Habit as an Enemy

You do not need to travel across the Globe, to experience culture shock.  It can suddenly creep up on you where you least expect it.  Just a few hours away from where you have spent the last eighteen years.  Habit can turn on a sixpence, from stable friend to lurking enemy.  Habit is an addiction with painful withdrawal symptoms.

Silly, superficial things are suddenly making your day-to-day life a misery.

A bed at odds with the shape and nightly movements of my body, from which I wake up far from ready to face another day of novelties.  Sheets with an unfamiliar texture, that my skin rebels against.  I have complained about my unyielding London futon for many years.  Now, in this far better bed, my body suddenly whinges, “better the devil you know.”  Habit.

The silence, at night.  Listening out for the odd car, in the distance, longing for something to break the deafening quiet; for a lullaby of airplanes, road traffic or even the neighbours’ TV, to ease me to sleep.  I remember that it was partly the constant London noise, that drove me away.  Habit.

Shops closing at 5.30 p.m.  I suppress a giggle when the sales assistant tells me.  I stare.  She is serious.  I rush through my purchases, acting like the spoilt Londoner that I am, as though the early closing time is there with the sole purpose of inconveniencing me.  Then I think, people here must enjoy longer evenings, and I might soon enjoy those, too.  After all, late shopping can be a nuisance.  A habit.

Strolling across town at 7.30 p.m. on a week night, and hearing my footsteps echoing on the pavement.  I respond to the nod or smile of the few other passers by I encounter.  The dim, yellow street lighting casts sadness over me.  I long for the bright lights of Piccadilly and Soho.  I am suddenly and unbearably homesick.  Then I think, actually, how peaceful it feels to walk in a semi-deserted city, in the evening, and not have to be on alert, and not have to elbow my way through crowds.  The dim yellow street lighting gives the Mediaeval buildings a soft golden tone.  Golden enough to feed my imagination.  I could get used to walking along these narrow streets, in the evenings, and dream.  Another habit.

I slalom on the narrow pavement and overtake the other pedestrians.  I have always walked very fast, and have little patience with people who advance slowly.  I often fantasise about London’s Oxford Street pavement being divided into two lanes – one for dwindlers and ditherers, and the other for people who whizz, like myself.  Around the corner, I practically collide head-on with another pedestrian.  We both stop, though my feet practically screech on the cobbles.  She smiles.  “After you,” she says, gently.  I find myself smiling back.  “No, after you, please.”  More smiles, and we continue along our opposite ways.  What calm, nice people, I think.  I drop my pace.  Why rush? I am not late anywhere, and it is not like I am going to store the saved time anywhere, am I? It is just another habit.

In go to a church service.  A solemn building, rich in history.  I notice glances in my direction.  I am the stranger, the new person.  My clothes and body language must scream London.  After the service, I am surrounded by people welcoming me, smiling, expressing hope that I might come again.  The urban rat in me, used to being ignored, feels a little overwhelmed.  The fact that I did not take Communion, this morning, has been noticed, noted and now remarked upon.  Do I know that I am most welcome to go up for a blessing? I bite my tongue and refrain from asking if anyone at all was watching the vicar instead of me, because I sense not criticism but kindness around me.  I smile, shake hands, and walk backwards towards the exit.  I suddenly feel the urge to run, escape.  I long for the anonymity of the Central London churches I frequent.  The same churches where I so often feel so lonely, because I do not feel that I belong.  There is no pleasing me.  I could kick myself.

I need to get used this city’s kindness.  It is a gentle city.  A city where many street lights are put out at midnight.  It is just a question of getting used to a new place and new ways.

I think I will stay a little longer and try to form new habits.  I do not know if I can.  But I think it is worth trying.  After all, the city is proffering her hand to me.


Scribe Doll

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22 Responses to Habit as an Enemy

  1. vrishc says:

    Oh my god! I am from a Mumbai suburb originally and I too used to fantasize about walking-speed based lanes for pedestrians on road-side pavements and even on railway cross-over bridge!

    I like your writing and somehow always find many of your posts so relevant, irrespective of the contextual differences. Keep it up…

  2. Liz Stanford says:

    You really surprise me, Katia! The spoilt petulant Londoner is not your style!! Celebrate the differences, rejoice in the night time silences. You will learn to detect other sounds that will become soothing and familiar. But there is still a great deal to miss about London, I’m afraid………. You are right to give your mystery city a little longer!

  3. Rob Lightfoot says:

    This post lightened up an otherwise gloomy back to school Monday – thank you. You have a wonderful way of painting intricate pictures with simplicity. The emotions of arriving in a new city are ones I still remember (although the size of city was reversed, in my case). Allow this new landscape to embrace you – you deserve it.

  4. Jeanne Marie says:

    I SO enjoy your poetic musings about your life experiences and thoughts. You are someone who is so aware of life and your surroundings and your descriptions make me feel as though I am there with you. It is not easy to pick up and move to a new location, especially a place where you know no one and a place that is so completely different from what you had known before. I admire and envy you a bit. In time, as you become famililar with it, the peacefulness will envelope you and it will become the place you will be glad to call home. Give it time, make friends, and enjoy the experience. And keep up the writing!

  5. A fine examining, a poignant read. Looks like you’re challenged to re-create yourself.

  6. Tim says:

    It’s Bristol, isn’t it? Or Exeter. Or Brighton. (I am of course applying a logical process of elimination here…)

  7. Tracy says:

    I just had to smile as I read and realized that I have been in that same place. Years ago my husband and I went to college in a city (144,000), then moved to a rural town in Montana (400, if everyone’s home, would be a generous guess). The store closed at 5 p.m.–I was used to 24-hour. The UPS man was known by name and knew us even by our vehicles. (If someone who lived miles from town had a package, but it was the only one going that way, and he saw their car in town, he’d leave it in the car! Which was, of course, unlocked.) Everyone knew us because they already knew everyone else around. It was almost creepy until I realized how much safer and more welcome I felt than anywhere I had lived before. It took me six months to adjust, so I hope your own adjustment will be quicker as you learn to live without suspicion.

    • scribedoll says:

      Oh, my new city has approximately 140,000 but then I am coming from London where there’s 9 million! So I guess we can relate to each-other’s experiences. You might be right. I already feel welcome – it’s just that I have spent the last 18 years living in a city where you seldom even get to know your neighbours. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

  8. It’s good to see how open-minded you are being in your conflicts with old and new habits. I have a lot of hope for you. And now, at the times when you are able to travel back to London periodically for a special holiday, you will be able to appreciate both places for their differences.

  9. cdn4608@aol.com says:

    Hi Katherine,

    I just love this! You have captured the glow of light, the echo of foot steps, and the unfamiliar sheets, that were strangers, as well. This city opens her arms to you, as mine have known this city before. Friend.

    Thank you for sharing such beauty in your stories!

    Truly, Catherine Nagle

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