A few thoughts on my adjustment back to the US…

“There are three things you can’t do in life. You can’tr beat the phone company, you can’t make a waiter see you until he’s ready to see you, and you can’t go home again.” -Bill Bryson, Notes from a Big Country.

  • I’ll never get tired of the dry, dry humo(u)r of passport control. “Cambridge? That’s in Massachusetts.” But believe me, it felt really, really good to hear the passport officer say, “Welcome home.”
  • One of the first things I had when I got back was Hot Dog on a Stick. Most of you have no idea what this is… it’s kind of a corn dog that’s sold at California shopping malls. Delicious and impossible to obtain in the UK.
  • I went to the Tudor House, a British tea shop(pe) in Santa Monica and discovered that the cost of a pack of [imported] McVitties digestives is the same as a gallon of gas.
  • It’s damn near impossible to find an electric kettle in the US. (I finally found one, but it was over priced and not nearly as nice as the £5 kettle I got at Woolies in Durham.)
  • I’m perfectly comfortable with the direction of traffic since two peripatetic years in the UK taught this Los Angelino how to get around without driving, but I’m still not used to the right-hand side being the passenger’s seat.
  • Other well-missed foods: fluffy pancakes with maple syrup, authentic American diner food, oreo cookies
  • I found myself with old lady syndrome… somewhat aimlessly walking the ailes of the supermarket marvelling at all of the new brands. I seriously spent ten minutes looking at all the chewing gum and candy at the checkout-line of my local supermarket. “Did they have sour altoids before I left? Man. What’ll they think of next?”
  • … and don’t even get me started about how much time I spent browsing through the cereal aisle.
  • I found that I didn’t really fit into the usual teenage hang-outs anymore. Two years living in the UK has like-oh-my-god made me like totally unable to like understand the way teenagers like talk to each other in this like country, y’know?
  • I desperately miss watching Doctor Who.
  • I met up with another Marshall Scholar in Santa Monica. He was passing through before returning to Cambridge and insisted that we have proper Mexican food. We were trying to figure out a local taqueria’s nontrivial system of queueing when one of the regulars helped us out. “Not from around these parts, are you guys?” she said, making typically American small talk (I missed small talk). Before I could say anything, my friend interjected, “No… we’re from England.” I couldn’t stop laughing as she suspeciously eyed him and his Cleveland accent.
  • My friends say that my accent hasn’t changed a bit (unsurprising), but I speak with a slightly different cadence and with a few different filler phrases. A bit odd, innit? (I don’t actually say `innit.’)
  • It took me a while to get used to LA smog and traffic again.
  • On another visit to the Tudor House, I saw Prof. Johnson (of USC, formerly of Durham) on his famous Brompton. I was unable to say `hi’ since he was in the bike lane waiting for a traffic light to turn green, but it made me very happy to see a local physics celebrity and Durham transplant. In fact, it was Prof. Johnson who first brought my attention to the Tudor House while I was still getting acclimated to Cambridge in ’06.

6 Responses to “Repatriation”

  1. Flip,

    Are you / will you be in Berkeley yet / soon? If so, we should get together. E-mail me — you can find the address from the Cal Math dept page.


  2. Wow. Really? You saw me? That’s great! Do say Hi next time!

    Welcome back to the (evidently) small village that is the Los Angeles area!

    BBC America does Dr Who, I think, and maybe the Sci-Fi Channel too.

    Good electric kettles are beginning to make it over here now. Try a big department store with the big kitchen section. Maybe also Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Also, Sur La Table.



  3. 3 Ward

    Hey Phillip!

    I was just looking around online for information about miquelrius notebooks and I came across an entry you wrote two years ago. I found it organized and useful, so I looked at the URL and thought to myself, “Hey, I know that guy!” Glad to see that you’re doing well. Welcome back to the States! I got my electric kettle for around thirty bucks at a grocery store in Little Tokyo.

    Good running into your web presence,

  4. Hello, I’m a student at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland and I’m currently doing my Master Thesis in theoretical physics.

    I found several articles on your blog that will help me understand my subject better, so thank you very much.

    I hope you’ll continue posting even though you seem to be back in the U.S.

    Thanks again


  5. So it is callled the old lady syndrome? Ohh well, I also spent a good amount of time looking at stupid things at the market when I first arrived to Hamburg it was like “oh man, look at all this ham-alike stuff”, certainly the store clerk was clearly amused. On the doctor who issue all I can say is that torrents are quite helpful…

  6. 6 flyingwalrus

    I miss small talk too!!!

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