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!kcohS erutluC

26 Mar

Nope, I didn’t fall on my keyboard. What I’m referring to is something I’d never heard of before tonight, something called reverse culture shock (get it?!). The reason I’m writing this is to try and piece together something odd I’ve been feeling these past few days, something I can hardly put my finger on and something that I think is fully explained by this term!
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So I have just returned to the UK for 10 days. I have been looking forward to this SO much! The past few weeks I have been so thrilled to see my friends and family, to be a Londoner again and to revisit all my old haunts. After arriving back in London I felt that familiar sense of madness that I felt last time I visited: Everything was moving so fast, more traffic than I remember, everybody’s accents sound so… so… ‘British’. Just like last time I decided I needed to sleep it off. The crazy feeling of dislocation was just the jetlag and strong painkillers (wisdom teeth and travel get on like a nerve on fire…). So I slept… and when I woke up, I still felt totally lost.

I met up with my friends, and seeing them all was fantastic. I couldn’t stop grinning, and after a few drinks I was convinced I had gotten over my weird unwelcome feeling of ‘otherness’. Then, after stepping into a nightclub it all felt so strange again. I had been there 100’s of times before, with these same people, but it felt so odd. Like a dream everything was a little ‘wrong’. The music was a little off (where was the cheesy country tracks?) and the drinks were incredibly expensive (What?! A Coors-, uh I mean Stella costs 5 bucks-, uh, I mean quid?). But there was something else, I just felt like a total stranger there.

This feeling of weirdness has persisted. Today whilst out with three of my closest friends, friends who I know like the back of my own hand, conversation and jokes kept slipping over my head. They were talking about things and places and people I had never heard of. Whilst I know that time has passed, that whilst I’ve been away things have happened (I’d be incredibly arrogant not to!) it left me a little lost for words. Seeing that I had withdrawn from the conversation (not like me) one friend asked if I was ok. I admitted that I had been feeling a bit out of it, a little bit like a foreigner in my own ‘home’ and that I wasn’t really sure what was up but that I’m sure it wasn’t serious. I left early and got the tube home in a daydream. I was not depressed or upset but definitely unsettled. I have always been very good at being a Londoner!

Now it’s clear to me. Travelling has changed me. Not that I have somehow ‘found myself’ or become some deep profound person. But, my view of the world has somehow shrunk whilst what I once thought of as normal and homely has stretched. I love London, but it doesn’t quite feel the same as it once did. I find myself constantly contrasting it with Denver in my mind, and in the end you feel a little untethered from both!

Don’t get me wrong. I am having an incredible time, and now I think I know what’s going on (and that it’s not just painkiller induced brain damage!) I think I will be able to relax back into being here. But as a brief word of warning to long-haul long-term travelers, don’t underestimate reverse culture shock! Fitting back into your own culture of origin after a long time adapting to a new one is definitely a bit of a shock to the system!

A year ago today…

21 Mar

I was doing this…
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…drinking a glass of bubbly in the Heathrow lounge, just about to board a flight to Washington DC en route to Denver-comma-Colorado. I am now sitting in Denver International Airport eating a burger king… yeah not quite as classy, how the mighty have fallen etc etc. Still, it is a very neat situation, flying back to the UK for a 10 day holiday on the exact same day I packed my bags for America.

Anyway, I’ve been putting off this post for some time; the somehow obligatory ‘what I have learnt so far a year in’ post, where I flounder at trying to sum-up a year’s worth of experience into a  few paragraphs. I realise that one of the points of creating a blog is so that others may read what you write, and mammoth self-involved posts aside, this still makes me a little uncomfortable… A long list of all-the-stuff-I-did sounds pretty bloody tedious… a little like being forced to look through someone’s holiday snaps, or being told the plot of a film you have no desire to see. At the same time, I don’t want to get so self-analytical that I become too paralysed to write anything for fear of coming across as a royal bore. I guess I just have to live with the fact that by the very act of writing a blog I am (to all intents and purposes) doing the e-equivalent of standing in a busy supermarket whilst shouting my own list of groceries over a loudspeaker. So with this rather awkward preamble, I shall try and make this brief, I shall try and make it readable, and I will try and insert amusing photos.

(For those with a short attention span here is a short twitter friendly summary: IT HAS BEEN AMAZING, AND I MET PEOPLE AND DID THINGS!)

