The idea of writing an online diary about our experience in the US has been brewing for a while. I kind of always wanted to write about what it’s like living in a country you weren’t born in, but never got around to actually doing that while I was living in the UK. Such a shame, I really wish I could read now how I felt when I first arrived there from Germany, and how my views and behaviour and my self changed over the years. I can still remember it all to some extent, and maybe I’ll write about all that, too, one day. But for now, I’ll focus on this experience. It’s kind of a second chance to do just that, start writing about everyday experiences and observations, and then look back on my initial impressions when we’ve been here a while. At least having done it once, that whole experience of being uprooted and starting from scratch away from home will help me in my discovery of this new country (at least I hope so!). I know that what I think one day might totally change over time. I wonder whether my writing will change – will it become more American? I still sound English, but for how long? I’m pretty sure my girls will pick up the twang of the West Coast after a while. But this is just one of the many things I’m curious about. There is so much to discover, such a long journey into this new culture.
Living in the UK for almost 12 years has taught me that you can’t just pick up things in a short period of time. You can speak the language and study facts about a country, but you really have to immerse yourself into it, live, observe and let it come to you. By the time we left the UK, I felt that I’d finally “got” the English thing. I no longer feel German, yet neither do I feel English. Who am I? Will this experience help me in my own development, or will it completely throw me, rob me of any roots I might have? But then, how much stability, and roots, does one need? Why do people move away from home? Does living and staying in one place help a person develop their personality more or less? I don’t think anyone can ever lose their roots completely. But how many more can you add to your life? Things might get complicated… but life is complicated, and being flexible is certainly a positive thing. Or is it?
The decision to live in America for a while was made over several months. So when it actually came to saying yes or no (we were given 48 hours), we just went for it. Who could have foreseen the months of hassle, struggle, limbo and general unhappiness that lay ahead? The whole visa process turned into a nightmare. All we wanted was a clear yes or no from the US embassy. And a date. In the end, it took 6 months from saying “yes” to actually boarding the plane, 3 months more than originally planned (even now this doesn’t sound as long as it felt). Of course, having a few more months’ time to worry about things isn’t always a good thing. I went from being excited to not wanting to go at all, and back again, a real emotional rollercoaster. Not an easy time, especially for our marriage and family life. But we made it in the end.
And now it’s all about finding out what it really is like living in the States. The thing with America is that everybody has a whole array of prejudice and ideas about what it’s like. We’ve grown up with the culture, been bombarded with it really. So now we get to see for ourselves. Is living in American suburbia like living on Wisteria Lane (I’ve found a Wisteria Lane in the area we want to live in, how frightening is that)? Will the neighbours knock on the door and introduce themselves bearing cookies? How will I cope with the language? Will I understand the people, will it all get on my nerves? Will my girls become cheerleaders? Will we get fat?
Anyway, this is our story:
April 6, 2010
AND HERE WE GO
The big adventure begins. We get up early, the taxi arrives, we keep the goodbyes to a minimum, no time for tears, we’re off, bye Kent, bye England, bye Europe… for a while. The Virgin lounge impresses the girls, one last breakfast. E orders a full English, and F wants Weetabix. Ah, bless… And then it’s time to board the plane, who sits where, wow, this is great, a bed? My own telly? What films are on? We fly, and time flies.
HELP! EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT!
We’re trying to get our bearings, wander around Mountain View for a bit. This is all so American, I’d forgotten…
An hour later, I have an American bank account. No phone yet, no social security card, but a bank account. You’ve got to love America. E and F (being practical, and in lieu of their friends) have decided to be each other’s best friends. They hug each other constantly and make funny noises. Well, long may it last. We hope this whole experience will create a strong bond between the two. Looking for a supermarket, and decide to give Wholefoods a go. Oh, I’m in paradise and run around like an excited school girl. This is California after all, big into the whole health thing. All the organic stuff I used to order online in the UK, stuff you couldn’t get hold of in the shops – it’s all here on the shelves! I recognise so many brands, and immediately feel at ease. Familiarity creates a sense of calm, a nice feeling in amidst all this uncertainty and, well, panic. I still feel as though I’m not really here, though, as though all this is happening to someone else. The girls impress me, they’re both completely happy and bubbly and chatty, and sooo excited about everything.
OMG – HOW ARE WE GOING TO PAY FOR ALL THIS?!
