I ARRIVED in London six years ago, armed with a new British husband, details of distant family members and a handful of social contacts with which to touch base. But despite all the good will, none of the social contacts ever materialised and I didn’t think harassment was a good way to start life in a foreign country. My own relatives were very friendly, but only once every two years, when they invited us to visit.
Regardless of this devastating start, I have joined running clubs, walking groups, even a ‘Stitch ‘n Bitch’ group. I have regularly attended church, completed a graduate diploma and worked in the same institution for the last six years. All this, and I have only made one genuine friend.
To divert attention from my overwhelming disappointment, I can posit the following theories on the English capital and the people that inhabit it:
Theory 1: Londoners make sure they are busy every night of the week, so they do not feel alone. This makes for a very rigid social calendar, which is why I have to book four weeks in advance if I want to go for a drink with a work colleague. There is no such thing as social flexibility in London.
Theory 2: Londoners tend to have a core group of five or six friends they’ve known since inception and there is no point in making any effort for anyone else. It’s about social protection and guarding narrow community interests.
Theory 3: A foreigner is always met with an assumption they are only temporary residents and are therefore not worth making the effort for. Why bother when you are expected to leave?
My perceptions of the British have changed so dramatically, I am ashamed at my naÃ¯ve outlook six years ago. I realise it makes no difference if I perform miracles and act great feats of human kindness or sit at home and rot in front of the television. No one engages beyond the polite association of social acquaintance. People talk to me as if I am about to ask to borrow £300; as if breaking the conversation early will prevent the life threatening embarrassment of having to say ‘No’.
This veneer of public etiquette tears every so often when trains are late or Tube lines are closed because of congestion. This seeming impenetrable front breaks when a queue is breached or extensively delayed. And there is anger beyond measure underneath.
After six years, I can safely say I have been ‘broken in’. I no longer chase down friendships or friends in anyone I meet. I create my life away from any associations and I no longer rearrange my life to fit others in. I never send happy little e-mails as surreptitious reminders I am in the country. I don’t care about the legendary number of lunchtime cancellations I’ve had, I never follow them up any more. I keep my anger in check with impenetrable politeness. I have become like them.
Be warned, the British might speak the same language, but it is a completely different culture.
Do you empathise with CAZ4? Do Brits just need a good dose of Aussie sunshine or are they too far gone ‘whinging Pom’ to be saved? Comment on this article below.