Yesterday my wife and I were visiting a beautiful historic house in Massachusetts when we came across a croquet lawn in the beautifully kept grounds. Having never played before I had no idea what I was meant to do but I still had a go. Apparently you are not meant to swing the mallet like a golf club but I did achieve an impressive distance and nobody got hurt which is the main thing. Anyway I digress, the point that I’m trying to make is that the croquet game was a good metaphor for what happens when you arrive in a new country: you don’t know what to do but it’s fun trying to find out.
The great travel writer Bill Bryson once wrote that “I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything” and as usual he was right. It can be frustrating learning things from scratch but there is also a lot of fun along the way. I’ve learned to not apologise to people who stand on my feet in the train, to approach store greeters from their blind spot so I don’t awkwardly get asked how I am (I never know how to respond) and that the most efficient way to clear 3 feet of snow is to deposit it in your neighbours front garden when they are not watching.
The most difficult thing I’ve found so far is that Americans aren’t usually as dry and sarcastic as British people so I have to be careful with what I say to people in case I get taken seriously. The other day I was asked where I was from and I said Boston and I was told that I didn’t sound like a Bostonian. I responded that I’d watched a lot of British TV shows as a kid and he asked what my favourite shows were. These encounters can be a lot of fun but I’ve found that it takes a serious effort to not be ironic or sarcastic 90% of the time.
I’ve also learned that when it’s 90F (32C) in the house it’s fun to turn the a/c in the bedroom down as low as it will go and not leave there. Ever. Even when the only TV in the room is so old that it plays VHS tapes its still preferable to turning into a miserable pool of sweat. You know how they have crap names for candle fragrances like “beach car park in summer”, if they did the same thing for describing temperatures my favourite room temperature would be marketed as “the Arctic in a birthday suit”. My wife and I have turned guessing how hot it will be in the house when we get home into a game although there is no prize only copious amounts of sweating.
I also enjoy pretending that I know what I am doing when I am actually really clueless although sometimes I betray my ignorance such as when I had to ask how much a dime was. Americans are usually really helpful and will often volunteer advice whether you need it or not. This is in stark contrast to British people who, being more reserved, will silently judge you unless you specifically ask for help. This is actually really useful to someone as shy as me. I must admit though that sometimes trial and error is more fun than asking people how to do something, except when it involves breaking something. RIP coffee maker.
The thing to take away from my rather random collection of anecdotes is that moving to a new country is a challenge but it can also be a lot of fun. Imagine my delight when I discovered that there are such things as ice cream sandwiches and restaurants that serve only cheesecake. I can almost forgive the Revolution for that!
What’s the most enjoyable thing you’ve learned in a new country? As always I’d love to hear your stories and anecdotes.