The Befuddled Beginning

To start with, moving abroad, uprooting yourself from all that is familiar is an incredibly strange and frightening experience. I had a lot of predictions of how I would feel when I landed in Denver, when I finally unpacked my suitcase, when I actually realised that this was to be my home for three years. But to be honest, I just felt very dislocated, detached and numb. Not unhappy, terrified or excited… at the most a little jittery, like I’d had a little too much coffee. In fact the first 2-3 weeks I think I was pretending to myself that I was on holiday, that this was just a little adventure and that I would soon be back in London.

Despite my detachment from everything during this period I was quite a sensitive soul. I remember two completely dichotomous experiences. Both occured whilst out drinking in those first few weeks. One was a thrilling blur of drag queens, friendly people and brightly coloured shots; I remember repeating to everyone I met ‘Christ, you’re all American, isn’t that weird? That you’re all American and that I am in America?!’. I felt euphoric.

The other night couldn’t have been more different; it was when I experienced my biggest moment of homesickness. Whilst out at a bar with a ‘friend’ (see previous posts on pros and cons of the British accent) I suddenly found myself feeling incredibly out of place. It was pretty much then, whilst inebriated on unfamiliar spirits in a noisy bar that I  discovered that I really missed my friends terribly. If there was moment where I honestly wanted to be back ‘home’ in London it was then. Luckily, that soon passed (along with everything else I ate that day…). The next stage was less schizophrenic and more stable but also difficult in its own way.

The Netflix Months

I spent a few months being a bum. I mean I did do some stuff: I traveled  I snowboarded a bit, and I felt like I saw a lot of Colorado and the surrounding states, but really I was still a bum. I didn’t work, I volunteered (a bit), I worked on some projects (Hardly at all. See post on ‘Lost Projects). After a month of this I started to feel a bit untethered from myself. Who was I without a job, without any real friends, without any purpose or aim? I watched Netflix, cooked chilli con carne and occasionally drank coffee. I started to look forward to grocery shopping simply because it made me feel purposeful.

Side Note: Here are my top 5 weird American food items (I say weird from the perspective of an English palate mind you)

1.Maple Bacon (Because sweet bacon is wrong)


2.Marshmellow and Sweet Potatoes (No explanation needed)


3.Riceroni (Rice, and pasta… hmmmm but also mmmmm!)


4.Mole (Mexican style meat stew… made with Chocolate and/or Pepsi and/or Dr Pepper!!!)


5.Tootsie Rolls (Chewy chocolate in a lolly… that is then removed from the lolly… and sold seperately…)

Finding Ones’ Feet
In the end I got a job. Not my dream job, but a job all the same. From then on my life started to become more cemented. Having a daily routine allowed my life to start to become more structured and more reminiscent of life back home. Both in work (and out) I also started meeting a group of awesome people. People who I could hang out with in an easy laid-back way, people who I could be myself around and not just be ‘Sacha the performing Brit’. Anyway I’ve since started to work in a position I love, and things really do feel settled now. Now, finally, I feel like a real boy!

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Now Denver does feel like home, and so does London. With the power of the internet I feel like I can live my life in both. I am SO excited to be going back to London, but I think I will also be excited about coming back to Denver. At the start 3 years seemed like an awfully long time. A year in, well it seems like no time at all.

To finish here’s a quick breakdown of my Top 3 moments in the USA!
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1. Winning the pedal boat race for the Museum of Nature and Science. Me and my coworker won NOT ONLY the race (pictured) but ALSO a prize for best costume. Dressed as the Mars Curiosity Rover and a Martian we had such an awesome time. It wasn’t the winning (although that helped) it was the combined joy of having a job somewhere I loved, feeling like I was making friends and doing something totally mental!
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2. Las Vegas. Well I wrote a whole post about this so it probably comes as no surprise! I loved my time in Vegas SO much more than I anticipated. It was thrilling, relaxing and totally memorable. My favorite part of the trip? That’s tough, but I would say wandering around the themed hotels on my last day and going on the New York New York rollercoaster!
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3. I’ve had my ups and downs with snowboarding, and a good few bruises too, but the ups have been awesome. Whilst I’m no pro, and learning hasn’t been easy, there have been some truly awesome moments on the slopes. One particular snowy day at Keystone and a fresh-powder day at Vail stick in the mind. Anyway I’ve spent almost $500 on a brand new snowboard so I’m committed to many more seasons to come!

