Ten years ago this week, I stepped off a plane in San Francisco, having arrived from London, with a suitcase, a rucksack, a slightly bouffant hairstyle (I admit it) and absolutely no idea what the next few years would bring.
The only thing I knew back then was that I would stay in America for two years, maybe three, and then I'd go back to what I knew in London.
Subsequently, I have learned (a) that life has a habit of changing your plans, (b) bouffant hairstyles should have stayed in the 80s, and (c) when you move your life to another continent, you should really plan to bring more than a suitacase and rucksack fulll of stuff.
But what is life about but to learn, eh?
With that in mind, here are my top ten lessons learned from my decade as an American - sorry, my decade as a legal permanent resident alien:
10. Recessions do not last forever. Three months after I came to San Francisco, 9/11 happened and the dotcom bubble burst. This was not a good time to be in California. Ten years on, yes, we're still in a sort of recession, but dotcom IPOs are back. Woo-hoo!! Where's my Webvan?
9. It's not Gay Pride in San Francisco every day. My first weekend in San Francisco was Pride weekend. Until then, I had never seen "dykes on bikes" before, especially not naked ones. I think fondly now of the dykes as my welcoming committee, but I'm still kinda glad they don't parade up Market Street every day.
8.Both 'El Nino' and 'Earthquake Weather' are nonsensical myths made up by San Franciscans to try to scare people away from their beautiful city. I have heard countless San Francisco Bay Area residents ascribe everything from balmy weather to seasonal fog, windy afternoons and slightly muggy mornings to either El Nino or to an impending Earthquake. Yes, I know I've just jinxed myself into an earthquake, but both are utter rubbish! It's just weather you big fibbers!
7. There is a reason 95% of Americans don't have passports. No, it's not just because they're afraid of the plumbing in Italy, or because driving on the wrong side of the road in England is terrifying. It's because America is choc-full of great stuff to visit (see countless blogs from down the years) and you don't really need to travel for 11 hours by plane to see something good. On the other hand, as most Americans only get two weeks vacation per year, it's also plausible that they don't have passports because they don't have time to go anywhere far before they're supposed to be back at work.
6. You really are never too old to try something new. I never thought I'd ski or snowboard, and yet within a few months of moving to the States, that's exactly what I learned to do. I have also surfed occasionally, and most recently came face-to-face with a grizzly bear. However, I have never eaten a twinkie. This still seems way too dangerous.
5. Cheap gas is good. I know, I know! We're destroying the planet one tank of gas at a time, but you have to understand that Californians are really such terrible drivers (come on, you know it's true) that you HAVE to drive a big car for your own safety. What's more, there are NO jobs in Silicon Valley except on horrendous sprawling office estates (usually miles from any public transportation) so you HAVE to drive to get the money to pay the rent. And no, I'm not bitter that I traded in my hybrid for a BMW just before gas hit $100 per barrell! (Ask me again when it hits $200).
4. I can cope with having a child that says "mommy" instead of "mummy". Everyone asks: "Is he going to sound like a little English boy?" Well, no. William is gonna be 100% Americay-an (to quote all of Texas). And as the 'sounds-English' son of an Scotsman and a Dutch woman, it would be churlish of me to get hung up on an accent, wouldn't it? However, please note the one exception: my son will say "waw-ter" not "waaaaduh" when he wants a glass of water. Mark my words!
3. Yes, English food is terrible but I regularly pay double (or would) for a Cadbury's Double Decker, a Ginsters' Chicken and Mushroom Slice or a Marks and Spencers Malaysian Curry. It is sadly true that my tastebuds were destroyed during some unmemorable stop at Fleet Services in the mid-90s, never to recover again. Americans will have no idea what this is all about, and to you I can only say: "How much would you pay for your favorite California burrito if you knew it might be the only one you had for two years?
2. It is not true that San Francisco has more poisonous snakes than any other city in the world. I have no idea why he did it, but in the months running up to my move to the USA, my friend Bruce insisted that the San Francisco Bay Area was packed with venomous vipers. Bruce, you are a liar. And, no, it did not take me ten years to figure this out.
1. My mum was right. Upon sharing my "2-3 year plan" with my mother, she said bluntly: "No, you'll go off and marry some American girl and never come back." Well, the American girl was a British girl who became an American girl and "never" has now stretched to 10 years. Will I ever go back? Why of course I will! Emma, William and I are going back in September!
....for two weeks. ;-)
Thanks for the first decade America. I hope the next 10 years are as much fun.