Wednesday, 25 May 2011

One year ago I was...

♥ Finishing up six glorious months of summer in New Zealand. Hooray for the Southern Hemisphere, free time, coast line to run along, sea to swim in and bare feet to walk back home in. New Zealand is vitamin D therapy for a drizzly Seattleite who'd been holed up in England for four years.

♥ Exploring Auckland's best coffee shops (and there are many!) with Mel and Rachael, sipping flat whites and writing about my finds in the design*sponge city guide.

♥ Finishing up the first draft of my manuscript and realizing I still had a long way to go.

♥ Still in my twenties (!) and totally uncertain about what my next decade would look like, other than the fact that it would start in Seattle alongside one certain, nomadic Englishman I'd had the great fortune of marrying and circumnavigating the globe with.

♥ Filled with nervous excitement and bracing for change. I do love a good move across the world, but I also know how much work is involved and was psyching myself up.

 Today, I am...

♥ Grateful. Writing full-time in Auckland, ten minutes from the beach, was a difficult act to follow, but Seattle has been doing just fine. I'm thankful for the way life has pieced together, for family and friends nearby and for that long-forgotten feeling of being home. Ahh...

♥ Balancing in the constant tension between contentment with ambition. It's much easier to look ahead at what's next than to appreciate what I have now, which was what I once craved.

♥ Still reading, writing and drinking excellent coffee.

What were you doing one year ago?

{Images from traveltrailersnz, MR38 and Maptote}

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

British teeth and other stereotypes

Last Thursday, as luck would have it, I cracked my front tooth right off. While calmly applying mascara, I bit down and suddenly my tooth was not where it was supposed to be. This was the fourth time in my life it had happened, so I wasn't alarmed, more inconvenienced. The dentist couldn't fit me in until the next Monday.

My dentist also happens to be an antique collector and interior designer. His office is visually stunning and I figured that if he could make my mouth look as good as his office, I was in.

The procedure took 3 hours and made him 45 minutes late to an event. All for the sake of my front teeth. The procedure didn't need to take three hours, he could have done it in one, but he's a perfectionist, and I appreciate that quality in a dentist. The last time I cracked my tooth several years ago in England my dentist had me in and out in a lunch hour.

British dentistry is, for Americans, classic fodder for stereotype. Bad teeth along with mediocre food (but quality ale) is to the British stereotype what obesity and ignorance (with a winning smile) is to the American. How much truth exists in these impressions is something different all together. Most Brits I know have perfectly fine teeth, and I actually liked my dentist a lot in London, who was South African, but nevermind.

The other day, as we were going into a supermarket to pick up supplies for a BBQ, Dan commented that our life in America was completely different to how friends back home in England might imagine. Or at least how TV shows and movies might portray life in America. In Dan's America, he'd just finished eating a local, organic leek and onion tart from work (a nice French restaurant), was planning to review world music star Femi Kuti that evening and could talk in depth with his co-workers at a local arts magazine about Nigerian music and global politics. And just the other day he'd said, "I think 70% of the population of Seattle is, at any given point, on a cleanse." Seattle is simply more wheatgrass than loaded potato skins.

Likewise, so often I felt like my experience in England was completely at odds with what I had expected of life in the UK. The England I'd carried in my head going in was akin to a Hugh Grant or Colin Firth film -- riddled with posh wit and charming eccentricity. It was lined with white terraced housing and cute cafes and fruiterers who knew my name. But, even while living in England I'd long for that England. That England exists, in small pockets of West London, but it certainly wasn't my everyday life. The guy in the market I bought veg from (occasionally) was actually a bit of a jerk, though perhaps making fun of his customers was his way of building rapport. I learned quickly that there are many Englands, just like Dan is learning about the many Americas.

Liberal, latte-drinking Seattle may be as different to Texas or Boston as it is to London, but it is still one of many authentic American experiences. One that doesn't get highlighted in international media very often though, because it's not the story of our country that sells to the rest of the world. People want, I believe, Americans to eat chicken-fried-bacon and be unable to find Australia on a map. Just like I wanted England to feel like the set of Notting Hill, rather than a place populated by real people with a variety of personalities and characteristics.

I think about trans-Atlantic stereotypes way more than your average girl, being married to a Brit and having done my four years in the UK and all. I've struggled to not get defensive about brushstrokes about my country that were far-removed from my own experience and I've struggled not to brushstroke back an entire nation on days when I felt foreign and frustrated. As a writer authoring a book about living in England, I sometimes struggle to describe real differences in two distinct cultures without resorting to caricature. Because though very real differences do exist, so do many shades of gray in between. And as everyone knows, black and white is much easier to deal with than gray.

Every time I'd be riding a bus in central London and cringing at the LOUD American students or tourists I'd be reminded where that stereotype comes from. Dang it! But for every exuberant group on the bus I knew there were a handful of thoughtful, quiet Americans just getting on with their lives, unnoticed. Or at least I imagined this.

