The Rose-Tinted Glasses

It has been drawn to my attention (by my no doubt well-intentioned husband) that this patriotic expatriate’s descriptions of home are somewhat distorted by sentimentality, and that I fail to present a fair or objective case. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I stand accused of wearing rose-tinted glasses when it comes to my reflections on Great Britain.

It is inevitable, surely, that one’s vision of home becomes distorted during a prolonged stay abroad. After all, following a summer holiday somewhere exotic and exciting, the actual memories fade very quickly. It is not long before one forgets the tedious hours at the airport, the limbless cockroach in the salad, the god-awful constipation, the stinging sunburn or the suspicious-smelling, lumpy pillows. One’s memories soon shrink to the sum-total of the week’s photographs: a pristine beach, happy faces around the table at a seafood restaurant, cheerfully grinning locals, bright blue skies above ancient architecture, and a dramatic sunset. In the same way, my brain has – on its own initiative, mark you – filtered out a multitude of miserable recollections. Austerity measures, the M25, extortionate gas bills and dark, wet winter mornings have all been giddily withdrawn from my memory bank like so many ill-invested Euros, and have been replaced with some sort of rosy, blurry, hopelessly idyllic montage of moments from The Wind in the Willows and Brideshead Revisited. With Elgar’s Nimrod as the soundtrack.

It strikes me that my husband has done the exact opposite of this. To reprise my summer holiday analogy, he is the one sitting stubbornly in his armchair, shouting, “Are you utterly mad, woman? I’m not bloody going back there! Don’t you remember the suspicious-smelling, lumpy pillows?! Or the LIMBLESS COCKROACH INCIDENT?!” If I am indeed guilty of wearing rose-tinted glasses, he is equally guilty of wearing… mud-spattered blinkers?… But it’s not really his fault.

On my visits back to the UK, I plan trips and excursions designed (albeit subconsciously) to reinforce my idealistic vision of my homeland. I go to castles, stately homes and tea-rooms; I camp in the countryside, climb hills and visit sites of outstanding natural beauty; I eat delicious local food, shop at farmers markets and go to fancy British restaurants. In short, I do everything I never got around to doing when I actually lived there. On returning to England, I am essentially a tourist and can pick and choose my activities to feed the hungry hollow of my homesickness and sustain my selective memory. My poor, long-suffering (and, as he has asked me to add, extremely handsome) husband doesn’t get nearly as much holiday time as I do, so his whistle-stop trips home tend to be fleeting and functional, consisting almost entirely of recovering from jetlag, battling with public transport, corresponding with the Inland Revenue and holding other people’s screaming babies. In the rain. No surprise then that our perceptions of home are perhaps a little out of whack.

I think what he likes about life out here is just how un-British it all is. He actively delights in the lack of heating bills and cold, wet winter mornings and, indeed, in the absence of an Inland Revenue to correspond with. It has been great for his career too – he is a rapidly growing fish in this significantly smaller pond. I, on the other hand, feel more like a fish out of water here and, like any hapless trout, I cannot help but think fondly of the cool, green Eden I have left behind: “slushy green undergrowth, where the roach swim; here we keep our larder, cool and full and dim.” Sorry, I appear to have drifted back to Wind in the Willows again, folks… “Everyone for what he likes, we like to be, heads down, tails up – dabbling free! High in the blue above, swifts whirl and call; we’re down a-dabbling, up tails all!” Oh, it may be idealistic, nostalgic, romantic and downright unrealistic pastoral nonsense, but it’s just so… nice. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I plead guilty and throw myself on the mercy of the court: I do indeed wear rose-tinted glasses. And I’m not bloody taking them off.

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15 Comments

  1. I think the rose tinted glasses effect is absolutely natural. I now think of Italy as some idyllic place out or Roman Holiday. The reality is that it is and it isn’t. I lived in London for 6 years and I still miss quintessential British things like fish and chips, Digestive Biscuits and the green of the countryside but I tend to forget the relentless rain. The longer you are an expat, the more you feel like you don’t fully belong in the place where you reside and, what you call home, moves on without you. Until the day you call them both home! Lovely and entertaining reflections in here

  2. Thanks for popping in, CampariGirl. Oh for some fish and chips! You can’t get good fish and chips out here for love nor money!

