I distinctly remember my dad’s words when I embarked on my Working Holidaymaker Visa to the UK in October 1997. He said half jokingly with a laugh to the horror of my mother, “That’s it, she’s off to Europe and won’t be back for good. She’ll meet some guy and that will be it.” I certainly didn’t think that would be the case.
I had a return ticket for 9 months from my departure even though I had two years to use the visa in full. One of my best friends was getting married so I knew I had to be home for that, Carla was the first one to have a tilt at marriage. It should also be noted that this was before the internet had a wealth of information on travel and I had prepared for London by thoroughly absorbing a Lonely Planet guide. I thought I had London sussed. Had dreams about it that approximated visions of Mary Poppins proportions. I thought I would use London as a springboard for vast European travels. Only some of those ideas came to fruition.
Instead I ended up at Heathrow, exhausted and bleary eyed, got through immigration and had an eye opening trip to Queensway with my life on my back on a rush hour morning tube train. Did I mention I didn’t know anyone in London, didn’t have a job lined up, or more than three days booked at youth hostels and £800 to my name. Looking back, I can’t think of myself as being less prepared. I had zero clue about the cost of living in London. Or how difficult and costly finding accommodation was. If I had known all of the above, then the prospect of actually taking that flight would have paralysed me with fear. Ignorance is bliss they say.
However, the one thing I had going for me was that fortune favours the brave. And I blindly went about my business checking in at the BUNAC office in Farringdon, the university sponsored organisation that ‘helped me’ get a job. Basically they had binders with places that often hired foreign students (read: pubs) and you had the use of their phones. Mobiles were not as commonplace and I certainly didn’t have one. I learned about phone cards and made many calls home in a red phone box. I also got ill straight off the flight and lost my voice, not exactly conducive to calling prospective pubs looking for a job.
Luckily, on my return to the Parsons Green tube station from an interview at a nearby pub, I recalled the name of another pub in the binder of SW London by the name of The White Horse on Parsons Green. It was right there on the way, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to just drop in and hand in my CV. I was greeted at the bar by Josh, a West Viriginian native by way of Connecticut (now living in Baltimore) who had arrived about 6 weeks earlier and most likely understood what I was feeling.
A day later I got a call at my youth hostel, which I assure you is nothing short of a miracle! I was invited for an interview, got the job, and to add to my luck, it was a live in position. Someone was looking after me that day, because I was rapidly running out of money in the 10 days I had been in the UK with hostel costs, and I will never know what I would have done in order to find a flatmate/rent deposit etc. with what time and money I had left. I moved in the next day to a buzzy, posh pub in Fulham, an area of London that is right next door to Chelsea and was an impossibly flukey landing spot to find myself in. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s because it was. London is a postcode landmine. I had golden horseshoes up my ass on this occasion.
As further luck would have it, I was trained on my first day by who is now my husband Marco. Spanish, funny, and feisty (and did I mention 6’8″ tall?) we became a couple by the end of December. Got married within a year and a half or so in July 1999. He met my family on a visit in September 1998 and accompanied me to Carla and Jesse’s wedding. He was a huge hit with all and sundry. Some say he’s more Canadian than a lot of locals. I met Marco’s family about three days before our wedding. I was welcomed with open arms (even if the initial reveal that we were engaged in April was met with, “Is she pregnant?”).
I have now lived in the UK longer than I have ever lived in Canada, something of a landmark moment that happened last year. I never expected to fly across the world and unknowingly leave behind Canada as my permanent home forever.
Having to learn Spanish from scratch was difficult, and I’m still not fluent, but I get by and can handle myself okay if I’m on my own. I was immediately told by Marco’s friends that I too was part of their family now and would always be looked after. I’ve made great friends with their wives, their parents, relatives, and now kids.
A lot has happened since I made my first trip to Spain, specifically Asturias, for our three week honeymoon. I fell in love with the region, the food, the rugged beaches on the Bay of Biscay with cold Atlantic tides. Both my mother and father in law have now passed. Some of our friends parents have passed. I adore my brothers in law and their partners. I love the fact that everyone here is exceptionally proud of their heritage and it isn’t hard to see why. The history, the Picos de Europa. The traditions that are embedded in the people here are so strong it was overwhelming at first. Sidra (but only poured the correct way like the locals….I was instructed to practice with water in a bottle in the shower or just never pour). Fabada Asturiana (the traditional stew). Las Gaitas, their Celtic bagpipe that is the regions traditional instrument. Yes, you read that correctly, both Galicia and Asturias in the uppermost northwest regions of Spain have Celtic roots.
I’m not sure if everyone embraces their partners heritage as if it’s part of their own. Falls in love with where their partner is from so fully that it becomes equal in your heart as much as your native home. But this is what happened to me and has been my experience.
I am still of course a proud Canadian, but when we retire to Spain I’ll be getting a Spanish passport and be a dual citizen. I kind of refer to myself as Canad-ish or Spa-nadian in my own mind already though. I’m a default Asturiana to our friends and family in Spain.
I am desperately missing my annual trips both back home to Canada and to Spain this year. I have no idea when we will be able to go to either place. As much as I love where I’m from, I know half of my heart now belongs to Asturias too.
It was a match made in heaven thanks to a little Lady Luck on my side.