I’m glad to be able to put this one to use; I’ve saved it for twenty years. (In fact, I think I’ve written about it before.) When I was 13, my father’s occupation moved us to a different city. I was so happy where we were, enjoying good friendships with other girls at a small private school. I was loving life and it loved me back–and then we moved.
I was an extremely sheltered child, so much so that, not only was I not wearing the styles of clothing that my new classmates were, I didn’t even notice. But they did. I was also, in those days, really okay with who I was and naïvely expecting everyone else to be, too. It did not help to endear me to them that I was missing my old home and my old school. I know now that it was homesickness that made me do it: I talked a lot about the old life. No one pointed it out to me at the time but years later one girl said to me, “Remember in middle school when everything you said began with ‘Back in Minneapolis . . . ‘?” It was a casual comment for her, but an astounding revelation for me. Was that why they didn’t like me?
Don’t make cultural comparisons, especially negative ones. I’m probably being repetitive because it’s part of being an appreciator, after all. But it bears saying because the temptation to do this can be overwhelming (sometimes we feel like doing it in self-defense: tune in next time for more on this). If I had a pound (or a dollar) for every time I’ve had the thought That would never happen in the States I’d have a pound of dollars. The truth is, even if you are trying not to make comparisons, they will present themselves. Decide not to dwell on them, and don’t increase their power by making them aloud.
Of course there are many things about where you now are that will compare unfavorably with where you were before. Sometimes these things are undeniable and real and awful, once in a while they are only perceptions. Either way, it’s time to tell yourself the truth: that was nice; but that was then and this is right now. It’s time to follow that excellent advice my parents have been giving me since I was a chubby little toddler who kept smacking into walls and falling into the bathtub: look where you’re going.
This means don’t talk too much with new friends about the old ones. Don’t point out the harder realities of your (and their) situation. Don’t spend your time discussing the differences. I’m not saying don’t have an opinion if it’s helpful or relevant–that’s part of the beauty of diversity. (Do Americans tend to think of ourselves as contributing to cultural diversity? Or is this something brought by people from other places?) Just be careful about how much you say, how you say it, and why you say it. You might be asked directly: “Is it more expensive here?” or “Rather dismal weather, don’t you think?” or “What do you think of the National Health Service?” Perhaps if I think comparatively with home, these questions (at times) could tempt me into complaining. In response I have found it very helpful to know the fact that some things, such as strawberries and fresh mozzarella, cost significantly less here. Also I learned once why textiles are often more expensive and I am now, for the first time in my life, thinking about sweatshops and fair wages. Regarding the weather, though 2012 was one of the wettest years on record in England, the rainfall in London (1330.7 mm) exceeded that of Seattle by only about four inches. Unless I can tell that people really want me to find England extremely rainy (in which case I agree with them, not wanting to rain on their parade, or really wanting to rain on it since they want me to if you see what I mean), I usually go on to say with complete truth that I find the weather lovely here. In regard to the NHS, my view is that I am one of few people on the globe to have access to reliable, advanced medical care and this nation has provided it to me for free. So I simply state that I have had two babies at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and I am so grateful for it. Living out of country and having opportunity to compare has intensified my patriotism, but it has also opened my eyes to negative aspects of life in the United States. Cultural comparison can be a two-edged sword, one to be handled carefully.
Maybe you feel you must make comparisons, you can’t help it. Perhaps in your view it helps you to let out all of the negative stuff. (How many times have we heard the “I’m a verbal processor” excuse for complaining?) If you really think it helps, shut the windows and talk it over with your husband or your mother. Or scribble it all down in a journal and get it out of your system. And just to clarify, in this era where everyone instantly publishes what they had for breakfast, a private one.
I just want to add, I love England. I am keenly aware that, in many places, the differences to be faced are much greater than the price of strawberries, of all the trivial examples. All I’ve used are trivial examples because if you are looking for truly negative things about England or the English you will not get them from me. I know I haven’t had to try and put my own advice into practice when the new place is Calcutta or Chad or somewhere of that sort. I do not pretend to be able to speak wisely about moves that drastic and difficult, only trying to trust faithfully that Jesus is and will be sufficient. Perhaps not many of us will have to make moves like that. But the battle for contentment-where-we-are is waged in the heart of each of us.