When I saw this series of books and the cover blurb “Laugh out loud funny regardless of which side of the pond you are on… Bill Bryson move over, there’s a new American expat in town with a keen sense of humor.” I knew I had to contact Michael Harling. He graciously responded with a willingness to be featured on Expat Chat and his post stole my heart. Especially the last line.
Please enjoy this essay by Michael~
I grew up in rural, upstate New York, an area with more cows than people, and more potato fields than piazzas. While that, in itself, was not a problem, I unknowingly fell victim to a malady that strikes the vast majority of Americans: inertia.
Oh, I knew there was a wider world out there, with cities like Paris, London and Amsterdam, and sights such as the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and the Ann Frank House—we learned about them in school, saw them in movies and read about them in books, but they were “out there,” and of little relevance to me. The sad thing about inertia is it never occurred to me that I could see them; in fact, it never even occurred to me to want to see them. Travel was for “other people,” and so I stayed put and followed the template of normal life: I married a local girl, bought a house, had children, got divorced, lost the house and spent a few years regrouping.
Then I hit my mid-forties and found myself unexpectedly solvent; my children were grown, I had a good job, a nice apartment and enough disposable income to think about doing things I had never dreamed of doing before.
And so I went to Ireland.
Note that I did not suddenly change into a wanderer; I simply wanted to see Ireland. So in mid-August of 2001, I was looking forward to a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, something I could tell my friends about as I continued along my current life-arc. Instead, I found myself, six months later (and we’re leaving out a LOT of details here), married to a British woman and living in a picturesque town in West Sussex.
This sudden and unexpected change of fortune, plus the giddy proximity of continental Europe, really did turn me around. I found expat life suited me and I had a great deal of fun bumbling my way toward an understanding of the local customs and language. (This is where the books come in, but I’ll plug those later.)
My new wife, a keen traveler herself, introduced me to places and things I had never imagined I would see: Paris, Spain, the Austrian Alps, the Eiffel Tower, Prague, Amsterdam, Normandy, and on, and on. And that doesn’t count Britain itself, which is a beautiful country and an unending source of fascination. We’ve been to London countless times, but have barely scratched the surface, and every year we take at least one holiday “in country” yet entire segments of Britain still remain unexplored.
Becoming an expat was, quite literally, entering a new life, a life without limits (well, okay, there are limits, but they are not defined by the size of a cornfield). Once I stood on the banks of the Thames, on my inaugural visit to London, and looked across the river at Big Ben, I realized that the world “out there” was now, “here” and I could visit it if I wished.
The years since then have always included travel, and I have seen, and gone, and done more than I can catalogue here. But I have also been on another journey: a writing journey.
As soon as I knew I was moving to Britain, I began my blog—Postcards From Across the Pond—wherein I posted vignettes about my preparations, and then my confusing encounters with the locals. This grew into a book, titled (appropriately enough) Postcards From Across the Pond. A few years later, More Postcards From Across the Pond inevitably followed, and then I rounded out the trilogy by writing Postcards From Ireland, the story of my Irish adventure that led to my becoming an expat.
I’m still writing, but I think I’m done with the expat books.
Despite my continuing travels, life, as it must, has fallen into its own routine here. The minutia of daily existence grinds the luster from our lives and can leave a person feeling as if they are leading a mundane existence. And it does, from time to time, but at other times—while I’m sitting on an ancient stone wall in a village with thatched cottages, cobbled streets and a churchyard with a yew tree that was planted hundreds of years before my native country was discovered, or even just walking down a local street and passing an Ironmongers, or Chemists—I realize how far I have strayed from the corn fields and cow pastures of my youth and think, “Holy shit! I’m in England.”
And let me tell you, being amazed by your own life is a wonderful way to live.
Michael Harling is originally from upstate New York. He moved to Britain in 2002 and is the author of Postcards From Across the Pond, More Postcards From Across the Pond and Postcards From Ireland.
His first novel, Finding Rachel Davenport has recently been released by Opis, an imprint of Prospera Publishing.
Visit his blog at http://www.pcfatp.com
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