This is the last post post by our Pilgrim in Residence for the month of September, musician Alva Leigh. Read the other posts in this series here and learn more about Alva Leigh (and find out where you can buy her fantastic new album) here. Be sure to let her know how much you’ve enjoyed her posts in the comments! -Lacy
Since I’ve moved, I’ve learned to leave, to let go, to live with less, to land. Somewhere along the way, I’ve felt at home here even though I am not from here.
Stepping out of the South and into English culture has been quite the experience. Of course I’ve adopted some quirks of English life. I don’t have an English accent but when I’m in a shop, my intonation can change to appear more like a local and less like a tourist. I’ve taken on some new vocabulary that my friends and family love to point out.
But as much as I’ve learned about English culture, I’ve learned in equal measure about American culture.
When you’re the only American in the room, you learn what that means, how it feels, and whether it makes you proud or embarrassed. In some situations, you’re brash, unaware, forward; but in other situations, you’re friendly, warm, direct. I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin in the past two years, but if I had lived in America my entire life, I doubt I would ever considered my ‘American-ness’ and what that means.
Though we speak the same language, the culture is very far from life as I knew it. People in the South measure community with knowledge. When you check out at the grocery store, you ask, “How’s your day going?” and even though you get a bland response, it would be rude not to ask.
The English measure community with space. They are private, quiet, well-behaved; they like to be left alone. It can take a long time to cross over the threshold of acquaintance to friend, but once you do, you have a friend for life.
You have to cope with the transience of life in a big city. I’ve had to learn patience with building a community and life here, and I struggle with nurturing those relationships that I left behind. I love reconnecting with old friends who are vacationing here or on tour, and it’s always fun to see a city through new eyes. We decided to join our parish church and that’s helped us feel more rooted here in our small corner of London. I have learned many useful things over a cup of tea, like which grocery store is better, who has the best bread, who sells the things I can’t find.
Since I’ve moved here, it’s like I’ve stepped into the other side of a mirror—looking through this slightly different lens of English life—back at myself and the culture I came from. I get lots of questions about the guns, the healthcare, the religion, the self-made man, and I encounter a perspective that’s so foreign to what I knew before.
I have had to expect more from myself, my values, my views, my work, and I feel like I see myself for the first time.
How has spending time in another culture taught you more about yourself? Share your response to the question or the post in the comments.