When I moved from the UK, I was expecting to find a number of things difficult. The loss of a network of other mothers that I could talk to was the big one. Not having around my Mum was another. Not being able to get a decent cup of tea, a packet of chocolate hobnobs or some marmite toast was always going to distress me. I knew that the success of our adventure abroad would depend upon my ability to be able to deal with these issues and I was ready for them. More or less. They were still difficult to deal with but by expecting them, they weren't such a big deal. Like an invited guest, I knew they were coming and could prepare myself for them, which made them less of an problem when they arrived (and they certainly did arrive).
It was the uninvited guest, the dropper-inner at that most inconvenient moment, that was the most difficult to come to terms with. What I wasn't expecting was how much more difficult life becomes when you lose the inherent cultural references, the instinct which points you in the right direction. So – for example – if I was looking for somewhere to cut another key or get a pair of shoes fixed in the UK, I would make train and tube stations a priority. You can usually find a cobbler, who also cuts keys, lurking in a little cabin somewhere around there. Here, I wouldn’t have a clue where to start looking. The train station is a relic of an early communist era and people don’t go there for anything, not even to catch a train.
Supermarkets became bizarre places. It took me months to find the butter. It wasn’t where I was expecting to find it, by the other dairy products. Margarine, check. Cheese, check. Yogurts, check. Butter – AWOL. I knew it was here, everyone eats it, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Only when looking (more in hope than expectation) for some fish fingers did I suddenly come across the butter. In the freezer. Between the potato pie and the peas.
Ingredients for cooking are a further source of bewilderment. I now know that you can’t buy self raising flour anywhere. You can, however, make it mixing plain flour with baking powder. I’m just not sure what I am actually using as baking powder is in fact baking powder and I don't have a clue what the ratio should be. Probably unsurprisingly, I can’t get anything to rise. So non-rising cakes for us then, luckily, chocolate brownies remain a winning formula in this household.
It was only when I was told that the billboard advertising campaign I thought was advertising laxatives was in fact for the most fashionable clothing store in town (I did think the adverts were a bit bizarre) did I realise how many submerged cultural references there are that are invisible to the newbie in town. There are so many assumptions you can make as a local that when you are the local you don't even realise you are doing it.
We've been here 9 months now and I know that I am starting to settle in. I automatically check the km/hr speed in our car rather than mph. Driving on the right isn't quite so bizarre. The supermarkets sort of make sense. I know the pink and purple butterfly billboard campaign is not advertising sanitary towels but glamourous slim style cigarettes. I'm used to the fact that the internet is not going to be able to tell me where the nearest tailors is, or what time the sports centre is open until. The city is taking on a feel of a worn glove and even beginning to make sense. It has taken awhile, but I'm starting to get my cultural bearings.