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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Day 5: Crisis Point [20041013|03:05]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
By the end of the day, I have determined that if you wait until you feel completely well to do anything in London, you won't leave the house between October and March. At least one in three of the people I saw on the bus today had either a hacking cough or a runny nose. This made me feel better about sitting in my own little corner, snuffling.

In the morning, I have my customary battle with fear. I am overwhelmed. I don't know what to do. There are too many choices. After an hour of this, during which I shower, get exceedingly gothed up – wearing extreme clothing and makeup is almost like putting on armor – and change my mind five or six times about what I'm going to do. Museum? Shopping? Art gallery? Although I am technically now a resident, I feel more like a tourist, and a scared and lonesome one at that. I've nearly given up and decided to burrow back in when I open the Lonely Planet guide and see their suggested walking tours. I settle on the walk along the south bank of the Thames.

Once I'm just a few hundred yards from the tourist-ridden Westminster Bridge, the crowd abruptly evaporates. I read the T.S. Eliot quotes embedded in the walkway, browse the used book stands, spend a few minutes watching a street performer turn himself silver. I peep into the Oxo Tower flower shop, and yearn to buy a floating plant. I am only deterred by the thought of having to carry the damn thing all the way back to Camden. Mental note to return with sherpa in tow. I turn down Southwark Street past the Globe Theatre in the hopes of visiting the Borough Food Market, but apparently, it only operates at weekends. I am a little disappointed, but I spot a sign for the "Bramah's Tea and Coffee Museum" and follow that. The place has a tea shop in front, so I settle down for a pot and a sandwich. I decide not to go into the museum because I want to bring Marco here to see the World's Largest Teapot, and the Cup and Saucer Display. Instead, I write letters with a pen I've borrowed from the front counter. I sneeze on the hand holding the pen. After I'm done eating, I go to the toilets to wash the pen. I give it back apologetically. The waitresses laugh. I decide to leave when I see a group of Japanese tourists have decided to film a teapot. They spend quite a while on it. As far as I can see, the teapot isn't doing anything.

During my tea break, it has begun to rain. I decide to continue with the walk; what are umbrellas for, anyway? I pass a pub called "The Elusive Camel." I stare at it for a while. It doesn't dissolve in the rain. I stop many times along the Tower Bridge, to admire the view and to marvel at the graffiti, which is written in many languages and spans years. I am mildly surprised when some of the tourists decide to take pictures of me rather than of the sights they can see from the bridge.

I take a bus home that goes the long way through East London (Hackney, a not so nice area) and North London (Clapton, a very nice area, also quite Jewish). I get home and eat a small salad and some leftovers. My frustration with being alone marches around inside me. Marco calls and tells me he's leaving work (at 7:45 pm!) and is going to work out before he comes home. I tell him this is fine. I tell myself this is fine, I don't need to have him around constantly, and besides, I feel like I've been far too clingy with him since I arrived. As I sit and think about it, I realize that this is because he is the only person here whose phone number I know. I can't get onto the internet, because he didn't set up DSL before I arrived, otherwise I could use LiveJournal to share my mobile number and meet up with some of my LJ friends here. I have no job, so I'm without stimulus except for that which I provide for myself – which, by the way, is one of the reasons I've come to think that people make themselves go to work, even to jobs they hate and where they are underpaid and humiliated. It's actually easier to default to dragging yourself to an office five days a week, nine hours a day than it is to try and occupy yourself for those forty hours.

Anyway, I have no job, so I have no workmates to invite me out to dinner or drinks, as Marco does. I don't know my way around the city very well, so I don't feel too comfortable walking around alone at night. Sure, I know a few survival tricks. Don't appear visibly incapacitated (drunk, high). Walk confidently. Memorize your route so you don't have to pull out a map. Carry your wallet and keys directly on your person, not in a purse. However, where the hell am I going to go? I can read Time Out reviews until my eyes glaze over but they won't necessarily lead me to a cool bar or club. And besides, I don't want to go by myself. I want company. I want to have a real life conversation with someone who isn't my boyfriend, and I have no medium by which to contact anyone who might be an amicable companion for such a venture.

