It is a truth universally acknowledged that only a foreigner (like me) can have such a ridiculously romantic view of England. I am at my happiest when in England, especially now with Wimbledon in full swing, the sun shining and Pimm’s flowing. When I am away I yearn for her green fields, M and S and the Daily Telegraph. In Abu Dhabi I shop at a pale imitation of the real Waitrose even though it is at least twice as expensive as anywhere else because it makes me feel “at home”.
Despite being half Italian and half Swedish, home for me is England. The minute I land here I feel at ease. I remember when I first came here as a seven year old telling my mother how friendly everyone was. Amazingly I don’t think that has changed, even if a few other things have. The food for example, has got so much better. And pubs! I just LOVE pubs now. When I was growing up they were dark, dingy places full of people drinking lager and eating salt & vinegar crisps. Now they’re like wine bars only with Sky Sports.
When we decamped to France in the year 2000 my aunt told me I should be wary about leaving my culture behind. At the time I was more focused on moving from a small house opposite a car park to a glorious villa in the middle of nowhere with a swimming pool. But her words stayed at the back of my mind and although I don’t regret moving for a moment, we gave the children the very best start in life there, I knew there would come a time when we had to get back to our “culture”. You see unlike a lot of British expats, I really didn’t want my children growing up to be French and thinking Napoleon was a good bloke. I love hearing them speak French, they sound gorgeous, but actually before we left for Abu Dhabi (which of course has more in common with England than France) they were turning into little French people I was worried I would not be able to relate to.
Living in Abu Dhabi where English is spoken everywhere and most of our friends are English meant they got back in touch with their roots a little more. And then we took the monumental decision to send them back to England to school. Looking back on it, it was possibly slightly nutty. What would we have done if they had loathed it, called us up crying every five minutes and refused to learn anything at all?
Happily it could not have gone better. They are blissfully happy. Of course in my view they jolly well should be. I want to be at an English boarding school with its beautiful green acres, tennis courts and surrounding woods. They have already made really good friends, their reports vary from truly excellent to rather middling, but nothing disastrous.
The other day Rupert said jokingly to Leo; “Well, we may be able to afford the school fees next term, looks like your mother is going to do some work for once.” Leo did not find this amusing. His eyes filled with tears. “Can’t you pay the fees next term?”
They seem to have embraced the English way of life as only a foreigner can.
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2013