HIS brain cracking in two is how Jordanian actor Nadim Sawalha describes the moment when he finally settled into British life – 13 years after he first arrived in London.
Everything seemed so foreign, so exotic – from rain in September (he thought the airport had been washed) to having tea and milk served together (he drank one after the other instead of mixing them).
On a walk with his English teacher, who was holidaying in London at the time of Sawalha’s arrival, he noticed a young man kissing his girlfriend at Charing Cross Station.
"‘That’s shameful,’ I said. ‘I’ll go and punch his face in’," he recalls.
"My teacher said, ‘Don’t think like that my dear friend, you’ll be wasting your time and you’ll get hurt very, very badly.’
"It was a question of honour, of being used to the two sexes being separated."
Much later he would tell younger friends "the first 15 years are the most difficult, you’ll be all right after that".
"It was an enormous leap, but I wanted it," he explains.
"The ravine from one culture to another was a killer but if you want to jump without looking that’s no problem.
"I remember my brain almost physically cracking after 13 years in this country. I could tell which side of my brain was the Arab and which side was British.
"That’s a very, very harsh crack when you get it but it rewards you intellectually and probably spiritually."
Having children changed everything, he reveals.
"You’ve got to be very careful how you shepherd them along because they have two cultures living within them," says Sawalha, whose daughters include actors Julia (Absolutely Fabulous) and Nadia Sawalha (EastEnders and breakfast television).
"You’ve got to help them sort that out and make responsible choices by being an example yourself.
"The London environment was wonderful for young people at that time and I encouraged them to live it.
"I felt they were London girls who belong to London, which had enormous choices to offer if you could accept them.
"I used to say to them, poor things, ‘what does your heart tell you?’.
"They used to fall about laughing – ‘what’s he talking about the fool?’. I still do it."