When I left Australia to move to the US, it was in a flood of tears and with heart-wrenching separation anxiety. As the plane took off I wept, my hand pressed up against the small window, wondering if I would ever return to my home again. I could think of nothing but what I was leaving behind.
Fast forward six weeks, and everything is different. Obviously the major difference is that I’m happily married, and that automatically makes life a whole lot better, but it’s more than that. I never really wanted to move to the USA. A lot of people dream of it, but not me. My heart was set on buying a little cottage in Italy, or Malta, or maybe even spending a year working in Montreal. I knew I wanted to experience as much of the world as I could, but America was never on my radar for more than some great vacations.
Well here I am in America with my sweet American husband, and I’ve settled into my new life. For the first few weeks I was homesick all of the time, and that resulted in a lot of tears and a deep desire to go home. But one day I woke up and felt happy to be here — really happy, and that hasn’t changed since. When I reflect on why I like being here so much, I can’t really pinpoint it. It’s certainly very different from any kind of life I’ve known, but there’s this perfect mixture of crazy and beautiful. Let me try to describe it.
Jim and I live in a lovely apartment in a small town in North Carolina with our chubby white dog I’ve taken to calling, Vanilla. The apartment complex is beautiful, with a heavily wooded area behind us, and a valley in front, separating us from the main road. I take Vanilla for walks about four times a day, and in the late afternoon I tend to head to the valley area at the front. Because it’s spring, the colours are vibrant and there are an assortment of wildflowers and trees. There are often deers and rabbits in there too. It’s just so beautiful and peaceful, and I look over that valley and marvel at the outline of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, and the Walmart. I don’t walk into the valley as it’s too steep, but also because there may be a lion or tiger, or both. I know it sounds bizarre and my poor friends are probably sick of hearing about it, but in a number of US states including North Carolina, you can own a pet tiger, lion, bear or baboon. An article I recently read claims that there are more tigers in US apartments and backyards, than are left in the wild around the world. The article gave statistics of how many people, including children, had been killed or maimed by these ‘pets.’ So I am constantly on edge.
You may think that the article has overinflated details, but no, indeed it has not. In Houston, Texas, during the week, a man found a tiger in his front yard, belonging to his neighbour. He called the police but the tiger got away, and three days later it’s nowhere to be found. At some point that tiger will need to eat something, or someone. So how many tigers or lions have been let loose by people who could no longer care for them and they go unreported? These things worry me. So while enjoying the beautiful North Carolina view each and every day, I have anxiety that some of the crazy, in the form of a tiger or lion, will come springing out of the valley, or the woodland behind the complex, and devour me or Vanilla. If it goes for Vanilla, she’s on her own. I love her, but girlfriend, you’re on your own! My booty will move back up those stairs so fast that Usain Bolt would choke on my dust!
I love the variety of fast food places. Not because I want to try them all (well maybe I do), but simply because there are so many, and they mostly have roughly the same menu. How many varieties of a chicken sandwich (chicken burgers for the Aussies) can there be? Hundreds my friend, hundreds.
I also love that there is so much to see in this country. Yes, Australia is filled with incredible beauty also, but it’s all so remote. America is not like that. A nine hour drive from here takes me to New York or Florida, with many, many large towns and some huge cities along the way. In eleven hours I can drive to Toronto in Canada (or fly there in under two hours)! When I lived in the Central West of NSW, a nine hour drive would still have me in the middle of nowhere! The USA is massive, but accessible in a way Australia isn’t. A flight from New York to Paris is under eight hours. However with COVID, it may as well be a million hours as everywhere is closed!
There are so many people here in the USA, and so many different styles. Everyone just wears what they want and fashion doesn’t have the same level of importance as I was used to in Australia. I’ve always loved how stylish and trendy Australians are, but there’s a real easiness to living here in the South and people just don’t place as much importance on it. It may be different in the bigger cities or among the youth, but the focus seems to be more on comfort and I’m all about that these days. No one knows me so I will wear my track pants to Walmart. We all know how bad it can be at Walmart, so trackie dacks are quite acceptable. In fact, whole tracksuits are a thing here that I just cannot buy into. I just can’t. Black trackies with a nice t-shirt or sweater are as far as I am willing to go when it comes to comfort.
I love the variety of supermarkets here that aren’t available in Australia. There’s real competition and different products in every one. Same staples of course, but you really can shop around for the best deals and find the products you like best. I love Lowes Foods — it’s set out like an indoor market and they have such a great variety of fresh foods, including lamb, as well as specialty products I am more likely to try. It reminds me of Australian supermarkets and I think that’s why I am drawn back to it
Lastly, everyone is polite. They are really polite and I haven’t heard anyone swear yet. Gasp! I really don’t think I have heard one swear word since I got here, and coming from a country that embraces them, it’s been a shock to the system. They’re not part of the vernacular here and that’s something I can definitely get used to!
Honestly, Australia will always be home, and I will always miss it, but it does surprise me that I am so happy here. My everyday life is pleasant and simple, and we spend weekends on road trips and exploring new places. National parks, mountains, waterfalls, neighbouring towns, Amish stores, and large cities; all of these places are within a short drive from us and I am relishing every new experience I have. There are also things I don’t like so much about being here, and I’ll share those soon.
Update: The tiger in Houston has been found. No one was harmed, including the tiger.