Due to a personality that hates being pigeonholed and can't accept inaccurate generalization easily, stereotypes drive me insane. Almost literally. I used to want a name tag that read..."Hi, I'm Alisha. I'm American, but not every American." I wanted room to breathe within my cultural heritage, to not feel constantly apologetic, to not feel like I had to prove that America is diverse and intelligent and not what you think. I'd get all fired up defending America against inaccurate stereotype, and defensiveness is an exhausting habit.

Me and stereotypes have yet to completely reconcile, but now that I live in the US I have less to defend. And I just don't care as much anymore, which is refreshing. Often, I love thinking about the differences between the US and the UK, but other days, like today, it's even better remembering that, really, we're all just the same, trying to live normal, fulfilling lives marked with love and happiness. And moderately straight teeth.

Do you have any stereotypes that drive you insane? Have you ever been challenged by a stereotype? This is beginning to feel like a book club discussion guide, but really, what a great topic, huh?

{Photos by}

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

8 Things I Miss About England

In the wake of last Friday's royal wedding it must be said that Britain exports nicely. So, prompted by Kate and Wills' nuptials I am inspired to recount a few things I truly love about England. For, when strangers hear that I lived there, after first asking what it was like (which I answered several weeks ago), I then get, do I miss it? I certainly love and miss parts of it. Four years was long enough for a fascinating culture to creep well under my skin and make me feel that, though I am not officially British, there is still a big part of me that is definitely Britified.

So, without further ado... 8 Things I Miss About England

{Peacock fascinator from etsy shop Head Full of Feathers}

8. Fascinators & wedding hats - On the wedding tip I've got to take my hat off to British women at weddings. Like many Americans I'm obsessed with the creative contraptions placed on top of British women's heads, and even bought myself a hot pink feather fascinator to push the boat out at a friend's wedding (another trans-Altantic couple) during our last summer in London.

7. St.James's Park and other manicured playgrounds - I first discovered St.James's Park one spring evening with a few girlfriends. The grounds were in full bloom and we took our picnic and plopped ourselves right under this out-of-control Magnolia tree that sprinkled petals throughout our time there. It was nothing short of magical.

 {View from the District Line near where we lived, via Mike Searles}

6. Public transport - Sure, British trains might be notoriously late and grind to a halt when the wrong type of leaves fall on the tracks. Buses might require one full hour and two transfers to travel seven miles. The Underground might schedule routine maintenance for peak hours to cause the greatest public inconvenience. But, it IS possible to travel from east to west without a car, which is more than you can say about broad swathes of Seattle. The best aspects of public transport are of course uninterrupted chunks of time for two of my favorite pastimes: reading and people-watching.

5. Specifically, the District Line - It wasn't the most frequent of the Underground lines, but there is something kind of charming about it, with it's soothing green color and posh stops from Richmond to our house. I liked getting off two stops early at Turnham Green in Chiswick and walking home through the cute shops and cafes. Chiswick is considered a "yummy mummy" area, which leads me to believe myself and yummy mummies have quite good taste.

 {Nordic Bakery goodness via Ingrid Design}

4. Various Scandinavian outposts in London - I love the stark Scandinavian aesthetic, so what can be better than bits of the continent's neighbor to the north scattered about London. Of note, I loved the Swedish pub, The Harcort Arms, we frequented every Sunday evening.  And of course the Nordic Bakery in Golden Square near Covent Garden. Every thirty minutes a baker brings up a fresh pan of cinnamon aroma in the form of pastry-like cinnamon buns. I'd smell them from the hard seats that myself and Scandinavia go nuts for but that my husband doesn't fully get behind.

3. Mosob's - This might not seem English at all, but since England was where I was introduced to Ethiopian and Eritrean food, and since London offers an amazing selection, it had to be included. The cream of the Horn of African crop, in my opinion, is Mosob's. Owned by brothers Benjamin and Daniel, this is the only restaurant in the whole of Great Britain that has ever welcomed me in with a hug. And word games to occupy us while we wait for the main course. It's perfect.

{From Julia Speller at Your Tea Time

2. Rounds of tea - At first I didn't understand this concept of rounds of tea. How, in the British office it's not only a kind act but also an unspoken obligation to make, depending on the size, either the whole office or your whole team, a cup of tea at regular intervals. And since it's well known that the Brits can keep a teapot flowing, this is no easy task. Of course the duty is rotated, but whether doing the making or the receiving it interrupts productive workflow zones and "my task list" and forces mid-morning conversation and, wouldn't you know, a sense of being in this thing together. Once I was broken in I got quite used to it and grew to love the moment of handing a colleague a nice warm cuppa and being told, with complete sincerity and mild elation, "You are a star." It's just too easy.

1. Sunday Roast and a newspaper at a cozy pub - It's just got to be done.

And one shameless plug... It goes without saying that by far my favorite English export is my husband Dan. If you're needing a dose of Britishness you should definitely check out his new radio show, Dig Deep, which you can stream right here from I like listening because it sounds like our house, which sounds like a steady stream of funk, soul and electronic music, thanks to Dan. If you're into UK beats then it's definitely worth your time.

What about you? Is there anything you love about England? Have you been? Brits, would you like to chime in with what you miss about home when you leave?

{Royal Wedding Print by Glyn West Designs via etsy}
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