And that’s it. There’s so much to say about the past year that I can hardly scratch the surface. And whilst I try and keep other people’s identity private on my blog I feel I have to say a BIG thanks to Terryn (I’m sure she won’t mind) but also to all the other AMAZING neighbors  friends, coworkers and randomers, for making Denver a home. HERE’S TO ANOTHER 2 YEARS!

The way you’d imagine heaven must look at night

29 Oct

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They say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. It’s been called: Sin City, Lost Wages, Disneyland for grown ups and the desert mirage. When you tell people you’re going to Vegas people raise an eyebrow and smirk, as if you just told a dirty joke. When Stephen King wrote his end-of-the-world epic ‘The Stand’, all the good guys go to Boulder (obviously) and all the bad guys go to Vegas. So having now spent 4 days and 3 nights in that big-little town in the desert I thought I’d try and surmise my experiences.

To start with, as shown in the titular Chuck Palahniuk quote, Las Vegas is a place of contrasts, light and dark. So I’m going to try and divide this into the dark and light side, the things I love and the things that made me feel less comfortable (and occasionally frightened.) So without further ado here’s why you definitely should/shouldn’t go to Vegas.

Vivaaaaaaaa las Vegas!

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First let me start with this, I had an amazing time in Vegas. From start to finish I enjoyed every moment of it. Whether it was indulging in Margaritas by the lazy river, enjoying some cava by the fountain at the Wynn or simply strolling through the indoor reproductions of Paris and New York, I loved everything.

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The Strip itself is a lot to take in; brightly coloured signs glare and flash, jarring with reproductions of world wonders in glitzy neon, all crowding for your attention. And it’s not just a visual assault, there is constant noise, whether its 90’s power ballads, gushing fountains, shouting pirates or the merry clinking and boinging of the slot machines. I can honestly say I spent my time perpetually stimulated, euphoric and excited. It all took my breath away!

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And Christ on a bike it’s fun! Rollercoasters and waterfalls at every turn, boredom just isn’t an option in Vegas. Other than a few quiet hours by the pool I think I spent the entire time in pupil-dilating hyperactivity! Also whilst Vegas is famous for being tacky and over the top, if you take in the scale of everything it somehow stops being tacky, it becomes amazing. Not only this, some of the design and sheer imagination that went into Vegas is staggering: The lightshow at the Wynn was incredible, we were completely taken aback when a giant woman rose out of the water, or when two giant flowers appeared and danced in front of us. Nothing in Vegas is subtle or small scale, yes, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have moments of incredible artistry and beauty.

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I would also recommend wondering through Paris and New York New York. They’re complete fabrications, more movie sets than accurate adaptations of the real places, but walking outdoors/indoors never ceases to amaze. Also get the bus down to Freemont, the older side of Vegas, it’s seedier and less slick than the strip but the Freemont light experience and seafood buffet at the Golden Nugget are worth the trip alone.

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Finally, I felt like one of the Jetsons; If you decide to use the monorail, which is sincerely recommend, despite being in the middle of the desert you can spend the entire time in hermetically sealed air-conditioned bliss. I felt so space-age flying through the themed hotels in a glass bullet and never even having to even set foot outside. Yes, Las Vegas is luxurious and oppulant first and foremost it’s not ‘classy’ or ‘clever’, so forget any pretensions of ‘real culture’ just go with it: See the sights, ride the rides and be prepared to spend way more than you budgeted!

There are no clocks in Vegas…

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Vegas has a dark heart. There’s the friendly neon exterior that you see; the brightly coloured drinks and the smiling waitresses, and then there is the side you don’t see, at least not overtly. The underlying manipulation of people, the push to spend more, care less, keep gambling, bet higher and raise the odds. The music is always inane and optimistic and whilst having a coffee at 10am I noticed that the lyrics were packed with references to gambling and taking risks: ‘It’s taking me higher!’ ‘I can’t get enough, I can’t get enough’ ‘show them what your worth’ etc.

