<Spoken like Meryl Streep as Isak Dinesen> "I once had a flat in London. I once was an au pair in Paris." I miss my European adventures, over 20 years ago now. One of my favorite things about my time spent there was that I was working during my visit. In London, I worked the nine to five, and I feel you only get a true sense of a country by being one of the working stiffs. I loved the miniature size of everything (tiny Cokes! mini-fridges for a family of 4! one phone for the office!), and the more pedestrian feel of Europe. It's the small details that make a place unique: In London the huge wooden escalators and wooden Tube interiors with upholstered seating, "Look Left" signs at "zebra crossings", oil paint interior trim, the many, many "Sorry!"'s heard on crowded Oxford Street, the tiny gas water heater over the tub with the nozzle on a cord, the 50 pence box in the room to keep the electricity on, the "newspaper" salesmen at the entrance to the Tube, "Mind the gap", calling eachother "Pet", the black cabs. The French "squatter" toilets, yellow headlights, les Concierges, the courtyards, the bowing to signal "je vous en prie" (you're welcome), the ability to open the Metro doors just before your stop, les colonnes Morris, the rocker electrical switches, the minitel, and the term of endearment "ma pouce" (my thumb). I love both cities and countries because I was so intimately familiar with their strengths and foibles. Everyone should have an opportunity to not just travel, but to live abroad, and by immersing themselves in a new environment, even the most xenophopic's cultural framework will seem as arbitrary and bizarre as any other. I think it is a way towards world peace.
But even more than the daily minutiae, it's the food one misses most of all: the foil wrapped butter sold in London, the marchand de fruits et légumes, the chips served in a newspaper cone, the French street markets. The brands are different, the packaging unique, and you miss what you was once available to you daily. I miss the creme fraiche, McVitties, Stella Artois, prepackaged sandwiches, Müller yoghurt, Ribena Strawberry, pain au chocolat, Abbaye de Leffe. Oh, dear blog readers, this post is so self-indulgent! If you haven't lived in London or Paris, to be separated by decades, you will have no idea of what I am speaking. The mundane becomes special in a new country. I hope to immerse my daughter in a foreign culture at some point in her upbringing. As for me, I miss certain aspects, but my experience has made my life all the richer, and for that, I wouldn't trade my time abroad for anything.