You can go home again

posted 16 April 2008

Returning to the UK was strangely reassuring. All my favourite places in London are still there, and largely unchanged. My favourite people are also nearly all still there, too, and it was lovely to see them and discover that gaps of 15 months or more between seeing them had not diminished our compatability or affection. It was also fun to see their lives in a sort of fast-forward: the last time I saw them they all had different jobs, different houses, often different relationships. In nearly all cases their current situation was an improvement on 15 months ago, so from my perspective they were all suddenly happier, healthier, richer and more respected in their careers, which is always a nice thing to see in your friends.

Plus there is my lovely little niece, who despite being a mere 6 weeks old, essentially immobile and incapable of rational human interaction, manages to somehow be adorable and also look remarkably similar to the rest of my family. I realise the latter shouldn't come as a surprise, but I've never had a younger sibling or even close cousin, so seeing a real-life baby version of my family features is very novel to me. It also means I am, finally, at 26, no longer the baby of the family. Hurray!

Of course, it's always the weird little things about continental transition that get you. A bunch of things that used to be familiar no longer were, for instance:

My hair
My hair is notorious for being stupidly unmanageable, but in California's bone-dry air it will at least lay reasonably flat, especially if it's warm. In Britain cold, damp climate it curls up and frizzes out. Grump.
Money
Neither side has this right. Identically-sized and coloured bills are obviously stupid, but so is having your singles be irritatingly large, heavy coins. Sort it out, Western world. I want all-paper, size and color-coded money.
The tube
One of the biggest things I miss about London is the ability to get to any part of it, unaided, via the ever-present tube. But I also forgot what a pain it is to ride the tube at rush-hour, squeezed into the sweaty armpit of a stranger. I have a new appreciation for the air-conditioned, wi-fi enabled shuttle I ride in as a type this. Which brings me to...
Commuting
One of the biggest drawbacks of my Californian situation is my daily commute, an hour each way. However, being able to feasibly access the net either on my laptop or iPhone while travelling significantly reduces that problem. I'd also forgotten that in London, in addition to the weekday commute, nearly any kind of social activity on the weekend also involves a commute into Central: in San Francisco, most of my weekend hangouts are within walking distance of my house.
Bathing
Another unexpected one. Bathing in California is just better: water pressure is better, temperature less haphazardly managed, and soap is available that doesn't involve some kind of slimy moisturizing element that makes you feel like you're never properly clean.
Broadband
Britain's got this one. Broadband is both faster and significantly cheaper in the UK, especially mobile broadband (in which I intend to invest sometime this year).
Tipping
An obvious one, but it's nice to be able to tip 12.5% without feeling like a cheapskate (although a lot more London restaurants seem to have started including service charges in the bill, what's up with that?)
The light
The sun is brighter in California. It seems inconsequential, but to somebody who grew up close to the equator, I miss the hot bright sunshine of my childhood. The bay area is just further south enough that the light is more satisfying. Which brings me to the final thing...
The weather
Oh, the freaking weather. It's April, London! You should not be having snow followed by hail followed by torrential rain and lightning. Deal with your issues! California has been 20 degrees and sunny for over a month now. Again, my tropical upbringing makes me craze sunlight a lot more than your standard British transplant, and California's wonderful weather is a daily perk that I never stop appreciating.