Moving to America from England was sort of life changing, more of a gradual transition than a jolt to the system. Back in 2000, I was in dire straits. The furniture business I started a year and a half ago was in shambles, kept afloat by refinancing my apartment. Debtors called at all hours and people I thought were friends were quietly disappearing in my life. London was dull and cloudy as always, no longer the vibrant city I believed in. The incessant drone of taxis and blank faces of mealy mouthed strangers only deepened my depression.
Why America? England was the grey, stiff-lipped cousin compared to America. I had glimpsed the sunny optimism of Americans before when I vacationed here a few years ago. The ‘go-getting’ candor together with mythology of the American Dream seemed just too irresistible.
Armed with proceeds from the apartment sale, a passport and contact number of a person I met years ago in San Francisco, I set off to California. San Francisco was not exactly warm, sunny Baywatch land. As I peered through the window of my friend’s car, it appeared that fog enveloped the entire city. For July, this was a disappointment. Could I really be in America? From my street, I saw Chinese signs and overheard Cantonese chatter. The bustle of Asian shoppers haggling over fish in the market and the smell of roast duck seemed almost surreal. Boutique Hello Kitty stores and take out dim sum gave me a feeling of Hong Kong than the States; it was as if I mistakenly flew to Hong Kong.
As the next few months went by, I ventured out more. At first, my strong London accent was preceded by “Excuse me, ma’am?” and “Could you repeat that?” Slowly, I ‘Americanized’ my voice to reduce the ordeal at Starbucks.
There are good and bad aspects of my new homeland. Firstly, the American sense of humor is rather unsophisticated. Bathroom jokes can be funny but not for the entire movie; sitcoms complete with canned laughter and stereotypical characters (i.e. weak male and bossy female who is always right). Whereas British humor is a lot more situational, uses more puns and has plenty of sarcasm. The most pleasing quality of Americans would be their eternal optimism and admiration of successful tycoons who would otherwise be denigrated back home.
Gradually, I settled in. The superficial differences became superfluous, apart from sports and driving on the wrong side of the road; Americans are more similar to the English than the French ever were. Besides, I was beginning to prefer showers now. Finally, it was more of an internal change that happened. Being an outsider helped me see things from a different perspective. I had revived my sense of adventure and life became more of a journey than a destination. The shame and hopelessness of my previous life had faded.