When You Travel Back To The Motherland And Feel Like A Tourist

When You Feel Like A Tourist In Your Own Country

Anybody who has migrated to another country will understand the conundrum of whether “home” will always be the place in which you were born or your adopted country.

At this stage of life – the old AF period just prior to death – the question can become all the more poignant with our tendency to become over- nostalgic.

The grass appears infinitely more lush in the company of family, old friends, Jelly Babies – not the green ones, obviously – and Earl Grey tea.

And it’s easy to fantasize and get carried away with how great everything is when you’re on holiday and everyone seems excited to see you and eager to catch up on your news.

It’s particularly easy in London at Christmas time, a city that morphs into the chocolate-box fantasy created in films like The Holiday and Love Actually, if you let your imagination run away from you.

Few countries do Christmas as well as the UK, and Brussel sprout-flavored crisps, decadent Advent calendars with drawers for gifts, mince pie cocktails, and pubs with real fires suck you right back into its charm quickly.

And yet, there have been changes in the country since my last visit.

Not that it should really come as any surprise to find that one’s home country has evolved at a similar pace to one’s adopted one – indeed, much faster when it comes to cities – but subtle changes can cause problems for the out-of-touch, middle-aged tourist, returning to the land of her birth. I refer to the need to remember that pounds do not equate to Aussie dollars, which was something I struggled with, in spite of the intense schooling provided by the old man for several weeks prior to my departure about the meaning of the word budget.

A number of times, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief at the cost of a round of drinks or a dinner out, only to remember later that I was paying in pounds, not Aussie dollars.

Admittedly, maths were never my strong suit at school – as was proven when I was hoisted up to top set maths for two weeks in Year 9, only to be dropped back down as quick as a hot potato when my teacher discovered that my new (and impressive) marks had less to do with any previously undiscovered talent and more to do with my access to the answers to our homework in the back of our textbook.

However, in spite of my struggle with basic mathematics – I remember that decimal points and percentages were particularly tiring – I still managed to achieve a first-class degree in spending money, a skill that I have since learned can be highly dangerous during trips to the motherland, in which the currency has become …well…a bit foreign. Added to which, I am not used to carrying cash in my purse – a rule instigated by the old man during Kurt’s pick-pocketing stage (which now has more to do with my husband’s micro-management of my problem) – which means that I struggle to fully understand its value.

It is very easy to convince yourself that you are richer than your husband has ever allowed you to believe when you add in the complication of a foreign currency that looks and feels as genuine as Monopoly money. And as pounds no longer feel “real” to me – particularly those I withdrew from the very generous overdraft facility of a dormant British bank account that (I hope) the old man has forgotten exists – I knew that I had to be careful with coins that resemble the old French franc and tiny bits and bobs of silver – that my father calls “shrapnel” – which frankly could be Italian Lire.

“Bits and bobs” was an example of cockney rhyming slang that Jeff Goldblum attempted to get to the bottom of during his jazz show at Cadogan Hall, which we saw whilst in London – Yass, darlink! Jeff was merely attempting to understand the meaning of expressions such as mince pies for eyes and apples and pears for stairs – obvious, really – and yet I found myself identifying with the expression each time I waded through the play money at the bottom of my purse in search of a tip for a cab or the 30p now charged for a pee in several of London’s larger train stations.

Such changes, along with Pret’s egg and cress sandwich, (stiff competition for the M & S version in my opinion), the choice of the medium or large servings of wine in pubs, dogs in pubs, and the 12.5% service charge, were only a couple of a succession of changes that had me feeling like a tourist in my own country at times, and at others, completely at “home.”

 

And The Prize For The Most Incompetent Tourist Goes To…

It shouldn’t be hard, to go away for two weeks by yourself, with no-one to be feel responsible for other than yourself.

 

Bread on sale in Borough Market, London.
Bread on sale in Borough Market, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

But it seems that these days, I am an incompetent extraordinaire of the highest order.

 

And what’s even more freaking bizarre about this whole trip back to the motherland is feeling like a complete stranger in your own back yard.

 

I made it back, in spite of my many anxieties about flying, getting lost in Dubai airport, kidnapped and forced to become the eighth wife of some very rich Sheikh. And with time at a premium (due to the family duty of having to see them), I commenced my sightseeing agenda VERY early on the first morning (being still on Australian time) with an uncharacteristic zeal for life.

 

 

I thought I had planned well – I was a badged Brownie after all. The aim was to visit Borough Market, take a lengthy stroll and window shop along the Kings Road, (all the while feigning to be part of the Chelsea Elite), pop into Oxford St and pick up my hire car on the way back.

 

Being the professional blogger/photographer that I am, I was going to take lots of stunning photos to use on the blog, and then show off to my FB friends to prove just how fucking fabulous my life really is.

 

Sounded simple, dinnit?

 

Unless you are foiled by three of the biggest banes that seem to follow you through your life:

 

Technology…

Map Reading…

And walking in heels

 

So when your phone runs out of battery five minutes into your best-laid touristing plans, in future I will know not to waste time, but head straight back home. Everyone knows that it’s impossible to function without a phone these days and my first day in London drove that point home.

 

Without your device, not only can’t you record the experience to brag to your friends, but you don’t have the aid of maps or any location indicator to tell you where the fuck you are in the middle of nowhere – which is tricky, even in a place that was previously your home town.

 

Without a phone, you can’t text anyone to look up where the fuck you are or to find out where or why they’ve moved Borough Market since you googled the address two hours previously.

 

Without a phone you can’t call your parents when you finally get back and realize you don’t have a key either, don’t know their apartment number (because it’s in your phone), and don’t have the ability to call the porter for assistance, who has apparently taken a sabbatical down the pub, anyway.

 

Without a phone you can’t take wonderfully ambient shots of quaint East End market stalls so that for once in your life, you look like you have a life.

 

And you can get seriously lost. A lot.

 

And did I mention that heels, when you walk many more miles than you calculated for (because you chose your footwear on the basis that they went with your scarf rather than for any practical reasoning), can become super-uncomfortable. Walking the full length of the Kings Road seemed like such a good idea before you found yourself walking those five extra miles around the Tower of London – even thought it looked so close to Borough Market on the map.

 

So, every step becomes a wince and you’ve forgotten why you’re still going to the market anyway because you can’t take any photos to demonstrate the carb and paleo celebration of amazing breads and meats on offer. And you could have sworn that you switched on the power point of your phone charger in your drunken stupor the night before, but the ‘making your life as difficult as possible gremlin’ must have taken the same flight.

 

Read how I reversed into a black cab within five minutes of picking up my hire car in my next instalment.