by Andrea Sandor
When I arrived at East Midlands airport, I was greeted by the dependable English rain. Despite the weather, I was filled with anticipation for the new land I was in and the man waiting for me in the lobby. David and I had met in Budapest at an English teaching CELTA training course. While I planned to stay in Hungary and connect with my Hungarian roots, David planned to travel to Argentina the following month. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop him from inviting me to England for a visit or from me booking the ticket.
“It was beautiful yesterday,” David told me, “You brought the rain.” I ignored him, as I was already getting used to English piss-take and focused on my surroundings, my first glimpses of England.
England had always occupied an elevated position in my American imagination. This was the home of King Arthur, of Stonehenge, of Shakespeare, of Jane Austin and Charles Dickens and countless other literary geniuses; of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Radiohead, Orgy, and so many other rock legends; Monty Python and the UK’s unique brand of humour; and, of course, tea drinking, crumpet eating sophistication. Now England was either going to live up to my expectations or else wipe my childish romantic notions onto the floor.
It did both.
The small towns in the north were as quaint as I had expected them to be. The pubs turned out to be even more comfortable, relaxing, and inviting than I had imagined, and the pies were out of this world. The full roasts astounded my senses, and I soon developed an addiction to pasties.
Driving through the endless moors and walking through the Bronte sisters’ house and town gave new meaning to Heathcliff and Catherine’s tragic affair. Here was indeed the melancholy and sublime environment that informed the Brontes’ haunting characters.
Stepping out of the London underground, the Thames River came into view. Big Ben proved to be smaller than it appeared in photographs, and yet I was exhilarated at laying eyes on one of the world’s most iconic structures. Here I was, in London, in London! Later we walked past The Shakespeare Theatre, and while it was also on the small side, dwarfed by the looming buildings around, I forgot them and marvelled that here was the great bard’s stage. Strangely enough, Buckingham Palace also managed to be rather small. David scolded me for calling it “BuckingHAM” instead of “BuckingUM”, citing this as a typical excruciating American mispronunciation.
I quickly learned that my American esteem for England was not reciprocated. It shouldn’t have come as such a surprise, considering America’s international reputation.
And yet I can proudly say that at least we are not nearly as obsessed with the weather.
The English preoccupation with weather may be an international stereotype, but I had assumed it was exaggerated. At first, I thought it was David’s idiosyncrasy to go on at length about the weather, but I soon realized that no, he was just English. He spoke about the weather and how embarrassed he was that I should arrive to such grey skies to his parents, and then to the bar tender, the ticket sellers, to people in the elevator, to just about anyone we met. And they all very eagerly took up the thread. “It was just lovely the past few days.” “What a shame!” “It’s so unpredictable, isn’t it?” “I bet you wish you were still there in Hungary, don’t you?”
Despite the weather and the tag questions (isn’t it, don’t you?), my spontaneous and daring trip to England to visit a man I hardly knew has now turned into a permanent move to the UK and a solid, 5-year relationship. I’ve just had my first English Christmas, tasted my first Christmas pudding, and I will say that it was lovely this morning but the clouds have rolled back in, and oh dear, I do hope it doesn’t last like this the rest of the day. It would be lovely if we had some more sun, now wouldn’t it?
Andrea Sandor is a Hungarian-American who grew up between continents and has now moved permanently to the UK. She holds an MA in anthropology and writes about her cross-cultural adventures and observations.