Having taken herself back across the Atlantic, Daisy Prince finds that what is fabulous in London is merely frou-frou in New York
ONE EMOTION I never expected to feel upon my return to New York was culture shock. Despite living in London for nine years, I never felt entirely integrated. Of course I got used to certain English things, like laughing at sarcasm the first time around, and pies that were filled with meat and fish instead of cream and fruit. But, on the whole, I always retained my American sensibilities.
However, since moving back I have noticed the effect all those years living abroad had on me. For instance, I find it bizarre when Americans expose their private lives less than ten seconds after meeting me. When I was signing up for my local gym, the saleswoman gave me a full run-down on the nitty-gritty of her personal life, spanning her marriage, her struggles to have children, and why she wasn’t great at relationships. This was all before I could squeak out, ‘Are the spinning classes any good here?’
Another difference I’ve noticed is the lack of emphasis on dinner as a ritual. If you throw a dinner party in New York, it’s quite normal for people to say they are coming and then simply not turn up on the night. That sort of action would easily get you banned from most English households.
The formula that seems to work best is cocktails at our apartment, then on for dinner somewhere really fun. We have discovered a great dive called the Knickerbocker around the corner which was once a mafia hangout and has steaks so large they hang over the sides of the plate. Annoyingly, there is no New York equivalent of Annabel’s to pop into for a drink afterwards, so usually it’s on to one of myriad pseudo-speakeasies that popped up during the recession.
These new establishments, normally located in the back of a Chinese takeaway, are best known for their lethal cocktails, and you can smoke copious amounts of illegal cigarettes while being sandwiched between a drunken trader and a tattoo artist who works with knives called ‘Flick’.
Drinking and the gym aside, the area in which I really noticed the effect my prolonged stay in England had on me was in the very area which I had been marked as too American to begin with: my clothes. The difference in dress between London and New York is as important as the subtle differences in culture and can lead to as many misunderstandings.
YEARS AGO, WHEN I visited the Badminton Horse Trials (a notoriously shabby chic event), I was ignorant of the unofficial dress code, which consisted of jeans, Hunter wellies and a tattered old Barbour jacket usually smelling of labradors. I turned up in my smartest outfit, a powder blue Moschino suit. I blame my lack of sartorial savvy on Four Weddings and a Funeral.
We walked to the beer tent, where I spent most of the time tugging my high heels out of the mud. It was as though Christmas had come early for the public schoolboys who thought that it was more entertaining to gawk at the American girl so clearly out of place than watch the horses.
Back in New York, I recently had a similar experience. I was invited to the opening night show for a graffiti artist in a fashionable Chelsea art gallery. The achingly hip crowd were all wearing the ‘I put on the first thing I saw on the bedroom floor’ look which is so popular with the East End Trustafarian gang. I had arrived straight from my Greenwich Village apartment wearing what I thought would blend in nicely with the fabulous gathering. I was wrong.
My long brown skirt, tight black shirt, heels and pearl earrings marked me out as a classic Wasp trying to look ‘downtown’. I was unmasked by a famous PR who turned to me kindly and said, ‘How nice of you to come all the way from the Upper East Side.’
Back in my apartment, I surveyed my closet and realised that it was entirely English: a multitude of tops and jeans, tweed jackets for shooting weekends and elegant yet demure cocktail dresses for black-tie evenings. One large sartorial distinction between UK and US dressing is that ‘black tie’ in the US means super-formal — normally long dresses. New York dressing seems more casual on the surface but the grooming is more comprehensive. Glossy hair and polished nails are a must but as they are cheap and plentiful, they slip nicely into routine here.
If I’m looking about normal-to-scruffy for New York standards, my LA look is definitely sub-par. After a recent trip to LA to work for Vanity Fair at its Oscars party, I can tell you that all the stories of LA glamour are true. I have never seen a group of people more stunning in the flesh than the ladies of LA.
Their bodies were toned to sinewy perfection and their skin and hair glowed. Living out there might be taking life too seriously; for the moment, I think that my culture shock is best mitigated by seeing old friends here and drinking the perfect martini — something that is quite easy to assimilate to.