Living in America

Phoeknits wrote an excellent post on Expat living. She's an American living in England, I'm a Briton living in America. This is what it's like on the other side of the equation.

America is such a young country. A hundred years is a long time over here, because the country as we know it, this republic, is only a handful of centuries old. I miss the history of Britain sometimes, the casual knowledge that people have been living in some of these towns since the Roman occupation, driving past a ruined castle, or a church that's over a thousand years old, and neither is all that special because there's another one just down the road.

I do miss British public transport. It's clean, safe, and it goes where you need to go. There's something about riding in the front of a double decker bus and peering down at the road. I drive everywhere here. It's not easy to walk places because pedestrian access seems to be an afterthought, like bicycle paths. You have to drive somewhere to walk.

But I love living in America. The petrol prices are still less than half that of Britain and there is so much space! An unbelievable amount of space! The house I live in is bigger than the one I grew up in. If we want to pop out at 9:30pm and buy a book to read, pick up a coffee (I'm learning to like coffee, I think it's a citizenship requirement), or even get some power tools, we can. Midnight photocopying is allowed. 3am lumber purchases can happen. This country never sleeps and it's shocking to someone from a place where everything shuts down at 5pm and the local grocery store did "late night shopping" by staying open till 8pm one day a week. Britain's relaxed a bit from that, but it still feels illicit to be in a bookstore at 9pm or in the grocery store to get a Coke before church.

The food here is different. I miss bacon that doesn't splinter and isn't 50% fat, and readily available fish (especially mackerel and smoked haddock). We have an international store that helps with most of the cravings (like Oxo cubes and Sharwoods curry powder and treacle pudding and custard), but it's expensive and it doesn't have everything. American steak though, is wonderful. Just fabulous. You have at least six different kinds of milk, unlimited varieties of ice-cream assembled right in front of you, fruit juice varieties I'd never heard of, Oreo's, Reese's peanut butter cups, Mountain Dew, and did I mention the great steaks? Amazing Mexican restaurants too, I never thought that comfort food would be a cheese enchilada with refried beans, chips, and queso dip.

It's odd how American distances are measured in hours. Nashville Tennessee is 6 hours away (including a meal break in Paducah Kentucky), not 300 miles, and that's a driveable distance for a weekend visit. We've done it many times. Six hours drive from where we used to live would put you in France. American road kill is more varied and much bigger than the British regulation flat hedgehog. Driving on the other side of the road isn't as hard as I expected, the roads are simpler than England, road signs are plainer, lanes are wider, and there are more of them. We still walk to the wrong side of the car when we're tired.

I wish people used metric over here. I never got taught Fahrenheit at school. Feet and inches were a historical curiosity and I'm still doing the mental translations. My car's temperature gauge got reset to Celsius as soon as I figured out how (make a left turn at 80mph while holding down three buttons on the dash and humming "Rule Britannia"). I have a vague concept that 100F is hot, but I know for a fact that 37C is scorching. And we don't mind the humidity. Locals look at us oddly when we say it, but it's not a bad thing. The bad thing is thermal shock going from a hot humid outside to an arctic-cooled store and back out again.

I wouldn't have missed this for the world.

(Originally published on the blog)