Culture Confusion

In my last update I mentioned stereotypes, so I thought it only fair that I divulge slightly.

Of course, I’ve only visited two states so far so my insight is narrow but I could ignorantly suggest that what I’ve witnessed in this small area of New Jersey is similar to many areas of the East Coast. If I compare my town to Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls (which is set in Connecticut) I notice many similarities. And Gilmore Girls is, of course, an immaculate reflection of real life.

The first difference I’ve noticed between America and England would be the cars. All the cars are big cars here. Even the small cars are still bigger than anything I would have driven at home. Not only that but they are all so clean and super shiny. I feel like here, if you drove around with the words ‘clean me’ written in the thick coat of dirt on your van’s rear window, you’d be made a social pariah. Also, I think because the roads are so big it feels as if everyone drives very slowly (unless you’re Scott).

The second notable stereotype that I’ve decided is completely accurate about America is that people walk around in gym clothes all the time. I’m talking mostly women, and from the ages of about 13 to 45. I’ve seen groups of teenage girls walk into Starbucks and just hang out there; except every single one of them is wearing ‘yoga pants’, running shoes, and a full face of make up. I’m not talking see-through black leggings and white converse which would be normal at home, I mean full on active-wear being worn to drink lattes in. I sometimes feel over dressed when I wear jeans. (I should acknowledge that this isn’t aimed at people like my host mum, Beth, who actually does workout in her workout clothes).

The men also do wear shorts in every season. Shorts and a sweater: absolutely a sensible combination.

People love my accent, as expected. They also think all British people sound the same, as expected. (Chloe told me I sound like Merida from Brave; but she’s three so I agreed with her). I get asked a lot of questions as soon as it’s apparent that I’m not from here. Although, nobody’s asked me if I know the Queen yet, which is disappointing. (Chloe did ask me if I knew Mary Poppins though, and when I told her I didn’t she was extremely disappointed in me).

  • Bathrooms are confusing here.
  • Bedding is confusing here.
  • Orange Fanta is actually orange.
  • Soup and grilled cheese is a thing.
  • Fast food is so much better- I actually eat it for a start.
  • Supermarkets are way better
  • Apparently they like to pretend that products we’ve never even heard of are from Europe to make them more appealing to Americans
  • In New York, there is the constant sound of cars honking and sirens wailing and people just walk through the middle of traffic!? They clearly have no fear.
  • Even in New Providence, which is tiny, I’ve heard more sirens in a month than I’d hear over four months in New Haw, which seems like the wrong way around.
  • The Autumn trees here were incredible!! (The leaves have almost all fallen off now, unfortunately). But on the two days that it has rained since I got here, it genuinely made it feel like a more authentic Autumn. I now understated why people picture rain when they picture England, because I picture England when it rains.
  • I have decided that when the two countries have different words for the same thing, the American word generally makes way more sense, but the British words is just outright cuter.

At orientation they emphasised to the Brits that American’s don’t use sarcasm nearly as much as us so “be careful”. However, I happen to have a host dad who is more sarcastic than any British person I’ve ever met. It makes me uncomfortable that even do not have the sarcasm capacity to understand his jokes sometimes. I feel as if I have let my country down.

I’ve already noticed my language changing. I’m forced to use American words with the kids because otherwise they have no idea what I’m talking about, therefore some of the words I would naturally use are slowly becoming redundant. I don’t think I’ve said ‘bloody’ more than twice since I got here, I swear. Instead, words that have entered my daily vocabulary are:

  • Laundry
  • Pants (to refer to all type of trousers)
  • Purse (to refer to any type of women’s bag)
  • Sweater
  • Diaper (I still almost say “nappy” every time, but it would just be pointless)
  • Candy
  • Store
  • Buddy
  • “pee pee” (urine reference, obviously)
  • A dummy is now a “pa pa” or a “ba ba” depending on which child it belongs to.
  • I don’t pronounce the ‘t’s in “pretty” anymore, apparently.
  • “Oh my goooosh”
  • “Uh oooh”

Words I refuse to let catch on:

  • Yard
  • Sneakers
  • Sidewalk
  • I know I’ll think of more

So anyway, that’s all that comes to mind for now, but I’ll make sure to make a note every time I come across another amusing culture confusion in the future.

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Update: a month in

Today marks exactly one month since I arrived in the States, and exactly four weeks since I have been living in New Jersey.

(This will only be a quick update and I thoroughly apologise for waiting so long to do it but if you know me you wont be surprised. In fact, I started posting photos to Facebook as compensation for giving you nothing in writing).

I can’t tell whether a month seems like a long or short amount of time in comparison to how I feel. Actual days and weeks go so fast and I almost can’t believe only four have passed. But the month as a whole seems like it has gone incredibly fast: I wonder how fast an entire year will go by?

In this household, I feel entirely at home. I’m already completely in love with Chloe and Warren and enjoying my job very much due to the incredible hospitality I’ve received. However, although I’ve really enjoyed all the things I’ve done so far, I still don’t feel completely immersed in my new culture. So in a way, it feels as if I have been here forever, with ‘here’ being a part of this family and their house, but at the same time I still feel just as strange and foreign in this town as I did when I first arrived. 

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for Jade here and she made the clever decision to go home, which I and my host family fully supported her in. Luckily I got to spend quite a bit of time with her beforehand and we’re still in regular touch (she’s doing so well being back in England so I’m very happy for her). But since the moment that Jade left, I began to feel homesick for the first time ever. Suddenly, the honey-moon stage was over for me because my perfect situation was altered slightly and losing my only friend was ever so slightly daunting. Missing home hasn’t been too bad though and it only happens when I’m alone and away from distraction. Nothing I can’t handle after getting this far!

I have since made new friends and spent time with them and I’m really happy. I met a couple of German girls my age, Sophie and Jana, who are really great company, as well as some more Brits! I’ve also been able to spend time on my own which is something I’ve always enjoyed, and being alone gives me a good excuse to talk to and interact with strangers which helps me feel slightly more human again. The accent reactions I get are hilarious and I’ve started observing people’s facial expressions during the moment that I first talk to them; it’s a great source of entertainment. 

American culture varies a lot more from English culture than you might realise. I have come to realise that stereotypes for both countries are extremely accurate, and I love it. 

I haven’t done anything major just yet; it’s been a lot of food involved activities, a lot of Starbucks involved activities, and shopping. I had a trip into Jersey City with Jade, the day she left, where we had breakfast by the Hudson River, volunteered at a film and television festival and then sat down to watch a series of short films that were entered, before going to an open house at Mana Contemporary art studios in the afternoon. Halloween was very fun: we went to an event in our local downtown where everyone (children, adults, dogs, the lot) dressed up and the stores were providing candy for trick or treaters. Being dressed as a Disney princess was an interesting experience in that Beth and I were treated like minor celebrities. Little girls were so delighted to see us and have us wave and smile at them, and complete strangers asked for photos of us or with their children. Odd, but adorable. The next day they had a street fair in the same place, which was so much better than we were expecting so we ended up spending quite a bit of time there with the kids. Other things I have done involve practicing my driving, going to a Halloween party with a group of Au pairs in my area, getting frozen yoghurt with Jade, autumny walks, and getting manicures with Sophie and Jana.

I have exciting things coming up though so I’ll try and be more consistent with my updates.