Five days ago I boarded a flight bound for Tampa airport. With me I carried three suitcases, two carry-on bags and a coat.
This now represents the sum total of the belongings with which I’ve chosen to start my potential new life in the USA.
For the past 5 months I have listened to every possible version of the following phrases:
‘I’m so jealous; I wish I could do what you’re doing’
‘You’re going to have an absolute wonderful time; you’ll never want to come back’
‘You’ll forget all about us within a week, you’ll meet some many new people’
‘I can’t wait to hear all about your travels’
‘You’re so lucky to be leaving this county’
But despite everyone’s cheerful offerings and best wishes for my fresh start, deep down inside I’m not sure I wanted one. Apart from wanting to change my job and go back to working with animals, I was actually quite settled and alright with my life, thank you very much.
Now this might come as a shock to some of you Brits out there, but the UK isn’t actually that bad a place to live. So yeah, the weather can be a little dreary and we might be having a bit of a biscuit crisis right now, but overall, it’s not a bad place to live.
For me, it’s a comfort. I love it.
So why do it then? Why leave?
Well, in life we are given chances and we have choices.
For the past four years I have chosen to hold on to the person I met rather unexpectedly in the USA. It’s not been easy for either of us, living in separate countries, and I suppose there was always to come a time when a choice had to be made. Sadly, he didn’t choose England.
Which means it has come time for me to test out what life might be like across the pond.
And while it comes with the potential to bring new experiences and opportunities, right now, five days in, it’s hard to think about those.
It is hard to imagine settling into a country that has an unfathomable love for guns, the bible, commercials every 5 minutes on TV, shopping for the newest gadgets even when you don’t need them, eating out each and every day making you assume no-one owns a kitchen, and of course, the unbelievable and crazy new found obsession with trying to make Donald Trump their leader.
No, I just don’t get it.
I miss home.
I miss my family and friends.
It’s that simple.
And it really is hard to try and explain this to anyone, or make them understand I guess, until you’re in this situation.
I have been to the States so many times I’ve lost count. I was born here. I’ve previously spent almost a whole year living here (albeit in the woods). I have family here. I have friends here (randomly scattered about). It’s not like I’m a total stranger to their ways.
But at no point in time, has it ever occurred to me to actually consider living here.
And you know what? I don’t even know where to start when it comes to trying to integrate myself into a whole new country and culture.
I’ve had my whole life to learn how to live in the UK; it’s as natural as breathing to me. The customs and culture, the basic and simple knowledge of everyday life. Where my local shops are, the cost of four pints of milk, how long a metre is, the names of the local banks or stores. You take it for granted.
Let me share with you two basic examples to demonstrate what I mean.
The day after I arrived in Florida, Loops and I went food shopping. We needed a couple items simple items. We walked into Publix (food store) and meandered around.
We decided to get some peanut butter for sandwiches (no, this is not a cue for your thoughts on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches).
I looked at the shelves. And looked again. And once more. And rather alarmingly for me, I really just wanted to cry.
All I wanted was some Sun-Pat crunchy peanut butter to put on my bread.
And what I was faced with were jars upon jars of names of brands I didn’t recognise. I had no idea how to choose a jar a peanut butter; I had no idea of what any of them tasted like. I didn’t have a single clue as to what was a decent thick brand of spreadable goodness and which would slop oily out of the jar.
I became even more distressed when I looked at the prices. I have absolutely no idea what an appropriate price to pay is. For anything.
Is $4 for a jar of peanut butter good value? That seems a bit steep to me, but maybe because my brain automatically equates it to £’s? And actually, it’s not even $4, because I know for a fact that when I get to the till, for reasons beyond my understanding ever, they choose to then apply tax to your items. So that item goes up in price by another 6%, causing me to have flashbacks to maths class at school where I hopelessly sucked at everything numerical related.
As a result, my initial food shopping sent me home to weep for a short while.
My second example is related to driving. More precisely, related to me having to obtain a Florida driving licence.
