Monday, November 11, 2013

5 Years In the USA: A British Expat Looks Back

This past Sunday officially marked five years since I hopped on a plane and headed 4,000 miles west to the Midwestern state of Indiana to start a new life. It has been a journey like no other.

When I first got here, I was overwhelmed by a sudden sense of excitement; after all, I had moved to the very same country I had seen thousands of times before, only in a cinematic capacity, in films such as Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, E.T. and, well, the list is virtually endless.

In seeing the bright neon signs and billboards that lit up the presumably glamorous city of Anderson, Indiana, I assumed, in my naivety, that I had indeed landed in a fictionalized world, a magical world, in which anything - including the discovery of One-Eyed Willy's ship - was possible.

One-Eyed Willy's ship, of course, was the old treasure-filled relic discovered in a cave by the child adventurers in the Spielberg-penned The Goonies. Anderson, as it turned out, didn't have even a large body of water - landlocked as it is - much less a cave!

That said, I was rather taken by the fact that the majority of houses, bearing an exterior of wood siding, looked exactly as they did in the movies and that school buses, yellow and single-decker, were just like the one rescued by Christopher Reeve in Superman: The Movie.

It would be a few months before the novelty of these things would die down; after my work visa was finally approved, I embarked on my first job in the United States - a customer service position for a leading mobile phone company. It was hardly the stuff of miracles; here I was - along with 300 other Anderson residents - addressing the billing issues of thousands of phone users, who had felt justified in blaming their poor decision-making skills on yours truly.

The America depicted by Steven Spielberg in the early 1980s seemed, suddenly, a long way away. I realized, henceforth, that it was pointless and, furthermore, unfair to compare the actual United States with that of the silver screen. After all, I wouldn't want England to be perceived as a nation of dancing chimney sweeps and floating nannies, so why should I expect anything equally unrealistic of the USA?

I'm not sure this was something I consciously decided, but eventually I began to embrace the things with which I was not familiar: the various nuances of the road, the many aspects of dinner etiquette and the American vernacular.

Though I was reluctant to do so at first, I also embraced my Britishness. Initially, the idea of doing so seemed trite; as if I was being defined entirely by the place in which I was born and that I bore the accent of such a man.

For their part, however, Hoosiers were very welcoming of my Britishness; some were keen to hear me utter "adorable" words such as rubbish or mum, while others displayed an interest in the historical and cultural aspects of my homeland; Doctor Who, the Royal Family lineage and British food.

Others liked to give me a hard time about historical events, such as the War of Independence, often prompting a sarcastic response, on my part, pointing to the successful British invasion of America's music industry throughout the 20th Century.

On the other side of the proverbial coin, it has been a great experience getting to know the Indiana people themselves and their Hoosier hospitality. Some have lived here all their lives, while others have traveled far and wind to end up, like me, in the Midwest.

And I would be remiss to forget that I have seen not just Indiana, but a whole host of places outside of the state: Chicago; St. Louis; Louisville; Cincinnati; Nashville; Boston; New York City.
The last one on this list, as it does with most who visit, caught my attention (both times). Indeed, it remains a long-term goal of mine to one day live and work in the Big Apple.

In the long long-term, however, I couldn't say where my future lies. Perhaps I will remain in the US indefinitely; maybe I will return to England. One thing's for sure, and the USA has taught me to think this way, I actually love not knowing. I love that things can change in a second and that life can become something that was once utterly unlikely.

With that in mind, there is still a part of me - the child part of me - that will continue searching for the America in which anything is possible. Perhaps One-Eyed Willy's Ship might prove, if nothing else, an appropriate metaphor.


Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a contributor for BBC America and writes a weekly column for Anglotopia. Having graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in English Language and Creative Writing, Laurence runs this blog, Lost In The Pond, charting the endless cultural and linguistic differences between Britain and The United States. Please follow Laurence on this journey by clicking on any of the icons below.




2 comments:

Dan said...

Well said and congrats on 5 years! :)

a.little.bit.of.red said...

You should consider a visit to Detroit. It's a city with a lot of history and is currently making a slow but exciting comeback after sinking deep in the doldrums of recession. I hope we see you soon!

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