Today is my Platinum Wedding Anniversary – or China if we want to be more traditional about it but I like shiny things so I am going with platinum. Mr Pict and I have been married for twenty years. Two. Whole. Decades. We’ve weathered peaks and troughs – or hills and glens – supported each other through trying times, celebrated many joys together, encouraged and nurtured each other since that day in Edinburgh twenty years ago. Having married when we were pretty young, we have somewhat also “grown up” together, and we are of course raising our gaggle of sons together. It has been a wonderful twenty years and they have actually flown by. Here’s to twenty more. And then twenty more after that. And more for good luck.
Today marks two years since the kids and I emigrated to America. In some ways it seems like not that much time has passed (such as when we met up with friends in Lochgilphead in July and it felt like we had only been gone for weeks) but in many ways it feels like ages ago, not quite part of another lifetime but not far off. For example, we bought our house just over a year ago but already it feels comfortably like home, as if we have lived in it for years. I reread my first year immigration anniversary post and realised that a lot of what I wrote then still stands now so settling is clearly a slow and gradual process for me; but I am definitely more comfortable with things than I was this time last year. Things that were initially unsettling, discombobulating, strange, alien and stressful have now largely settled into the rhythm and groove of everyday normality with the occasional panicked peak of being a stranger in a strange land.
From the very first, my Scottisness has been a talking point. A week has yet to pass without people commenting on my accent, always complimentary, usually an exclamation of, “I love your accent!” Often that is where the conversation on my accent ends but sometimes I am asked where I am from and that prompts further conversation. Some of these can be quite peculiar.
Last Winter I fell into conversation with a chap who heard my accent and enquired if I was Irish.
Man: That’s not a Philly accent.
Me: Well spotted.
Man: My family are Irish.
Me: That’s cool. I’m not Irish though; I’m Scottish.
Man: Yeah, my grandparents came over in their 20s.
Me: Uh huh.
Man: So where in Ireland?
Man: Where in Ireland are you from?
Me: I’m not. I’m from Scotland.
Man: Oh. It’s just that you sound a lot like Sean Connery.
Me: Sean Connery is also not Irish. He is also Scottish. Like me.
It is perplexing the number of times I have had the “I am not Irish” conversation. I think more people guess I am Irish than guess accurately that I am a Scot. I sometimes also get New Zealander and South African. I think people just hear accented English and plump for an English speaking nation. I had assumed that Americans would be much better at placing accents given there is such a diversity of accents and dialects in the various regions of the US but apparently not.
When people do know I am Scottish, all sorts of bizarre small talk can ensue. One of my favourites was when, not long after moving to America, I was asked at the supermarket checkout, “Do you believe?” I was desperately confused by the question. Having had a lot of strangers ask me what religion I was since my arrival, my first thought was that I was being asked about faith. But why would someone be asking me about religion while beeping my groceries? I must have looked dim for long enough that the checkout lady offered a follow up, “Do you believe in the Loch Ness Monster?” Oh! Much easier to answer. She looked quite crestfallen when I replied, “I believe Nessie is good for tourism”. Did she really think I was going to reveal that I had been given a private audience with the beastie? That was not the only time I have been asked about Nessie but it was certainly the oddest.
Haggis is another topic of conversation. I think Britain still has a reputation for terrible food (which is unfair – you can find wonderful and wretched food wherever you are in the world) and the very notion that someone might eat the heart and lungs of a sheep all chopped up and stuffed in its bladder is barf-inducing to some and the idea that such a recipe would become a national dish is truly mystifying. But, of course, many nation’s have a simple peasant dish to serve as their national dish. It is just the fact that Scotland’s is a whole bunch of innards that captures the imagination I suppose. Mostly people just want to know why. Why? Why would anyone eat such a thing? Just why? I can then take the conversation along a historic or gastronomic track. The former involves explaining a bit about crofting practices and the economic need to use every part of an animal and the latter involves explaining that haggis is actually very tasty, thanks to the mixture of oatmeal and spices – though, of course, since I don’t eat meat I only eat vegetarian haggis. I managed to horrify my son’s class when they thought I was going to make them eat haggis.
The expansion of the British royal family has led to two periods since my immigration in which people have asked my opinion about royal babies. I don’t tend to have opinions about babies, whether royal or serf or anything in between. People also tended to approach the subject obliquely and without any context so that I again found myself in a state of befuddlement. “What do you think of the baby?” I was asked, again at a supermarket checkout. I asked what baby and was met with the reply, “Baby George?” I still had nothing. Was this some TV programme the checkout person assumed I watched. “Prince George?” Oh. The penny dropped. It’s always nice when people who want a baby have one. That’s pretty much my sole opinion on the matter. And, of course, it was repeated when Prince George’s little sister was born a few months ago. I was quicker on the uptake with that conversation starter though. I get asked about the Queen a lot too. And Downton Abbey. I think many people think the two are related.
