"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.