One of the best things about being an expat is the friendships you make and the communities you become part of in your host country. But it doesn’t happen just like that. You have to ‘reach out’ (this is an American phrase that I hear quite a lot – ‘thanks for reaching out to us, Claire’. ‘Oh, you’re welcome.’
I realized after my first month here in the USA that I missed my UK marketing and communications team terribly. I missed the banter, the chats, the mulling over particular news items or TV shows from the night before, and I missed having people to talk to.
So I began to really blog. Not just a blogging a bit, but every day.This was a cathartic process, and enabled me to offer up some of that banter which I previously engaged and reveled in in the office, except no one was bantering back.
My blog caught on locally in Howard County, Maryland, and through this blog I have made some amazing friendships and become part of the community. If people invited me for coffee, I went; if there was a party happening, I attended; if there was a community event, I turned up. People got to know me and I got to know them.
One of the expat woes is about how hard it is to meet people and integrate into the community. I was so hoping my neighbours would pop round with a basket of muffins and a bag of sugar like the in movies when we moved in, but they didn’t and so, instead, I bought my own muffins and sat down at the computer and blogged away about how that hadn’t happened.
Now, though, I’ve now integrated into this community in Columbia, MD and it’s a fascinating insight into how the USA work, lives and plays. Sure, I get homesick and I often think of home, but being in Maryland has opened up many opportunities for me, and I’ve taken all of them with verve and gusto!
That doesn’t mean that I’m totally at home in my host state of Maryland, because sometimes I just don’t get stuff and there is still a lot of learning to do about it, but instead of feeling like an ‘outsider’, I use it as a path to become more educated about the place and the people. Maryland is a fiercely proud state, and, the War of 1812 (against the British) aside, the people here love us Brits!
So far, this is what I’ve learned about Maryland:
1. Crabs. Marylanders love their crabs here and rightly so. I love ‘em too.
2. Old Bay Spice. This goes on pretty much anything you want, including crabs, and definitely on chicken wings. V spicy.
3. The Ravens and the Orioles. Now I know who/what these are (football and baseball), and I have an interest in both (not that I’ve seen any of the games yet!!); but it’s important to have an inkling about what’s going on!
4. Jousting. Jousting is the sport of Maryland. I’ve not actually seen any happen other than at the annual Renaissance Festival, and it felt….very British!
5. Lacrosse. I see bumper stickers about parents whose child is the Lacrosse Captain/Top Scorer/Winner/etc on the back of cars, but again, isn’t this a British school girls’ past-time?!
6. History. Oh, I have learned so much American history since I’ve been here – like that Annapolis and Baltimore were both, at one time or another, the capital of the USA. And about the War of 1812, which we Brits aren’t taught at school, naturally (since we lost!).
7. Weather/seasons. Maryland has every season, and sometimes within one week. This is so true this year – April had snow, hail, spring for two days and then ‘bang!’, summer arrived! One minute I’m in my Daisy Dukes in April and then there’s a bloody big snow storm and it’s back on with the thermal socks. It’s ‘cray-cray’, as they say here.
8. North/south. Folk here feel they are both northern and southern. That’s because of that Mason Dixon Line divide. See, I have been reading my history.
9. You’re near to Washington DC. True, one feels like Michelle and Barak are practically neighbours.
10. Marylanders like the Maryland flag. To be fair, I rate California’s flag with the bear, but the Maryland one I now understand and recognise, and I am eternally grateful that I never had to draw it in school.
And finally…… Hairspray (the musical). It’s all about Baltimore and Baltimore is all about Hairspray. And it’s fab!
Maryland had stolen a little piece of my heart and I’ll certainly take elements of it with me to the UK when I return, but in the meantime, I’m still very much enjoying the place and its people. And I also now relish the opportunity to banter with these people of Maryland – and believe me, once I start I can’t stop!
Claire McGill is a British expat who enjoys writing about American bits and bobs. She says: ‘I've lived in Columbia, Maryland for nearly two years and I like to write about all the things that confuse, amuse and bemuse me about being in the USA.
I like to observe and compare our quirky traits, personalities and oddities because there are many and they are endlessly fascinating. From breaking into mailboxes, to going on police ride-alongs; from polarised poverty and wealth, to getting my head round guns and the glamour of politics; from my mission to crush stink bugs, to the American obsession with pulled pork; and from the wonder that is the PTA, to American attitudes to nudity – I write about it all! You can find my blog at www.ukdesperatehousewifeusa.com.