5 life lessons from the 'Muricans
I have to be honest, prior to spending any real time in the US of A, there wasn't much that I thought the country which bought us pilgrims, Trump and McDonalds could offer me. I viewed it with vague disdain and minimal interest. And then somehow in 2014 I ended up at Esalen, a modern hippy commune in Big Sur, California for a month of art making.
The life changing things I experienced and learnt during my time time there are another story for another time, but the crux of the tale is that it changed my perception of America completely. I fell head over heels in love with the everyday beauty and positive energy of Northern California (not the Southern bit around LA, eff that dusty, bleached, shallow hell hole) and knew that I had to find a way to come back for a longer visit.
Fast-forward to three years later and an opportunity to live in San Francisco for 3 months came my way. Naturally I was thrilled and it actually taught me the valuable lesson that if shit is meant to happen, dear god...it WILL find a way to happen. Although probably not when you first want it to happen (Patience is now a virtue I am learning. Sloooowly).
Anyway, my time here is coming to a close but as with all my jaunts living abroad its been a quietly inspiring, thought-provoking and life-changing adventure.
Here are the top five things I've learnt from the 'Muricans that I am going take home and apply to life back in the UK:
1. Friendly and confident - Hands down these are two things that the Yanks have got down to a T. They are not afraid to strike up conversation with strangers on the street, on public transport or in bars. They're not afraid to welcome new people into their lives with open arms with no motivation other than being lovely. As someone who came to a new city alone, it's made the difference between this being a miserable 3 months and a fantastic one. I challenge everyone to make the effort to engage positively with a total stranger this week. Smile at the supermarket check-out girl, she's probably bored stiff. Catch the eye of someone else who's laughing at people elbowing each other to squash onto a tube when there'll be another one in 2 minutes. Invite the new person in the office out for a drink, he or she is probably well lonely!
2. Flexible - Unlike in London, people in San Francisco don't plan anything more than a few weeks in advance. They go with the flow, decide upon plans at the last minute, jump in an Uber and go wherever the fun seems to be. At home I am guilty of being a serious pre-planner. When you have friends with one Saturday free every six months its sometimes necessary but 90% of the time it probably isn't. Since I don't know enough people out here to pre-plan all of my time, I've been able to accept last minute invites to a long weekend of snowboarding in knee-deep power at Lake Tahoe & to rap Lil Jon's "Get Low" to a standing ovation on an open stage karaoke night. It's really highlighted the importance of leaving room to say "yes" in your life. Some of you are probably much better at this than me already, but if you're not...don't pre-commit to any plans for the next month and see what happens...I DARE YOU.
3. Literal - Despite sharing a language there are many differences in the way in which America and the UK communicate. American's are so very literal, using words which describe things in the most obvious of ways. My two favourites being sidewalk, because "it's on the side of the road and you walk on it"...and traffic circle, because "traffic drives around it in a circle". The sarcastic British part of me finds this hilarious. It's like they are incapable of lingual complexity. But then I stopped for a second to flip reverse it...why do us Brits like to make things more complicated when they could be so simple? Sometimes simplicity is a great thing, particularly when it comes to communication...no? New vow, communicate more simplistically. Shit already broken it.
4. Excited to explore your own country - I used to think 70% of American's didn't own passports because they were culturally obtuse and not interested in the world. But now I realise it's because it costs a fucking arm and a leg to leave this sodding country. WE MUST NEVER TAKE CHEAP TRAVEL IN EUROPE FOR GRANTED AGAIN! Anyway, it means they spend their time really getting under the skin of their home because leaving it takes a minimum of 12 hours, instead of us Brits who jump ship at the first opportunity. There is SO much home-grown beauty in the UK and it's a shame that most of us don't make more of it. Check out my adventuring pals Sean Conway, BeWellYou and Jack Henstridge for some inspiration. I am going to book some UK adventures as soon as I am home. First stop...Cornwall!
5. Of a listener - As I came here alone, I signed up to a couple of dating apps as a way to keep busy & get shown the best bits of the city. Luckily American guys seems to dig small sarcastic British chicks so I've been able to do a lot of that. In order to do so though I have had to listen to a lot to people talk about how great they are. And I mean a lot. I can, and frequently do, talk the hind legs of several donkeys so anyone who can out-talk me has a serious problem. The upside is being on the flip side of this equation has made me realise how important it is to pause, take breath, listen and give others the opportunity to step forward. As the famous quote and this article by Minda Zetlin for Inc magazine says, you learn new things by listening; not talking. Please feel free to remind of me this when I get home and talk at you non-stop for 30 minutes.