We recently returned from a trip home to the UK. Every time I go back to my home country, I find myself appreciating hundreds of small pleasures I forgot I even missed.
I sometimes get into the conversation with my other expat friends where we bemoan light-heartedly that so much of annual leave is used up going home each year.
Whilst it’s not your traditional ‘holiday’, often with days spent visiting people in three or four cities in one day, clocking up the motorway hours and the costs, the truth is, it’s always incredibly special and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Here are nine things I adore about going home, from the deep and meaningful, to the fun and frivolous.
I have to start here, as for myself and the majority, it’s the primary reason to go make a trip home.
Friends are awesome, but they often have more freedom and flexibility to visit those who live in far flung places – and many of ours do, which we are eternally grateful for. My Grandparents however, are very important to me and not all of them are able to hop on a plane. I cherish these times with them, even though it’s always way too brief.
Luckily my grandparents are tech savvy so we manage to stay in touch, but nothing beats going and sitting in the houses that saw me grow from new-born baby to grown woman, to share a coffee and a lingering hug with the people I love the most.
2) The Countryside
Oh to be able to breathe. Really breathe! The air feels so ripe with goodness and greenery. That smell after it has rained. The incredible beauty of a simple hill, with sheep, and dry stone walling with flowers growing in the cracks and greenery as far as the eye can see.
Things I always enjoyed whilst living in the UK, now take on an extra sense of wonder. The desert has an unparalleled beauty if its own, but to be in the countryside and the moors makes the soul sing in a different way. And it’s easy to forget just how much you miss it until you are actually there.
3) Love is all Around
We in the UAE, live by a social conduct that requires modesty of its residents. Whilst I am in the Emirates, I’m more than happy to modify my behaviour slightly to fit in and respect my host nation. It comes as second nature after a while and you don’t give it much thought.
However, as soon as we hit British soil I relish being able to wrap my arms around my husband whilst we stand in line for a taxi in the cold air; to kiss him on the lips when we say goodbye in the street.
These non-verbal connections are simple, but powerful. To be able to connect like that freely and to see other couples showing their love in these small ways, is something really nice.
4) Primark Frenzies
Of course, like everything, we still expect a mark-up, but still the choice and wonder of Primark at our fingertips would be quite the thing. For now though, I satisfy my urges by going home with an empty suitcase and enjoy the binge.
5) Pub Culture
Although the traditional pubs are being phased out in return for a plethora of gastro pubs across the UK, they still have more character and charm than any of the ‘English’ pubs in the UAE can muster. They try hard and I enjoy them for what they are, but they just don’t have that je ne sais quoi.
Pub service may not be silver (or even bronze in most instances), but there will be no ‘sir’, no ‘mam’ (and no ‘mamsir’ and variations of). In the UK, they speak person to person, not as server to the served; it’s a nice change. And then there is the ale. So many to try, and on draft too. Heaven!
And although I’ve not retained much of my own Boltonian twang, after months being surrounded by people whose accents all converge to a centre point for ease of cross-cultural understanding, it’s still so lovely and comforting to be surrounded by the broad tones of Lancastrians.
6) Food stuff
Steak and Guinness pie, roast beef with Yorkshire puddings, meat and potato pasties, egg custard tarts, corned-beef hash with a pastry top. Crumpets swimming in slightly salted butter. You may be able to tell from my predilections, I am a Northern girl through and through. Whilst Waitrose in the Middle East does stock crumpets – for me, nothing beats Warburtons’, the Bolton bakers.
7) A Seasonal Wardrobe
There’s many wonderful things about living in the sunshine. Heading out each day and not wondering if I need to take a coat, or an umbrella (and inevitably making the wrong choice) is a luxury I don’t take for granted. And I certainly do not miss the continuous up/down battle that comes with the wearing of tights. But there is something lovely and reassuring about the sturdiness of a leather boot and its fun to have the chance to wear a hat, be it bowler, bob or beret. Not to mention the joy of the now-novel sensation of wearing socks.
9) Second Hand Treasures
There are a few options for second hand in Abu Dhabi, a couple of flea markets, book swaps etc, but it’s not ingrained in the culture yet. And the limited options to buy something unusual and inexpensive in the first-use market means that you often have to sift through more than the usual amount of tat before coming across a treasure. At home, charity shops often hide a world of wonderful and weird.
On recent trips I’ve picked up an old china tea set, an unusual dress looking for a new lease of life with a few high street accessories, a floral porcelain cat who now sits next to my TV, through to framed vintage Disney prints. Now with vintage being the in-thing, you can easily get your hands on an antique trunk, a funky seventies handbag and a whole host of other unique delights to populate your home and wardrobe if you are willing to spend a bit of time looking.
10) Recalibrating the Compass
Friends who live here, often equate life in the UAE to living in a bubble. You sort of get a distorted sense of reality when you live here. Things are different in ways that aren’t all easily explained, but you probably already understand what I mean.
One part of that is we often live a relatively easy life. We are pampered in a variety of ways, from the full service petrol pumps, to valet parking, home delivery of your milk and bread from the corner shop. There may be other services that may be available at home but you never really used before – the salons, the home cleaners, the ironing delivered to your door.
I would never say it was a bad thing to utilise these services. There’s no harm in making life that little bit more comfortable for yourself and of course using them provides income for the individuals and businesses. But it is possible to take this lifestyle for granted as it becomes your everyday reality.
Going home will quickly strip you of all your airs and graces. It will refresh you, reset your reference point for normality, fill up your family time tank and set you up for another stint in our crazy wonderful world of expat life.
What do you miss the most? I’d love to hear what you cherish when you visit your home town, from the big stuff, to the small pleasures. Let me know in the comments below.