Sunday, March 27, 2011

10 Things that a Brit in the USA should never forget! (funny British and American differences written from experience!)

Being a Brit who has visited the USA many times and who now finds himself to be a US immigrant living here, I’ve learnt from experience that despite many similarities, there are a number of funny British and American differences, both with British and American culture, as well as British and American English.  So here are my 10 things that a Brit in the USA should never forget!

1.  Don’t forget that there are alligators, snakes and giant insects roaming loose in the neighbourhood.  Even if the Floridians think this is normal, it is not.

2.  Remember that under no circumstances should you say: “smoking a fag”, as it means something very different in the
USA to what it does in England.  Remember  that to the American ear, you are not referring to “puffing on a cigarette”, you are talking about “shooting a gay person”, or doing something more graphic to him.

3.  Don’t forget that you can eat pancakes all year round in the USA and not just on Shrove Tuesday.  Yum yum.

4.  Don’t forget that the weather is predictably sunny in Florida.  You do not need to take a jacket or a jumper out with you, just in case the weather turns bad.  They do not have rain, sunshine, hail, wind, sleet, snow, and fog all in one day, like they do in Britain

5.  Don’t spend two weeks searching for coriander in the supermarkets.  There is no herb of that name in the USA.  If you want to make a curry, look for something called cilantro.  It looks and smells like coriander and is in fact, coriander, but it is called by a completely different name.  Do not attempt to pronounce oregano the way that the Americans do.

6.  Don’t forget that when an American in the Deep South says that he’s been saved, it doesn’t mean that someone has stopped him from drowning, or prevented him from scoring a goal at football – he means that he has found the Lord.

7.  Don’t forget to leave a tip every time you go to the bar and buy a beer.  Remember that the USA is the most generous tipping culture in the world and that they thrust dollars at people just for looking in their general direction – okay that’s a slight exaggeration. 

8.  Remember that Americans usually drink out of small beer bottles and European 500cl bottles are relatively rare.  Do not imply that American men are less manly because of this. 

9.  Don’t forget that the day after Christmas is just another day in the USA and the term, “Boxing Day” does not exist.

10.  Do not attempt to use the phrases: “in a strop”, “dustbin men”, or refer to a “yard” as a “garden”, as you will get blank or funny looks.

Trash can or dustbin?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Seeking permanent residence - my adjustment of status application and other epic tales of woe

You might have thought that getting my K-1 finance visa was the end of the story, as far as my entanglement with bureaucracy goes, but you’d be wrong.  Now that I’m here in the USA, I’ve got to apply for a status adjustment in order to get permanent residence and my green card.  Seeking permanent residence means filing an adjustment of status application, booking a USCIS biometrics appointment and possibly having to attend an adjustment of status interview too!

It’s actually the collection of evidence that’s the major pain, however rather than the adjustment of status application itself.  As well as the proof that we were are married, Abby has to present proof that she is financially solvent and can support me.  That means piles of tax returns that have to be sorted through and copied, as well as letters from her boss and months and months of bank statements, amongst other things.  As well as the green card application, I’ve also had to apply for temporary travel documents and temporary employment permission, so that I have the option of traveling and working while we wait for the adjustment of status application to be processed.  The whole package of five application forms and status adjustment evidence that I needed for seeking permanent residence was so big and heavy it cost $14 for the postage!  (That’s on top of the $980 we had to pay for the processing of the application!)

As we were married in February, we could have applied for my permanent residence earlier, in theory, but getting a joint bank account to use as evidence of our partnership turned out to be more trouble than we anticipated and stalled us.  Plus, it’s especially tough for Abby having to spend what little spare time that she has in the evenings and weekends on collecting and sorting all the financial documents for my status adjustment.

Anyway, the forms are all in and we’re there now hopefully.  I will have to go for a USCIS biometrics appointment at some point, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem hopefully (though I wish they could just use the existing collection of iris scans and fingerprints that have been collected from me at customs on my regular trips to the USA, rather than me going through it all again).  The USCIS adjustment of status interview is discretionary, so I hope they won’t call us in for one of those.

It will be such a relief when my permanent residence is finally granted (assuming it is!) and I get my green card!

Gator and snake update

I am still seeing the gator in the pond on my daily runs.  No snakes in the past week, though.  I wonder how long it will take before I stop finding the idea of having large, dangerous reptiles living in the neighbourhood surreal?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunshine, lightning, an alligator and snake

Today was another sunny day here in Florida, but then pretty much every day is sunny, that’s why they call it the Sunshine State, I guess?  The weather is very different from my home town in the North of England, but so far, I am adapting well to the lack of dark, cold, grey, rainy days that go on and on and leave you feeling melancholy, grim and forlorn.

As well as the sunshine, they do have hurricanes here, of course, though I’ve yet to experience one of those.  I’ve endured a few serious electrical storms, however.  They are certainly dramatic and I am reminded why this area of the world is known as “Lightning Alley”.  The rumble of the accompanying thunder can be very loud too, though interestingly because Florida is as flat as a pancake, it never has that echoing-through-the-valley sound effect that you get in the Yorkshire Dales and Cumbria.

My running shoes
With no job to sap my time and energy and needing to keep fit, I have been going out running every day.  This past week I’ve been encountering some of the neighbourhood wildlife at what the locals call the “small pond”.  A pond is generally a rather tiny ornamental thing in England, but this stretch of water is about the size of a running track with brush and a stagnant stream running along its far side.

