Friday, March 13, 2009

A New Jerseyan in England

I had a very interesting conversation via Twitter, the social networking site, over the weekend. I was talking with Debra Denton, known on Twitter as @debra47, an American woman married to an Englishman and living in England. In addition to us living in each other's countries (she also comes from New Jersey) and being married to a native, we have quite a few other things in common. She is also a blogger. Her blog is Power Pop Review. We both moved to another country to get married quite late in life. We also both met our spouses over the Internet because of a mutual love of music. As I have mentioned on this blog in the past, I met my Wife on the Internet discussion group for singer-songwriter Dar Williams. Debra met her husband on the now sadly defunct music site Audiogalaxy.

Our conversation began when a comment about wine evolved into a little conversation about single malt scotch, which I adore, but cannot really afford here in the US. Debra developed a taste after a tour of a whisky distillery a while back. What became the most interesting part of our conversation started when she asked me what I missed about England, apart from fish & chips and single malt scotch. I told her I missed my local pub. Of course, I might be missing it even if I was back in England. We talked about the alarming rate at which pubs in the UK are closing (at the time of writing, six pubs are closing each day). High beer prices and a recent ban on smoking in pubs seem to have resulted in most people deciding to stay at home. There they can smoke, drink cheap supermarket booze and watch their widescreen TVs.

Debra told me that what she misses most about New Jersey is being able to find a diner, with a huge, reasonably priced menu, open 24 hours a day. She believes that she is healthier since she moved to England, because she is able to walk much more than she was able to in New Jersey. Although my particular neighborhood is pretty walkable (I told her my family had walked to a new diner just the previous day, much to her surprise), much of New Jersey is not pedestrian-friendly. People get in their cars to drive a few blocks. On recent trips back to the US, Debra noticed that many "downtown" areas (town centres) have disappeared as large superstores appear on the outskirts of towns, pretty much sucking the heart out of them.

In my adopted hometown, Edison, New Jersey, many people work elsewhere, and only come back to Edison to sleep. With their long hours, there is no time to get involved in things going on locally. This is happening in the US and in the UK. Debra suggested that perhaps this lack of community is what has drawn both of us, along with many others, into Internet-based groups. I suggested that if more companies allowed their workers to telecommute when practical, it might help restore local communities because people would be around much more, and it would help the environment. Many employers fear that if they are not standing over their workers, they will waste time. However, I have found that telecommuting, with its lack of physical distractions, often results in increased productivity.

We discovered that we were both regularly asked, "Do you prefer it over here or over there?" We have the same answer too: "There's good and bad in both." We can both honestly say that there are things we love and dislike about our countries of birth and our adopted homes. We are caught between two cultures and we get the best and the worst of each.

We also both get comments about how our accents have not changed. Debra is asked a lot if she is a Canadian. I wondered if that was perhaps because people hoped she was not American, because in the UK, Americans have often been tarred with the "Bush brush." Debra says that she has certainly experienced some anti-Americanism, but that it seems to be subsiding since the election of President Barack Obama.

I have invited Debra to write a guest post in this blog, and she has said that she would love to. I think it would make an interesting counterpoint to my own posts here.

Are you living in a country other than the one in which you were brought up? Perhaps you have a friend in this situation. Please do post a comment and share your observations.


Leora said...

Nice that you are both able to connect! I find Highland Park a bit more walkable than Edison. But often I have to get in my car for some reason or another. I so prefer walking.

I like how you are both able to see the pros and cons of your past and current countries. So wonderful how you can connect; when my grandparents left their countries, they left any relatives and friends far behind, never to connect again (except in one case, my grandfather was able to revisit his childhood town in Lithuania in the 1920s).

Graham said...

You're right that Highland Park is a very walkable community. It has a good selection of shops too. Downtown Metuchen is walkable too, although I don't find quite the selection of shops.

Note: Highland Park and Metuchen are neighbors of my adopted hometown, Edison, New Jersey.

You're right that we are lucky to have the internet to help us communicate with family and friends who are scattered far afield. My brother recently bought his first computer. Unfortunately, my parents do not have access to the Internet, but I do call pretty much every weekend.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I live in a different country to where I grew up - from London to the north of England is possibly further than London to NJ! (Not that you moved from London, I know)

Paul (Rosen, as I've done this as 'anonymous')

Graham said...

Good to see you here, Paul!

Paul also met his Wife, as I did mine, on the Dar Williams Internet Discussion List.

For such a small country, relatively speaking, England contains very many distinctly different regions. The North of England, where Paul lives, is like another country to Southerners, that's true.