The popularity of the Outlander series of books and the subsequent TV show is also something people ask me about a lot when they identify my accent. They always look disappointed in me when I confess that I have neither read the books or seen the TV show. Before I had ever heard of the books, I fell into conversation with an older lady in our library once because she heard my accent and wanted to know what I thought of them. She looked downright affronted when I told her I had no idea what she was referring to. She looked like she thought I should be stripped of my Scottish identity. Then it emerged that some of the teachers at my sons’ Elementary School were obsessed with the books – totally obsessed – so they would ask me about all sorts of things to do with Scotland. One asked me to email her photos I had taken of Scottish castles and was over the moon when I did so.
Ever so often, someone will hear my Scottish burr and will engage me in conversation about travel to Scotland. It might be that they want to share their experience of visiting the country and tell me how much they loved it there, despite the weather, or it might be that they are planning a trip there and want some personal recommendations. That’s always fun. I think Scotland is one of the most beautiful, historically rich and culturally interesting countries in the world and I am happy to be an Ambassador – though I don’t forget to mention rain and midgies.
I welcome all of these little interactions about my Scottish accent and identity. I like being Scottish so I am happy to chat about it. The reaction people have is overwhelmingly positive too which is a welcoming feeling, especially at times when I might be feeling a little alien and adrift. I am quite happy to be “different” and my difference sometimes prompts people to be very helpful and make suggestions as to places to go, things to see and do. Indeed in the two years that I have lived in Pennsylvania, the only anti-immigration sentiment I have experienced directly was from a man, whose surname I noted was Italian, who felt it appropriate to tell me that people like me were coming over here and making the economy worse because we were stealing all of the jobs that proper Americans should have. Sigh.
As a final note on Scottish accents in an American context, as my kids accents and vocabulary are drifting into the Mid-Atlantic, they have become much more conscious of my accent. “You are just SO Scottish!” they proclaim. I find that quite comforting.
A little musical tinkle on my phone just informed me that today is the first anniversary of my blog. I had forgotten that I had started blogging so soon after my arrival in America so it came as quite a surprise.
Since I recently wrote a blog entry reflecting on my first year in America, I won’t rehash the same thought processes in this anniversary post. I never imagined that so many people would pop by and visit my blog on a regular basis, that anyone would find what I wrote about settling into life in a new country interesting or engaging, so I am beyond thrilled to have regular readers. When I started this blog, I never even contemplated having readers and I have to say that one of the best aspects of blogging turns out to be the dialogue I get into with the people who visit and comment or with the people whose blogs I visit. It’s like having an online natter and it’s really enjoyable.
As my blogging year has progressed, my posts seem to have split into two different categories: writing about the personal experiences of myself and my family, sharing our travels and explorations, my grumbles, rants and achievements; and my creative endeavours and sharing my art work. As such, I recently decided to launch a separate blog for my art work so that I could divide those two aspects of my writing more coherently, though I imagine there shall be some crossover for a bit.
Should you like to continue following my artistic pursuits, therefore, you can do so at Pict Ink. I would be delighted to see you there. Of course, I rather hope you will continue to stop by Pict in PA as well as Pict Ink.
Thank you, everyone, for reading and commenting and giving me the impetus to keep writing and sharing this past year. It’s been a great deal of fun and I hope it will continue to be in this coming year and beyond.
Today marks the first anniversary of the four children and I arriving in America. A whole year already. Really? Didn’t I just get here? How the heck did that happen? So what have we accomplished in our first year as immigrants?
My biggest anxiety about practical, everyday life was driving. Having spent my entire adult life driving on the left from a driving position on the right, switching to sitting on the left and driving on the right involved many changes of gear in spatial awareness. Amazingly I have never once even momentarily thought about driving on the other side of the road but my parking is still questionable. Not dreadful any longer, just questionable. I passed my driving theory test by dint of common sense, generic driving experience, fluke and sheer luck since I had no idea applying for a provisional license meant taking the actual test. And then I passed my practical driving test and was issued with a proper, bone fide US driver’s license. By driving around a mall car park for five minutes after parallel parking. My confidence is slowly growing with driving on major roads, the main cause of my anxious palpitations being that cars can exit a major road from either the left or the right and roads often split with little warning. I don’t do spontaneity with driving.
Of course, having a US driving license then afforded me the ability to do lots of other things. Like actually function. Because in America, without that critical item of identification, you may as well be the Invisible Man because nobody is going to regard you as an actual person if you don’t have that bit of laminated card to prove it. The loops and spirals of beauracratic Catch-22-ness I endured just trying to get my name on any documents without having a driving licence – including applying for the ruddy driving license itself – would have been farcical had it not been so stressful. I still have zero credit history here so am still a non-person in that regard but I have a driving license so that’s progress.
