Monday, 12 March 2012

Old School Tie

"Do you think I should wear my old school tie?" asked The Doctor, proferring a rather ancient looking black and pink affair that has sat, unworn, in his wardrobe ever since I've known him.

"Well, " I replied. "If you're ever going to wear it, I guess tonight should be the night."

We were going to an alumni dinner in a New York dining club, organised by his school (one of London's best known). The headmaster flies out once a year for this occasion, and New York-based ex pupils attend. Somehow we'd received an invitation, and although it's not normally the kind of occasion we'd jump at the chance of going to, we were intrigued - what would it be like? Who would be there? What would the club be like?

The answer is, it was all very British. The club, lined with wood panelling, manned by dignified Indian waiters and serving colonially strong cocktails (the Martini I ordered kept me going all night), was very like something you might find in London. The guests (mainly older than us and almost all 'considerably richer') could have stepped straight out of a Hampstead or Islington dinner party. It became clear that one of the main purposes of the occasion was to get people to dig into their pockets and donate to the school; something we're not really in a position to do. It did feel a bit like we were stepping into a different world.

That's not to say it wasn't enjoyable. One thing that definitely unites the Brits in America, whatever generation, is Democratic politics. Everyone I spoke to was fervently hoping Obama gets back in, and marvelling at how people could actually vote for the likes of Rick Santorum. (It's funny to think that some of these people are probably ardent Tories back home - it makes you realise just how much further to the right America is.) We swapped stories about children, about schooling, the differences between education in the UK and US. It was basically an expat get-together, with fillet steak and an after-dinner speaker. We also heard a little about the school, which, though ruinously expensive, admittedly sounds fantastic (although whether either of our children will ever go there is another matter).

Then we got back on the train and headed back to suburban Long Island, back to the world of backyard BBQs, soccer practice and birthday parties, where our children get on the yellow school bus each day and we don't (yet) have to worry about entrance exams, league tables and sports halls. Somehow the occasion made me feel both very British, and yet not. Excited about our visit to London in just a few weeks now, I nevertheless wonder how we're going to slot back into English society. How much has our outlook on the world changed since living in America? Or are we going to fit right back in to middle class British life without looking back.

14 comments:

Fourdownmumtogo said...

Don't worry you will fit right back in. It's amazing how quickly you become obsessed about schools the instant you hit British soil again! Looking forward to seeing you all very soon now.

Suburban Princess said...

I know what you mean about politics...the most conservative Canadian is much more left than any democrat!

Expat mum said...

And yet at least half of America thinks we're all raving Commies back home. Ha!

MsCaroline said...

It's always a challenge to try and explain US Conservatives to my German friends...I don't think they even believe some of the stuff I tell them!

Mud said...

You will fit in, but with a different perspective. Expat life certainly does broaden the mind and makes us both grateful for the good bits of home, but also maybe more critical and less accepting. I think this is positive. Most of the time.

Nota Bene said...

I'm with Mud on this one...

PantsWithNames said...

With Mud and NB too.

I once turned up in Chile and within days had been invited to a University get-together. Black tie too, which weirdly I hadn't packed in my rucksack. I still don't know how they knew I was there. Extraordinary.

Iota said...

Pants - what an extraordinary story.

NVG - you end the post with some very challenging questions. I don't really want to have to think about them.

Michelloui | The American Resident said...

Ah I love this, really thought provoking! Being an expat almost always changes how we think about the world AND (especially?) our homeland.

I wonder too if you'll eventually fit right back in to your British life. Probably, as you have kids because the education thing is a swiftly running current which you will no doubt be swept up in unless you live somewhere in the depths of the provinces and /or choose to homeschool (I envy both of those demographics their opportunity to step out of that swift stream).

But whether or not you'll 'look back' is another question! It's always interesting looking at one's regular life differently once you've had some extra experiences. I will be really interested to read your posts when you're making that transition!

The old boys dinner sounds interesting as well, I would have been fascinated. I once went to something similar with my husband, but it wasn't nearly so oak panelled. Really interesting as an expat to see what a 'nice' English school in Somerset did to entertain their alumni!

Loved your comments on US politics too...spot on. I think you've got several blog posts here--as I said, a really interesting post!! :)

About Last Weekend said...

"Colonially strong drinks" - love that -very Somerset Maughan. I've been to a couple of Kiwi bashes in San francisco and found them, yes coming home but not. Isn't it such a relief to find that ex-pats see the politics so clearly?

Knackered Mother said...

Are you back for a bit? Or a lot? Am sure it will all feel very familiar before you know it. Not the same I know, but when we moved back from London to the village where we both (Bearded Husband and me) grew up it felt a bit strange for all of about, er, 10 mins.

nappy valley girl said...

Fourdown -And you!

SP - I think Canada has a lot more in common with the UK....perhaps our Commonwealth heritage is to blame?

Expat Mum - although whenever I tell friends here about our 'socialized medicine', they're jealous.

MsCaroline - I can scarcely believe it myself sometimes...

Mud, NB - yes, I think it's positive too. It's got to be!

Pants - these people will find you anywhere. Spooky!

Iota - Challenging questions indeed, (and I'm not sure I'm ready for the answers either....)

Michelloui - thank you! I know we'll have to get back into all that schooling debate, I'm just dreading it rather....

ALW - it does make you realize it's not just you think the American conservatives are crazy...

KM - Just back for 3 weeks to renew visas - but back for good sometime next year!

planb said...

And was he right to wear the old school tie?

My dad once wore my old school tie to a business meeting. No-one batted an eyelid.

Oh, and B's response when his school ring up and ask him for money: "I can't afford to pay for my own children's education. Why should I pay for someone else's". Terse, but gets the point across.

And when you do come back for good, I hear Scotland's where it's at these days...

nappy valley girl said...

plan B - do you know, I am not sure if anyone noticed....I think B's response is entirely appropriate.