When people here ask me where I’m from, I never know exactly what to say. Wisconsin is the most recent answer, but I only spent a few years there, and although I enjoyed it, I do not, by any means, consider myself a ‘Sconnie. But I will always root for Wisconsin Football – Go Badgers!!
I grew up in New York, but to people from London (or most of the world), that conjures up images of skyscrapers and the Yankees – my experience was much more cornfields and snowbanks and small towns. How do I explain that my background is more similar to, say, rural Iowa, than the Big Apple?
Then there’s Rhode Island, where I went to university. I don’t feel bad calling myself a pseudo-Rhode Islander. I did spend nearly 4 full years there. I lived there over the summer and winter breaks, I dated a local girl, I explored the beaches and towns, and saw much more than College Hill. But it’s not where I’m from.
And now I’ve moved yet again, this time across the pond to London. How do you go about the business of making the place you live the place you call home? What makes it familiar, and what makes you feel nostalgic for a place that is not technically your own?
1. Take public transportation as the locals do. In London, this doesn’t necessarily mean the Tube. The Tube’s great, but really, you can’t see anything, you have no concept of distances, and you miss out on all the important landmarks. Take the bus, even if it takes a little longer. Find local shops and walk there. I must admit, I first felt truly like a Madisonian the first time I successfully took the Madison Metro. Even driving didn’t give the same sense of ‘yes, I belong here!’
2. Don’t be afraid to explore. Some of my favorite finds so far have been just me setting out on my own to a random part of town and walking around. Can I recommend Blush Bar in Hackney? Even though it was kind of dead the night I went, I chatted up several nice locals and the bartender, all of whom where more than friendly. I got lost twice, once taking the wrong bus, and once taking completely the wrong way down a street, but I’ll know for next time. Besides, walking around Hackney just made me imagine that Lily Loveless had once walked down the same street and tickled me to no end.
3. Learn the history. Although the British Museum is the mecca of the museums here, its big ticket items are not British! Go to the Imperial War Museum, St. Paul’s, and the Museum of London! Until I visited these, I had no concept of exactly what it meant to live in a country that was once an Empire. The British are extremely proud of their imperialist history in a way that Americans are not. I intend to go down to the Docklands museum one weekend and learn about my neighborhood specifically.
4. Watch the tv. Seriously – what better way to know what’s important in society than by watching hit shows? For the record, I am LOVING BBC3’s the Fades right now, and I find the British X Factor to be much better than the American version. Also, it gives me some context for when I check the London twitter trending topics. And Downton Abbey – only seen one episode so far, but I’m liking it. (This is also how I’m justifying putting this post in this blog.)
5. Identify landmarks that are important to your life (i.e. not the London Eye, but like…that’s the grocery store with cheap fruit, and that’s the furniture store where I turn to get to Uni, and that’s the ATM that doesn’t charge fees). Relate the places to you, fit them in your routine, and make them a part of your story. The creation of a narrative isn’t just important to nations – it helps individuals as well know where they fit in the world.
At any rate, it’s the land of Skins! How out of place could I possibly feel!?