First question people ask after they find out that I am from Australia is ‘How is London?‘ I go blank for a second. I am not sure what to say. It’s not bad and it’s not the greatest thing ever, it’s just different, but a good and interesting kind of different. In the weeks that I have been here, it’s been a big learning curve. They say ‘You learn something new everyday‘. I learn about 10 new things everyday and that’s hard to get my head around. There are days when I am like ‘WOW I love this place!‘ and there are days where I just think ‘What is wrong with this place?‘ It’s like I have moved from primary school to high school.
I am not too familiar with the educational system in the UK, but in Australia we have Primary School from Kindergarten to 6th Grade and then 7th Grade to 12th Grade is High School. You know when you reach 6th Grade you feel untouchable, you are now the senior of the school, little kids look up to and you know the ins and outs of primary school life. Then you hit 7th Grade, first day and it’s totally different. You are now the baby of the pack trying to find your ground, you want to cry but you know that you shouldn’t because you don’t want to appear like you can’t handle it already! You need to conquer high school, but this is a lot harder than you thought! You like the canteen food, there is so much more variety than what you had in Primary School, some teachers are nice and you have made a few friends.
By the end of the day one you realise that High School isn’t that bad and you could get used to it, but it will take time. Sydney was my Grade 6 and London is now Grade 7! I think I can get used to London, but it’s going to take time. There are things I know that I will never be able to get over. I have already mentioned seeing this many African people on a daily basis is a big deal (I practically pinch myself everytime I go out to make sure I am not dreaming), but the things I am about to mention may seem trivial to you, so be prepared!
The washing machine in the kitchen. I don’t get it. I understand that their is no space here, but even the smallest flats in Australia have laundry rooms or laundry cupboards which are separate from the kitchens. A small space could have been designated for the laundry when houses/apartments were built in this country. Another thing is the postcode system. It drives me crazy yet all at the same time it I think it’s an ingenious concept. In Australia you go by the house/building number, street name and suburb. You wouldn’t even think of the postcode unless you were mailing something. To get anywhere here, all you need is the postcode, consult Google maps and you are at your destination. I struggle when I read an address because I think, ‘You have given me the building number, street name, postcode and written London. WHAT IS THE BLOODY SUBURB? Just give it to me! GIVE IT TO ME!‘
I remember when I came here on exchange and I would go to the bank or the Uni Admin and they would ask me for my postcode and I wouldn’t even know it. I would just say ‘Oh it’s KT-something-something. I don’t know‘. I didn’t understand the value of it so I thought there was no need to remember it. Besides, there were too many numbers and letters in comparison to the four-letter postcodes we have in Australia!
I had an Australian-Ghanaian friend who came to London recently and I was booking a cab to where she was staying and I asked her for the address. In true Australian style, she gave me the house number, street and suburb. I asked ‘What’s the postcode?‘ She didn’t respond. Then I messaged her basically in capitals explaining why the postcode was very important and not giving me the postcode could be the difference between her catching and missing our flight to Malaga!
Besides all this, I think what really gets me living here is the balancing of cultures. I am a Ghanaian-Australia now living in London. It’s only been a few years since I became comfortable with the term ‘Ghanaian-Australian‘ and started to grow into it, but now I have added ‘Lives in London‘ onto my Facebook profile and the cultural weight of that is actually quite enormous. Where do I fit in the scope? I get confused when I fill out online job applications and they ask for my nationality. I am not ‘Black – British‘, and I am technically not ‘Black – African‘ so I am ‘Other’ but if I write African-Australian in the box provided for ‘Other‘, is that right? Would the person reading the application even know what that is? Do I write ‘Ghanaian-Australian‘ to be more specific or should I just write ‘Australian‘ instead. Maybe I should save myself the frustration and tick ‘Prefer not to disclose‘.
I have become the ‘Other‘ and I feel it when I go places and I am introduced as the ‘Australian‘. Some people’s reactions are as if I have come from the a new planet which was added to the Solar System just last week. My first Sunday at church with my cousin and her family, a lady shook my hand whilst eying me up and down then turned to my cousin and asked ‘What language does she speak?‘ People’s uncertainty of me being black Australian sometimes rubs off on me and then I wonder did I really come here for all this uneasiness? I was pretty comfy in my bubble of Australia with my washing machine in the laundry room and the warm weather, and now as a leap of faith I have decided to move to London and add confusion to my identity. What was I thinking? I remind myself that this is the challenge - balancing all these thoughts, experiences and emotions and being at peace with it all. I really hope I will come to a point where I can gladly say without hesitation ‘I love living London‘ or at least ‘I like living London‘.
I know this will all be in due time.