After I left London in early 2011 to start a new job back in the States, I became an avid follower of blogs written by American expats living in London. I really missed living in the UK, and it enabled me to keep a line back to my ‘old life’ as a young twenty-something living in south London, exploring the city’s sights and culinary life in the evenings and on the weekends, and taking day trips to the coast or country-side or occasional quick weekend jaunts to continental Europe. It was a really fun couple of years and as much as I enjoyed ‘living the dream’ as a diplomat, I missed it, a lot.
The five years of living vicariously through these women came to an end when my husband and I decided to move back at the end of 2015. However, we quickly realised that over the years we were away, we’d been priced out of the London housing market, so we needed to find a town or city outside of London to call home.
We decided upon Kent – one of England’s ‘home counties’ – , as my husband had spent time there as a child with his extended family. We initially landed in a town about a 35 minute train ride outside of London. After a year there, we bought a house a bit further out in the next town over. So here we are now in Tunbridge Wells and I’ve realised that an American living outside of London is quite the rarity and also a much different experience from my years in London.
We don’t have loads of grand museums, trendy michelin-starred restaurants, famous outdoor food markets, or big red buses and black cabs. You won’t hear the whirl of tube trains, Big Ben chiming, or the bells of Westminster Abbey. There isn’t a Top Ten Best Places for Afternoon Tea list on Trip Advisor. There aren’t any Royals here, although there used to be. And there definitely aren’t hoards of bumbling tourists carrying London guide books while wearing hiking boots.
Life is more…ordinary and familiar. There are large supermarkets and indoor malls, less public transportation and more driving, small town centres peppered with mums and the elderly during the week and families and teenagers at the weekend, and nary another American in sight. Maybe that sounds like purgatory for an expat, but when you’ve left everything you know to start life again in a new place, sometimes the familiar or simple can be comforting.
But living outside of London also has it’s charms – grand houses and castles are in abundance, the countryside surrounds you at every turn, the air is cleaner, the cost of living cheaper, and sweet, traditional English villages with warm and inviting tea houses are everywhere. I’m only surrounded by Brits here, creating a much more immersive expat experience this time around. I’m learning to ‘speak the language’ faster and feeling more a part of this country than before.
I’m still a little envious of American expats living in gorgeous homes in Notting Hill or St. John’s Wood, or wherever else my fellow expatriates congregate. I sometimes wish I could pop into the V&A on a rainy day or grab lunch at Borough Market – uploading my photos to Instagram of course. But then most days, I’m glad I can jump into my car and drive to the mega Sainsbury to pick up a few things, or walk around town in peace and quiet, or spend the afternoon having a picnic a la the National Trust.
So while I don’t think there will be many people back home in the States pining after my Instagram or Blog life out here in the home counties, I’ll continue to keep calm and carry on as an American expat not in London. We do exist!