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As I stated in the heading, there are no clocks, the lighting is always the same whether it’s 4pm or 4am. The tinkling of the slot machines is endless and mesmerising. One game shouts ‘you’re the best!’ and ‘you’re awesome’ at every crank of the handle. I later found out that the exact pitch of the sounds is actually engineered to be reinforcing as they trigger the reward centres of the brain. So there were times, particularly when I was by myself, and I found myself listening to the heartbeat of Vegas, the chimes and tinkles, when I felt a little like I was sitting in a giant Pavlovian box.

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And it’s obvious, but worth mentioning, the pure extravagance of a place like Vegas is built on the fact that the house always wins. Over all, Vegas has to make more than it loses, it wouldn’t exist if it were any other way. Now, for a lot of the people that come and go in Vegas, gambling is just fun and you expect to lose. But what of the sad slumped figures at the slot machines, day or night, cigarette in mouth and money in hand? I saw my share of heavy gamblers, none of them in tuxedos surrounded by sexy ladies like in the posters on the walls, all of them vacant and radiating a sense of loss.

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Gambling is designed to be addictive and Vegas plays on this, makes it an art-form. The oxygen they pump into the hotels, the timelessness of the casinos and the bright lights are designed to tap into that reptilian part of the brain, the part that can’t say no. So there is definately a dark manipulative side, Vegas is designed to be fun, it taps into everyone’s inner child; the love of theme parties and magic tricks. Do you remember Pleasure Island in Pinnochio? Just like that, the fun is a vaneer, and underneath is a well oiled machine; Once you pass through Vegas, one way or another it will take the cash out of your wallet, just make sure that it only takes what you can afford to give.

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Mom and Pop

20 Aug

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So, mum and dad are currently hurtling across the sky somewhere over the Atlantic in a small metal box (Planes… hmmm… I’m still sceptical…) and are due to arrive in Denver late this evening. They’re here for the next 11 days and so it is my duty to show them a good time, give them a feel for the ‘REAL’ midwest and be an alround awesome long-distance son. No small feat! (SIDENOTE: Had to look up how to spell ‘feat’, 20 minutes later ended up on a wikipedia page on Boba Fett. When you’re an inquisitive but dyslexic nerd the internet is a dangerous labyrinth indeed!) So, here are some of the things I’ve planned to do.

1. Banjo Billy Bus tour of Denver

I’ve seen this around downtown and it looks mental! Basically a rickety bus, with a crazy guy with a banjo shouting facts sbout the city. Normally I wouldn’t go in for the whole ‘tour bus’ routine but this seemed just weird enough to be entertaining. “Hear ghost tales, crime stories, and history while sitting on a couch, recliner or saddle as the bus rolls through the core of the city”. Here’s hoping my parents can leave their British cynicism behind… otherwise this could be excruciatingly awful…

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2. Waterworld! (Sans Kein Costner… actually you know what, hands up, I liked that film)

So this is honestly one of my favourite places in the whole of Denver, plus I have a season pass so it’s cheap. This could be a bit hit and miss, mum and dad aren’t exactly the extreme waterslide types. (I have this terrible image of my dad going down ‘Flat Line’ and only his swimming trunks coming out the other end…) Still, we used to go to a small waterpark in Greece all the time and I know mum and dad loved the lazy river. Also the Burittos are really really good! So I think as long as we can get a nice spot by the pool (shade for dad, blazing sunshine for mum) I think it could be great. Fingers crossed I don’t kill my parents…

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3. Drive to Wyoming

So I’m trying to tick as many states off as possible whilst I’m here, here’s my (depressingly empty) map so far

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So it makes sense to get all the adjoining states to Colorado in the bag, we’ve already done New Mexico. Wyoming is the next one on the list. Therefore a 2 hour drive should get us to Cheyenne… of which I know absolutely nothing. When I have told Denver locals that I’m taking my parents to Wyoming the general response has been ‘Why?’ and ‘Do your parents like wheat fields or something?’. Oh well, that’s what everyone said about South Park, that there was nothing there worth seeing, and that turned out to be AWESOME! Anyway, even if Cheyenne turns out to be really dull I think it will be cool for my parents to see more than one state during their trip. (If anyone knows what’s good in Cheyenne drop me a comment please)

4. Trip to a dive bar

So I had never heard of a ‘dive bar’ before coming to the US but it basically means a small, intimate, cheap and rather eccentric liquor bar. The kind of place where the more colourful local characters hang out. My favourite is called ‘Nob Hill’ (snigger) on Colfax Avenue. The bartender is always friendly and full of sexist/racist jokes, plus they serve my favourite brand of Whiskey. I think dad will like the idea of drinking in a ‘proper’ midwestern bar and I think mum will love being chatted up by the locals! And if they’re up for it I might drag them both to Charlies (a gay cowboy bar) and get them linedancing… if this happens the photos WILL be on facebook!