Suddenly, it occurs to me that it is completely reasonable for me to feel isolated and lonely. And I get very, very pissed off about it. I call Marco's mobile. He doesn't answer. I write him a scathing text message, delete it, write another, delete it, and finally manage one that conveys the right undertones of icy fury. He calls me when he gets out of the gym. I can no longer veil my rage. I work myself up into a dancing froth until he arrives, and then I let him have it. He is apologetic and loving. He tells me, to my surprise, that I have been doing really well. He spent an entire day watching cricket on TV during one of his first weekends here because he couldn't be bothered to try to leave the house. I feel glad that we don't have a TV. I am mollified and ashamed of my outburst. I also feel a lot better. Marco tells me he's texted Janelle, an American friend of ours from his work, and asked her to meet us for drinks. We go to a Caribbean restaurant on the high street and eat spicy Jamaican food and drink mysterious blue rum cocktails and talk. Janelle has been in London for a year. She is gorgeous – half black and half Asian – and somewhat reserved. About halfway through dinner, I have come to understand that she is still rather lonely.

Although the culture shock has worn off for her and for Marco, it is evident that the feeling of being swallowed by a large and frightening and somewhat unfriendly place cannot easily be shaken. It isn't that the city lacks for things to do. Plays, films, restaurants, parties, concerts, clubs, pubs, bars, there's something on every corner, and the quality of the available entertainment is generally pretty high. It is just that either you attend functions with people you already know, or you don't go at all. Certainly you don't go there to meet strangers, even if there are 7.2 million of them around. In general, the people you might strike up random conversations with aren't terribly chatty. The bus drivers are sealed unsmilingly behind thick plastic windows. The checkers at the market want you to lob your groceries into bags and get out of the way. The waitstaff at most of the restaurants, bars and clubs aren't English, and a lot of them don't speak it very well. I have seen a great many men giving me the eye, but none of them speak to me, and if they did, I would probably instinctively rebuff them. I am, after all, a woman walking alone.

Lest you think that I'm whining, let me add a caveat. I think you encounter these qualities in almost any large Western city. It's as if people adopt a certain unseeing gruffness to buffer themselves against the sheer number of other people that they see every day. I don't think it's unnatural or unique to London. When you have become an established resident of the city, you don't even notice it any more – you're too busy doing it yourself, so you can conserve your emotional energy for your friends. However, when you don't have any friends yet, it becomes difficult not to see this collective and deliberate blindness as an impenetrable wall with you stuck on the wrong side.

[User Picture]From: ironed_orchid
2004-10-21 08:24 (UTC)
This very much matches my experience of London... the people I did meet were mostly travellers or foreigners. Although, once my brother went home I did find that londoners are not beyond hitting on a woman who goes clubbing alone, but I don't suppose that's the kind of interaction you're looking to have.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2004-10-22 12:58 (UTC)
Yeah, I had that experience too. I also find that Londoners are much bolder about staring at women when they're walking down the street. They don't care if you catch them looking, and they don't stop until they're ready to be done. I watched a guy walk directly into a newsstand, he was so busy doing something lascivious to me in his mind. Yeesh.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2004-10-22 13:04 (UTC)
Heh. I feel like I left someplace large and irrational where I was as capable of surviving as if I'd been born there for someplace large and irrational where I'm abruptly not. I'm as terrified as Richard, I think, just in a different way.

It's funny, I was telling Marco that I can feel myself doing things that are ridiculous, like getting infuriated with him and yelling at him because I feel lonely and frightened here, but I can't stop. I may have a +4 Int modifier (I know what I should be doing) but I'd only give myself a 0 Wis (I often choose to do something else anyway). :-P
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[User Picture]From: enn
2004-10-21 15:35 (UTC)

like needles in the eye

what you write here reminds me so much of how i felt when i first moved to newyork.
i was deathly freaked out.
i knew only one person,, &him not *so* well.
if i took too long to prepare myself for venturing outside i would end up not going anywhere &then being horribly depressed.
i tried so hard to just get up &get out as quickly as i could. &get lost & not freak out about it.
anyway, your story not mine,,
i just ,i think, understand exactly what you mean...
here here!
&cheers &all of that ballyhoo;;
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2004-10-22 12:56 (UTC)


