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A shopping trip into Leeds for me is a real treat. Living in rural Spain means that any half decent shopping spree needs a 45 minute drive up to the city of Tarragona, and even then I have to say it’s got nothing on the diversity and stalwart favourites of the high streets of good old Inglaterra.
One of the best things about shopping in Leeds is people watching. It starts on the train usually with me tutting about how much make-up young girls wear these days—we were always taught to match your foundation to your skin tone, still at least a few seem to get just the right amount of fake tan, probably by going to a tanning shop—to listening to the random conversations between fellow commuters. Something that I guess you switch off from when you’re used to it or maybe it’s just pleasing to my ear to actually understand all of what I’m hearing?
Once off the train, the heady mixture of students, goths, punks, hippies that are probably into reiki, posh people, chavs, old and young is a feast for the eyes. Everyone looks so very different.
One of the most bizarre things about getting out and about back in England is remembering that I can speak my own mother tongue. I can go into a shop and actually have a conversation that rolls off the tongue, without having to first translate it in my head and then the whole thing coming out a garbled mixture of Catalan, Spanish and English. Maybe I’ve been away too long, because I must have said “gracies” at least three times and “perdona” twice after bumping into someone.
I found myself randomly chatting to someone about the height of the heels on the shoes they were thinking about purchasing, not something I would have done before. I would have just been head down, go about your own business, no small talk.
The saddest part of it all though was realising that I no longer know that many people in Leeds. Eight years ago in my previous life as a stock controller in pubs, I could have walked into a number of pubs, sat and had a chat (and a glass of wine) with the manager or staff, or maybe even just bumped into someone I knew whilst shopping. Being an expat robs you of that, over time you lose contact with friends and old colleagues and your world becomes so much smaller.