It dawned on me recently that this September marks the 20th anniversary of my arrival in the UK. How did that happen?!
Featured photo: Austin Chan @unsplash
The year was 1998
Sometime in September 1998 I arrived in London with a large suitcase and a place at a London University to study Arts Management. At the time, that course was not available in my home country, Portugal, and the arts, and management, were my passion.
I was so excited! I remember the breeze in my face as I walked briskly and purposefully in the streets of London that first day. I couldn’t wait for the new exciting life that awaited me.
Earlier that day, after all the hugs and kisses in the departure lounge, and once alone in the shuttle to the airplane in the Lisbon airport, I cried my eyes out. I knew my life was about to change dramatically. I was not scared, just excited. And also sad in the way that only Portuguese people appear capable of being. If you know the words fado and saudade, you know what I mean…
The plan was to return after graduating. I could feel that my world was about to change, but I had no idea how much.
The first cultural shock
I remember one of the first cultural shocks I experienced. In the first weeks, as we get to know each other, and each other’s families in Halls of Residence, I would always enthusiastically hug and kiss everyone with two kisses as I did in Portugal. The looks I got back, and the body language, told me in no uncertain terms that that was a no-no!
I quickly and eagerly learned of the ways of my host country. I wanted to blend in, and I kind of did. To this day, people rarely can work out where I’m originally from. If I’m not too tired and am in one of my eloquent days, it can take a while until people pick up that I’m even a foreigner,
As time went by, I identified as Londoner. I sought people of all nationalities and indeed had ‘romantic’ liaisons with a few. I enjoyed the nightlife and rich cultural offering. I indulged in obscure arts events even I didn’t understand back then. I hosted dinner parties, loved my work and started cycling. I truly embraced all that London had to offer.
I moved home many times until settling down 6 years ago in South East London with my British husband.
The truth is, I chose London to study, and I remained here all these years, not because I needed to, but because I felt at home. I identified with the culture and accepted, even appreciated, the social contracts. I was a fully signed up member of the principles of freedom and tolerance. I embraced diversity and that very British feature: politeness.
A different person
I am now markedly a different person. I arrived a true eccentric and two decades on, I’d like to think that I am wiser, mellower and ever so slightly more polished person than the rough diamond that rolled into town that sunny September.
I now use colloquial expressions and indulge in typically British behaviour, including having a ‘cuppa’ and chit-chatting about the weather.
It’s funny… when I first arrived and people asked ‘Are you ok?’ I truly believed every single person asking it genuinely wanted to know how I was, so I would provide long explanations about how I was feeling. Now I know, it’s more like a verbal tick, and I too gladly engage in these idiosyncrasies that make British people British.
20 years on
So there you go. Fast forward and that grungy punk lover of the arts who did not believe in marriage and never wanted children, is now a respectable married mother of two, with the dog and house to go with it. I changed a lot, as did the skyline of the city of London, and the world.
Happy 20th anniversary to me!