I have been a successful driver in the UK for 18 years. I consider myself a fairly safe driver, given the fact if I make it over 50mph, it is generally considered a miracle by all who know me (look, I’m in no hurry, ok?).
However, in order to be allowed to careen around the streets of downtown, they will not just swap my nice shiny British licence for an American one; I must first pass three tests.
I really feel too old for this, you know?
The first part of this ordeal is a four hour online drug and alcohol awareness course with a 40 question test at the end. Four hours? Really?
Yes, really. And you know, I wouldn’t mind so much if I was actually a person who partook in such substances, I might actually become enlightened. Instead a slogged my way through what must have been 589 PowerPoint slides and a video which included real dead bodies and brain matter, to make this point – don’t drink or do drugs and drive. See, right there, I just saved you $29.99 and four hours of your life.
I passed the test by the way.
Next, I will have to take a 50 question test on the road rules of Florida. Ok, well I survived the UK theory test, so I should be able to do this, right?
Hmm. I begin by reading the Florida Driving Handbook.
I start by discovering that the double yellow lines I take for granted and expect to see next to the pavement telling me not to park, will actually be found here in Florida in the middle of the road, meaning you are in a road with traffic traveling in opposite directions. They can both be solid or dashed. Oh. Alright then.
I read about the joys of stop signs, since the occupants of the USA cannot seem to fathom roundabouts. Apparently, it is important to remember that no-one here has the right of way until it is given. Uh…..and that means what exactly? We all just sit around until someone comes along and gives us permission to move?
And school buses. Here in America, school buses are revered. When a school bus stops, the whole fricken’ road system shuts down. YOU DO NOT PASS A SCHOOL BUS. EVER. Or you get your ass thrown in jail, basically.
Indicating to turn at a junction, should be done 100ft beforehand. 100ft? Uh, how far is that in metres?
U- turns in the road are allowed, apart from where indicated.
And yes, unless posted, you can turn right at a junction, even if the traffic light is red. No. Now I’m sorry, but no. Red is red and means stop! You can’t go through it, that is just plain wrong.
At this point in time, my brain begins to spin and I try to decide if driving a vehicle is really that necessary after all.
Yes, of course it is, because I am now in the land that has yet to cotton on to the concept of walking or decent reliable public transportation.
The only part of this whole process that made me laugh was when the gentleman booking the test gently told me not to worry, that my test was at 9.15am and 15 minutes later it would all be over. I’m sorry, what? The practical driving test is only 15 minutes? That’s about enough time to get buckled in, start the car and do one lap of a block. And based on that you let 15 year old kids drive???
I just don’t understand any of it.
It’s at this point I guess you are wondering if I am already packing my suitcases and heading back home, right?
Boy, I feel pretty schizophrenic on that one.
No matter how many times my mum is kind enough to tell me I can always come home and to try and just view this as a holiday, it’s still totally overwhelming.
I’m just lost and out there in the breeze right now.
But when I read the beginning of this post, and all of the phrases that have come my way relating to my trip, I know that deep down, given some time, some of those will come true.
No matter what, no matter how long or short my USA venture will be; it is a chance that so many people will never have. I have been given the opportunity for the next year or so (or maybe longer), to travel around a beautiful country with stunning natural scenery and in the luxury of my own RV home.
I will be able to meet people from all walks of life, who band together through a love of travel and experiences, who will be kind, helpful, open and polite.
I’ll have the chance to finish the miles from my AT hike, be able to hike some new trails in other states, pop in on friends I’ve made previously, and even be visited by people back home.
If I’m lucky, I may even be able to gain some work experience in a national park, wildlife rehab place or a zoo. And if I decide to stay longer here, I may have the chance to explore the possibility of training in Vet Nursing and starting a whole new animal career.
I will have a great trip, and I shall blog all about it so my friends and family will never be able to miss my whinging on about something.
Make no mistake, England will always be my home and the place where my family and friends are, and where I shall miss. But as my sister has pointed out to me, maybe home can be other places too, all at the same time.