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Observations of an Expat - Part 1 (of many)

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(Mis) adventures in Parenthood, Little League & moving your family 5,500 miles from London to California.

Observations of an Expat - Part 1 (of many)

Laura Bonnell

Packing & moving across the Atlantic involved slightly larger suitcases

Packing & moving across the Atlantic involved slightly larger suitcases

To the unaccustomed one may think that moving from England to America would be an easy transition. They are both English speaking countries in the Western world, with similar customs and past times right?! Well, for the most part that is true, but having moved from London to New York, dragged an American back with me to London, and now moved back across the pond to California I can tell you there are defiantly some differences between us Anglos and our American neighbours.

When I moved to New York in 2001 I was a cocky, some what brave 21 year old, out for life experience, and a thirst for the big city night life. I moved over with a job that put me up in a very nice hotel whilst I got settled on Central Park South. Their lawyer sorted the legal stuff, and I had an advisor to help get my life set up Stateside. I didn't know anyone when I arrived. Luckily for me I was taken under the wing of a friendly fellow Brit who worked at the company that relocated me. So, for the first 3 months I pretty much invited myself to every social engagement I heard about, and thus began my integration into my new 24/7 life in Manhattan.

You'd perhaps assume given the modern global world we live in it would be quite simple to say open a bank account, get a phone, visit a doctor, even put a utility bill in your name. You'd think right? Well, not necessarily! You see, I've found in the States you can't begin to even think about doing ANYTHING until you have a social security number. FYI you'll need that handy 9 digit number ALOT. Once you've got that bad boy, you'll need a bank account. At the time I couldn't find a way to open a bank account without a proof of address like a utility bill, but I found I couldn't get a utility bill without a bank account! That was how, fresh off the plane I found myself handing over pay cheques to an American guy I had just been dating a couple of weeks so he could cash them through his bank account! Crazy right?!

The next biggee is credit rating. Without that you will find it tough getting things like a mobile phone, car, renting or buying a place - you get the idea. It doesn't matter if you've been a superstar credit card holder in another country, paid all your bills on time - in the eyes of the American financial system you don't exist! Now, I'm not saying our experience of moving my American boy to England was much different. He also found the same or similar challenges in England. Either which way it can just be very frustrating when you actually have money, a job, but for sometime you can't easily access that money, make a phone call or put a roof over your head!

So, moving to California this time round, I already had a heads up of what was to come. Fortunately I was heading over with an American, that had credit rating, and a bank account - we had a head start! 

As well as the fun logistical stuff and the paperwork, I've observed some interesting cultural differences. It's easy to kinda roll your eyes, and in your very British way quietly have an opinion (!). Us Brits & the Americans are quite observant of each other, particularly when it comes to politics (will try not to go there!). If I had POUND (or perhaps a $1 given the current Brexit exchange rate) for every time one of my friends has asked "but what if Trump gets in?!" I would be able to buy a house by now (complete with fall out shelter, just in case!).

So, with my tongue firmly lodged in my cheek (to my American pals read as here comes the sarcasm), I thought I would list a few of my most recent observations of an Expat landing in SoCal suburbia:

1) Most things have a cup holder, and if they don't, you can buy one to attach to it

2) Decorating is not just for Christmas. You will need to stock up on exterior & interior decorations for Fall, Halloween, Christmas, Easter etc etc. (Note: there will also be giant themed inflatables available for purchase for each of these occasions) I would suggest an observation period of your neighbours exterior decor before going full 'National Lampoon'.

3) Re-usable bags are not totally a thing here yet. One lady actually laughed when I pulled out my beloved Sainsburys plastic tote! I'm sticking with it though, am currently feeling like a one woman Eco-warrior.

4) Nor is contactless payment. Have been wafting my bank cards around without any transactional success. I'm hoping the cashiers figured out what I was trying to do. This together with "plastic-bag-gate" guarantees to draw attention to the clueless foreigner every time!

5) A lot of people will tell you how expensive and rainy England is, and assume this is the FIRST TIME YOU'VE HEARD IT. You can choose to either smile & nod, or say that it's not too bad because with your 25 days holiday and 1 year maternity leave you can hope over to Europe and make use of the sunshine over there! Although given the sterling to euro exchange rate right now, you can't really dispute the expensive part of that statement right now..!

6) Be careful when using sarcasm, this is a very British sense of humour. Fortunately for me my American husband gets my humour... as well my American MIL (otherwise it could have been a very short marriage!) My humour probably got me into a bit of trouble over the years (and still does, this blog post may be a case in point). Would warn against using it in the presence of Cops. I probably got lucky the night I was arguing with a Cop (in my young cocksure NY days!) that I would only stand on the sidewalk if he called it a pavement (as I hid my plastic cup of booze behind my back).

Fortunately for me, I've met some pretty awesome Americans so far (apart from the plastic bag lady, but she warmed up to my bag concept in the end!). As a Brit I have been very warmly welcomed...and been brought lots of wine by our neighbours. I mean having a reputation as a nation of alcoholics has got to have it's perks right?! 

Momma Muklet x (hick!)