The kids get up at 6 today, which isn’t too bad, really, and then we all realise that Europe has been awake for hours and rush to the phones and computers. Plenty of of people online, lots of comments on FB, it all makes me smile. A bit of Skype, too, and we feel happy.
When I get dressed (skinny jeans and ballet flats today), my man says, “putting the skinnies on while you still can, eh?”. Cheers, mate. Of course I’m not gonna get fat!!! But there are so many things to try, so I suppose I’m gonna have to accept a few extra pounds. We’re diving straight in and go house hunting today. Oh my god, what a shock. We did quite a bit of research back in the UK so the prices (crazeeee) aren’t a total shock to us. But you really don’t get much under a certain price. There’s some truly nasty stuff out there, we’re a bit taken aback. But then we find one, which, of course, scratches the absolute top of our budget. But needs must, and we kind of know that we have to pay if we want to have a good time here. Let’s start tightening those belts….
HOUSE HUNTING COOK STYLE
More house hunting today, just to see if there is anything else to look at, this time in a different area, more urban, closer to SF, but also less house for your money. And the weather isn’t as good up here. We nearly like one of them, but the owner of house A (from the day before) emails and wants to talk. So we go back there in the afternoon and sign the lease. Done. We have a moving in date and an address, which means one thing: SCHOOL. The schools are still on spring break so we won’t find anything out till after that. This house has everything we wanted. Big open plan rooms, plenty of room for guests, fantastic outside space, a massive BBQ and a pretty garden.
It’s a beautiful afternoon, and we drive over the hills to Half Moon Bay on the coast to catch up with S’s colleague and his wife. Gorgeous location (of course, with that name), sunset, surf, great food…
I still feel like I’m living someone else’s life (she seems to deal with it all just fine, and is smiley and chatty), and the real me is curled up in a little ball somewhere mid Atlantic, frightened and sobbing.
SAFEWAY IS NOT SAFEWAY
We’re all a bit knackered today. The excitement, the journey, the hectic running around of the last week in England…. it’s all come to an end. We might not feel very settled here yet, but we’ve done an awful lot in a very short period of time.
Checking out the local Safeway (not the same as Safeway in the UK!) for a somewhat cheaper shopping experience than Wholefoods. Getting a storecard saves us $30 – this would never happen in Tesco! Shopping here will be fun for a while, there is so much to discover. For me, coming to England from Germany was quite an experience in terms of choices and size, but coming here is yet another step further.
The rest of the day is spent watching DVDs, another run around in the park, where E and F make a friend, and then early dinner and bed. We’re getting into a routine that feels kind of normal.
IS THIS CALIFORNIAN WEATHER?!
We wake up to grey skies and the sound of thunder. It feels very cold… The plan is to go up to San Francisco today, to collect the rest of our belongings, which have been waiting for us in the company flat for six months. I’ve totally forgotten what there is, mainly clothes I think. It’ll be like getting new stuff!
We arrive in San Francisco in the pouring rain. Both E and F make an effort to be impressed, but we can tell they’re not. It’s just grey and cold. After queuing in the rain for a cable car for ten minutes, we decide to give up and head indoors. Of course the big Westfield Shopping Center is right there, so we hurry inside and spend an hour perusing shops. And after that, we go and see “How to Tame Your Dragon” in 3D at the IMAX cinema, and it is…. AWESOME!
Dinner with a friend who used to live in SF, and in London, and recently moved back to the US, plus two of his friends goes ok, but both girls are tired and fed up and start playing up. They’re not really misbehaving, but we both lose our temper with them when we get back in the car – I think S is kind of glad to be going back to the office in the morning. I feel pretty exhausted and the arguments with the girls haven’t helped. On top of that I get an email from a pre-school saying that it’s not custom to enroll new students (we’re talking pre-school children here) so close to the end of term (schools here break up mid June for the summer holidays). Great.
SOMEONE CHEER ME UP PLEASE
More emails saying no pre-school places for F. I can’t believe she might have to wait till September. What am I going to do with her at home? She’s used to spending time with her friends, how will she make any without school? And to top it all, the pre-school fees are absolutely astronomical, how will we be able to afford all this? Even if I work more than before, I have to earn loads to pay those fees. Feeling really down, and it hits me hard. I’ve given up so much, a whole network of schools, friends, sharing things. I suppose it’s normal to be on a bit of a downer after the emotional rollercoaster of the last few weeks and months, but still. Nearly had a meltdown driving today, and am grateful for the cheerfulness of my daughters. At least I can give them a cuddle when it gets really bad. I’m sure we’ll all be fine. We’ve given up a lot, but who’s to say we can’t get some kind of normality back, and maybe have an even better life out here? But I want it all now!!! Cry myself to sleep.
