Thursday, August 23, 2012

So it's a little different here...

I knew I'd be in for some culture shock, moving from Bristol, one of the UK's larger cities, to Amherst, MA, a town in rural New England. I haven't driven much in the past five years. While I've watched British TV, I haven't watched much American TV or listened to the radio at all, so I'm sure there's some cultural phenomenons I know nothing about. And cultures, even one's own, do change over five years...

I've been keeping a running list of it all in my head.

Walmart and Target make me twitchy. They're so big, rows and rows of things, with so many options. I keep getting lost, probably exacerbated by the fact that I try to stay as briefly as possible. They make even the big Bristol Sainsbury's look quaint!

Cars are huge, including my own, but otherwise driving is fine, and left-hand turns no longer make me nervous. It took me forever to figure out how to park in a lot again, but the Chicagoan never left me--you should've seen the mean parallel parking job I did the other day!

Yesterday, I tried to exchange £50--no need for it to make its home in a drawer, that's a lot of money! First I tried a small, local bank. They told me they didn't do foreign currency exchanges. So I tried my bank, its big central branch, since I was driving right by. No. They suggested Bank of America. So I dutifully went to Bank of America. B of A would only exchange money if I had an account. TD Bank was across the street. They'd happily do it, but only for a $10 charge. Goodness! In the UK you could exchange money at almost any post office, let alone bank or currency exchange shop! But I guess there's a few more currencies floating around the area.

So I'm still in possession of £50, though the B of A teller suggested I find a friend with an account. Anyone have any better ideas?

There's some other, more expected things. The cheese isn't as good. Or, it is, I had some very nice smoked gouda the other day, but the Whole Foods brand cheddar is an orange, rubbery imitation compared to Sainsbury's store brand cheddar. The chocolate is quite nice, but I'm struggling to find my favorite brands. And I knew this would be a problem (and I know it's August!) but I miss my British hot chocolate!

Plus, I was quite nervous the first time I went grocery shopping--everything was so expensive! Then I realized I was thinking in pounds, not dollars.

It's hotter here. Much hotter, which made moving in difficult. It's cooled down a bit now, thanks to a series of storms which flashed through here. A resounding clap of thunder woke me in the middle of the night--and I had no idea where I was. It's been a long time since I lived some place with summer storms.

Actually, I still wake in the middle of the night, unsure where I am, even after three weeks. I think it's partly because our apartment is tucked back in the forest and so dark and quiet. But I'm also getting used to the position of the bed, the furniture, the room, the fact that it's all mine.

And did I mention being tucked back in the forest? And the big bugs? Thank goodness Americans believe in screens. And it's lovely, but I'm directly off a rural highway, so while there is a walking path on the edge of the road, it's not very comfortable, nor are there many places within walking distance to go. The other day I parked at one end of the strip mall and walked to get groceries at the other. I know, craziness. But I miss walking.

Thankfully there's lots of trails and state parks nearby, including one just down the road. I'm driving there this morning!

What else is on my list? I miss Bristol's recycling program, especially their compost pick-up. I miss the BBC, especially the lack of ads.

I have to say, though, I'm glad to get away from the British "reserve." People here are so chatty and friendly, everyone from sales clerks to bank tellers, to waiters... and it's not because I'm unique or because I have a "cute" accent. And unlike one of my European friends maintains, I don't think it's an act. I could barely get a word in edgewise at the post office! Most Americans genuinely seem to like talking with other people. It's a nice change.

As is being in the same country, even the same time zone as family and friends. I'm still a phone call or a plane ride away, but somehow I feel so much closer. And that's nice, too.

Now if only my British friends could be the same distance away...

20 comments:

  1. What a lovely post, Anne, especially to see us through your eyes. All in all, though, it sounds like you're acclimating well, despite the cheese (try for local artisan cheeses, not the commercial ones), the hot chocolate (try Dagoba--Whole Foods might have it), or the bugs, big cars, and chatty Americans. :) As for the £50 note, I'm afraid I can't think of anything. (Finding a friend/neighbor with a BoA account sounds like the only solution?) And in lieu of the BBC, try PBS or NPR.

    Sounds like you're going to do just fine...

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    1. Aw, thanks, Andrea. I realized after I read the post, I was so hard on my new life, which I'm actually loving!

      I'll definitely check out some local cheese. And Whole Foods does carry Dagoba--I almost bought it in place of the Lake Champlain variety I got. The LC was okay, but not thick enough and too sweet.

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    2. You'll love the Dagoba, then. You can make it as thick as you like, and it's not all that sweet--just enough. I love this hot cocoa--especially the little bits of dark chocolate that melt into the cup. :) I get the Authentic.

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    3. Now that's a recommendation! Yay! Thank you!

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  2. And if you move down South, the people are even friendlier :) I'm glad you're getting settled. I still remember how grateful I was to be on US soil after living in Belgium for a couple of years. What I missed was the cheap and good French wine we imbibed every evening with our supper.

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    1. So I hear!

      Yes, I'm definitely grateful to be back in the US, too. And there are so many things I'm loving as well, so not cultural shock, but wonderful changes--I'm specifically thinking of all the fresh fruit and berries I've been consuming! ;)

      But yes, there will also definitely be some things I'll never get over missing!

