Category Archives: expat

There is no future in England’s dreaming…


These past few months have been extremely busy, hence all the radio silence. This always seems to happen once it grows cold. I started a fantastic new job in my favourite area of central London, and I was finally able to do the one thing I swore at age 15 that I would do by age 3o: apply for British citizenship. And through years of luck, hard graft and being in the last generation of humane visa policies, I did it! Reader, in five days, I will be a dual citizen! I still don’t really believe it despite finding out before Christmas, so I’ve come across as rather blase about the whole thing. Hopefully it will finally hit me in a way that isn’t completely embarrassing next week, I don’t want to look like a complete fool when pledging allegiance to a monarchy my country (though not my ancestors) fought to rid themselves of, ahem.

So it is a new year and soon I will have a new country to fully call home, complete with a little red passport (I already have passport photos at the ready). I will even get to vote in the upcoming general election this May, my first opportunity to vote in the UK since moving here seven years ago. I will also be a EU citizen, which is almost inconceivable to me. I never thought at the beginning of this blog that this would occur, but here I am (I’ll have to change the header soon). And even though I am still trying to come to grips with pledging allegiance to an institution that I vehemently disagree with on a socio-historical and political basis, I am happy that I will finally be afforded the safety and security and permanence of citizenship. And by claiming Britishness I believe that I can better critique structures that I disagree with, as I am able to do in the US.

So here’s to a new year and new beginnings! Happy new year everyone!

London is the Place For Me

By the gentle author of Spitalfields Life

Life has sped up again, pushing past an unexpectedly cold, prolonged winter and into the cautious blossoming of spring. Two months ago I became a permanent resident of Britain, my prized visa arriving with the sacred words of ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain’.

My journey towards citizenship, with its hurdles, uncertainty and displacement, is reaching its conclusion. By the end of the year, I will have undergone the last of the rituals to mark me as a resident proper, as someone deserving of settlement, of placement, of belonging. I will, and will be able to say that I belong, that I can claim localities and communities as my own and believe it to be true, that I am not one of the millions of transient spectres haunting the city for a short time before drifting onwards.

This feeling of permanency and feeling whole once again- instead of feeling like nothing more than the bills, letters and data the Home Office deemed as my existence- has given me a rather large bounce in my step. I have been out and about a lot recently and feel the way I used to feel as a student, that the city is wondrous and offers limitless possibilities in every unexplored path and undiscovered territory.

All of this is to say that I’ve been doing more exploring recently. East, past Whitechapel to Stepney Green. I hid in East London Thrift while rain hurled itself from the sky and cautiously wandered when the sun returned. Off the high street, old shops-turned flats mingled with Victorian houses flanked by small public gardens. Standing beside them were low and high rise council estates, slightly worse for wear, though many had balconies bursting with plants, toys and other signs of family life.

Further down the street led to a park and Stepney City Farm, which was unfortunately closed, though I still enjoyed looking at the goats, sheep and exotic chickens. By the time I reached the farm, only a few minutes down the street, the surrounding area looked shockingly like any number of the small villages found in the countryside (minus the thatched cottages). The ancient country church stood across the street surrounded by land, and the streets were silent. Walking past the farm and back towards the high street, industrial 70s buildings returned, filling up the spaces between corner shops and inter-war housing.

In a small community centre, nestled between council estates, a voice on speaker transported me back to Morocco, to the call to prayer that engulfed the city throughout the day. A large crowd of men- fathers, brothers, sons- gathered around the building, spilling out into the car park. As they prepared, boys played and chatted, while fathers attempted to keep order. Looking forward, I could see the high street again in the distance, with its murals, shopping centres and statues.

So many experiences jostling for attention in such a small area! Such delights that a short jaunt could lead to traversing time, locality and memory! As Henry James said in his famous quote, it is difficult to speak adequately and justly of London. It is both England and outside of it, a global city that feels deeply local and tribal once you move outside the centre ( no matter where I live, I am a SE Londoner, and I bristle at anyone who attempts to slight it). It is unabashedly, aggressively multicultural, daring you to falter in the wake of its daily hustle and bustle. It remains an odd honor and a privilege to remain here, experiencing it, in all its guises. I can say with utmost certainty that I may not yet be British, but I am definitely a Londoner.

