Today marks our first year anniversary of moving from the UK to Pasadena, California and to mark the event in one small way we both decided to write a few words on our experiences in the last twelve months, so here are mine. I was intending to write it in a ‘pros and cons’ list format but importantly my feelings can be both positive and negative at the same time, so I’m just going to talk around a few subjects instead.
I think the most obvious change, in fact you can’t help but be conscious of it, is the change in aesthetics from the UK to here. When we first arrived I couldn’t help but notice how even the everyday things such as post boxes or road signs were so beautiful. For the first few months I was enwrapped in a visual voyage of taking in all the new yet familiar objects, everything had the wow factor, even parking spots. I love hardware shops even more over here. A year later I still see the differences and often consciously note how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place; just walking the dogs reinforces this everyday. What strikes me however, is gradually these holiday images become one’s everyday reality and they soon start to slip into the unnoticeable, which is a shame but the Californian light is also so breath-taking that you can’t ever get used to that. Mount Wilson is just up the road and appears like a giant over our neighbourhood. Some days I swear it is redder than Ayers Rock. Stunning, and free.
Oh, and the other obvious change, the heat. It changes everything for the better.
Everyone is so much friendlier over here, they say hello and stop and chat for a few moments at the drop of a hat. Its not just people who are working in the service industry who say, “have a nice day” (something that actually has a different meaning here than is thought to have in the UK, it’s not false, it’s just people being polite) everyone speaks and is more considerate. If I walk past someone working on a property with a leaf blower, I know he is going to stop to let me walk past so as not to scare my dogs, and he knows I’m going to thank him.
Just this morning I was stopped by a lady driving in a car to warn me about a loose, scary looking dog that was up ahead of me. She said she had just spoken to a lady up ahead who was waiting for the dog to move before she would get out of her car (people can be too scared over here too). As I had the dogs, one of which would definitely have caused a ruckus, I thanked her and changed my route. In England, this would be very rare but here it is commonplace. Either in person or online through our local Nextdoor.com I speak to all sorts of people. These small interactions are the building blocks of a community. Making friends has been much easier over here for us, even for general misanthropes such as myself.
There is a lot more culture and cultured people out here in LA than you would imagine. As someone said when we first moved, LA is a city of layers. Yes there are the fat hamburger people, and the narcissists but there are also genuine folks and interesting people, and they are not hard to find. What is difficult however is learning the subtleties of class and culture but also, importantly of genuineness and depth in people. It is a difficult act to decipher those who at first appear to be all-enthusiastic to hang out and those who are good friend material. Not easy, but I’m kind of learning that The Industry (film, TV) attracts less of the latter.
Food and drink, and the service that goes with them is of a much higher standard and a greater variety than those in the UK. You can eat out cheaply and at a different place every night without overlapping once in months. This is the best example of something being both a pro and a con. Not only is it much harder to maintain your weight (I have to swim four miles a week and walk the dogs three miles a day now to not put on weight!) but also the choice is slightly maddening. Like the internet, there seems to be an endless vista of opportunity, which if you are not careful can leave you feeling that there is always something better out there than the place you usually go to, which can make you unfairly harsh on establishments and your expectations from people.
The ability to block things out of your mind which previously gripped your imagination before emigrating, is very interesting. Earthquakes and guns become things that no longer bother you surprisingly quickly. We experienced two quakes in the first fortnight of living here and apart from fixing the house so it is safe by buying special picture nails that have hooks on them (nothing to be hung over the bed), and packing up an emergency box, etc., you forget about something so massive surprisingly quickly. Guns in the US are like knives in the UK. You know people have them and you know what areas to avoid, but otherwise they might as well only exist on the television.
It is a difficult task to learn the new moral codes of conduct and to renegotiate and relearn your behaviour. Some different cultural mores such as the prevalence of drink driving over here in comparison to the UK can put one in a difficult position with friends that do it. Does one take a lift or not? Not such an easy questions to answer. Swearing is another thing that had to change. I am usually known for my ‘loose language’ but even amongst the most relaxed people and good friends over here that isn’t acceptable. I have since learned to swear a lot less, which I guess is no bad thing.