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  3. Reading your post, I could feel your adjustment… (=Good writing!)
    Some things will never be as good in a different country. I find that looking for what’s better where you are speeds up the adjustment, rather than looking back. Try American peanut butter (better than British) or steak, if you eat it.
    I still miss some things from Israel. But one thing I will always appreciate about The U.S.A. is the ready-friendliness of Americans. It is something we are known for, because I remember this way of thinking about/perceiving Americans when I was growing up. Americans=friendly and optimistic.
    Right around the corner a gorgeous and wistful New England Fall awaits you. Bear the heat for just a wee bit longer… *HUG*

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    1. Aw, thanks, Mirka, I really appreciate the compliment.
      I love your perspective of looking for the good things, rather than regretting the loss... I HAVE cracked open some peanut butter, and I've been eating blueberries like a fiend (partly because I'm conscious the blueberry season won't last forever, and I miss them so much!).
      And you're absolutely right, it always amuses me how non-Americans will gush over how friendly Americans are. It is something to be proud of as a country, and I think it's something we don't often realize aout ourselves.
      I had the most beautiful walk this morning, and at one point stopped and overlooked a lake surrounded by forest (really!) and thought: This will look even better in the fall! Can't wait!

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  4. Sounds like it's quite an adjustment. I hope you get your money exchanged. It's crazy that they are giving you a hard time. I've noticed other countries will do just about anything to get their hands on our money, but the other way around... not so much.

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    1. Yeah, that's the feeling I've been getting, Kelly! They're like: "Pounds? Meh."

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  5. It's so nice to hear how you're settling in, Anne. I find it especially funny that you mention the bugs. My daughter who just moved into her own place a few weeks ago called me hysterical last night. There was a spider so large in her bedroom that it wouldn't go up the vacuum. (BTW, she has a phobia.)She ended up spending the night with us, and her father and I went over and sprayed in the morning.
    I'm surprised to hear that you're finding people so friendly. I thought we in MA had a reputation for being ranked among the unfriendliest. Nice to hear it isn't so.
    And I agree with Mirka. You are in for a lovely fall season.

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    1. Thankfully we haven't had that kind of bug emergency yet, especially since my mom is almost twenty hours' drive away! But there have been a few HUGE beetle sightings. Thankfully not afraid of beetles, but wow! Also a few almost Silence of the Lambs size moths! England just doesn't have bugs like that. Though it did have some crazy spiders, now that I think about it...

      I'm surprised I'm finding people so friendly, too! I was worried about all you New Englanders! But maybe being a college town helps? Or it says more about Bristol than it does about Mass. Either way, I'm appreciative! Do let your fellow residents know! ;)

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  6. It's funny how much things can change in such a few short years. It's good that you are near nature and can take walks. I don't know if I could live in a big city, I loved my woods too much for that.

    I hope you get your money converted. Don't have any ideas though. :(

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    1. Yeah! I've really been thinking about that lately, as we've been sorting through old zip disks and VHS tapes. Five years ago it made sense to hang on to that stuff... well, maybe not the VHS tapes! ;)

      And yes, really enjoying being out in nature again!

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  7. I can sympathize about the currency exchange...I ask you to imagine my adventures with American banks trying to get foreign currency drafts for European playwrights and agents/producers, instead of listening to me vent about them.

    I think that the key to understanding the currency exchange problem is relative distance...London to Paris is about 300 miles, which is about 100 miles less than the distance between Boston and Washington, D.C. The United States is big enough that foreign currency exchange doesn't *need* to be a daily banking transaction, so banks feel free to put specialty hurdles in front of it.

    In a related vein, U.K. cities and suburbs were built out long before the invention of the big box store, so there aren't many of them in the U.K. . .not so in the U.S.

    In terms of heat. . . I'll grant you most parts of the U.S. have had a devastating summer this year, but I will still see your August New England heat and raise you Washington, D.C., heat!

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    1. When one lives abroad, Jim, or I guess has any kind of overseas transactions, it's really shocking how difficult those sorts of things are. We think we're in a global economy, but so often businesses, especially in the US, aren't sent up for that.

      Yep, not so many big box stores in the UK, but more than you might think out in the suburbs. Just not the same scale in downtown Bristol where we lived.

      Anything is going to feel hot to me after coming from a country where an incredibly rare hot day is 70 degrees!

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  8. It does take a while for a new place to feel familiar, doesn't it?

    Idea for the money exchange - go to the airport/do it the next time you travel.

    So glad you are getting settled in, and enjoying being back. I think I would be the same way in the big stores - I'm so used to my smaller scale of things here.

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    1. It does take some time, but at least it's going smoothly and all feels possible--a good thing! Soon even the Walmart won't scare me! Maybe... ;)

      Yep, the airport will definitely have to be the back up plan.

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  9. Since I haven’t been to US, I thought I might be out of the comment zone for this one; however I felt so much sympathy for the cheese and the bugs!! Every time we holiday in Asia, we always started missing real cheese from day 3 (however lucky to say not anything more than that!)
    About the bugs? Funny enough I just told Manabu the day I read your blog that I have summarized the most common topics for the tea time between my colleagues; the weather, the garden, and then the bugs!! Everyone talks about the spiders (especially the one in bathrooms), horseflies, and moths. However, no one ever mentions the screens! Next time I will try to throw this term into the conversation; just curious to see their reaction!

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    1. So nice of you to stop by, Ying-Ju! Yes, it drove Phil crazy that Brits don't have screens! I guess for all their talk of bugs, they don't have nearly as many problematic bugs (like mosquitoes and wasps) as in the US, so don't feel the need to use screens. But you'll have to let me know what you find out at the next tea time!

      Though I have to say, speaking of getting addicted to cheese, when I lived in the Philippines I got into the habit of having rice multiple times a day... I missed it so much when I came back to the US!

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