Yes yes, I think we had very similar experiences. Especially this: "if i took too long to prepare myself for venturing outside i would end up not going anywhere." I actually wrote about this a couple of days ago and it is now posted in my journal. It takes me forever to get dressed every morning. That is seriously the most difficult part of my day, taking a shower and getting dressed. I feel this intense pressure to look "right." If I can't blend in, I at least want to look good, you know?
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[User Picture]From: enn
2004-10-22 15:22 (UTC)

i think i may be rambling in a terrible way;;.

i found that going out w. headphones on was the perfect way to feel local, to look around but not be bothered, &have a shield between me &the people.
i remember feeling a few times that the city was mine ,though. as if it were the most wonderful private movie.
- o,, i also drew pictures on the subway incessantly. another way to be There, but to be in my world. &to sort of be intimate w. the people {if i happened to be sketching them}, &make fun of them a bit if i felt the need..
i am sure you look fancy &wonderful! i have ,a couple of times, thought on how you were doing there, &how you were fitting in. obviously , i have only seen select photos of you,, but i am sure the way you carry yourself allows you to nudge in quite fine.
now that i know you are there &settling, i think i will send the music to you,, perhaps you will even listen to it during a random sojourn about the city..
&,, if you get a chance, &there is a bit of sunshine {or perhaps even at night, when the lights are shining on the water}, i recommend to look at the light reflections on the water &squint your eyes real tiny &there ought to be lovely universe winking at you.
i am so excited for you. it is almost dangerous,, &certainly anxious &exciting {since you dont know what is going to happen next;; to me it feels as though i am always holding my breath}. enjoy your time now. there is so much self-reflection; it is powerful.

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[User Picture]From: katyakoshka
2004-10-21 15:54 (UTC)
I can't imagine not being overwhelmed with culture shock, geographic disorientation and loneliness in your situation.

Hell, I haven't considered moving to places here in the States if I don't already know (and like) at least a few people beforehand, just because I know it'd be disorienting and lonely otherwise, anyhow.

You're not whining. Adjusting to a new life in a new place in a different country... That's more than a little stressful.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2004-10-22 13:17 (UTC)
I consider myself fortunate to have a partner in this like Marco, although that may seem ironic in light of my lashing out at him. Still, I appreciate the validating comments. Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: katyakoshka
2004-10-27 19:21 (UTC)
I consider myself fortunate to have a partner in this like Marco

True, that.

although that may seem ironic in light of my lashing out at him

Well, no. I mean, who else are you going to lash out at. And considering where you were/are at with adjusting to a new culture and place after he's already had some time to settle in... well, he's human, too.

Still, I appreciate the validating comments.

Must have something to do with that "friend" thing. ;)

Thank you.

Quite welcome. 'Sides, you've done plenty of validating for me on many occasions. :)
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[User Picture]From: victorine
2004-10-25 20:54 (UTC)
Wow. I agree. You're doing amazingly well. When I lived in Paris, I had near anxiety attacks every time I stepped out of my apt building. Something like this fear of being swallowed whole and no one knowing because I didn't know anyone. I eventually was able to navigate my way around and enjoy things, but it took me a good 4-5 months.

Are there classes you can take? art classes? community classes? One of my art classes was a pottery class given at a community center for the arts. I found that it was an excellent way to have some one on one interaction with people without all the awkwardness because everyone's there for the class and you have at least that in common.

Keep yer chin up love! eat some clotted cream for me please!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2004-10-26 08:55 (UTC)
I still have the anxiety attacks every day, but they're getting a little less intense. I don't know when they'll go away. I don't think I can force it, except by making myself go outside at least once a day.

Yes, actually, I think there are a lot of classes I can take. There's a Camden community art center thingie that seems to specialize in sculpting in clay. I've never done that, and I get a discount on the classes now that I have the leisure card. I also want to try and find a language center so I can take a course in Spanish. Anyway, I suspected that this might be a good idea - it's good to hear it confirmed. :-)

Oh, and I had clotted cream at the Orangery the other day. YUM. Marco and I are also going to try every kind of sweet tea biscuit that is on offer at the grocery stores. There are millions of them.
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[User Picture]From: victorine
2004-10-27 02:01 (UTC)
OH yeah, and one of the things I found helpful when we moved here - get to know your shop keepers. I made it a point to go to the places I liked on a regular basis just so they would start to recognize me. It started feeling like home when the guy at the Royal Grocery remembered me.
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