Sunday, June 28, 2015

London Calling

Before Paris, there was London.

I traveled to London before Paris in 2003 on a rom-com pilgrimage of sorts.  Like many women of my age, I had gorged myself on Bridget Jones's Diary and I imagined myself striding across Tower Bridge slightly hungover and disheveled.  I saw myself living in London and transforming into a sophisticated Londoner who spent my weekends in the country wearing Wellies and mixing jugs of Pimm's for my guests.

It was always supposed to be London.

Last year Chris and I re-evaluated our Paris plans.  We had explored all of our options for a full move and, immigration issues aside, we found nothing that would sustain us professionally.  We both love what we do and giving up our careers up to work as middle-aged au pairs wasn't appealing.  My lovely plan to spend summers in Paris wasn't financially sustainable and, while it provided short-term happiness, it wasn't getting us any closer to our ultimate goal of living full-time in Paris.

So it became London.

Several of my grandparents were born in the UK so I was able to get an Ancestry Visa that allows me to work and live in the UK sans restrictions for 5 years.  Chris can apply on the same Visa and eventually we can make an application to settle permanently.  There are endless job opportunities in London; it's a vibrant and friendly city;  and it's a relatively easy commute from our home in Victoria.  And best of all?!  London is SO much closer to Paris!

I am now in London.

I moved to London about three weeks ago with my three suitcases and without Chris.  The biggest sacrifice we had to make was transitioning separately to London.  I secured a wonderful job while Chris is staying in Victoria to run his business and will visit London every three months.  We discussed every option, tried putting boxes into round holes and this was the only, indeed the best, option.  We felt stuck in Victoria and with me in London, we are finally moving to towards our dream.

My life has never changed so much as it has in the last three weeks.  Spending time in Paris, even the whole summer, doesn't compare to the reality of leaving Chris, my family, my friends, my job, Countess and Sophie for a new life in London.  As I learned in Paris, living outside of your country and your comforts, requires a combination of energy, discipline and gratitude. 

You need energy to face new experiences.  Living with your eyes-half-open in a foreign country can lead to everything from being mowed down by a car to buying the wrong kind of yoghurt at Waitrose.  I have to constantly remind myself to stay engaged and to stay in the moment and that requires energy.  I have a new phone (mobile!) number, a new postal code and a new job with new responsibilities.  I still don't have a bank account.

You need discipline to push through situations when your energy gets low.  It's impossible not to have moments when I question "our dream" and those moments inevitably coincide with wanting to hole up in my flat with a giant Cadbury bar.  Discipline is what pushes me out the door to explore another neighbourhood or sit at a restaurant with a glass of wine and my journal.

Gratitude is the most important one.  As when I spent the summer in Paris, I vowed to be grateful for this experience.  I am living our dream and that is something I must always remember.  Gratitude is everywhere.  It is for this opportunity, my new colleagues, my beautiful flat and my family at home supporting me.  And most of all to Chris for encouraging me and believing in our dream.  I am grateful every morning I wake up in London.     

London is an easy city.  Everything is accessible and I could eat at a 100 different restaurants on my walk home each night.  I could also buy organic strawberries, shop at Marks & Spencer, order a Nespresso machine and purchase antique books for my shelves.  I could also drink a beer while walking.  If I get tired, there is always a Tube station nearby or double decker bus rolling past.  

I love how everyone eats here.  I don't feel guilty eating a Kit Kat at 10am and there always seems to be cake at the office.  

I love that men, even the the most rumpled men with marmalade stains on their suits, wear brightly coloured, wildly-patterned socks.  I love that women's style is eclectic, there seems to be no rules and no one seems that bothered.  While I still won't leave my flat in Lululemons, I have happily joined all the other women walking to work in their Converse and business clothes. 

I love how Londoners are fiercely proud of their city.  Standing in line last week at my local Marks & Spencer food hall, the woman in front of me wearing a Liberty of London patterned blouse said, "I love it here.  You are going to have to carry me out of Camden in a box."
London isn't Paris but I am falling more in love with this city every day.



materfamilias said...

My feelings about Paris, which I've now visited 13 times, and annually for the last 10 years, have changed over this time. I resisted the change for a while, but also allowed for exploration of new places, which I learned I could love in different ways, and often for less expense (and when I say expense, I don't simply mean $) -- Substitute "we" for "I" through all of this, because my husband feels the same way. Over the last four years this has meant spending extended periods in Bordeaux, where we've been able to rent a little house in the middle of the city for a fraction of Paris prices. We still love to visit Paris, of course, and plan dates that allow a concentration of exhibition-viewing, concerts, etc. But meanwhile, our daughter has moved to Rome, so Italy will have to be squeezed in. And we love London, its more eclectic energy, the wealth of free culture -- if I lived there, I'd be at the National Gallery or the Portrait Gallery daily . . . I love being able to use my French in Paris, but that whole project can be fraught, as you know, and it gets really exhausting sometimes.
All of which is to say, in my wordy way, that I applaud your flexibility. You've identified what really mattered in your wish to move abroad and separated that from your (probably inextinguishable) love for Paris. Huge admiration here and I'm looking forward to hearing more about the adventure.

Erin said...

Dear Frances,

I so appreciate your comments, especially about resisting the change. It was hard for both us to separate our immense love of Paris and look in a new direction. But I am looking forward to this next phase and seeing what it brings.

THANK YOU so much for reading! And for your support. Sending love from London xx

Catherine Hilge said...

Erin I enjoy reading about your transition to life in London. I am proud of you and Chris for taking the chance to make your dreams come true. Not everyone would be brave enough to do so. I am sure your grandparents would very much understand some of your experience and also be proud that you have done what they too did many years ago. I hope to be in London in the late fall or next spring. Lots of love to you. I think of you often love Kim