Thursday, June 23, 2011

American Women's Club

Tuesday morning I took off my tour-guide hat and took the tube up to Kensington to attend a new member coffee at the American Women's Club.
South Kensington station
One of Josh's co-workers had suggested to him that it might be a good way for me to meet people in London and help with the transition.  While I don't want to end up only hanging out with other Americans, it would be nice to know some people who have been through this experience and can offer advice, support, and a additional opportunities for social interaction.  My friend Bethie met me there with baby Charlotte, who was an instant hit with the rest of the ladies in attendance.  Bethie finally had to make her a name tag with her name and age so she wouldn't have to answer the same questions every time someone new walked into the room.

It was a pretty diverse group of women, some of whom had lived in other countries as well (France, Australia, The Netherlands).  One woman was from New Zealand, but was married to an American and had just moved from Texas.  Even though there were only about 10 women, four of us (including Bethie and myself) had moved from the DC area, including another woman who's husband works for BAE.  There was also another woman who lived in Wimbledon.  Small world!   After introductions, we went over some of the regular activities the club sponsors -- hikes, theater/movie outings, afternoon teas, museum visits, day trips, book clubs, coffee groups -- and then spend some time asking questions and sharing advice about life in London.  Where are good places to shop?  How do the buses work?  Are there any decent Mexican restaurants?

The woman who led the meeting told us that Americans find the expat experience in London to be (ironically) much more difficult than in most other countries because they expect that without a language barrier it will be easy for them to integrate into society.  Not so much.  Imagine moving to a new city where you don't know anyone.  Now imagine that you've never heard of most of the shops, banks, restaurants, and other businesses in that city.   You aren't familiar with any of the utility companies, cable/internet/phone providers, or even how to send something by mail.  The cars are different and they drive on the other side of the road -- and good luck trying to decipher the symbolic road signs.  Oh, and even though you think you speak the same language as everyone else, the locals use words and phrases you've never heard, have different names for things than what you're used to, and spell everything differently.  Like I've said before, it's like being transported into an alternate universe.

After the meeting, some of us went to lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant (no shortage of those here!) and continued our discussion.  It was nice to have a group of instant friends to hang out with, and the club seems to have enough of a variety of activities to appeal to my interests, so I'm glad I went.

After lunch, I met up with Ben and Laska at the Victoria & Albert Museum down the street.  They had been there since 11 am, so we spent another hour or so admiring the jewelry and glass collections and then took the tube over to Leicester Square to get tickets to a show.  Since we had already seen a musical last week, we decided to see a play this time, and managed to get half-price tickets for Pygmalion, starring Rupert Everett and Diana Rigg!  Sweet.

We had some time to kill before dinner, so we hung out in Trafalgar square for about 45 minutes and engaged in some people-watching and photography practice from the steps in front of the National Gallery.
The National Gallery
Outside the gallery was an amazing "living wall" reproducing this painting by Vincent van Gogh:

For dinner, we found a nice French brasserie a couple blocks from the theater.  Josh met us there at 7 and helped us finish our leftovers, and we got to the Garrick Theatre just as they were ringing the bell to indicate that it was time to find your seats.  Perfect.  If you are not familiar with Pygmalion, it is a play by George Bernard Shaw on which the musical My Fair Lady was based.  So, it's the same story, but without the songs about the rain in Spain being mainly on the plain, and so forth.
The first half of the play was fantastic, although we could occasionally hear trains and sirens going by, which was a little distracting. The second half was a little darker and the ending was rather abrupt and unsettling, but overall, we enjoyed it.

Since it was the longest day of the year, it was still light out when we emerged from the theater, even though it was nearly 10 pm.  I think the 18 hours of daylight during the summer will be a lot easier to adjust to than the 6 hours of daylight in the winter.  Not looking forward to that!

Yesterday Ben and Laska took the train to Cambridge for an overnight trip to visit some friends, so I've been taking advantage of the downtime to catch up on laundry, email, blogging, and giving my tired feet a well-deserved break.  It was cool and rainy, so a good day to stay home.  I watched a great tennis match between Venus Williams and Kimiko Date-Krumm on TV.  Even though I'm not much of a tennis fan, I feel like I should try to keep up with what's going on less than 2 miles away here in Wimbledon, and even I could tell that was a fantastic match.  Josh hasn't been yet, so we'll try to make it back up there sometime soon.

While I was watching, I was curious if the two American guys who sat at the next table at the restaurant where we ate dinner on Monday night were tennis players.  The first guy who walked in looked more like a football player -- tall and brawny.  The hostess directed him towards a small table for two, but he pointed to the 4-top next to ours and said that would be better, as his buddy was a big guy.  We were curious who that guy would consider "big," and then his buddy walked in.  Ben whispered, "Oh my God, that guy is seven feet tall!"  He nearly bumped his head on the light fixture.  I had my back to them during dinner, so I couldn't get a good look, but I figured there couldn't be many American tennis players that tall.  Sure enough, a quick search revealed the tall guy as John Isner, who is 6'9".  His claim to fame is playing in the longest game in Wimbledon history in 2010.  It lasted over 11 hours! 

Well, it's threatening to rain again, so I'd better bring in my laundry and run to the store for some milk before it starts.  If you want to know what the weather is like here over the next week and a half, just tune in to tennis.  Maybe you'll even see us!

1 comment:

  1. I had lunch yesterday with a high school friend of mine visiting from England. She and her husband have lived in Cambridge since 2005. We spent a long time talking about just what you say--that there really is a culture shock for Americans moving to the UK. I know it's not easy, but rest assured you're definitely not alone. I'm glad you met some new friends today!!


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