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5. Boulder

So with a name like Sacha and with a sister called Sunshine you might guess the kind of people my parents were back in the 60’s/70’s. So, whilst neither of my parents sport dreads and (thankfully) they’re not you’re archetypal hippy parents I really think they’d get a kick out of Boulder. For those who don’t know Boulder is a smallish town outside Denver that is known for being a hippy eco haven. There is, I hear, a sign as you leave Boulder which reads  ‘Now re-entering reality’. I’ve been to Boulder a couple of times and to be honest the whole gaia-earthmother-hippy-potsmoking-rainbow-faery thing is all a bit put on, all the same it does remind me a little of Camden Town in London (where I grew up) so I think mum and dad will like it. Other than looking at the shops and drinking chai lattes I’m not really sure what to do with them. Any suggestions?

6. Eat Bullock Bollocks

Yeah you read that right. So since moving here I’ve wanted to go to the infamous Buckhorn Exchange in Denver. At this rather pricey restaurant you can eat pretty much anything that once had a heart beat. From alligator steaks to moose burgers. Not only this they have a speciality called ‘prairie oysters’. Remember, Colorado is landlocked… yup, these ‘oysters’ are deep-fried bull’s testicles. We’ll see just how adventurous mum and dad feel. I know I’m game!

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Audience participation time please: So have I missed anything else? To those people from Colroado what have I neglected? What do you do when your mum and dad come to visit? To those Brits reading this, what would YOU want to do if you came to Colorado? What would your Denver bucket list look like?

So you’re about to move abroad…

10 Aug

It’s now been 4 months and a bit since I packed up my old life and moved to Denver, I can honestly say that I’m still learning and adapting every single day so I’m nowhere near living-abroad-Nirvana. With that said I’d like to offer 5 tips; bits of advice etc that (should I find a handy time machine) I would want to tell my pre-USA self. Also, if you find yourself in a similar situation, about to move far away from home then hopefully these might be of some use. Everyone’s different so I’m not sure how applicable these titbits will be for everyone about to take the big step, anyway, enough with the apologetic preamble: These are the 5 things I would definitely bear in mind.

1. Finding friends:
So if you’re at all like me your friends are pretty much your world and one of the most exciting/terrifying experiences is having to start from scratch. As soon as moving to the US my first goal was to find friends, I had set myself a friend finding mission! Now, call me arrogant, but I didn’t think it would be too hard to make a new set of mates. I think I envisioned it as being a repeat of Fresher’s week, rather stressful but after 2 weeks I’d have all my BFFs sorted. NOT SO! If you are moving in your mid-twenties or later remember that most people your age have already found their friendship groups so unlike Fresher’s week it is JUST YOU on ‘the friend finding mission’. And as they are unaware of ‘the mission’ this means that whilst many people will be friendly, chatty and more than happy to share their evening with you, don’t expect to find those deep kind of friendships that you had back home straight away. I met a few people in a bar who seemed reasonably friendly, we swapped numbers and I patted myself (metaphorically) on the back, Mission Achieved! Or was it… I went out with said people and felt like a total hanger on the entire night. Whilst these guys were friendly enough it turned out we had very little in common and I found the number of injokes whipping over my head completely bewildering. Safe to say I ended up feeling drunk and more homesick than ever before. So my advice, be constantly open to making friends BUT, remember, it may take some time till you meet ‘your people’. Don’t be hard on yourself, enjoy the company of all those you meet but don’t worry if it takes a while. (Also, don’t drink at altitude whilst homesick and slightly lost in a new city… not fun!)

