Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Last Post

This is the 99th and very last post from Life in the LA Bubble.  To those regular readers this is of course an epilogue, whilst for those catching it for the very first time it will always be the introduction.

Three years ago in the summer of 2009 my husband commenced a work assignment in Pasadena, just north of Los Angeles; my teenage daughter and I moved from  our rural home on the south coast of England to join him in the sunshine of California.

I was very much a reluctant alien, uprooted and transplanted, left to survive in a hostile environment,  learning to adapt and acclimitise.  I started this blog when I found myself at odds and struggling to cope with what at many times seemed the illogical and slightly surreal way of life that is LA. I missed my family, my friends, my British home comforts.

Three years on and we are now back in the UK.  My husband is about to commence another work assignment in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, whilst the teenager and I are safely cocooned back in England.

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read my posts, especially those who have made comments, either on line or to me personally.  It is very much appreciated.

Life in the LA Bubble will hopefully remain floating in cyber-space for the foreseeable future; a permanent record of our trials and tribulations in LA, as well as providing a handful of helpful hints for prospective US immigrants. To anyone about to set out on such an adventure I wish good luck.  Pack a good dose of patience, a great sense of humour, an open mind and you will be fine.  If I can do it - anyone can do it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


They always say be careful what you wish for.  Well what did I wish for? To feel the rain on my face and the wind in my hair and so naturally it hasn't stopped raining or blowing or a gale for the whole of our first week back in the UK.

What else did I say I was looking forward to? A stroll to the pub.  Well my feet have hardly touched the ground since we got back  we've been so busy, but when they did touch the ground they came into contact with a packing case.  The result? Something that suspiciously looks and feels like a broken toe. I just about managed to hobble the ten minute walk to the local on Wednesday - the only shoes I can comfortably wear are a pair of sparkly white flipflops.  Ideal for around a sunny pool in LA but hardly suitable attire for the soggy British countryside.

So yes we are just about settled into our new home; the teenager is terrified by the thought of having to learn to drive along the narrow country lanes; the husband is dreading the prospect of having to tackle all that DIY and I'm desperately seeking storage solutions for all our possessions.  The new house is already full and we are still awaiting the arrival of the shipping container.

When it comes to sociability however, the Brits have won hands down.  In the few days since we moved in we have already met three of our new neighbours - one who introduced herself to complain about some loose guttering, another who continually parks across our drive, and the third who welcomed us to the road with a bottle of red wine - he's obviously our favourite!!

As for the LA Bubble, well it's the end of an era. Our bubble didn't so much  burst as evaporate; dissolve.  It's amazing what you get used to and human beings are remarkably resilient creatures.  I'm sure we'll all adapt pretty quickly to our new life in the UK -  we'll probably have developed webbed feet by this time next week.

So its' over - that lazy Californian lifestyle.  It was good whilst it lasted although I would never have thought I'd be saying that when  I set out on our overseas adventure three years ago.  For the first twelve months of living in the US I would have willingly come home at the drop of a hat; the feelings of culture shock, home-sickeness and loneliness were overwhelming.  No I never got to grips with a new way of life, the dream often seemed like a nightmare, and I know I'll never understand the American psyche. Two and a Half Men is just not funny.

But I've visited some awe-inspiring places, and I've met some great people; I've travelled to parts of the world I'd only ever read about, and have made some genuine new friends.  I don't feel I've moved back to the UK- I feel I've moved on. We have all changed. I never used to do thrills and spills, especially not at great height or great speed, but life in the LA Bubble was certainly one roller coaster ride I wouldn't have missed for the world, although I'm not quite sure I'll be joining the queue to do it again.......

Thursday, June 14, 2012


The bags are packed and we’re ready to go.

Two years, eight months and five days (honestly I haven’t been counting) since our arrival in the US and it’s time to leave.

Of course we’re all a bit sad – especially the teenager – to be leaving our new friends and the rather luxurious lifestyle to which we’ve all become accustomed.  It’s back to public transport for the teenager after a whirlwind romance with the car, and I’m going to miss my self-indulgent routine of gym, swimming pool, lazy lunches and idyllic morning walks in the mountain foothills. 

Of course what I’ve lacked most, and what I crave most now, is intellectual stimulation.  I am not cut out to be a housewife.  I have tried to become a lady of leisure and feel I have failed, plagued by that guilty feeling that I should be doing something more useful. Yes I tried to read the classics in an attempt at self-improvement;  I  ploughed my way through the teenager’s English Honours reading list in an effort to at least look intelligent as I sat around the pool. 

