The Holiday

The Holiday movie, starring Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, really encapsulates the differences between Californian and British Christmas. And it humorously highlights the querks that come with living in England vs California.

First of all, I love this movie. It is one of my favourite Christmas films. It has a wonderful cast and is totally feel good. I love the American vs British accents. I love the exchange of houses, particularly how excited Iris is to see how huge and extravagant Amanda’s house is vs how underwhelming and tiny Iris’s house is, although very cute and homey. And I adore Graham’s children. They are too adorable. I also like how they address the agony that love can be. And I truly am a sucker for a good romance story with a happy ending.

Me in Hayward, CA December 2020

Living in California, I find that Christmastime does not feel quite as Christmassy as it did in England. Although, I have been enjoying the glorious weather, there is something exciting about a chilly snowfall in the lead up to the holidays. The cold invites you to sit by the fire with a warm blanket and hot chocolate. Whereas, the sun just begs you to come outside and enjoy basking in its warmth. Both are lovely experiences, but the former is definitely more Christmassy. I also love wearing my winter jumpers (sweaters), and this year I really haven’t had much opportunity for that here in Cali.

Let’s talk about Iris’s cottage in Surrey and Amanda’s house in LA. Iris’s cottage is so cute and quaint. But it could be more accessible – the tiny lane is quintessentially country but not easy to navigate – and the cottage seems to have no central heating, rather a firplace… not to mention the lack of shower. Although the bathtub does look fun. Conversely, Amanda’s house is huge… a typical Californian house in an affluent neighbourhood. Amazing. I would be exactly like Iris if I was visiting LA for the first time and got to stay there. Neither house is decorated for Christmas in the movie, but somehow the cottage wins in being more Christmassy since it looks like it could be on a Christmas card.

Now comes the romance. I love the international alliances made in this movie between the love interests. Perhaps the exotic nature of the other makes the person more appealing. Or perhaps it is exciting that the person is on vacation and will leave soon. Or perhaps they were just lucky enough to find the right person due to a spontaneous decision made by two women who needed a break.

When hope is lost, love can still be found. And when you are not looking, that’s when it will appear. That’s what I glean from this movie… but then, it is just a movie.

What do you like about this movie?

Thanksgiving

Food, friends, family, football. Thanksgiving is a time for coming together, pigging out and being thankful for life and love.

Growing up in England, we did not celebrate Thanksgiving. But now that I live in California I have had a small taste of the holiday. I am totally into being thankful for what we have. I look around at the selfishness of humabity sometimes and just wish that there was more gratefulness in everyday life. More grace. More care. More love.

For me, Thanksgiving feels almost like a pre-Christmas. A celebration with a huge meal. And the lack of gift-giving and focus on being thankful allows for a little less focus on the material and more on love (and food).

For some it’s all about the football. My husband is a big Dallas Cowboys fan, and apparently they play every Thanksgiving. The most valuable player in that game wins a giant turkey!

Some traditional Thanksgiving foods include sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, and cranberry sauce. Brussel sprouts seem to be popular also. And pumpkin pie! I tried making a green bean casserole last year, but I’m not really sure what it is supposed to taste like. I didn’t think mine tasted so great! But it was edible. This year I am keeping it simple. Turkey, mashed potatoes, veggies and gravy. Apple pie and ice cream for dessert. There will only be two of us so no need for a huge feast. Though one day it would be nice to experience that full family feast Thanksgiving.

What do you like best about Thanksgiving? What is your favourite food? Do you have any traditions that you uphold on this holiday? Do you have Friendsgiving instead?

Culture Shock

When I moved to the USA from the UK, I received training at an au pair school. One of the things they tried to prepare us for was culture shock. Culture Shock is “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes” (Oxford Languages). Yet, despite learning about culture shock, I still wasn’t prepared to experience it.

Culture shock can manifest in different ways for different people. I couldn’t imagine experiencing culture shock in a country that I thought I knew so well. After all, I was an English speaker and I watched plenty of American movies to know what living here was like, right? Wrong. And to top it off, I was living with a family of Russians, so the main language I was hearing (and unable to understand) was not my own. I found myself becoming homesick. There many things to adjust to… from the food, to the way people behaved.

