Culture Shock

We’ve been back in the UK for one month!!

On the whole it’s been flipping wonderful. It’s fantastic to be back with our families. It’s REALLY fantastic to be back with my cat. But it’s also funny how different the UK seems to us after seven years away. Some things have struck us in the same way they would probably strike a visitor seeing the UK for the first time. I thought it might be fun to note some down before they become normal to us.

Everything is tiny.

Seriously, everything is SO tiny. Houses. Cars. Roads. Parking spaces. Portion sizes. Rooms. I can’t get over how small it all seems. The Dude’s California school was 850 kids…in his new school, there’s just 100 in the entire school!

Roads are particularly challenging. We bought a small car  but the roads in Wiltshire are so narrow, especially in the area where we’re moving to. The lanes around our future village are one-lane but for two-direction traffic – there are frequent passing-spots that you sometimes have to back up into so someone can pass. I’m getting used to it but there’s still a lot of buttock-clenching at particularly narrow passes. I do love how both drivers unfailing wave a hand to thank each other.



I’m obsessed.

wilts cottage

Everything is green

During the five years of drought that we lived through in California, one of the things I most missed was the green season. Due to the year-round supply of liquid sunshine here, everything is green. Sometimes the grass is so brightly green that it’s practically neon.


wiltshire stile

wiltshire lords walk

Coffee is really strong

The UK has a dismal history of coffee-making but things have dramatically improved since we left. I think the coffee is much stronger here than my regular $1.95 Starbucks filter coffee in America. If I have two coffees, I’m all shaky. I may have to turn to (gasp) decaf!

Veggie Food has really improved

Vegetarians in the UK used to be lucky to get a cheese sarnie but I’ve had some delicious veggie meals. Portobello and Halloumi burgers, bagels with smashed avocado, wonderful veggie soups. I’ve also been thrilled to be reunited with really good bread and cheese! And I’m testing all the sourdoughs I find, I’ll find the right one soon enough.

People are friendly

People are friendlier than I remember. So much friendlier. I’ve been blown away by the friendliness of the mums at the Dude’s school and even on the streets, people seem brighter than I recall. Super-grateful for this.

The weather

The weather has taken a little bit of getting used to. It’s definitely Autumn here – temperatures are cool, sometimes downright chilly. It’s often foggy in the morning, skies have been grey, there’s been some rain. I can’t deny I’ve thought longingly of that perfect Bay Area weather. Oddly enough, our trip to Iceland has helped me get my head around it, I’m not quite sure why or how, but somehow it reminded me that life is still cool even when it’s not wall-to-wall sunshine.

wilts storm


On a more positive note, the leaves are turning and they are BEAUTIFUL. I’m super-excited for our first proper Autumn for seven years! We’ve been gathering conkers both to keep spiders away and for playing with. There is not a pumpkin-patch culture here, and when I asked for pumpkin-spice ground coffee at Waitrose, I was met with blank looks. But I’ve found canned pumpkin and I’ve made pumpkin bread so I think things are going to be fine.

conkers autumn wilts

Food is so cheap

We can’t get over how much cheaper food is here than in the Bay Area. We keep buying stuff because it seems so cheap, particularly food and vegetables. I have NO idea how the food industry can sustain itself at these prices but it makes it much easier to eat healthily here than in California. I have no idea why we keep eating bread, cheese and cake then…

It’s ‘loo’, not ‘bathroom

I keep confusing people by asking for the bathroom. You can see them wondering why I need a shower in the middle of the day. Also, you often have to pay for the loo here…I’m going to need to carry coins around on my early morning runs once we move to Marlborough.

SF Half Loos
Still my favourite loo photo

Fill up THEN pay

I really confused a guy in a garage this week when I handed over my 20-pound note and asked for ’20 quid on pump number 6′. In the US, you pay, then you fill up. In the UK, you fill up and THEN you pay. He was so bewildered. Poor guy.

There’s no scary wildlife here

I still find myself seeing rope-like things in the road and thinking they’re snakes. And I’ve loved seeing British birds that I’ve not seen for ages. Last week, I spotted my very favourite local bird, the robin. The Dude had never seen one, it was a sweet moment.

wilts robin

I don’t recognise many trees

I have a real tree obsession and by the time we left California, I was able to recognise most of the trees we saw. Here? Not so much. I have no idea what half of them are. They’re beautiful though. I’ve discovered the wonderful, enormous horse-chestnut tree. It’s big enough and gorgeous enough to ALMOST fill the gap of my beloved redwoods.

wilts tree horse chestnut

And then I found some actual redwoods at a local stately home and my happiness was complete.

redwoods wiltshire wilton

Running is different

I’m genuinely loving the running here, it’s SO beautiful. But I also find myself missing our old town of Foster City and my happy 6-mile loop, lit for safe running in the darkness and with four bathrooms open at 6am along the way. I’m running hill repeats up past cottages, I’m doing speed-work along a tiny lane in the absence of a track. I’m also wearing much more clothing…it’s getting more Autumnal every day. That Brooks LSD jacket I won is literally a life-saver right now, I’m living in it.

me canal kennet wilts

Things I miss

As I said, we’re genuinely happy to be back, but there are definitely times I ache for California, its people, its weather and just the normality of our lives there. We’re in this odd state of limbo…not in California but still waiting to get in our new house, and this makes it hard to start building our new lives. There are some things I’ve been particularly missing this week.

I miss Target. There’s nothing like Target. I actually nearly teared up this week as I was talking to my dad about Target and I thought about driving into the car park of my old local Target. I keep wondering where to buy things (those $2 throw-away gloves for winter running) and having NO idea if we can even get them here.

I miss church. I haven’t had a regular church since we left California at the start of May. I’m tired of being a ‘visitor’ to other churches, no matter how lovely they are. I can’t wait till we move to our new house and I get to start finding our own new home-church.

But the thing I most miss, genuinely, is my running friends. I think it’s because running is constant in my life, I’m still doing the same activity but in a different place…and mainly all alone. I miss running trails with Jen and our lovely crowd of Bay Area ladies. I miss getting up at 5.15 to run in the darkness with Lisa before school. That’s what I most miss. The people, the habits, the running.

It will come, I know it will come, but culture shock will take a while to work through. In the meantime, a good cup of tea will make everything better.



7 Comments Add yours

  1. Rachel Thompson says:

    You made me chuckle so much my eyes watered. We’re not tiny, America is just bigly, those country lanes are fine, honest (says me who hyperventilates between passing points ). So pleased you’re finding veggie food and friendliness. We have gone hipstery coffee mad here, when you get settled I hope you find a lovely little local tea/coffee shop who won’t write your name on the cup cos they’ll already know it and how you like your coffee ❤☕

  2. BT says:

    {{Hugs}} you are missed!

    1. Cathryn says:

      You too. I wondered about what culture shock you’d experienced moving back to the US?

  3. If you can get over to Malmsbury, Hobbs House do amazing bread. They also do mail order. So much yumminess. Glad to hear you’re settling back in x

    1. Cathryn says:

      I can always get places for amazing bread!

  4. Jen says:

    Love all of your observations! And I miss you too! It’s sad to be the lone Crazy Cat Lady in the Bay Area.

    1. Cathryn says:

      It must be weird. I’m glad you’re finding new people to run with though…sob

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