There were many times when I felt I lacked a purpose.  I was  an appendage – my husband had to come here to work and I came along for the ride.  I wasn’t useful to anyone.  I was supposed to be the home-maker but there were many times when I couldn’t even manage to put dinner on the table; flummoxed by something so mundane as the grocery shopping. Of course now I think, heck this is America, who needs to cook, let’s just eat out or get a take-away!

One of the things I struggled with most was that feeling of not fitting in. I missed my old friendships; I longed for uninhibited conversations with people I’d known since the year dot and who knew me warts and all.  Americans are very good at talking to complete strangers, unburdening themselves; I just didn’t feel comfortable divulging my innermost secrets to the check-out assistant at Ralphs.

I tried to involve myself in American culture; I dabbled with my voluntary work, I enjoyed my gardening but the school mom thing just didn’t feel right.  I admitted defeat and started this blog. It became my lifeline - the friend who listened to me, who understood my accent. And of course I did make real friends in the end; friends who I am really going to miss.

One thing I have learned is that writing not only keeps the brain cells ticking over, it’s a cathartic experience; it’s great therapy. So when I get back to the UK I really am going to write that book.  I'm planning a comic tale, entirely based on historical fact, about a charming young (okay middle-aged) English woman who comes to Los Angeles for three years, discovers she is totally incompatible with American culture and very slowly, but in the nicest possible way, goes mad.  I think I’ve just about finished my research….

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Looking Forward

What am I looking forward to most about returning to the UK? Well it goes without saying catching up with friends and family! Skype is a great thing but it lacks that touchy feely-ness.  I want to give Daughter No 1 a hug and  I can’t.  She skypes us when she’s tired at the end of a hectic day and just about to go to bed; I’m full of beans and having my morning cup of tea. We can’t even text each other spontaneously.

Buying things in small quantities. This will be good – grocery supplies can only be purchased in Mormon sized quantities over here.  I’m not sure how people who live on their own cope - they either eat out all the time – highly likely, or they end up throwing vast quantities of food away.  Things definitely do not come in small packages. I wanted to buy just enough I can’t believe It’s not Butter type spread to get us through our final week – but ended up buying a bucketful of the stuff instead. What do old people do? Back in the UK my mother lives on her own in a very small flat with a very small fridge.  If she lived over here she’d never be able to buy anything small enough to fit in it.

I’d like to think I’m getting my husband back – although I wont because he’s off to the desert for six week stints, but at least when he’s home, hopefully he’ll have something else to think about besides work.  Americans are very work orientated and our life here has totally revolved around the job.  Americans have far less employee rights than in Europe, work longer hours and have less holidays. With additional benefits such as health insurance are tied into your job, it pays to stay on the right side of your employer and show as much commitment as you can; that blackberry is never switched off.

My husband's American colleagus think he's laid back. I think I lost Mr Laid Back half way across the Atlantic. Without the distraction of extended family and a wide circle of friends, everything has become very  focused on work, but hopefully once safely back in the UK he’ll have hobbies and interests to take up – we’ll have a house to follow and a garden to potter in. Living in rented accommodation for the last nearly 3 years has seriously curtailed the DIY activities.  I can paint walls; dig holes in the garden.  He can cut his own grass and wash his own car – no one does that here. The close proximity of the Mexican border provides a ready supply of graduates from Mexico's abundance of horticultural colleges, cleaning and car washing academies - leaving your average American with far more time to - yes you've guessed it - go to work!

It’s taken me nearly three years to get used to writing the date month first – now I can go back to doing what comes naturally! I’ve only just stopped converting everything from dollars to pounds in my head – now I’ll probably find myself doing the reverse. No more battles with spellchecker, omitting my u’s and inter-changing s and z. I can ask for a cup of tea when I'm out happily knowing it will come with milk not a lemon slice and when I need the loo I wont need to politely pretend I need a bath or a rest. There’ll be no need for a calculator to work out what correct gratuity to leave – in fact in many places no need to tip at all! What a relief!

What else am I looking forward to? Fresh air; no freeway noise; no helicopters constantly buzzing about overhead; no layer of black grime coating everything left outside; no sugar in bread; no air con.  I can peg my washing out.  The NHS.  Commercial free radio and TV – pure bliss!  Marks & Spencer; walking to the pub; and yes, I'm even relishing the thought of stepping outside in the rain and feeling the wind blowing through my hair - but only for a couple of days please...

