Homesick

Yesterday, for the first time in the ten months I’ve been living in America, I felt homesick.

Of course I think of home, and my friends and family, all the time, but never before in a I-wish-I-was-there-so-bad-I-could-punch-someone kinda way. Maybe it’s because my mother came to stay last month, or because I know I’m going home at Christmas. I’m not sure. But yesterday, there was a surprise party to celebrate one of my Very Best Friends turning 30 and I was the only one not there. To add insult to injury, this particular friend really doesn’t do surprises. Oh, to have seen her face. And photographed it.

They called me from the pub and tagged me on Facebook and emailed a picture, but it really wasn’t the same. I sat on the couch watching the clock, calculating the time difference and wondering what mischief they were making while I tried to concentrate on Things To Do in Denver When You’re Dead.

Oh well. They all have hangovers today and I don’t. That’s fair, right?

Are you there St. Patrick? It’s me, Sarah

“Hope you’re not afraid of snakes!”

I’m in Orchard Park, my usual dog-walking haunt, and a man striding towards me has just stopped to announce there’s a snake about 12 feet from where I’m standing. I’m rooted to the pavement and suddenly very conscious of my bare ankles (spring has finally arrived, yay.)

“Don’t worry, it’s just a small one. Twelve inches max!” he adds, before continuing merrily on his way.

My life flashes before my eyes. I’m thinking about all those early morning and late night walks in the grass near our apartment where Milo likes to do his business. I’m also thinking, Why the hell didn’t anyone tell me there would be snakes in Oregon? You’d expect that kind of carry on in Arizona, but not here, in the damp, leafy Pacific Northwest. Although hang on, surely snakes, being reptiles, like damp conditions? And leaves are a great place to hide. Snakes are sneaky like that.

I strain my eyes to see if I can make out a snakey looking figure on the path ahead. There are yellow flower yokes strewn around willy nilly. I inch forward, dragging Milo for protection. And then I see it. A snake! A real life snake! Not in a zoo or a terrarium, in the wild.  I grab my phone, and keeping what I feel is a safe distance (about 11 feet) I try to snap a quick picture.

“Is that another snake?”

I’m sure the voice behind me is coming from a huge, person-sized snake but it’s just another man walking his dog.

“Are you telling me there are more?” I squeak.

“Oh yeah,” Man No.2 replies knowingly. “I just passed one up the street. Bigger than this one though. About 18 inches.”

Suddenly all I can think about is snakes. They’re everywhere. Every twig, every leaf, every movement is a throbbing mass of snakes. I never quite recovered after the boa constrictor ate the donkey in The Swiss Family Robinson. And Milo is no use. I just know if he saw a snake moving he’d grab it and try to play with it. I had been preparing myself for the inevitable day when he leads me to a dead body but this snake thing came out of nowhere. Is it on me? I FEEL LIKE IT’S ON ME.

Back to the future

The following is an actual conversation that took place between two actual people. Names have not been changed.

Eoin: “Do you know what we’re missing?”

Me (bored): “What?”

Eoin: “A local drug store”

Me (annoyed): “What are you on about? There’s a CVS two seconds from our apartment”

Eoin: “I know that, I’m talking about a place where locals go to get a malt and hang out”

Me (suicidal): “You’re thinking of the 1950s, Eoin”

Eoin: “Oh”

On the move again

What? You didn’t think I was going to stay in Arizona forever, did you?

As of January 5th, Eoin and I will be living just outside Portland, Oregon. Yes, moving again so soon is not ideal but at the same time Portland sounds lovely, and it will give me the chance to have a bit of a winter. Oh yes, Portland, unlike Arizona, is cold. Actually, the climate is much like the one I’m used to at home in Ireland. Yay for seasons!

Below is (a really crude, in hindsight) map to show you where I’m at now and where I’m headed.

Now, isn’t that informative? I like to think of my new home as “just a California away.” We’ll be living there from the beginning of January til the very end of April/start of May, after which we’ll be coming back here for a long stint.

So what do I know about Portland?

  • It’s one of the greenest (as in, most eco-friendly) cities in the United States. That means the public transport up there is top-notch. (Although I’m driving now, I like to have options. And drinks.)
  • It’s famous for having a thriving music scene. Bands like Modest Mouse and Death Cab For Cutie originated in Portland and apparently (if you can believe Wikipedia) it’s where Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love met way back when.
  • One of its nicknames is Beertown. Why? Cos it’s home to lots of micro breweries. HELLO, BEER.
  • It’s very leafy. Leafy is good. I like leafy.
  • The Roloffs live there. And yes, before you ask, I intend to stalk them. Especially Jeremy, the 20-year-old son I’m not ashamed to say I have a crush on.

Overall, I really like the sound of Oregon. It rings my bell. Now all I have to worry about is the small matter of moving house. It feels like I only unpacked all this crap yesterday but c’est la vie. In this case though, the shipment shouldn’t take as long to reach us cos a) customs won’t be a factor and b) surely they can just put it all in a truck and drive it up to us. I would be less worried if we weren’t going away for Christmas. Oh didn’t I tell you? I’ll be raising a margarita to Baby Jesus from here as of next week:

That’s Isla Mujeres, just off Cancun, Mexico. EXCITED!

Have you been to Portland? Any tips for things to do in Oregon? Sharing is caring.

The final to do list

Eight days to go. I am FREAKING OUT.

