exciting, informative, snarky, and very likely fabricated tales of life as an american expat in london

revelations, part one: or, how i learned to stop worrying and love london.

by Jen at 5:44 pm on 8.08.2011Comments Off
filed under: londonlife, mutterings and musings

i’ve been quiet these last few weeks since arriving home.

i’ve been busy. my “third sister” has been staying with us for the past month whilst taking an international law course, and having a london adventure. she’s been a family friend for 28 years, and i last saw her in 2002, so it’s been wonderful to have her here, to reconnect. with the timing of her visit coinciding with my return (and unemployed free time), it’s given me my first real opportunity to play tourguide – to show off my city, to point out hidden gems and discuss cultural quirks. i so missed london while i was in vancouver, and i’ve been fortunate to be able to spend a lovely few weeks spending quality time with my dear friend and getting re-acquainted with it my home city. i’ve had the luxury of a whole month for hours wandering aimlessly through parks and gazing up at the historic architecture, hitting the pubs with mates, exploring museums and attending open-air concerts. truly a magical time.

which brings up a thorny problem. because we’ve been planning to leave. we’ve been committed to leaving for years now. and now that the opportunity is in hand… i no longer know if my heart is in it. or rather, i think i now know where my heart *is*.

if you talk to anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you what i’ve been saying for years: that while i really like london, i’ve never loved london. i’ve never loved it in that way that makes your heart race, i’ve never loved it in that way that makes you feel like you’re at one with the living, breathing, evolving urban organism. i’ve said that i’ve never loved london so often that it’s become my rote, unthinking response to anyone asking why we were planning to move. after all, i’ve never planned to settle here long-term: never contributed to any pension plan, put off doing a degree that would require any extended period of study, never put down roots in any significant way.

for eight years i’ve adamantly and fiercely maintained that this dalliance with london was only temporary. because while i really like london, i don’t love london.

oddly enough, this year was also something of a milestone for me. i’ve now lived in london longer than anywhere else i’ve chosen to live as an adult. and i’ve now lived here longer than i lived in new york city – and i loved new york city with my whole soul. twelve long years since leaving, i still regret having moved from new york.

but while i really like london, i’ve never loved london.

and so last week, on a gorgeous summer day when i was walking around goggling at the buildings from the 1600s, and marvelling at the river, it suddenly hit me – i’ve been saying that so long, i never stopped to re-evaluate if it was still true.

like a thunderbolt out of the blue, it became clear to me. i do love london. it’s a sneaky love that crept up on me in between all the moments of urban annoyance and expat frustration. it’s a quiet love borne of familiarity and cranky affection. i’ve talked endlessly about how london wasn’t a great fit for me, given my brash personality and impatience. but amazingly, (or really, not so amazingly at all), i’ve changed over the years. london has too – of course it has.

i’ve grown to love london, but never recognised it for what it was. and it makes so much sense, when i stop to think about it. as much as i have a complete disregard for history itself, a part of me has always been deeply drawn to historical things: architecture, family heirlooms, old-fashioned items of nostalgia. as much as i rail against feeling constrained by formality, another part of me really loves and values tradition. as much as i detest being cramped by space and inconvenience, another part of me loves all things small and quaint. and most importantly, as much as i moan about needing access to nature and fresh air, it is the joyful culture and chaos of big city living that really makes me feel most myself, most vitally alive.

so you see the conundrum i’m faced with now. i’ll fill you in on the rest of it in part two.

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