2. Work IS good for you:
Maybe you’re moving with work, if so ignore this. If on the other hand you don’t have a job lined up then read this it’s important! I came to the US without work, without even a work permit or social security company. Whilst I had tried to mentally prepare myself for a number of months without work I still think I underestimated the impact it would have. It really is worth mentioning that being jobless and friendless in a new place is not at all easy. The first 2 weeks were fine, I had so much to see, there were so many things to organise that I barely had a free moment anyway. It was a month or so down the line where I found myself watching yet another episode of Flashforward in my underwear (eating scrambled eggs out the pan) that things got rough. Now of course if you’re the kind of person who can set yourself exciting projects and tasks then more power to you. Unfortunately whilst I had all these ideas for projects (start a website, edit a showreel and write a story) the incentive to do them was often lacking. Personally I am a product of living in highly controlled work-orientated western society, I need structure even if I don’t think I do! So my tips to those of you moving abroad without work, obviously try and manoeuvre yourself into a position to get work as soon as possible but before then KEEP BUSY! The best thing for me has been volunteering, not only will this fill time, make you feel useful, it will also help you make connections that could end with gainful employment. (Those of you moving to the states definitely look up the American Red Cross, they’re a great organisation and have really helped me keep myself occupied.) Also coffee shops are your friend, take your laptop and a book, buy a Starbucks and you’ll suddenly find yourself being 100x more productive. Not only that but the simple process of leaving the house and going out to a place with people is an incredibly positive experience!

3. Don’t be a Troglodyte:
Thank god I live in the 21st century. Skype is really your friend when you move a kabillion miles from home. Talking with your friends and family and being able to see them is really really good. It makes you feel the distance between you drop away, and being able to share all your new experiences with them via facebook is just fantastic. I worried about overusing these tools, I feared they would become a crutch and thought I would have to be more hard on myself. Luckily a well-travelled friend (thanks Tom!) told me that I should not try and hold myself back. Being able to drop in on your friends back home does NOT make you feel more homesick, the opposite is true, it reassures you that they are still there and still thinking of you. Embrace the future people!

4. Homesickness, there is no vaccine:
Some people never feel homesick when they move and that’s great but most of us will and do. Either way prepare yourself for it, you probably will have moments where you miss your friends and family terribly. Sometimes really stupid things can trigger it, finding a note of your own currency in an old bag, not being able to find the same brand of cream at the supermarket or seeing your friend’s photos from a night out. With this in mind just see it as part of the process, you WILL be fine just give yourself 25 minutes to wallow then go out and do something in your new home. Go for a walk around downtown, find a new cafe or get a bus to anywhere. Even if you feel like crap whilst you’re doing it, it will help you cement the idea that this is home now and you’ll soon be too distracted to feel lonely. Also, why not send your friends an email telling them about what you’ve seen, keep it positive and upbeat, sharing your experiences helps. You knew this wasn’t going to be easy right? So be strong and keeps busy.

5. Embrace the cultureshock:
Things will be different, possibly very very different, from home. Even if the language is the same, the food people eat, the things people say, what is acceptable humour and all those other little cultural nuances may be new and frightening. Very rarely have I found this to be a huge problem, in fact I’ve quite enjoyed all the cultural differences I’ve noticed, that’s part of the reason I moved. This leads into my point, embrace the differences, this is your home now so try the local cuisine, see the local sports and adapt. This doesn’t mean change yourself to fit in, I just think that if you’re flexible to what’s on offer in your new home then you’ll get so much more out of the experience. Also, if you resist everything and anything that differs, people may regard you as a snob and nobody wants to buy a snob a drink. Cases in point: I would never snowboard in London: This winter I am going to embrace the winter sports here as much as possible. I would cringe at anyone saying ‘dude’ in the UK: here is the US if you bump into someone ‘sorry dude’ is informal, courteous and not ridiculous.

Having an accent in the USA: Why I love it, Why I hate it.

3 Aug

So one of the first things you will notice on arriving in the states as a Brit (unless you are mute, deaf or incredibly quiet) is that they love the accent. Now, obviously in big metropolitan cities like Washington, New York and San Francisco this is much less salient. You might get politely asked where you’re from, asked about the Olympics, the Queen etc, but quite frankly they’ve met more Brits than you’ve had hot dinners and they’re too busy going to art galleries and sealing deals to discuss the difference between courgettes and zucchinis, thank you very much. BUT outside of these so-over-euro areas having an accent is kind of a big deal. Now as an attention seeker ego-vampire I actually love it; I open my mouth to ask where the ‘washroom’ is and people are in rapture, fantastic! But there is a downside… with great power comes great responsibility. So here, for those who care, is a wee list of the good and the antigood things about living in the USA with a British accent.