If you experience culture shock, don’t be surprised if you start to feel irritable. Perhaps there are systems that are frustrating (I felt like there were always long wait times or lines, stating at the airport when you arrive in the USA and have to go through customs). Perhaps you are tired of not being able to understand the language or are having a hard time keeping up with cultural references in conversation. Sometimes you may also begin to feel lonely. For me, these things meant that I began staying in my room more and really missing my family.

Some tips on how to handle this are:

1. Keep an open mind. Things are bound to be different than you are used to. Accept this and try to embrace it. Focus on the positive differences and find things that you enjoy to do. Practice the language. Maybe watch a few movies from that country or read some books. Don’t criticize or judge… instead find things that you DO like about where you are. Differences are what makes travelling interesting.

2. Accept that you will be homesick. Ask your family to send you some treats from home. Set up a time to call with them each week. You could even plan a trip to visit home, if you are living in a new country or are struggling to adjust. But also, try to make friends where you are. Familiarize yourself with your surroundings – find places you enjoy going to. Go exploring. Take language classes and practice speaking the language that you are immersed in. See this as an opportunity to improve yourself and to make new friends. Soon, the new will become the familiar.

3. Time. It may take a while to get used to a new place. Try new things. Familiarize yourself with what is local. Before you know it, you will get used to where you are.

Don’t worry. You will start to adapt to the new culture you have entered. Sometimes it takes a few hours, and sometimes it takes a few weeks. After hiding in my room for a while, I began embracing my new home. I took Russian lessons and practiced with the family that I lived with, asking them to help me. I went for walks and mini-adventures, discovering what this new place had to offer. I made friends with other au pairs, who were going through the same thing (I was lucky to be part of a group that were all going though the adjustment – it was easy to meet people since we had au pair meetings every month). And soon, this became my home too.

However, it is possible that you will also feel strange when you go back home. Your experience away may have changed you. You may have to get used things again if you have been away for a long time. For me, it is always nice to be back home. I live in the USA still, but I visit my family in England as often as I can. I love the familiarity of home. It is like a warm embrace. But what makes me feel weird, is when some things are different than they were when I lived there – when the familiar is no longer familiar. For instance, they changed the money in the UK so that now it looks different from when I lived there.

Culture shock can be a little jarring. But when you travel or live in a new place… you may discover things that are wonderful. Perhaps you will find a new hobby or a new favourite food. You may meet amazing people or do things out of your comfort zone. You could end up with crazy adventure stories that make you more interesting. Or you may experience something life-changing. Remember, if you find yourself struggling to adjust, it will get easier with time.

Have you experienced culture shock? Tell us about your experience in the comments.

Halloween

I dressed as a witch for Halloween 2020

Halloween is a big deal in USA. Or it is for many people, at least. From decorations, to parties, to trick-or-treating – they just do it right here. Growing up in the UK, my family never celebrated Halloween. I remember carving a pumpkin once, and dressing up for school parties once in a while, but Halloween was never something that we looked forward to with huge excitement. That’s not to say that England doesn’t have trick-or-treating or fun Halloween events and parties, it’s just something we didn’t celebrate. And of course, every year we would wait to see if anyone would egg our house.

When I moved to California, I lived in a neighbourhood in Menlo Park. It is a nice, quiet community. At Halloween, the people really come together to make it a special time for kids and adults alike. Many people decorate, some quite extravagantly. It was so fun for me to walk around the neighbourhood and just enjoy the decorations for the whole month of October.

On Halloween, that neighbourhood is the place to be for trick-or-treating. People even come from other neighbourhoods because they know that it is a fun place to be. Streets are blocked off and families can enjoy the festivities. Some houses have outdoor movies with popcorn; others have hotdog stands; some have parties for adults; and the treats are not just candy – all kinds of prizes are given out to the kids. I love that the community is able to come together and have some fun at least once a year.

What is Halloween like for you? Do you enjoy dressing up? I for one, LOVE dressing up. Leave a comment…

Accents

Have you ever thought about your accent before?

I grew up in the north of England. Northerners are known for having a strong accent. (Think Ser Davos Seaworth from Game of Thrones). And there are so many colloquialisms that it is almost another language altogether. YouTube the Geordie accent if you have no clue what I’m talking about.

Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northern England

Now, despite growing up surrounded by this gritty, hearty accent, my own accent was always much softer. From a young age, I was always aware of the way I was speaking. I wanted to talk properly. Perhaps this is because of my love of the language, or of structure. Perhaps it was because I read a lot and was also read to often from a very early age. I’m not sure why, but I never developed a strong Northern accent.

My accent diluted further when I went to live in York for University. I spoke too fast and had to learn to slow down so that people could understand me. But it was when I moved to California that I really started to notice my accent.

York, UK 🇬🇧

The people here would comment on my accent when I met them. “I love your accent!” they would say. And sometimes I would get, “Are you from Australia?”. Have you seen ‘Love Actually’? One of the guys goes to America to meet girls because he thinks he has a “cute British accent”. Well, that’s what it felt like – I had the “cute British accent” and I kind of loved how much people loved it.

But the more time I have spent here, the more I have adapted my accent. I went from saying tom-AR-toe to saying to-MAY-toe. And I cringe inside every time it comes out of my mouth, but it does make life a little bit easier when you don’t have to repeat yourself twenty times. Adapting seemed like a small price to pay to live in this amazing place. After all, I have always been a bit of a chameleon.

Every year for our holidays (vacation), we would go to Scotland as a kid. And I LOVED the accent of the people there. I would mimic it as much as possible. I have always had a fascination with interesting accents and tried to mimic them for fun. Scottish is an example of an accent that I think stays with a person more easily. I doubt that many people from Scotland lose their accent when they move to another place. But perhaps I am wrong about that? Perhaps it depends on the person rather than the accent. I know people from the UK who have lived in other places with strong accents, South Africa for instance, and their British accent remained as strong as ever. Yet, my sister went to live in South Africa for a year and came back with the accent (although she went back to speaking in her regular Gerodie accent after a sort while when she moved home).

Scottish Highland Cow

So, despite adapting my accent to be understood more easily, there are some things that have stuck with me. I still say ban-ar-na, for example; and c-ar-n’t; and bin rather than garbage can etc. So now I have a hybrid accent and I’m not sure how much I like it. People don’t hear right away that I have a British accent when I speak now and I miss the idea of having that “cute British accent” – I felt sexy and exotic with it. But I also don’t mind my hybrid accent. I am part of both worlds. I am both British and American. And my accent reflects that.

Do you adapt to where you are? Or do you have no choice but to keep the accent you grew up with? Leave a comment 🙂

My Blog

Hi there! My name is Rachel and I am restarting this blog to tell my experience of life as a Permanent Resident in California. I will talk about Green Card application, life in California, country dancing and more.

I moved to Cali in December 2014. I came as an au pair, although my job was really to teach the children I cared for English, as they were of Russian origin. It was a great way to come to the USA for free and experience a different lifestyle than I was used to in England. I was paid very little, but I had come with a goal of gaining life experience, travel and the pursuit of happiness.

I was 24 and had lived a fairly sheltered life in a small village, with very protective parents. And, although I had moved to another city for university and had lived on my own before, I had never really experienced travel or other cultures. My focus when I was at university was studying and doing the best that I could, and on my boyfriend at the time, with whom I had a long-distance relationship. Then I went on to do teacher training, and that was so intense that I had little time for anything else.

I became a teacher and I discovered that I wasn’t happy. And so I gave up the career that I had worked so hard for and found a way to travel while being paid. Granted, my salary was nothing. But I didn’t care. I went hiking every opportunity I could; I went to beach parties; I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, since I had a network of au pairs; I continued my studies at Stanford University and Palo Alto Adult School – honing talents that inspire me and that I am passionate about, art and writing; I won a cruise to the Bahamas; I explored California on my own and with friends; and eventually, I met my husband.

My husband is from Texas, originally, and he’s a real cowboy. He is a country music radio DJ. I have always had a love for country music and I had started exploring country night clubs etc. I met Randy (my now husband) at a small concert at a club in San Jose, California.

Since then, I got more and more into the country culture. And I even have become a line dance instructor. I absolutely LOVE country dancing. It has been a completely unexpected turn of events for me, and I never would have discovered my love for dancing if I had remained a school teacher in the UK.

So here I am, still in California, living the life, just wondering what will happen next.