ElfaI moved to London in May 2002 to be with my then- British boyfriend/now-husband. It was exciting but scary. I had visited the UK before so it was not an entirely strange land. And as the British spoke English, it was not that daunting to move there from California. But moving to the UK was tougher than I expected. I had to get used to different shops, different brands and different foods. I remember one incident at the Safeway in Bloomsbury trying to find Jell-O and no one knew what I wanted. I wanted what the British call gelatin or jelly. My first Thanksgiving was especially tough. American food products were rare. After much searching, I managed to find some pureed pumpkin from a health food shop to make pumpkin pie, but I had to resort to a frozen turkey and I couldn’t find sweet potatoes.

And making friends.  Aahhh.  It was so tough. At first it was tough to connect. Husband suggested I try making some American friends. I signed up to an American expat group on MeetUp.com. I made some friends, they were nice. But they were always complaining about living in London/England. So I eventually stopped hanging out with them and made more of an effort with British people.

But so much has changed in the past 12 years. Many supermarkets have an American shelf/section. I can buy Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Thanksgiving-related products and even Jell-O. There are even online shops that offer a wide array of American groceries.

Two years ago I moved to an area that borders Southwest London and Surrey. I have met several American and Canadian mums from my daughter’s school. There are two other Americans living on my road. Crazy. But nice. Although I love my British friends, it is so fun chatting with people who have grown up watching the same shows and reading the same books and who use phrases and terms that are not unfamiliar to me.

Becoming a mum in the UK has brought many changes. But then again, becoming a mother is a dramatic change, no matter where you live. Both of my children were born in London, through the NHS. I did not pay for any maternity or hospital services. In the UK, you even have health visitors and midwives who come to your home and check on you and your baby after the birth. My maternity leave with each child was one year, though only the first 9-10 months were paid. During pregnancy and in the first year of your child’s life in the UK, you receive free prescription medicine and all of your dental visits and treatments are free.

My daughter, Moozles, has just turned six and my son, Dubz, is two years old. The biggest change I have had to get used to is the schooling. Moozles started full-time schooling (8.50am-3pm) when she was four and a half. She is now in school until 3.15pm, five days a week. In the U.S., I started school at five but only went to school until noon. My daughter can read, write and seems to know more about planets than I do. There are different tests that they do. They don’t go to high school. And luckily I have 10 years before we need to think about university because the UK application process makes no sense to me.

Californian Mum in LondonI thought it would be strange that my children would speak in a different accent to me. But I am so used to the British accent now. I use a lot of British terms and phrases. But I still pronounce certain things differently. In fact, my daughter often makes fun of the way I pronounce words. But she also thinks it is cool that I am from the USA as that is where cowboys are from.

I think it is probably easier living in London than in many international cities, even easier than other cities in the UK. But as an expat there will always be more differences to deal with. You have to embrace your new country otherwise those differences will keep you from truly enjoying your new life.

Elfa x

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