Expat Outer-Body Experiences

Brit Gal in the USA, a fellow British expat, recently commented on Facebook – “Every now and then I still have days when it feels odd to be living in America…”. I was nodding my head in agreement before I even reached the end of her sentence. She’s been here for about seven years but whether you’ve been abroad for two months or two decades like me, you can bet on those out-of-body moments.

She explained, “I drove from Oklahoma to Amarillo (Texas) yesterday on a gloriously hot day through the Texas Panhandle, which scenery wise could really not be further from England. The roads through the canyons were effectively empty; I passed through tiny, off-the-beaten-track American towns and only passed pickup trucks! As I went through one town I spotted 2 elderly men sitting just inside a garage chatting and drinking tea surrounded by vintage stuff. I very nearly turned around and went back to photograph them it was just so Americana.After the canyons you hit the Panhandle flatlands and can literally see for miles and miles with huge skies. Next day I went outside for a walk and it was already 90+ degrees at 10:15am in early May with endless blue skies….and I just suddenly felt it was all so foreign it was almost like I was on vacation and would be returning to England shortly.

It has nothing to do with being unhappy, unsettled or anything like that….it just occasionally smacks me squarely on the head how utterly bizarre it is that I am not just on vacation here….I am now actually an American and this will always be my home and yes this is my real life.”

Haven’t we all been there?

I’ve been in the USA for twenty-three years now, and I can hardly believe it; it’s like I’m talking about someone else. When I say the words out loud they might as well be in a foreign language. Furthermore, my home country has been quietly getting on with life without me! In fact, the other side of coin of oddness is that when I watch something like the BAFTA awards, it occurs to me that it must be very weird being surrounded by all those English accents. It gets even more Wizard-of-Ozish when I’m in England every summer and I’m regularly surprised that a) literally everyone has a British accent, b)I can walk into a shop and ask for something without everyone turning to look at me, and c) people refer to my kids as “American”.

Like Brit Gal, the realization that I’m not in England hits me most when I’m in a setting that is breath-taking and yet not remotely like England. Recently I spent some time in Southern California, just outside of LA. Apart from the glorious sunshine every day, which definitely isn’t like England, the mountainous backdrop to the ragged coastline was more reminiscent of the southern Mediterranean and looked just like the movies. And there I was. Living my life. There’s a similar “wow” factor when I drive down from the Rocky Mountains into Denver. Apart from being surrounded by huge, craggy mountains and the occasional goat, there’s a point where you reach the foothills, and you can see the flat, flat plains with literally nothing on the horizon till you reach Chicago. The vastness of this country, and the huge variety in topography constantly amazes me and reminds me this isn’t where I grew up.

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And speaking of Chicago, we’re now in “movie season” where you just can’t get moved for film crews. Even though it gets a little annoying when I can’t park in my own garage because they’re filming whatever at the end of the street, it’s still funny to think about living in a movie location. All those scenes on “ER” – yep, right around the corner from me. Transformers? Watched it being filmed.

Weirdest out-of-body experience for me? Politely inquiring about a shoot that was taking place at the end of my street about 18 months ago, to be told that it was a pilot starring English actor Jason Isaacs. I was at university with Jason, and we both studied law, which was a fairly small department in the 80’s. After catching up and talking about mutual friends, he expressed some surprise at me living in Chicago.

That made two of us!

Toni Summers Hargis is the author of "Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom", (St. Martin’s Press) and blogs as Expat Mum.

Read Toni's other Expat Focus articles here.


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