This Vagabond Life–Forever???


All three kids have now lived a good part of their lives in the US, a good part in Canada. Is it time to move on? Are we destined to be vagabonds forever, moving from one country to the next, never settling, never buying that aluminum-siding, characterless McMansion, never investing in any long-term commitments (like phone contracts), never, as they said back in the 20th century, “putting down roots”? Is that, perhaps, not such a bad thing?

Alright, readers, here’s the thing: We have a chance to move to the UK.

S0–should we stay or should we go?

Option A

Option A


Option B

Put another way:

Option A

Option A

Option B

Option B

Well, this could go on. I will give you the pros and cons for our family, and you will tell me what to do with my life.

Here we go–

The Pros:

* Jewish day schools are state-funded in the UK. That means FREE! (you can give a *voluntary* donation, which is bubkas compared to what we pay on this side of the Atlantic). Not only are they FREE, but they are also multicultural (since they can’t discriminate on the basis of religion for a state-funded school). 

*We would live in Europe! Granted, it’s not the continent, but the continent is a hop, skip, and a cheap Ryanair flight away. Hello, weekend in Barcelona, ski trip in Slovenia, a little shopping in Milan.

*The Scientist would be in a “real” job–an actual faculty member in a strong department with good research. As he moves from mid- to late-thirties, the time might be nigh to play big boy!

*We can vote. Apparently our Commonwealth status is worth something somewhere beyond Canadian borders. Of course, I know nothing about British politics, but it might be nice to get to have a say about the place I’m living in. Can I vote, by the way, for Canada not to be a part of the Commonwealth anymore (I’m really big on that whole republic thing, and do not appreciate being a monarchy with a foreign head of state), or would that be kind of self-defeating? (Would I be voting down my right vote?)

*We love welfare states! That’s so left-wing pinko commie academic of us, too, and sooo Canadian, too. But universal healthcare, you are a beautiful thing. It means the end of the very American kind of mail that arrives at our house and startles the crap out of us: “This is not a bill. Emergency room visit: $1480. Your insurance paid: $260. You owe: $0.” Huh?

The Cons:

*I LOVE SUNSHINE. The Scientist is of the opinion that weather “doesn’t matter,” but I DISAGREE! I might DIE in the grey, dreary, and drippy short dark days of the UK. And does it ever end? Rainy winters lead into rainy springs lead into rainy summers . . . Well, you get the picture.

*I would be jobless, friendless, and colleagueless. English departments at UK unis seem utterly devoid of American literature. I suspect the attitude is something along the lines of, “So, have they produced anything over in those colonies yet? Nah . . .”

*Babi and Zaidy and Gramma and Saba and aunties and uncles and all the cousins will be oh so far away. And phone/Skype conversations might become a challenge once our accents have morphed and we can no longer understand our family or them us.

*At heart, there is something deeply American (aka materialistic) about us. We go on about getting rid of clutter, going all minimalist, etc etc, but the truth is this: we love stuff. When I asked an American in the UK recently what it was that he missed most about the US, this is what he said: STUFF! (I panicked. What? No stuff? No stuff? What will I do without stuff?) He then he went on to point out that in the local Sainsbury’s or Tesco, at best you could find 30 or 40 kinds of cereal. Only 30 or 40! I mean, we’re not going to starve, but–?! (Ugh, if I were a better person, this would go in the pro list. So maybe the more appropriate con is that I have to realize what a bad, materialistic person I am.)

*We will be even poorer than we are now–in a not so cheap part of the world (some would say obscenely expensive, even). I know I’m all, yeah, whatev, I’m used to being a  באָרוועסר פּראָפעסאָר

. . . but can I handle being any poorer?

So–what should we do?


17 responses »

  1. It seems as though you have made your decision. Stay in the US.
    But a couple things to consider:
    The rain is something that people who don’t live in a rainy place, dwell on. I will take rain any day over long cold winters.
    Stuff schmuff.
    We have Skype relationship with grandparents and we are in the next province – this will be the case in less we move to the same city – not happening ever.
    Vancouver? Can you join us? 🙂

  2. Really depends where in the UK, my dear. It is like saying
    “I have a chance to move to Canada”. Need more info before we can advise further. That said, I vote UK. What is the worst that can happen? You hate it and move back in a few years, with the Scientist having gained some faculty experience and the kids some life experience. Go for it!

  3. UK has sun. I agree about rain being exaggerated. Vancouver is fun. UK has sun.
    Unis have North Americanists–even better in a way for you and your work. Organic and glutenfree foods are labelled and available. We spent 3 happy weeks shopping at Sainsburys when in London the summer of the riots. It was great! I would move in a heartbeat!

    • It’s true–I saw these depts of American and Canadian Studies! But do you know anyone at any of them? I wrote to a chair and got no response, and I’m feeling like I’m in need of a “letter of introduction,” which apparently one requires even to get a bank account over there.

