The Culture Gap…

We read a book for reading group written by Kate Atkinson called Life after Life.

She is an English writer and gets it just right.  The two of us in the group from the other side of the pond appreciate her descriptive images of an England she and I remember from our childhoods.

The older I get the more I become aware of the differences between the country I grew up in and the one where hubs spent his childhood.

I was too young and filled with the first flush of love and excitement to really notice when I first crossed the Atlantic,

“I bet you are suffering from culture shock?”  my co-workers, new family & friends said hanging on my every, heavily accented, word.

In my ignorance I’d say,

“No, the language is the same, I’ve travelled all over the place, this is very much like home.”

But of course, as I’ve since found, it’s not.

Raising a family and creating my own sub culture by mixing American with English customs & traditions I adapted so well that it wasn’t until Kate Atkinson’s books and PBS British dramas like, Call the Midwife and George Gently, that it began to dawn on me that our cultures were very different.

My parents lived through a war, their parents through two.  Not exactly fought on their shores it was, nonetheless, very close to home with France (opening onto the rest of Europe) only a short paddle away across the channel.  Great Britain suffered severe losses both on the battle fields and in the bombings of their major cities.

A shifting of world views together with a break down of established social classes and the emergence of the welfare state set the tone for peace.

As young adults my parents suffered hardships, rationing, poverty, an interrupted education, evacuation and nights on end spent in air-raid shelters or down in cellars, the fear of,

“Next time it could be us,” ringing in their heads every time they heard the bombs whistling overhead.

Winston Churchill was a bulldog and he inspired the country to stand together to keep the enemy off British soil at all cost.  And they did.

Hubs’ parents experienced no such thing.  According to my Mum American soldiers brought with them luxuries that couldn’t be had with the ration book; chocolate, silk stockings, chewing gum, cigarettes and money for theatre tickets.

They suffered their share of losses too despite the privileges.

Continued privations at the end of the war made comments like,

“You’d never think we were the victors,” commonplace on the rubble-filled streets and in the empty shops.


No wonder my parents jumped at the opportunity to go as conquerors to Germany at the end of the war.  In Berlin they were confronted with the corresponding horror of the damage their bombs had wreaked on Europe.

They found little to be victorious about.

Fifteen years later they returned to England married with a young family and started again.

The London of my childhood still bore the scars of widespread damage, there were bombed out houses at the bottom of my road, sinks hanging precariously off walls, wallpaper flapping in the wind, stairs leading to no-where, the insides of windows exposed and doors hanging off hinges.

It took a long time for ruined streets to be torn down and re-built.  Pre-fabricated houses lined the other side of our street while our side had escaped unscathed.

Post war America had no cleaning up to do.  It was considered a prosperous country by British standards.

I am beginning to awaken to the knowledge that I lived through historic events without even noticing.

Daughts was more astute than I,

Watching the coverage of 911 when she was 9 she observed,

“This will be in history books one day won’t it?”  I agreed.  “I’m actually a part of history,”  she said softly watching the Twin Towers topple.

The idea was a big one.  That she would one day leaf through an American history book and say,

“I remember that…” totally woke her up to the world around her.

My awakening came much, much later in life.

Perhaps the refusal of survivors to talk about the horrors of the war had something to do with this.

My parents and theirs wanted to pick up the shreds of their lives and move forward without trying to make too much sense out of any of it.

As they raised their little family they never talked about what they went through, they never complained, they didn’t question, they stayed calm, they carried on, they didn’t dwell, they saw no point in analyzing, they prayed it would never happen again, they gathered strength, they kept silent, they did not brag, they endured and stood firm to provide for me today, without being beleaguered by their pasts.

Only now with the help of age and empty nest am I unveiling and remembering their lives so not to take for granted what they suffered.

In Kate Atkinson’s words,

“We must remember these people when we are safely in the future.”  (Life after Life p. 133)



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