In addition to having my driving license, I also have my Green Card. So do three of my children. We are still – a year into stepping foot on American soil – awaiting the Green Card for our oldest son. I won’t rehash the series of epic failures by USCIS and USPS that led to this appalling situation because goodness knows I have ranted about it, possibly ad nauseam, in this blog so many times but it is tiresome and frustrating. Endlessly, upsettingly frustrating. The insistence on following predetermined routes through all the bureaucracy, the sheer inflexibility, the lack of application of any common sense, is actually pretty staggering.
One massive accomplishment is that we are now home owners again. I thought I would experience more emotional turbulence over our house in Scotland selling but actually it malingered on the market for longer than we anticipated, thus becoming a stressful albatross around my neck, so I felt relief when it sold and I am happy that the family who bought it will forge many happy memories there as we did over ten years. The sale of our house then enabled us to press forward with buying a house here. Which we did. Rapidly. No time to let your heels cool in this particular housing market. We are very happy with the house we chose, the whole buying process went pretty smoothly, and now we have a house to call home again. I already feel at home here. It feels like a good fit for us. Now I get to transform the house and get it looking like it is ours, dragging it a little bit at least out of the 1970s.
I also now have all four boys in school. After over eleven years of having at least one kid at home with me, that is a big deal. They get to spend their days learning, developing, growing as people and I get to have a less frenzied day. I get to experience (gasp) free time. In that free time, I have been trying to get back into creating again as I had a lengthy period, when transitioning between countries, when I was not even drawing. I have just completed my 40 day Drawing a Day challenge in order to build my creative stamina and blow the cobwebs off my drawing skills. I have also taken up Art Journalling in this past year – something I did not know even existed until the beginning of 2014 – and that has led to me embarking on experiments in mixed media which I am enjoying far more than I anticipated. My list of art projects I want to complete grows longer and longer every day. Indeed, I have lists of lino block prints I want to carve, lists of ink drawings I want to do, lists of mixed media pieces I want to try, lists of art challenges to embark upon …. endless lists of creative things. I just need to find the time.
Despite all these accomplishments, I am still not quite settled here. Physically and environmentally I am settled here. I never, ever, ever want to move again for a start. I did a happy dance when I donated all my packing boxes to someone. Seriously. Right there on the street, I bust out some “I’m rid of the boxes” moves. I also very much like the area we have landed up in – thank goodness because it was a pretty blind leap – and our new house is in a lovely neighbourhood. But psychologically, emotionally, I am not yet settled here. I am still very much aware of being an alien. People very much struggle with my accent on the phone – though not quite so much in real life – and I can never quite reach for the American vocabulary in time. My kids, on the other hand, are acing that challenge and have adapted their language beautifully. Sometimes I even struggle to find the word I want in English let alone America-English. And trousers are never going to be pants. Never.
More than always being aware of my difference, my outsider status, however – which ultimately I don’t really mind because I’ve never been one for conformity anyway – is the unsettling realisation that over two decades of adult life has been reset to zero. I have landed on these shores as a blank slate. All my knowledge and experience of how life worked in Britain, how to do things, how the law worked, how healthcare worked, even grocery products for goodness sakes, has all been erased by my relocation to America. I have to ask “daft” questions constantly because people assume I have a degree of knowledge I simply do not possess. This is emphatically the case when trying to navigate the labyrinth that is the US healthcare system which seems designed to test and thwart people rather than support and treat them. And all at a price. I cannot even begin to convey how much I miss the NHS. I could weep into my pillow over how much I miss the NHS.
However, our motivation for relocating has proven to be a solid basis for our decision and that makes it easier to endure and overcome the sustained levels of stress I have experienced at junctures in this past year. We still believe we made the right decision. There are more opportunities here for us as a family than we had where we lived before. “Land of Opportunities”. We have been able to take our kids to do things here that would have either been impossible back in Argyll or would have involved a stressful, expensive slog to a population centre. There are museums and galleries and historic sites galore in this area. There are state parks and there are national parks. My oldest son has been to a local synagogue to hear a talk by a Holocaust survivor. Heck, our school district even has its own planetarium. We are also enjoying travelling and exploring. Prior to our immigration, my oldest three sons had only ever been to one state (California) and the youngest had never even been to America before, or on an aeroplane, and now they have a whole continent laid out before them to explore. In this past year, they have already “collected” a few states. I, however, have only been revisiting states I had already collected so I need to start engineering some trips to states I have never been to (since I have an ambition to visit all 50 US states). My husband is loving his new job and the children are thriving at school. We are still very much in the throes of starting over but I think life could be very good here for us.
Just as well because I am never moving again. Ever. Have I emphasised that enough?
Today marks exactly one year since Mr Pict crossed the ocean and arrived in America. Of course, it has not been the same culture shock it has been for the kids and I, since he is half-American and spent his teens in the suburbs of Washington DC. However, he has gone from residing in extended stay accommodation to owning a house within that year, has settled really well into and is thoroughly enjoying his new job, and has generally worked really hard to make the transition easier for the kids and me. He has really accomplished masses within just one year. He wanted to return to America to live and, somewhat against the odds, he made it happen. I think he’s had a pretty good first year.