  • Clean out all the presses in the house and decide what clothes and shoes I’m gonna bring in my suitcase.
  • Wash the house and bring the landlord in to inspect it. Get the deposit back.
  • Take ESB and Bord Gais meter readings, send them in and put the bills back in the landlord’s name.
  • Send the internet yoke back into Smart Telecom.
  • Post my change of address form into the bank.
  • Ring the credit card people and tell them to expect some US activity in the very near future.
  • Ring the tax office and make them explain this self assessment nonsense to me.
  • Find out is my state pension will be okay if I live outside Ireland for three years.
  • Ring 02 and have my phone plan changed down to the cheapest option so the fine for breaking my contract won’t be €300.
  • Get my new Blackberry unlocked.
  • Make a hard copy of all my numbers JUST IN CASE.
  • Clean out my desk in work.
  • Cancel my DublinBikes subscription.
  • Find that €200 Brown Thomas voucher. And spend it.
  • Spend that €100 Penneys voucher.
  • Finish season six of The Sopranos.
  • Hydrate. Stop freaking out.
  • Emigrate.

A bird’s eye view

On Monday we finally received our list of apartment choices in Phoenix. Good times. They’re all pretty much the same: small but perfectly formed. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but American apartments just look different to Irish ones. For example, most gaffs over here will have wooden floors in the living areas. They’re hard-wearing, and easy to clean and maintain. Well can someone please tell the Americans this? All the places we were offered have carpet everywhere except the kitchen and bathroom. Oh hi, dust mites, I can’t wait to introduce you to my asthma-riddled lungs! But I’m only nit picking. The apartments are lovely (in an American way) with everything we could possible need as well the thing I’ve been most excited about – a pool! In fact, the complex we’ll hopefully be living in has two pools as well as a 24-hour gym and clubhouse. Awesome!

After the complex and apartment being nice, my main concern was that it’s close to shops and stuff, which it is. Within walking distance (5-10 minutes) there’s a Circle K supermarket, Whole Foods and loads of restaurants (yes! Fast food!). And about 30 minutes away there’s the massive Chandler Fashion Centre, which I think will be my second home.

Oh no, the satellites have found our new pad

Tips for integrating into American society

I don’t know about you, but I live under a rock. I’ve never met any American people, nor have I watched TV or seen a movie set in the US. And as for actually crossing the Atlantic? Oh come on, I wish!*

Luckily The Massive Multinational Company That Cannot Be Named sent Eoin an email with eight handy tips to help us integrate into American society. It might be tricky, since we’re, you know, monkeys, but I think if we just stick to them rigidly we can’t go too far wrong. If you’re also a monkey, you might want to grab a pen and paper and take notes. These tips are invaluable.

  • Be sensitive to where you can and cannot smoke. Many businesses, restaurants, and public areas are becoming smoke free.

WHAT? This is an outrage. I was led to believe that America was the land of opportunity, a place where I could be whatever I wanted to be. In my case, that’s a smoker. And now I’m told I have to observe rules. Pah! I’m going to start on patches with a view to moving on to cigars within the first six months.

  • A short, informal thank you note is the most appropriate way to show your gratitude for an invitation to someone’s home. A gift of flowers or a bottle of wine when visiting will be appreciated, but not expected.

Who are you, my mother? If I go to someone’s home my presence is the present. They should actually be thanking ME.

  • Americans will often open gifts immediately upon receipt.

That’s the trouble with Americans, you see, they have no patience. They just barge right in and do whatever they want. Whether it’s a country, or a present, they just have to have it immediately. I think that’s disgusting. Personally, I don’t open my Christmas presents until, oh say, July? I’m a Catholic. We’re very patient and we love denying ourselves at every opportunity. When I do get around to opening the presents I’m usually crippled with guilt afterwards. Could I not have waited a little bit longer? At least until we were married?

  • You are not obliged to accept food or drinks offered at social gatherings – the host will not usually urge you to eat. You are expected to help yourself to however much you would like.

Hang on, let me get this straight, if I go to someone’s house I won’t be forced, with a virtual gun to my head, to eat or drink? Not even a sandwich, or a cup of tea? I think that’s beyond rude.

  • People often exchange compliments, and often use this as a way to start conversations.

Well I’m not “people.” I wouldn’t have a clue how to compliment anyone, especially not an American. I can’t stand people who are all proud and up themselves. I’ll play no part in encouraging it, thank you very much. A little humility wouldn’t go astray over there.

  • Americans often give and receive items using only one hand.

But what if it’s a big item, like a drum kit or a Hummer? How big is this one hand?

  • Two gestures are commonly used to show approval. The “O.K.” sign is a circle made with the thumb and index finger, with the other 3 fingers facing upwards. The “thumbs up” sign is a fist with the thumb pointing  upward.

Okay I’ve read this one 12 times so far and I think I’ve got it. To show approval I take my middle finger and stick it upwards. Got it! Yeah!

  • People form lines pay for items in stores, buy theatre tickets, enter clubs and board public transportation. Even if the line is informal, or if no line is made, people rely on a “first come, first served” mindset. Do not jump or push ahead in line.

Lines? First come, first served? I’m sorry, my American friends, but time waits for no woman. When I want to buy theatre tickets (which is, of course, regularly) I barge. Simple-as. And I’ll do it in your country too.

Bet you can’t wait to have me, eh? See you on November 1st.

* I jest! I jest!