Monday, 24 May 2010

I like to be in America....

It was a year ago last Wednesday that we touched down at JFK at the start of our US adventure.

In a way I can't believe it's gone by so fast, although it does seem a very long time since I was in England. I've seen all four seasons go by; roses are blooming in the garden as they were when we first moved into our house, and the red cardinal birds have returned after presumably vacationing in Florida for the winter.

The boys have had nearly a full year of school and have developed curious Mid-Atlantic accents (Brits think they sound American, Americans still remark on their cute British accents). We've seen beaches close on Labour Day and next weekend they will re-open for Memorial Day (the official start of summer here). People I first met here with small babies now have toddlers roaming around.

So; what are my reflections after a year in this extraordinary country? I could write a whole essay on the subject, but it would take me all day so I'll leave you with a sort of executive summary.....

In short, I DO like to be in America. (We saw West Side Story on Broadway last weekend, so I'm thinking of the song....). Although everything is not free in America. Especially healthcare. Which I could go on and on about, but what I will say is that I much prefer going to an NHS GP and knowing that you will have not have to fork out for anything, rather than turning up at your kids' 'pediatrician' completely mystified as to whether your insurance company will demand a 'co-payment' or not. I haven't even been to a doctor yet myself here, and will avoid it if at all possible.

The climate is definitely better on Long Island than in London. It's not perfect - far from it - but when it's hot, it's hot, and when it's cold, it's cold. Sunny days are perfect, cloudless and blue; snow is proper snow. The seasons seem far more defined, and I'm definitely coming round to the American obsession with 'holidays' which define the year; Halloween, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day and the rest.

On the whole, I think Americans are friendlier than the Brits. (Although not in government offices and places like the Department for Motor Vechicles, where everyone is treated like a hardcore criminal). Customer service is generally great, and people who come to the house to fix things seem like they genuinely want to help, rather than grumbling and looking at their watches.

There is also a culture of generosity and volunteerism which I admire. I have just joined the committee of a local non-profit organisiation for parents- basically doing unpaid work, but somehow here it seems more than appropriate to be giving some of my time to charity, as plenty of other local parents do. I'm not sure a similar organisation would exist in the UK.

But there are some things that still fox me about the US. I still can't cope with the hugeness of shopping centre carparks (I nearly called them parking lots then, which shows how my vocabulary is changing). I have to park right next to the stack of trolleys or I'd never remember where the car is. And on that note, I can't BELIEVE the blatant selfishness of shoppers with their trolleys here. I think I am only person who ever returns the trolley to its rightful place rather than leaving it sitting in the middle of a parking space. I'm sure that if and when people do this in the UK they would be at least looking around furtively to make sure they weren't spotted; here, no-one seems to care.

I am still shocked by lack of environmental awareness; not just the tendency to drive everywhere, but the use of disposable polystyrene plates and plastic cutlery both in private homes and at restaurants, for instance. A friend's child's nursery even stipulated that the parents should send the lunch in plastic boxes/ bags that could be thrown away. The other day I suggested to someone that some bottles should be recycled and they looked at me as if I were mad. America has such a long way to go compared to Europe in this respect.

And I did miss the UK during Election time. No-one here even asked me about the UK election or showed much interest even when I mentioned it. I think this is partly because the majority of the US media is very insular - the New York Times covered the election well, but not the main network news. Thank God for the BBC website, Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere.

Of course there are good and bad things about America just as there are about Britain. But on the whole I am full of admiration for this country; there is a can-do attitude and a positivity which we could definitely do with a dose of at home.

With one year down and two to go, I still have a lot to learn. Will I learn to say sidewalk instead of pavement? (I already say cellphone.....). Will I be celebrating Mother's Day with the rest of them next year? You''ll just have to watch this space......

21 comments:

Nota Bene said...

Happy Anniversary...I'm nearly sold!

Rhiannon said...

