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......