THIS PLACE SUCKS
Oh, not a good day. Thought we could explore the surrounding towns and decide to go to Palo Alto on the Caltrain to visit the Junior Museum & Zoo, which got rave reviews in my guide. The train doesn’t stop where I thought it would, and we trek through town for almost an hour until we get to the worst museum/zoo ever. It’s filled with 2 to 5 year olds (it is spring break after all) and their mothers, all vacant stares, and lots of “super excited” kids and “Oh, sweeeetie, isn’t this awesome?!” around. It’s not. It’s pretty awful and we don’t stay long. I ring S, desperate for help, and he finds a bus for us to take us back to Mountain View. We get home, get some ice creams and go to the park.
A TRIP TO SF ZOO
Great day today. We dropped S at work and then drove all the way up to SF Zoo, which is right by the Ocean. S’s colleague’s wife M comes with us, the girls love her, and we have a great time. Gorgeous zoo, beautiful weather and very happy girls. Drove back on Hwy1 along the coast, past Pacifica and Half Moon Bay. Stunning scenery, and I finally feel like I’m getting the hang of driving here. M and I are having a good chat, about life in the US, prices, good and bad things and all that. Then it’s back home, all quite exhausted.
Another three to four weeks till we move into our new home…. I want to feel settled! Maybe things get better when the girls go to school?
I’m loving today: The car pool lane. What a brilliant concept. If more than one person is in the car, you’re allowed to go in the car pool lane and can zoom past all the rush hour traffic. Should try this on the M25!
We’re checking out some stables for Elise’s riding lessons and drive into the hills to some ranch. Oh wow, what an amazing place. And E has the best riding lesson ever, on the best schooled pony I’ve ever seen. Worth every penny. E is ecstatic and will join a class of girls on Friday afternoons.
We drive back home and pack the car. Lake Tahoe is waiting. It’s been snowing there again, and the weather forecast is sun, sun, and more sun. Exciting!
Quite a long drive, as of course we hit rush hour everywhere, but we finally make it up into the wilderness. I can understand why people drive big 4x4s here, the roads are fine at this time of the year, but it’ll be pretty hairy when it’s icy.
A WEEKEND IN TAHOE
Fantastic weekend. Nice snow, hardly any people and it’s so warm we board in t-shirts. E and F spend one whole morning having snowboard and skiing lessons, respectively, and S and I escape and race down the mountain together. Oh this feels so good, it’s been a year since I last went. We’re so impressed with E, she’s so much better on her first day snowboarding than any adult would be, but of course she’s grumpy. I think she was expecting to just start carving straight away. The next day is spent a little bit more leisurely, soaking up the sunshine. Easy drive home.
I call the school district office to find out about E’s school. We go to the school to get a registration pack, and it’s really nice. E seems to like it, and we have a good look at the school website when we get back home. There’s still lots of bureaucracy to wrestle with, it’s all a bit complicated because we still don’t live at our new address, but everybody seems to think it can be sorted out. I hope to hear back later in the week.
I’m loving today: The In-Sink-Erator. I remember one of my American teachers at language school talking about this thing that sits in the sink and just “eats” whatever you feed it, wondering why such a brilliant thing didn’t exist in Europe. Indeed, I’m wondering too.
Exploring a shopping centre nearby, not that exciting, but gets us out of the house, while waiting for all the school stuff to be processed. I come home to find an email from a pre-school telling me they can take F immediately. And the best thing is, it’s right next to E’s elementary school, so that will be a very easy drop off in the morning! I’m ecstatic, and arrange to go and see them the next day.
S and I are watching the UK comedy “The In-Betweeners”. The British accents sound somehow strange, a bit overdone? Can’t put my finger on it, and the fact the channel bl**** every other f****** word doesn’t help. “Twat” becomes t***, but “prick” stays “prick”. ??? Someone help me understand the Americans.
THE PRE-SCHOOL HUNT IS OVER
Went to see the pre-school today. Oh what a fantastic place. I want to be a child again and come here. The people are lovely, warm, friendly, and F’s eyes light up when she sees all the stuff she’ll be able to play with here and the other children, who eye us curiously. She will start on Monday, yay. Things are finally coming together. Little old curled up me is tentatively stretching out her arms and legs.