  4. Hey PP! Lots of thoughts on this, of course. Email me if you’d like to chat. But, briefly:

    1. Charles Darwin is pictured on the currency here! Political discourse is so much less crazy. I enjoy that. And I love NHS!

    2. There’s actually significant variation in precipitation within the British Isles; check the stats on your possible new local area. Personally, I love the weather here because it’s moderate (especially in comparison to the terrifying summer storms and exhausting winter blizzards of NJ).

    3. Re starting over in a new household: yes, annoying and expensive, especially since, as you point out, the cost of living is astronomical. Almost all consumer goods cost more. Even (to my great distress) books! And one’s salary is lower. But I can say that it’s much more common for apartments to be rented furnished here.

    4. Re jobs. Yes, hiring does seem to be insular, and yes, there does seem to be less American Studies here, compared to the US–but what I’ve been told is that there are also fewer Americanists here. And that those Americanists are often keen to go work at US institutions with their various luxuries and their higher salaries, etc. I’ve also been told that demand for 20th-c. people is high (relative to other fields) because there’s more student demand for those kinds of courses. It’s tough though, and it depends a lot on publications. For me, getting job within commuting distance of my husband’s took two years of broad and constant applying. (And that applying will continue, since I don’t have a permanent position!)

    5. As a Canadian, you may be eligible to apply for some government-funded fellowships? They have some very nice ones.

    In these difficult two-body situations I don’t think there’s one right answer. Best of luck in making the decision this time around!

  5. We spent a year in Cambridge on sabbatical, and while the winter was gray and dreary, it was a good deal shorter than a New York winter, and the endless (sunny) days of summer made up for it.
    As for appliances, I would assume you’ll rent a place when you first arrive, and maybe you can find something furnished to start?
    Good luck with the decision. I think a full-time, permanent faculty position would be very difficult to walk away from.

  6. I say unto thee: rent thyself a storage space & put everything big & expensive in it, other than the car and the kids. Sell the car; I leave it to your conscience what to do with the kids. And then go live in (yet another) country because you know what? It’s only going to get harder to move around as they (the kids, that is, not the appliances) get older and start having, you know, OPINIONS. It’s not London but, hey, you live in the ‘burbs now, so…It will be hard & weird, and wonderful & exciting, frequently all at the same time. As for stuff? trust me, stuff will accrue, it always does. If the job for the Scientist is good, then that will give him (and all of you) a launch pad for whatever will come next and something will appear for you, once you’re there. Go. Hie thee hence and whatnot, forsooth and no, I have no idea why this weird Shakespearean thing is happening. GO!

  7. That’s a tough decision, but I can tell you that as I age gracefully, STUFF becomes unimportant and I just want to get rid of it instead of accumulating it!

    Free schools… would that contribute to being poorer?! Times three!

    The only time I happened to visit London it was sunny for the week.

    As the kids get older, it will be more difficult to move around. Where ever you go, you will probably be there a while.

    Good luck in your decision, but keep in mind you would be missed.

  8. Go for it! And I’m saying this at great personal loss to myself–you’re talking about moving across the Atlantic just as I’m about to cross over the Pacific to finally be on the same continent as you, with high hopes of getting to SEE you in person more often. Of course I’d like you to be closer geographically to me, and am sorely tempted to say don’t go and keep talking about chilly rain. But, it sounds like this is a good opportunity for your family, so go! Try it out, and if you don’t like it there, you can always move back to North America, probably with better prospects too. And, we’ve had guest speakers from the UK who are Americanists–even the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Leicester U is an American Studies scholar–so, hopefully, even if you don’t have something lined up now, you’ll find something once you’re there. I’ll just have to cross two oceans to see you. 🙂

  9. One other thought… I’m wondering if you could tweak your research to move toward transatlantic studies by maybe looking at some of the English writers influencing and influenced by the Americans you already work on. Heide

  10. “I would be jobless, friendless, and colleagueless.” YOU? Hahahahahah! Pardon me while I laugh, you attract a marvelous incomparable network of friends and admirers everywhere you go, like steel filings to Tik-Tok of Oz (sorry, stuck for an analogy) and would definitely find your place in the UK! They’re open to learning about stuff from over here, it’s all new to them (I’ve given talks in Oxford about Winnie and the movie business and they’ve been the most marvelous experiences). It’s really super for your husband to have such a fine opportunity – your children will thrive in British schools – and you’ve forgotten the most important point of all: England is HEAVEN. Pure, pure heaven. That’s why I’ve been 30 times and would give my eye teeth if I’d ever seen a way to make my life there. I vote emphatically GO! The Stuff and Details will take care of themselves. Dare to do it. Believe me, once you start daring to move less, you get stuck.

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