Hi Nappy Valley. I've been here 10 years, married an american and had my children here and so many things seem somewhat "normal" now. Saying that the children/husband are often subjected to rants on SUVs, parallel parking skills (or lack of), shopping trolleys, the media and drive thrus. Thank you for this post - it is good to see the country through fresh eyes.
Rhiannon
PS So glad the birthday party was a success. Was a bit worried there about the mothers day thing. I don't understand why mothers day here is all about having to spend quality time with your children (incase you don't do enough of that already) whereas when father's day comes round, it is all about giving dad the day off.

Calif Lorna said...

I love going to see the pediatrician straight away rather than a GP who is supposed to know everything. Although I completely agree that the American health system is appalling. I especially hate paying for an appointment and then being told you don't need anything - which happened to me once when I had a terrible sore throat!

I return my trolley as well - can't stand to leave it abandoned in the car park. And completely agree about the environmental awareness. It's amazing to me how many take away drinks etc must thrown away each day.

Glad you've had a good year - maybe you'll be extending your stay?!

Home Office Mum said...

I loved it for all the same reasons you mentioned - particularly how well defined the seasons are. Do you plan to live there forever or is this a short term gig?

PantsWithNames said...

OK by me in America. We are trying to scheme our next move... the States is No.1 on our list. I'll be joining you in talking about cell phones, parking lots and sneakers. PS - the LBs accent will go. If they are lucky they'll retain the ability to switch. My brother does such a good American accent that Americans can't spot it. I, of course, can't at all.

PS - this desire to move is probably fuelled by a visit over the weekend of my oldest school friend who lives in NYC.

Expat mum said...

Re the boys' accents - when my kids transitioned from sounding British to all-American, the funniest words were "party" and "bird" which came out like "powdy" and "bewed" or something.
I too love being able to by-pass the GP, who in this country is so terrified of diagnosing incorrectly that they nearly always refer you to the specialist - and you still get to pay for the privilege of him/her not doing a damn thing. My GP's office left a message last month asking me to come in. When I asked why, they said because they hadn't seen me for a while. Ka-ching! No thanks all the same.
And wow did that year go by quickly!

nappy valley girl said...

NB - so when are you coming to visit?

Rhiannon - totally agree about Mother's Day. Surely the Mum should get some time off? Thanks for commenting. I'm glad some things don't become 'normal' after 10 years....

Calif Lorna - I don't object to the pediatrician per se. I just wish it wasn't all so unclear what you are going to be charged....I wish they had a price list. As for extending our stay, well, that is slightly out of my control. It probably won't happen..

Home Office Mum - see above. The Doctor is only here on a 3 year contract, so it's likely we will go back as planned. I could definitely stay, but equally would like to get back to friends and family eventually....

PantswithNames - I'd love it if you joined us in NY. Seriously - come!

ExpatMum - when we first moved here LB1 adopted a sort of cockney accent, which was most bizarre. Your GP sounds like they have quite a money-making scheme going.....that's partly why I don't want to sign up with one unless I have to; the dentist is bad enough!

Mud in the City said...

With you on the lack of recycling etc. I'm in the US at the moment and cringe to see all the wasteful plastic plates and polystyrene stuff. Sets my teeth on edge!

Almost American said...

A year already? Time does fly when you're having fun! Having been here 25 years this year (ACK - how did THAT happen??? How can I possibly be that old???) it is good to read your fresher take on the US!

Your health insurance plan must be very different to ours - we have a flat $20 copayment every time we go into the doctor's office. Like Califlorna, I hate paying the $20 only to find out there's nothing really wrong, i.e we don't need antibiotics. Our pediatrician is good tho about only prescribing antibiotics when necessary, and I do like that. I also like that the kids get to see a pediatrician, rather than a GP who only deals with kids some of the time. For a start, his office hours are much better than my doctor's!

I live in a community where recycling is required by the town and at least one local school strives for zero waste at lunchtime. Sometimes I forget how unlike the rest of the USA my little microcosm is! Still, even here, God forbid someone should walk a few feet to return a shopping cart! Then there are the people who park in the fire lane to return a movie to the video store, and those who circle the parking lot repeatedly looking for a parking spot all of 30 or 40 feet closer to the door of the store . . . . Come on people, that little walk is not going to kill you!

