Early December 2010 and my first venture onto American territory. Three months of 'tourist status' brings a whole lot of time to gradually accustom myself all the little American nuances and rhythms. Arriving on a two day delay and a hefty cold accentuated my nerves, but the wonderful friendliness of all those Americans really did help. This was one of my first impressions which started as soon as the airport and lasted for weeks; it took me a while to really get used to their friendliness, not only in customer service roles, but everywhere. Coming from Spain and the Czech Republic, where a friendly face is scarce in the service industry, I was overwhelmed by the fall over oneself attitude to serving the customer. Initially it seemed to real to be true, and I deemed almost everyone as a fake friendly, but after a while, I came to the conclusion that it's all natural. If you grow up surrounded by unfriendly people, that will most likely eventually be you. However, I'm slowly getting the feeling that the politesse and general friendliness of Americans is all natural, and not the over the top fake which I initially presumed.
One of the most prominent differences between America ans Europe for me is - no shock here - the abundance of roads. Of course, Europe is strewn with road networks, but this is easily avoided by living in a city and using public transport. I only had around 30 hours of driving lessons as a teenager, and although I'm evidently used to travelling in cars, doing so with such frequency actually takes a while to get used to. Then there comes the need to learn to drive. For me, this is one of the things what I have obviously always wanted to get sorted, but it is also one of the things that I have never imagined myself doing. On the other hand, maybe doing something you have never imagined yourself doing is one good way to grow in oneself. Overcoming apprehensiveness maybe the battle here. Such a trivial matter can mean much more to someone else.
With an arrival date in what to me is the middle of winter, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect for North Texas weather. Of course I had an idea, but still it is the small things that surprise you most about a different country. The abundant beautiful sunsets, and the mild climate with the occasional bust of freezing weather followed by a few glorious days really shook things up for me. England in general has more consistency in it's weather patterns, and stark changes are not the norm. For a female this meant I was never sure what to wear. I wore sunglasses for the first time in January, while still wearing my winter coat, because, yes, it is still January. Adapting takes a while.
Three months of no paid work, but instead a good opportunity to give a little to the world of volunteering. For me this was mainly administrative tasks in a couple of places, which unfortunately was definitely not the most interesting of jobs, yet it's a small cog in a big chain, so hopefully my little efforts were useful. It is quite amazing how quickly such menial tasks can become mind numbing, and I have no idea how people do these types of things every day. Including me. However, it was my first steps into living and working in America, and I actually learnt a lot about the American way of life on a daily level, which can only be useful. The small things, like the use of powdered milk instead of the fresh delicious stuff, and the absence of tea and a kettle in the average kitchen just amazes me. I have to teach these people a few things. All of the little differences between England and for that matter Europe in general can actually take a while to get used to, as everyone gets by their day to day routines with the help of these home comforts, and when they are taken away we are all lost.
As I was not constrained to any job, I was able to spend one day a week with my fiancé's mum, and join in her fitness classes, as well as spend some enjoyable time getting to know her and the other members of the family later in the day. She is a wonderful lady with such a positive outlook on life. Whats more, the whole family have literally welcomed me with open arms. They are such lovely beings, and their strong family bonds are evident as soon as you enter their household. It is naturally nerve-racking for any future husband or wife to enter into another family, and I am so immensely lucky to enter into such a welcoming one.
Even though I was able to keep myself busy with volunteer work and spending the day with Tim's mum, Elayne, I still had lots of spare time floating around to fill. This you would think would be the perfect opportunity to do all the things that you never seem to have time for with a heavy work schedule. To a certain extent this is true, yet I actually think people achieve more when they are schedules are full, as having all the time in the world to complete something renders things incomplete. I personally feel like I function better when filled with activities, therefore I am impatient for the time to arrive when I have a million things to do. Something tells me I won't be thinking like that when the time comes. The need for work and a daily routine seems to me to be innate within us humans, that when it is all thrown askew we don't really know what to do with ourselves.
While I am eternally grateful to my fiancé for supporting me during my stay in America, living without a car or a job means complete reliance on another person for everything. He obviously did a beautiful job at this, but I am very much looking forward to having some independence. Living without a car in America is harder than I even thought it would be; it is actually probably verging on impossible, depending obviously on where you live. Going from living in a city where most things are within walking distance to living where most things need to be driven to is a shock to the system and really does take a while to get used to. Also, I am quite fanatical about environmental issues, and when driving around I cannot help but think of the damage, but life doesn't stop and we must do the best we can in the areas where we can. I just have to convince myself that everyone else does this too.
While on the topic, it fits well to mention my astonishment at the lack of recycling in the apartment complex where I will soon be a permanent resident. I actually feel a little cry of pain every time a plastic bottle or glass jar is not recycled, and it agonises me that far too many people are unperturbed by their lack of consideration for their environment. I have to realise that nothing is ever perfect, and we can only improve things one small step at a time.
The most amazing part of the past three months in America was to start sharing my life with my fiancé. I cannot want for someone more fantastic, and to be able to share the rest of my life with him brings goose bumps to my skin.
The past few months have proved to me that sometimes life hits you with the most unexpected experiences. For me, three months of living in Spain and working in a hostel, followed by three months as a tourist in America was not even close to any of my previous future plans. It is just a small reminder that sometimes you just have to take life as it comes and not be thrown off balance when something out of the blue is thrown into the equation. For better or for worse.