Anyway, for the past few days I’ve been seeing a small alligator in the pond.  It’s only about 4 foot long which makes it very much a youngster in gator terms.  They are remarkably good at camouflage, having perfected the art of making themselves look like pieces of partially submerged driftwood and vegetation, whilst they wait for their prey to come to the water’s edge.  But as this gator hangs out in almost exactly the same spot every day, it’s not been too difficult to locate, once I’ve trained my eyes.  He’s scared of me though, and when I get too near, he panics and splashes off under the water and away from the pond side.

I'm only a few yards away but he's not easy to see!

Let's zoom in a little and catch him lurking.
 After two days of good sightings, the gator wasn’t there when I went past today.  Maybe he’s moved on to greener pastures (or swampier waters), or maybe because today’s been cooler and he’s cold-blooded, he’s decided not to venture out?  Whilst I was looking for him, however, my eye was drawn to what I believed to be a bicyle inner tube that somebody had dumped by the water’s edge.  The way it was curled up looked funny somehow.  As I moved in closer, I noticed that the “inner tube” had a head – it was a large grey snake looking straight at me!

(When I described the incident to my wife later, she informed me that I needed to watch out for poisonous snakes when going near the pond.  “They won’t harm you unless you approach them quickly, or step on or over them,” she told me.  Which is not exactly reassuring advice for a runner, who is by nature, approaching everything pretty swiftly and stepping on or over things, as a matter of course!)

I guess I’m in two minds about the “exotic” local animal life that you find here.  On the one hand, I find it exciting and amazing that some creatures that I would only have been able to see in a zoo back in the UK are running around freely over here.  On the other, I really don’t fancy the idea of being bitten, or having some huge spider drop on my head when I’m in the woods, or suchlike, that would be Nature getting too close-up for my liking!

It’s a dichotomy I could ponder for some time.  But all in all, I guess the alligator and snake were here first (the gators have been around since prehistoric times) and there’s enough sunshine around in Florida for everbody, man or beast, to share.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What do I do with all my possessions?

Once the K1 Fiance visa application process was over and my visa had been approved and it was clear that I would be an immigrant to USA soon, my challenge was to whittle down all my worldly goods to no more than would fit into two suitcases.  I am in my mid-forties and despite being at heart a minimalist, there was a substantial amount of stuff that I’d accrued during my period on the planet.  It took me a lot of time and mental energy to work out the fate of each of my possessions and I was still sorting through them right up until the day of my flight.

Some of my stuff had already been moved to the USA in advance.  During our back and forth trips across the Atlantic to see each other, my wife, Abby and I had been taking and leaving items in Florida in anticipation of my immigration USA.  These included my laptop, clothes, books, and CDs.  I had also posted over a box of books and CDs.  Although the postage was pretty expensive (£50 for 30 CDs and 15 books), I felt that psychologically it would be good for me to have a few of my personal effects in my new home.

The big things like my sofa, chairs, mattress, etc. had to be got rid of, because basically I would have paid way more in transportation costs than the stuff is actually worth (most of my furniture was cheap and modern, bought at IKEA etc), so it would’ve been cheaper to buy it in the USA as a UK expat, than ship it over there.  Plus my wife has all the furniture we need over in the USA, so there was no point in bringing it.  So I sold a couple of items and gave the rest to friends and charity.

The sticker on my guitar case says it all!
I had to sell or give away pretty much all of my electronic goods too, not only would they be difficult to transport, but they use a completely different electric voltage in the USA to what we have in the UK.  I gave the washing machine to a friend of a friend and donated the smaller items, toaster, lamps, etc. to charity.  I was in a rented apartment with a built in cooker, fried, freezer, microwave, so fortunately I didn’t own much in the way of big white goods.

I am not terribly sentimental about things, but I was sad to see my stereo system go.  I am a huge music fan and I figured it might be quite some time before I could listen to high quality audio again (all music, but classical especially, just doesn’t sound good on a portable player!).  My upset turned out to be misplaced, however, if you read on.

It was inevitable that I wouldn’t be able to get rid of absolutely everything that I owned, so I left some books, CDs, and old photos in a cupboard at my mother’s house and my electric guitar and some LPs in her loft.  I arrived in Orlando with the two suitcases, plus my acoustic guitar in a hard case, after a particularly difficult flight journey which involved an unscheduled extra night in Dublin because of heavy snowfalls in Europe.

Dublin airport was hellish – there were still people arriving even after they’d cancelled all flights and declared the place closed!

Since moving in here and becoming a British expat living in USA, things have gone pretty well, however.  We bought a step-down voltage box, which enables me to plug in and use things such as my British toothbrush re-charger and hair clippers.  The furniture situation here is generally pretty good, although there are one or two changes that we’re thinking of making in the medium term that will provide some extra storage space for my possessions.

I have even begun to buy some new stereo equipment.  I bought an amplifier with giftcard money kindly given to me as a leaving present by work colleagues at my old job, and I’ve bought some speakers with some money I made with Mechanical Turk.  I’m using the tv’s DVD player plugged into the amp to play CDs.  I am now trying to convince my wife that having high quality audio is a priority for any household and that we are now in desperate need of a subwoofer box to fill out the bass end of the sound.  It might not be easy(!)