Freelance Journalist, Editor, Copywriter and Author – Dubai

Reintegration, Reverse Culture Shock and Shitty UK Weather

I don’t like England anymore. It’s cold, grey, and random men like to get drunk on Special Brew while hanging out under bridges (maybe that’s just Lincoln, though?). I was therefore semi-prepared for the contrast between good old Blighty and the beautiful location in which I was sunning myself less than seven days ago – Bali. I knew it would be miserable here. I knew that the weather would suck. I knew that the sight of Dave Cameron smirking from every newspaper front cover would irritate me.

Even though I knew it, it’s still a shock to the system.

For one, I came back ill equipped. I boarded my plane to Birmingham with a backpack full of harem trousers, vest tops, flip-flops and suntan lotion when what I needed was a good pair of jeans, jumpers and some closed shoes. The first day I was here I had to go visit my dad, step mum and sister, and I did so in sandals, the only long trousers that I have (which, coincidently, my brothers thought were pyjamas. Thanks, boys) and the zip up top I used to only use on plane journeys.

Despite the fact that my dad’s restaurant is within walking distance of where I’m staying, the minute I stepped outside the harsh British wind blew right through my aforementioned pyjama trousers and gave me instant goosebumps. In short, if I had walked, there would have been an increased likelihood of coming down with pneumonia, which would make this trip somewhat worse. I therefore got a cab. Sorry, taxi (see how long I’ve been away?!).

So for one, the weather is as British as ever. The other day it was 8 degrees Celsius. It’s May for crying out loud. Therefore for the first few days I was under something of a self-imposed house arrest. There was no way I was leaving the house without some weather appropriate attire, and ironically in order to get such clothes I’d have to actually leave the house at some point. I therefore decided to stay home and stuff my face with Jaffa Cakes instead (England’s redeeming factor number one).

I’ve heard about reverse culture shock before – that is, once you get home from a long trip or after living abroad, you feel utterly out of touch. The thing is, I cannot even class England as home anymore. I left almost a decade ago, and in between I considered an understated place called Dubai home. So with each passing year, England feels even stranger to me, like a friend whom I haven’t seen in years and who I don’t have anything in common with anymore.

Then there’s my diet. I must admit, it’s nice to have a kitchen again and to be able to control what I’m eating, however, the weather is wreaking havoc with my appetite. I’ve gone from feeling full after eating a smoothie and salad in Bali to craving carbs pretty much every minute of the day. It’s taking everything within me not to work my way through the loaf of bread that’s calling me from the bread bin as I type. I can picture it, toasted, with lashings of butter all over it. I’ll have to give in again in a minute. I’m CONSTANTLY hungry in England. But then, there’s fish and chips (England’s redeeming factor number two).

burton road fish and chips

And then there’s fish and chips…

Two days ago I finally left the house and ran into town to get some clothes. That was a weird experience within itself. See, I’ve been so used to only buying things I absolutely need for almost a year that I didn’t quite know what to do with myself when I was faced with Debenhams – and Debenhams in Lincoln is really not that challenging at all. I probably would have had a nose bleed had you dropped me off in Selfridges on Oxford Street.

My brothers were also rather shocked at how quickly I managed to deck myself out in a few outfits. In the past I’d spend hours upon hours trawling all the stores in order to find what I needed. Even then I’d probably end up buying the first things I’d tried on, but I’d still go through the process of checking everywhere “just in case” there was something better around (there rarely was).

The other day, however, I knew exactly what I wanted to buy so I went there with clear goals in mind. When you’ve only been buying things you absolutely need for a while (as opposed to loads of random things that you want) you quickly learn how to build outfits from just a few items of clothing. You also learn to zone out all the stuff that you may want but don’t really need at that moment in time. In short? Backpacking is a great way of becoming more frugal.

I have to admit, though, it felt damn good to have some new clothes. I’ve been wearing the same ten outfits on rotation for the best part of the last nine months, and most things had started to feel tatty and faded. If I were to backpack again, I’d have to change my wardrobe every three months or so to stop myself from going mad. And yes, the one part of me that isn’t very ‘hippie’ is my dress sense – give me a well fitting pair of jeans over harem trousers any day.

Walking back from town after our shopping outing, we headed to the supermarket. On the way there we passed by a group of three young lads sat on the steps of a bridge downing Special Brew. It was about 3pm in the afternoon and they were trashed, and there were empty cans of beer strewn all over the lawn nearby. This right here, I thought to myself, is one of the reasons why I just can’t live here anymore.

Then we were in Tescos and life was good again. I do like British supermarkets (England’s redeeming factor number three). I was also impressed by the Indian section, that came complete with ghee, Maggi noodles, loads of different masalas and various lentils. It’s funny how this section felt so much more like ‘home’ to me. Seems like Lincoln is a lot more ethnic than it ever was when I was living here, which can only be a positive.

tesco indian selection

Indian section in Tesco

In short, I’ve been here for almost a week and I’m still feeling rather odd. When I stepped outside on my own the other day, I felt overwhelmed for the first ten minutes or so, like I was walking on a different planet. I’m not quite sure whether it’s because I’m so used to having Ankit by my side now, or because of how different everything looks when you compare it to Asia, but that feeling of ‘this is strange’ was certainly there.

I miss Ankit. I miss Asia. I miss my morning yoga sessions at Radiantly Alive. But at least one thing has certainly become clear during this visit and that’s I can’t ever live in England again. The longer I’m away, the more apparent that becomes. It’s miserable. It’s grey. And I cannot wear flip-flops in May.

But it’s rather comforting knowing two things for sure: British weather will always suck and I am free to leave whenever I please.

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