The Immigrant Experience

“… now there was a match-head in my thoughts.”

-Marvin Bell, from “Wednesday”

I have been in London for one week. On my previous three visits, I never stayed for more than two weeks, and often split the time with other parts of England or other countries in Europe. But this time, I am here to settle. My new job starts tomorrow.

And so, I see everything, not through the eyes of a tourist, but those of an immigrant. Instead of laughing at quaint cultural differences, I take note for future reference. When I discover that the way I have been doing things in my homeland for decades, and which I assumed to be universal, works completely differently out here, I have to figure out the new way and adapt.

Walking along the Thames last night, I felt a sense of connection to other immigrants I met. Some may have fled despotic regimes, others no doubt came to seek their fortunes. For many, English is not their first language (and I am discovering it is actually not mine either!) Few leave their families lightly. And abandoning the cumulative comfort of so many small known quantities has led me to feel like an infant here at times, re-learning fundamentals of language and behavior/behaviour.

After a week of apartment-hunting, bank account setup, and other logistics required to survive abroad, an outing in Brighton yesterday with my new colleagues let me see things as a tourist again, instead of just an immigrant. Returning to the Thames that night rekindled the “match-head” that was placed in my thoughts many years ago, when I first encountered London, and found it at once imposing and familiar, both a great city, and one I could call my own.