stiff as some of the blogs I read before we left stated. We’ve been using the recommended amount of laundry detergent for super hard water (read: a lot), and that has worked fine, thankfully. It is a bit of an adjustment having to dry our clothes, but it is so worth it for laundry in unit!! I have officially made it people – I do not have to go down many flights of stairs or outside or scramble for quarters anymore. I am experiencing ultimate luxury in my own kitchen (where people put washing machines in the UK).

We are so incredibly thankful for this opportunity and so so so excited to be here, but this week has opened my eyes a little bit to some of the challenges we’re facing and will face, despite our great attitudes about it. It seems a little silly feeling like this transition is stressful, when really it couldn’t have gone smoother and everyone here speaks English and we’ve been able to find all our necessities.

I’m trying to be kind with myself and acknowledge that it is a big change and we have moved far away from the people we love. Our routines are totally different and the way things are done here are pretty different, too. I have faith that some of the stress and the feeling of “wow I cannot do anything right today…” will eventually fade as we get settled. I feel really lucky that Andrew’s job provided me this resource to help me process and reflect on these feelings, which helps me help Andrew through them, too.

I am very much looking forward to the weekend ahead – we have plans with friends and we joined the gym! I am going to Fashioning a Reign at the Buckingham Palace State Rooms with two women I met through the American Women’s Club tomorrow, Andrew and I are planning to check out Portobello Market, and a friend from high school has invited us over for dinner!