Nappy Valley Housewife said...

You did a wonderful job of highlighting some of the pros and cons of America.

Everytime I go back to the States to visit my family, I encourage them to recycle (huh?) and walk to the shops---honestly, it's closer for them than Northcote Road is for me and yet...if my mom's SUV is in the garage, she doesn't venture past her garden. As for us, I love walking everywhere in London so have gotten my kids used to it over the years.

But I'm glad you're enjoying your time there. I do miss the definitive seasons---cold winters, hot summers.

nappy valley girl said...

Mud - it really is bad. You should see the aisles full of plastic throwaway stuff at the supermarket!

Almost American - I get confused because sometimes there is a co-payment and sometimes not (like for vaccinations). Not as bad as the dentist though where co-payments can really sting you!

NVH - yes, nobody really walks to the shops here. We walked to a local restaurant the other night and the neighbours commented on it!

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

yes, I love the clear delineation of seasons, we get that here in the Balkans/Med too. A good summary of impressions. it ha sgone really fast too, I agree with the others! 3 yrs is much better for getting stuck in than 2 is.

Belgravia wife - sort of said...

I spent a couple of years in the US about a lifetime ago, on the whole I loved it. Americans are open, expansive, it used to spook me a bit how people would just come up and start chatting away but once I got over my English reserve it was fine. I was in LA thought so as much as I loved waking up to year long sunshine and the beach I did come to miss seasons and walking.

I know what you mean about the car parks - in LA they have 'malls' I used to have panic attacks, once you're in it seems you will never get out !

Congratulations on your year, it seems you have settled really well. xx

Mwa said...

A year! Sounds like you've settled in well.

I would be abhorred by the recycling situation as well. That sounds awful! I just can't believe they would use disposable plates and cutlery at home.

Family Affairs said...

Lucky you having the opportunity to live abroad - I'm very jealous. Great whilst the kids are still young - mine would probably revolt if I tried to move them now!! Lx

mothership said...

I can't believe it's been a whole year for you. But then we've been here six and a half and that's quite a shock, too.
I am actually very appreciative of the health service here BUT we have very good insurance - that makes a big difference.
My children sound American but, well, they ARE American. I love the can-do attitude here, and the fact that people seem genuinely happy to celebrate others' successes and cheer them on. I'm so with you on the volunteer and charity thing. Our school relies on a third of its income from parents and volunteering. A THIRD! And every year it manages to make the target. We had a visiting UK headmaster come to see the school recently and he dismissed this model as 'absolutely unsustainable', and in Britain it probably would be. But for 35 years this school has survived in precisely this way.
I missed the election, too, though. And I miss the camaraderie of fellow Brits and the waste here is SHOCKING!
We have a zero trash policy at school, btw.

nappy valley girl said...

Paradise Lost - yes, I am glad it's not 2 as originally planned - we would only have a year left....

Belgravia Wife - you could easily get lost in a mall. And not just in the car park....

Mwa -it's mainly for parties or picnics but yes, it's absolutely normal to do that here.

Family Affairs - I was keen to do it while they are young. But I hope they remember it too.

Mothership - agreed about the school. We went to kindergarten orientation the other day and I heard about lots of donations from the parents' association. And I don't just think it's that people are richer here.

A Modern Mother said...

A year? Already? Wow, where did that go?

I learned to love the NHS when we went back to Calif for those three years, though going to see the pediatrician first is handy (and OBGYN). It's all a trade-off isn't it?

I think California is more environmentally friendly than the East Coast -- we had recycle bins 15years (!) before we can them here in the sunny Thames Valley. That's another thing about the US, it is so different.

So glad you like it there, I know you were aprehensive about it. How lucky you are to enjoy two cultures!

Metropolitan Mum said...

I still have the secret hope that we might move to NYC one day. I'd love to. For very similar reasons. Although I like it here, too. Especially since I started to make friends here.
Anyhoo, if I should move one day, we have to meet up!

nappy valley girl said...

A Modern Mother - I think California is almost a different country!

Met Mum - well you'd better do it in the next 2 years......

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