Here’s hoping that more discoveries will be made once the weather rights itself again. And on a light note, my friend introduced me to this song:

London Voices

I’d like to think that after five years, I am becoming more attuned to the variety of accents found in London, and to a smaller extent, accents found across the country (though I still get things terribly, hilariously wrong). I’ve started listening to videos and clips of various accents on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s fantastic to hear the diversity in voices on such a small island.  I think a lot of Americans still think of England as having two accents: Cockney and southern posh (maybe this is changing with BBC America), but there is so much more than that. From Liverpool to Northumberland, Yorkshire to Devon, there are so many fantastic voices here, with their own rules, slang and tones. There is also a massive range of American accents, but I think that considering the size of the country, the amount of accents present aren’t nearly as extreme. I also think that with people my age, a flattening of accent is occurring, so we generally tend to sound similar regardless of where we’re from, though obviously there are still certain geographic tics. Here are some links that may be of interest:

Sound clips:

BBC Voice Recordings

British Library Survey of English Dialects


A very belated Londonversary

Where I started five years ago, Goldsmiths, New Cross.

The days have shortened; the sky is illuminated by the pale winter sun. The frost has left reminder of its touch on the remains of leaves on the pavement. London is at its best during winter.  Autumn has passed me by in a whirl of new work and visa application panics. My fifth London anniversary passed without much fanfare in September, as I was preparing for my Life in the UK test- which I passed with remarkable ease, despite my rather rusty study habits. My sixth Thanksgiving, a moment of calm amidst the chaos, was spent with my friends, a holiday which my husband has taken to for its culinary possibilities (though I found his latest endeavour of turkey-filled turkey dubious). On Tuesday I finally completed my last visa, after a night spent wide awake with fear that I’d forgotten something important. It feels like a milestone in my life, the SET(M) form (also known as indefinite leave to remain/settlement), a culmination and documentation of a lifetime of dreaming and struggling and risk.

If you had told me ten years ago that a uni trip to London for a week would have led to the events occurring now, I wouldn’t have dared to believe it possible. In the past 5 years, I have earned a second degree and possibly set upon the path of moving towards a doctorate, made close friends and married one of them, and explored even more of England. I’ve picniced in front of a henge and looked for fossils along the Jurassic Coast. I’ve walked along an icy beach along the North Sea at Christmas and stood on neolithic burial grounds. I’ve seen my favourite actors on stage and witnessed my teenage music heroes front row centre in concert (oh Pulp). I’ve travelled all over London and seen such wonders and delights, not mention absurdities. I’ve also been fortunate enough to travel outside the country- with three weeks of massive cultural shock in North Africa, travelling through the Atlas Mountains on rain drenched roads on a mad local bus, driving along the edges of Moroccan desert, walking around medieval cities and dealing with complicated, friendly, infuriating people. It has only made me greedy for more experiences in more places, from Finland to Peru to Mali. Life in London has expanded my world and given me the confidence to live as I want, with passion and wonder and enthusiasm. The world feels so close, so within reach, that I sometimes take such marvels for granted. Other times I am shocked into stillness, amazed that I have managed to stumble into a life formerly only dreamed about.

As my fifth year here draws to a close, I feel ready to start anew. I want to move past the precarious existence that the visa process seems to encourage. Constantly applying for visa creates a sort of identity crisis. It is jarring to know that after becoming part of a community and beginning to amass items that speak of permanence and shared memories, it could all be so easily taken away if the right t’s aren’t crossed and i’s aren’t dotted on an application. I began to feel as though my experiences and memories were being flattened and forced into a specific narrative of evidential documentation. If this visa comes through next spring, I will be a few steps closer to being able to integrate fully in British society,  to participate in electing officials who affect my life and to feel as though I truly belong. That burden of foreignness that remains long after I’ve stopped actually thinking of myself as foreign will finally dissipate. After five years, I’m happy to say that I’m still very excited to what the future will bring, as long as I have biscuits and tea at hand.

A Right Royal Knees Up

I’m sure that you’re aware that last weekend was the Diamond Jubilee. Since I  am a staunch Republican (in the anti-monarchist sense, not the Conservative sense), I avoided most of the pomp and ceremony that engulfed the city and did my best to stay grumpy about all the transport delays. That aside, I took a few pictures to record the occasion in my local area . Despite the terrible weather, people did try their best to celebrate Liz, and I’m certain that there were  street parties like this all over the country. It’s quite fun to see street parties, they remind me of grander versions of the block parties I used to enjoy as a child in New York. It is also a rare occasion to see everyone in the local community in one place. It is a perfect example of the sheer variety of people that can be found in London, as well as a continuing and pervasive sense of traditional Britishness that remains whether you are 1st or 10th generation.

The invitation to the street party that arrived two months ago.

The queen taking in the view from a terrace, surrounded by omnipresent bunting.

In a storefront.

The street party stretched all the way down the road, the lane was packed with food, tables, Pimms and other drinks from the local pub. Despite the ominous clouds and rain, people seemed in high spirits.