At least going back in June we will have time to get used to the British weather before the worst sets in - we'll have acclimitised by the autumn, or as this had to be translated to an American friend, we'll have acclimated by the Fall.

Quite looking forward to getting back to people who speak the same language too! ;-)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Bad Habits

Earlier this week I found myself telling my hairdresser her skirt was cute - what has happened to me?

Cute and awesome – the two mainstay adjectives of the American vocabulary. I too have been told my skirt was cute – a woman once bellowed something across the gas station forecourt at me.  What? I thought anxiously, is there something wrong with my car.  I stopped what I was doing and crossed over to her.  Sorry, I didn’t hear you, I told her. I said your skirt was cute she bellowed back again.

My accent is cute, my necklaces have been cute; the fact that I match a lime green handbag with a pair of lime green shoes, that’s cute too.  Stopped by complete strangers who want to compliment me.  Is it a compliment to be told you’re cute? Back in the UK cute is probably never used to describe anything over four years old. I am definitely not cute. 

My neighbours recently acquired a new puppy.  I don’t even like dogs but there I was stroking its nose and telling them how cute it was. It has to stop.  

If it’s not cute it’s awesome. It’s totally awesome that I can match a cute bag with a cute pair of shoes and it’s totally awesome that my neighbours felt the need to go out and get themselves a cute dog.

Random conversations between strangers are positively encouraged and part of the American psyche. Folks here will cross the road to pet a complete stranger’s dog.  Yes honey, of course you can stroke the Rottweiler. Many an American, especially the elderly kind, will stop and compliment families on their cute kids.  That’s so friendly you might think, until they try and lure them away.  Sometimes a bit of reserve wouldn’t go amiss; after all not everyone who looks like your friendly old grandpa really is.

The ability to maintain ad hoc conversation has never been one of my attributes and I haven’t succumbed.  However, I will have to watch my language when I return to the UK.  I’m pretty sure none of my UK friends will be that flattered when I tell them how cute they look. It has become  too easy to unwittingly develop the native patter and mimic local customs. When I’m out with my American friends I find myself discarding my knife and eating with only my fork.  I don’t understand why Americans don’t like using knives – after all most of them are pretty comfortable wielding a gun, but when it comes to cutlery, a fork does it all. Slice up your food with the side of your fork and then shovel it in.  

Another bad habit that must be broken – reckless driving.  Yes my driving skills have definitely deteriorated since being out here.  An amber light no longer means slow down - it means put your foot on the gas and go!  And turning right on a red traffic light?  I’ve never thought this was a particularly brilliant US law – mainly because I’m often on the receiving end as a pedestrian risking my life on a cross walk.  Will I be tempted to inch myself out on a red light when I’m turning left back in the UK to make a quick getaway? I’m also going to need to learn to drive with two hands again, one on the gear stick and the other on the steering wheel.  How will I hold my Starbucks?!

And the final bad habit that must be broken? Alcohol consumption! There has been way too much of that! How easy it has been to see the last two and a half years as an extended holiday, sat on the balcony overlooking the pool on a warm summer, winter, spring, autumn evening, glass of wine in hand, watching the pollution enhanced psychedelic colours of the LA sunset reflecting on the San Gabriel mountains.  I'm going to miss that mountain view - it's  awesome!!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Counting Down

There is an air of sadness overhanging the bubble household and it’s because our bubble is about to burst.  We’re counting down in days rather than weeks until our return to the UK and the teenager is stamping her feet and having a hissy fit and saying she doesn’t want to go.  I tell her we’re going home and she tells me this is her home. And its true – she’s been here since she was 13 and now she’s 16½ and driving a car and has boyfriends and girlfriends and is planning a leaving party that apparently is going to last for the next two weeks.  I’m not totally heartless and I do sympathesize.

There will be things here that I too will miss – not the Starbucks and the fast food, or the crass TV and the traffic.  It’s good riddance to all that.  What I will miss will be the people, and that eternal air of optimism and positivity that they all have.  Yes I know I’ve complained in the past about the childlike cheerfulness a lot of Americans possess, and how it smacks of insincerity, but I’ve acclimatized – how will I cope when I go to a supermarket back in the UK and complete my transaction in a complete silence – never having to speak a word; no-one wishing me a nice a day?  Even the car park attendant at my local Fresh n’ Easy told me he’d missed me when I hadn’t been for a couple of weeks.  How will he cope when I don’t go at all? How will I cope when I have to pack my own shopping bags?  

