"England! With all thy faults I love thee still,"
So wrote Byron (seen here dressed as a Turk) -- you can read the whole poem here, and very witty and delightful it is. I suppose Byron was in many ways the quintessential expat, loving the adopted country he settled in but missing certain things about his home (freedom of speech, beefsteaks, and a 'seacoal fire' among others).
I sort of concur with Byron, though not for the same reasons (certainly not the beefsteaks), but in fact I much prefer my adopted country, France, to almost everything in the UK. Strangely enough I've never had much of an attachment to Englishness. In fact as a child I always identified strongly with my father's genetic heritage (Irish Greek on one side, Irish Canadian on the other) rather than my mother's very English one -- though it was great to discover (thanks, Ancestry!) that she could trace her roots back to Alfred the Great and beyond. And all my life I've felt happier outside my native country.
However, having had such a lovely time in England recently, I do realise there are a few things I do miss. You might think that one of them was my family, but actually, though I love them all more than I can say, I (and they) are quite happy with the visits we pay each other fairly regularly (plus Skype, FaceTime, What'sApp, email). And when we are together, we enjoy each other all the more for it not being such a regular occurrence.
I miss libraries! This one was my little local library in Temple Cowley, in Oxford, where I was lucky enough to live before I moved to France. Of course Oxford has some spectacular libraries, but this one was just round the corner and would get me books from the much larger Central Library -- and of course there was the Bodelian if I was craving to do some research. Naturally the French do have libraries, but all the books are in French -- boo!
And I miss charity shops. You almost never see one in France, not where I live anyway, whereas every small town in the UK has several, and very wonderful places they are -- there's a double whammy every time you buy something, as you benefit others as well as yourself. Of course we do have the amazing Emmaus instead, where terrific bargains can be found, and the equally great vide greniers, or attic sales, so I'm not losing sleep over that one.
And what about National Trust houses (and let's not forget Charleston Trust -- see my last post)? Well, naturally there are plenty of chateaux over here too, but though I've been to some that are stunning on the outside, none them measure up to the brilliantly reconstructed interiors which make a visit to an English stately home so memorable. No cream teas here, either.
But none of these things will tempt me away from the peace and quiet, the glorious landscapes, the empty roads, the little local markets, the lovely food, the fun of learning another language and another culture... Sorry England. I don't hate you, and I'm happy to visit you from time to time, but you won't catch me moving back in a hurry. Wales, on the other hand, is pretty amazing, so that's where I'd go if I was thrown out of France!