Hanwell is very much a community that supports the creative endeavors of ‘the youth’. There’s always a band of 12 year old boys at these sort of events, yelping the lyrics of the Buzzcocks and the Ramones, slightly missing the joyfully ramshackle air of both groups with voices that are a bit too proper and a bit too practised.

Now, all I have to dread is the Olympics.

Love in Notting Hill’s Sliding Doors, Actually

(Note: I have been writing this for months!)

England, and London in particular, inspire a certain type of American Anglophile (and I include myself in this) who have learned about the UK through films and old tv shows shown on PBS and BBC America. Whilst I think that things are improving, I have come across many a person- student and non-student- who are horrified that life across the pond does not resemble Downton Abbey, Notting Hill or some other schmaltzy Richard Curtis feature. This then creates issues when they have to live in an area that is completely different economically, culturally and geographically from their home area, which due to misrepresentation through film, exacerbates impending culture shock. I also think it prevents some from actually exploring their neighbourhoods/cities and interacting with locals in a way that will make them feel more engaged with the spaces that they are temporarily inhabiting. Providing a large range of images of the UK goes a long way in helping people find the familiar in other cultures, or at the very least, prevents them from over-romanticising/stereotyping by showing the complex histories that make up British society.

This doesn’t mean indulging only in serious fare, I think comedies and sci-fi do a fantastic job in helping cultural understanding (as evidenced by Doctor Who and others).  So here is a small selection of modern films and shows that show a truer variety of Britishness:

1. Attack the Block– a sci-fi comedy about youths on a council estate that team up with other estate residents to fight marauding aliens. It has a strong cast, with lovely performances by established actors and newcomers alike. Alongside the main plot of protecting their ‘block’, is a realistic portrayal of the class and racial tensions that occur in marginalised areas, as well as the roles and identities that inner-city youth perform in the absence of supportive infrastructures and programmes.

2. Peep Show– Like the other hit show of the early 21st century, The Office, Peep Show unfolds in a spectacularly awkward fashion. Peep Show follows the lives of flatmates Mark and Jez, two late 20-something misfits in Croydon. The characters’ thoughts guide us through their lives, and the point-of-view camera work allows an extra level of realistic embarrassment that allows you to empathise with the two leads,  even as you’re laughing at their pettiness and misfortunes. A masterclass in the awkwardness and general weirdness that can be found in English humour.

3. Phoneshop– a sitcom about the misadventures of phone shop workers on a busy London high street. Phoneshop is not only exceptionally funny, it portrays a range of multicultural, urban voices that normally only feature in youth-based dramas, if at all. It is a surprisingly authentic (for a sitcom), matter of fact and sometimes poetic snapshot of modern London life that isn’t shown nearly as much as it should be.

4. This is England/ A Room for Romeo Brass– Shane Meadows is a master of constructing sympathetic, affecting and sometimes brutal portraits of male coming-of-age stories that allows the audience to witness the geographical and class-based constructions of working class English masculinities. With his use of unknown actors and the constant backdrop of the Midlands, which offers a bleak beauty that grounds all of his films, he has created worlds that offer an anthropological insight into the troubled lives of isolated young men in post-industrial communities.

5. The Inbetweeners– said to be an uncomfortably true and hilarious view of male teenage life by most of the twenty-something men I know. A sitcom of four boys as they progress throughout a suburban high school, it is the complete opposite of similarly themed American and English programming that tend to pop up every year. These boys are awkward, average-looking, tend not to get the girl and end up in situations that manage to be both vile and cackle-inducing in equal measure. This show makes it obvious how hilarious teenage life in a boring town actually is.

Have passport, will travel…

When I was a young person, I dreamed of becoming an Australian Aborigine and living in the Outback. Then I discovered the great white shark, and it destroyed my Australia dreams forever (I was five). Despite this setback, it was always my dream to see the world and become a global citizen, to not feel tied down to one nation, ideology or creed. At 28 years old, there are a lot of places that I have seen and places that I want to see:

  • EuropeEngland, Scotland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Lithuania, Switzerland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Malta, Iceland
  • Asia– India, South Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Nepal
  • AfricaMorocco, Egypt, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Benin, Mauritius, Seychelles, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Comoros, Djibouti, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, São Tomé & Príncipe
  • Oceania– New Zealand, Tahiti
  • Caribbean– Cuba
  • North America– Mexico, Canada
  • South America– Argentina, Chile, Peru, Easter Island, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Paraguay, Venezuela
  • Central America– Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador
  • Middle EastLebanon, Jordan

Some of these places are completely unsafe at the moment (those in italics), but I still want to visit them once they become more stable/travel bans are lifted. What counties have you seen? Where would you recommend, especially if you are a minority and/or a woman?