  3. tommybahama425

    Oh Luce, goodness me, this sounds familiar. I’ve told Howrd he should run off with Iain ( he added “and play snooker and listen to Guns & Roses” :/ ) & we should go start a tea room somewhere 🙂 xxx

  4. Excellent plan, Jen – let’s do it 😀 I shall bake scones xxxx

  5. missing the dubs

    its so true, we moved back to he UK last year and are now hatching a plan to return to Dubai. I think i have the glasses on at the moment, please blog about the insane, infuriating nightmare that Dubai can be, justvto give me some perspective back 🙂

  6. Hullo, Missing the Dubs. How interesting – I often wonder, if we were to move home tomorrow, what would I miss about living here? The sunshine, the beach, no tax…? Rest assured, there are still plenty of things that are insane and infuriating 🙂 What are the things that are drawing you back?

  7. Kaye

    Found your blog on Expatwoman – it so sums me up! Been here 8 years and always wanted to go back to Surrey – thank God I leave in a couple of years for kids secondary school – My Husband also has ‘mud-splattered blinkers’! Look forward to the next installment.

  8. Hi Kaye, welcome! – and thank you for reading my ramblings. Lovely to meet a fellow southerner here. It must be good to have an end in sight; our sojourn here seems to be indefinite at the moment :-/

    • Kaye

      I always love a good rant and you sum me up perfectly!

  9. After two years in Uganda and nearly three on the island on Dominica before that my niece was awe struck by autumn colours. She sees reds, yellows and oranges whereas my husband sees autumn damp and gloom. It’s a bit of ‘half full’ and ‘half empty too’ Lucy. Mind you i’ll dream of sea, sun and warmth now. ps Although I try to visit Alderney frequently, I live in Bedfordshire, which does have its own charms too! Thanks for the post.

    • Absolutely – I’m working on the glass-half-full thing 🙂 What an interesting life you’ve had so far!

  10. Oh I loved this! I am trying to convince myself that at least half of my homesickness is due to rose tinted specs. Unfortunately Palermo is pretty cockroach-infested and darn near everything here smells suspicious, so it is difficult!
    What is worse, my (very handsome) hubby is Sicilian, and despite my relentlessly whisking him from stately home to theatre to cream tea, he STILL somehow manages to resist England’s charms.
    What’s a woman to do?

  11. Hello, Sicilian Housewife – welcome to Homesick and Heatstruck! I find that it’s often a battle between head and heart – my head convincing me it makes sense to stay here for a while and my heart longing to go home… I’m finding it does get a bit easier though. I think I used to feel that everything back home might just disappear if I wasn’t there to keep an eye on it… How long have you lived in Sicily? – I always imagine it to be a wonderfully romantic place 🙂

    • Hi! I’ve been in Sicily for 8 long years.
      You’re right, it was very romantic when I first got here and was swept off my feet by my husband to be!
      After our whirlwind romance I got pregnant the day we started our honeymoon, so it was straight into morning sickness, then doing battle with nappies etc plus all the excruciating inefficient medical services.
      My son was born with lyme disease and it took us nearly 4 years to get a diagnosis and then treatment, so I went through all the hell of having a terribly ill child/countless emergency hospitalisations while getting to know this place. So there’s probably a lot of hate by association.
      Only this year have I actually had time to find a friend or two, and start having a bit of a social life. Though now I am discovering that every other foreigner, and even people from other parts of Italy, are desperate to get out of here!
      My main reasons for wanting to leave are boring ones really. I want to be somewhere I can get a job with a decent salary, and I want my son to have a better school to go to. The economy here is terribly bad and our local council has gone bankrupt, so there is no money for the school. We not only had to buy all my son’s school books, but I also have to make sure there’s always toilet paper and a hand towel in his bag. They have rats because they have no cleaners any more. They don’t turn the heating on in the winter so the kids have to sit in class with their anoraks and scarves on.
      The hospitals are in a similar state and the hospitals and facilities in north Africa are way better. We got several thousand “refugees” (economic migrants really) from Tunisia here a few years ago and when the government offered to pay for them to all go home, they nearly all said yes please.
      So the bottom line is, I’m not just homesick, it’s that this is NOT the place I want my son to grow up.

      • Wow – some of that does sound pretty grim – I had no idea! You certainly have some very sensible reasons to return home – mine are mainly to do with taste, culture and sentimentality! Any plans to head back to the UK soon then? –

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Lucy Strange

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