My gardening friends were the first friends I made in the US – I took up volunteering as soon as I arrived before I had the opportunity to procastinize and talk myself out of it.  It was the one sound piece of advice our re-locator gave us. This week as I walked to the Rose Garden through the plethora of peacocks which wander freely through the flowerbeds, past the ducks and the geese, I realized I wasn’t looking forward to the thought of returning to the UK at all.  I’d have to find a proper job.  How could I go back to work in an office after this?  One morning a week pruning and weeding in the sunshine wins hands down over four days a week working for local government – which is what I did in my former life.  Do I want to go back to that? No way!!  Just before I packed away my tools a native Californian red tailed hawk, the size of a small eagle, flew overhead, swooped down low in an attempt to snatch a lizard, and landed with an ungainly thud in a clump of irises.  Slightly disorientated – irises are more sturdy than they look - it then took flight and perched on a nearby arbour whilst it recovered.  It’s come to say goodbye, one of my fellow volunteers suggested. How did it know? Was this a sign? Do the natives like me after all?!

When people here ask me what I will miss most about California when I leave, I’ll tell them the weather.  But that’s not really true.  I can cope with the British weather, I really don’t mind the grey and the damp, and the odd "phew what a scorcher" three day wonder heat wave. 

When I first arrived in the US, I felt lonely and isolated. I wished I could have picked up all my friends and family and brought them with me.  Now I just want to take everyone home.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Overstock dot com

The big clear out has begun.  As I dragged four bags of grocery shopping across the car park to the lift up to the fifth floor I thought, only 4 more weeks of doing this.  Our departure is  imminent so why am I even grocery shopping anyway? It’s time to start eating up all the surplus food in the house. 

A quick look in the kitchen cupboard  and a whole half litre bottle of Worcestershire sauce stares back at me.  It was the smallest size I could buy.  I thought I couldn’t live without Worcestershire sauce but looking at the large volume of liquid I have left, obviously I could. I’ve also two nearly full bottles of Balsamic vinegar – one I purchased and one inherited from a departing ex-pat wife, together with two jars of Branston Pickle. 

I hate waste but who can I donate my remaining store cupboard ingredients to? Most of my British friends have now returned to the UK – we’re just hanging on until the teenager finishes school in June. Could I convince my American friends to try a salad tossed in that good olde British traditional vinaigrette of Balsamic infused with Worcestershire sauce and Branston pickle? I doubt it.  

I’ve two hundred and fifty odd Sainsbury’s tea bags to get through –  even at four cups a day seven days a week, I’m going to have a fair few left over when we leave.  Have I over-stocked?  I demanded packets of teabags from every visitor; I stashed hundreds of  them  in my suitcase every time I visited the UK, panic buying in the extreme.

There’s the usual array of half used herbs and spices – bought for one recipe and never used again. I don’t think I have ever got through a full jar of nutmeg before the end of the sell-by date.  What do I do with these? Donate them to the homeless begging on the streets of Pasadena? Hey guys I know you really want money for crystal meth but could you use a jar of ground ginger instead?

What else have I got lurking in my cupboards that is totally surplus to requirement? Paracetamol . Yes I’ve enough packets of those to start up my own pharmacy.  Spray deodorant -another example of over-zealous importation from the UK.  I realize I still have three cans to get through. I can hardly go around  donating these to my friends with a casual would you like some anti-perspirant? What kind of response would that provoke??

I’ve already taken four bin bags of various clothes, shoes and books to Goodwill and the teenager hasn’t even started on her room yet.  Why do we accumulate so much stuff??  Even though we’ve only lived in our apartment for two years I still have a kitchen drawer full of those useless odd buttons, wall plugs, pieces of wire, replacement light bulbs for Christmas lights we no longer have and spare keys – to what?? 

And what about the four unused sheets of return address labels? In the US you are required to put your home address on any mail you send so I ordered a handy supply of printed labels on the internet – they were very cheap and if I ordered 250 I got another 250 free, but now of course I have at least 250 left.  How many letters can I write in the next four weeks? Perhaps the answer is  to kill two birds with one stone and distribute my unwanted jars of spice in the post….