Another vocal tic I have relearned, is not to mention religion or god at all, for instance to say “thank god for that”, “For Christ’s sake”, “god only knows etc.”, and this is for one reason only in that to be religious is normal over here, especially Christianity, and I don’t want to be confused as a Christian when I am an atheist. In the UK the context is secular, so such words don’t actually refer to god. Thankfully there are lots of atheists who walk amongst the good people of LA, more than you would assume on first arrival, we just know it is not acceptable, so we whisper amongst ourselves…
The move to a new country necessarily involves the fear of the new and this manifests itself in strange ways. For instance, when we first came here we made a point of using the bus to go out (when we drink), something literally only poor people do here. LA has a lot to do towards getting people to use public transport at a time of grave environmental situation that is for sure. We wanted to maintain our social fluidity, to be able to mix amongst different people without getting too used to our own cliques and therefore scared of others. Yet when the bus drove past bus stops I felt a nagging fear of who was getting on the bus, in case they were violent (of course, they never were). I was also a bit scared of being in a car driving past bus stops too. It was about six months in when I realised that I was no longer scared (of bus stops!); it did happen though, it just took perseverance. Driving, with all of the issues of being on the wrong side of the road, road markings, etc., was something I didn’t feel confident enough to do until we had been here for 7 months. Now it is just like home. You have to consciously chip away at these things, or else your world will remain foreign.
The races are more segregated here, or at least it is more obvious as outsiders. If there is a man working on a lawn, he is Hispanic, if there is a cleaner, she is Hispanic too. I’ve yet to meet a deviation from this rule. There are some places that are race and class neutral though, mainly Trader Joe supermarkets and Costco hypermarkets that have broken through barriers by encouraging a love of authentic wholesome food or rock bottom prices on quality goods, respectively. Otherwise there is a lot of segregation, not only of race and class but cultural cliques. We have only found one bar that is a true melting pot and we love it.
Everyone loves whippets. Never a day goes by when I don’t get at least one comment about my dogs whilst walking them – but who can blame them?
Some things are strangely old fashioned here, like the fact we get a large clump of paper adverts with weekly specials printed up for the local supermarkets in our mail once a week, they still do that here. They also have a huge level of bureaucracy here; you need a permit to change a water tank in your house for instance. They are also not as forward thinking about climate change, despite having the best laws and reputation in the world. It really is frustrating to see that people water their European lawns in order to keep them alive in the desert. We are living a terrible drought and 50% of water is going on gardens and many are ignoring new guidelines to limit such use that came into affect 6 months ago. It makes me feel militant.
There is a full time job’s worth of work finding out how to negotiate the free market for all your essentials like finding medical insurance, a GP, a tax accountant, or a license of any kind. This causes a lot of confusion, which dissipates as soon as you are all set up and it seems like a distant memory once you are acclimatised. It becomes part of your own logic, it makes sense.
All in all, Tim and I are still thrilled with our move and we say this to each other most days. The good things appear even more contrasted when one remembers why we were able to move here. As part of our getting over the fact that we were not able to have kids, even with extensive fertility treatment (in which I caught sepsis and nearly died) we imagined what else we could do instead and decided to move out here. It is only the odd occasion now where I imagine a life with children and these times are usually when I am on a plane or particularly hung over. In other words they happen when I am already anxious. Otherwise I am living a life, not only free from child related regrets but one full of excitement.
America really is the land of opportunity, something you can feel in your blood. When we had a blip in our visa application and it seemed we might have to go for plan B that involved travelling around Europe until we found somewhere for home, I felt like that would thwart my career and personal development. I was seriously worried about it. I felt that I needed American air to take myself further, and Europe was looking like a gloomy second. Sounds corny but it is true. Much as the endless vista of choice and speed of change is slightly maddening here, I would not swap for anywhere else in the world.
(Tut tut that took me 43 minutes not the allotted 28, I had to get it off my chest though!)