Last Saturday I celebrated my one-year anniversary of arriving in the USA. It made me reflect on what my life looked like one solar cycle back, what has changed and what hasn’t.
June 27, 2014: Port of entry is L.A. – known to be the frying pan of all nasty things American. Having no idea of what was ahead of us, we were looking for a place to live, a job and new friends. All this was capped by a notoriously abusive immigration process, looming over us like a dark threatening sky.
For two months we drove around the western states covering 6,500 miles, getting married along the way, timing the legal process for my residency permit aided by a lawyer, investigating dozens of small towns and feeling disappointed every time. We knew precisely what we were looking for, yet couldn’t find it.
One magic day we passed through Sandpoint and enjoyed three days of walking around. Seeing the farmer’s market, the lake, friendly smiles and finding quality coffee (very important) we both felt this was the right place for us.
Friends and Family
In a small sports car filled to the roof with boxes, kitchen appliances and a bicycle, last October we drove from California to Sandpoint. En route were we informed of David’s Aunt living here as well. She’s introduced us to many wonderful people and one even recommended me to my current employer.
I am grateful for the openness with which I’ve been received here. People have invited me to stay in their homes and share meals. Reflecting upon the broad and meaningful network of friendships that have emerged, I could not ask for more to have happened in this short time!
Every weekend seems to include a chance to join some social gathering or fun event. There’s the market, live music, wine tasting, trivia night, full moon bike rides, art galleries and an independent theater. Only eight months have passed since we moved to North Idaho and we can’t even get a coffee without running into someone we know. Everybody hugs and smiles because (shhhh…) this town may just be America’s best kept secret.
Many cultural differences were apparent right away. Like the gun-toting, hospitality, extreme patriotism, the political system, poverty, bad table manners, cars the size of elephants, superstores and general loudness. These are relatively easy to overcome as an experienced traveler, but now that a year has passed, finer distinctions are turning up. I recently caught myself telling a friend:
I am sorry about not returning your letter. It’s an American thing I’m reluctantly adjusting to, during which process I’ll inevitably insult various members of my family and friends.
Yes, making new friends, having a blast and exchanging promises in all sincerity to ‘do this again soon’ and thereupon not hearing from the other person for weeks – sometimes even months – is considered perfectly normal.
Another dichotomy has caught my attention. People keep saying ‘yes’ for politeness’ sake yet won’t follow through. You’ll never be told that what you brought to dinner was terrible, and thus I walk home every time thinking I’m a kitchen princess and will never revise my recipe. An American will arduously try to avoid insulting someone, yet can suddenly come out unreasonably catty when the threshold of mandatory civility is met. Needless to say this often catches me by surprise when I perceive things to be grooving just fine.
I realize the Dutch are internationally known to be direct to the point of rudeness. This is how I was taught to communicate and logically (to me) it is the only way through which one can learn about oneself. If sentiment is not expressed sincerely to the person it concerns, it must inevitably be revealed through passive aggressive behavior or gossip.
I’ve noticed this clearly several times when I was in a group of friends and all complimented one on a major achievement but the ensuing weeks were littered with criticism when this person wasn’t around.
These experiences make me feel cautious. I’m sure I’ve been offending people with frankness but perhaps this is one Dutch quirk I should stubbornly hold on to. It takes a lot less emotional energy that way.
One Year Later
June 27, 2015: We both have compelling jobs and enjoy a satisfying lifestyle laced with nature exploration and intimate gatherings with friends. My health is good, I feel more positive and my creativity is coming around again. I received my Green Card in January and we found a cute place to live, two minutes from public lake access.
Though I never regret the decision of coming to the United States to settle, sometimes it’s hard to be far away from home. Recently it was Father’s Day and I could only telephone my dad. Last week I heard from one of my closest friends in the Netherlands that she’s pregnant and I need to accept that I won’t be there when the baby comes.
The exploration of the American culture is more complicated that meets the eye and I continue this journey with energy and ambition. But at times I feel discouraged and confused.