In about five and a half hours I’ll be on my way to Heathrow to bid a fond farewell to six years in London, but also to excitedly restart the clock on my new life in Johannesburg. In the meantime I’m over at the Contemporary Romance Cafe today talking about endings – what are your favorites?
I was moments away from drafting a post about the horrific weather we’ve been having in the UK this spring, when I noticed a massive article about it on the Guardian’s homepage. Not only have the few weeks of wet, cold, and windy weather merited several inches of column space, it has attracted loads of commenters making completely unironic statements about signs of spring (or lack thereof) in their local areas.
The British preoccupation with discussions of the weather is something I’ve noticed in my five-and-a-half years here. And to be fair, the fact that the weather is generally pretty miserable probably makes it worth remarking on – either to bemoan your wet shoes or lack of umbrella or, on very rare occasions, to express astonishment at the sight of a strange, glowing and warmth-emanating orb in the middle of the sky. I suppose if you lived somewhere like Arizona, Nairobi, or Singapore, you’d have fairly fixed expectations about what precipitation may or may not descend that day and find some other fodder for small talk. But in the UK – where last week we had a day that alternated between bright, sunny spells and diagonally slanting hail – the weather is the default topic for those awkward, stuck-in-a-lift-with-a-colleague-I-barely-know situations.
My point being, it occurred to me that writing a post complaining about always talking about weather would be somewhat hypocritical. So best that I end it here, and not dare to point out that on the first in several rainy days that I’ve remembered to carry an umbrella, there isn’t the faintest sign of a drop…
By the time Sky finally transfers our broadband account to our new flat and switches it on, we will have lived there for almost three weeks. Having grown up with the instant-gratification expectations of most Americans my age, a few years ago three weeks without home internet access would’ve infuriated me and probably prompted several hot-tempered calls to the broadband company until I got some kind of recompense. But after almost five and a half years in London, I’ve learned something about the art of waiting.
I’m not a patient person. Not even close. In fact, I’m downright neurotic and quite happy to admit it. My foot-tapping, watch-checking tendencies were undoubtedly made worse by six years in New York City, where you can hit the streets in a blinding snowstorm at 4 AM on a federal holiday and still find a store that’s open and selling exactly what you need. There’s always another bodega, another taxi, another pizza place whenever you need one.
Then I moved to London. And I think it’s fair to say that, by the standards to which I was accustomed, London is not a 24-hour city. I knew the Tube stopped running around midnight, unlike the New York subway which carries on (and gets sketchier by the hour) ‘til dawn. As such I grudgingly learned how to plan my evening transport plans in advance, a lesson made all the more vivid by a few occasions of missing the last train and having to catch a slow, meandering night bus full of people on a drunkenness spectrum that ranged from loud to violent to unconscious.
At first I was appalled by what seemed to me to be the pointless sacrifice of several hours of late-night fun. How hard can it be to run the trains for an extra hour or two? Don’t we pay enough on our monthly travelcards to warrant our Saturday night lasting later than midnight? But as the years wore on, I realized it’s not such a bad thing. Everyone tends to drift off at the same time for this very reason, so it’s not like I was the only one ducking out early and missing the rest of a great party. And given the British tendency to unattractively binge-drink, encouraging people to call time earlier rather than later probably does no harm and saves some work for the Sunday-morning street cleaners. The final and frankest reality check, as well, is that at 27 and 28 and 29 and now 30, the novelty of lap-dancing crackheads and flashers wearing aviator sunglasses (both true stories) has well and truly worn off, and I would never take the New York subway home after midnight. I would do what I do now, sometimes even before the Tube has stopped running: call a cab.
Slowly but surely I got used to a lot of these little inconveniences. The grocery store is only open for six hours on Sunday? Okay, cool, I’ll make that extra effort to haul myself off the couch in time to get my shopping done. The waitress takes what feels like ten million years to bring you the check? Oh well, good excuse for a longer lunch. Sky is going to take almost three weeks to hook up the internet? Hm, annoying, especially since we don’t have a TV and watch everything online, but doable – time to dust off all those HBO box sets.
I hadn’t even realized how much I’d mellowed until an old college friend, who works as a cutthroat lawyer in NYC, visited and couldn’t believe the shops were only open until 5 or 6 PM on weekdays and 4 or 5 PM on Sundays. “But what do you do if you work full-time?” she asked. “How do you get what you need?” I shrugged, realizing that I’d never given it much thought. “You make it work, I guess.”
Now I’m on the brink of moving to Johannesburg, where life is lived according to what is affectionately termed ‘Africa time’. Punctuality and the incessant go-go-go of London and New York don’t hold the same value in Joburg. Driving into Pretoria we got stuck in gridlock where one section of the motorway was closed, and instead of lean on their horns and try to wedge themselves into the lane that was crawling almost imperceptibly faster than the others, people shut off their engines, got out of their cars, and enjoyed a breath of fresh air and a few minutes of summer sunshine.
Five years ago I would’ve been white-knuckling the steering wheel, drumming my fingers and silently willing the traffic to just move already. But I’ve learned a thing or two in the land of Sunday trading hours and last-call bells. I’m still a long, long, long way from zen, but I’m looking forward to downshifting life’s little urgencies and learning how to linger.
(Of which I will remind myself when I’m on the phone with my South African broadband provider, demanding an explanation for why I’m still without internet after six weeks!)