The Good
1. This one’s obvious, people love it which by association means people love you. The accent will buy you drinks, make you friends, get you layed (probably!), hired, fed and endlessly complimented. As egotisitcal as this all sounds I challenge any Brit, even the most modest of you, to not enjoy having a group of excited Americans introducing you to everyone and buying you ALL the alcohol.

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2. People think you’re clever. There seems to be a strong association in the American psyche between a British accent and intellect. What is normally seen as blatant bullshit by my British friends is taken as fact by many Americans all because of the accent. This may seem decidedly Machiavellian but there is some small pleasure that I get from having a few points added to my IQ… especially when a lot of what I say is a load of rubbish. This also helps in interviews, apparently (and luckily for us) the stereotype of the Oxford educated British Gent has much more power than the Daily Mail reading football hooligan.
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3. Instant conversation/icebreaker. I know some people can’t stand small talk, I understand this, but for me it is endlessly preferable to those… long… awkward………. silences. Whether its at the hairdresser, or whilst waiting at a bus stop the accent can be very very useful when it comes to filling air. As soon as they hear it people will ask where you come from (London or Scotland are the only acceptable responses) and then you can spend a leisurely 10 minutes talking about the queen, tea, Harry Potter and dentistry before you can leave. Sounds silly but with my secret X-Men power of making any mildly-awkward social situation COMPLETELY UNBEARABLE this is a really really good thing!
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4. Wow you’re funny! You never were all that funny back in the UK, I mean you make your friends chuckle occasionally and some people like the joke about the hidden horse and the cheese (masque-a-pony, hahahahaha). And then you arrive in the states. Suddenly you merest utterance is very very funny. Sometimes people laugh when you don’t intend to be making a joke and you feel a bit like Hugh Grant, bumbling and somewhat confused, but someone just bought you a drink and shouted ‘I love this guy, he’s funny’ so you must be doing ok!
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The Bad

1. So it’s very charming how much they love your voice… but sometimes you wish they would just listen to WHAT you’re saying. Classic example whilst in a bookshop yesterday.

Me: Hello, I just came to pick up my boo-
Shop Assistant: Ooooh, just keep speaking!
Me: Haha, cheers… so I was hoping to get the-
Shop Assistant: He said Cheers! You ACTUALLY say that?
Me: Uuuuh, yes, che- thanks… can I have my-
Shop Assistant: I used to have such a crush on Daniel Radcliffe!
Me: BOOK! Can I please have my book! Now! Please THANKS! CHEERS!

So it’s all very flattering, but when you just want to be heard it can get in the way. There are times when you realise that the person has no real interest in talking TO you, they’re just observing your accent like some exotic butterfly. This can be a royal pain in the arse, especially when you’re trying to make friends: Great, everyone likes your accent but very few people want to actually know anything about you.

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2. Dance monkey dance: Say that phrase from that film! Say ‘pavement’! No say it more British! SAY IT, SAY IT!!!!!! Similar to the previous gripe, people will want you to perform. Again this is fine for a laugh, and once you’ve made a few friends it can be quite amusing but when it’s with a bunch of new acquaintances and you’re homesick and/or feeling a bit like a sore thumb having people point out repeatedly how ‘funny’ you sound can grate.
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3. Now I know my American accent is terrible, I sound like a reject gay OC character with a speech impediment. But the thing is at least I know how bad I sound! Now, a lot of Yanks really really pride themselves on their British Accent (or as they say Bri-‘ish Ats-eh’). I’m not offended that for the most part these accents are terrible, I mean they’re no worse than my American accent, but its continuously being asked to appraise them, by total strangers… that can get old! At a pub in Lodo I ended up surrounded by 4-5 yanks all speaking Bri-‘ish at me. I felt like I was trapped in a Dick Van Dyke Nightmare, or some budget Australian production of Oliver Twist. Again, this behaviour can make you feel isolated and also slightly highly strung. Again it all depends on the situation, I often make my American friends speak Bri-‘ish as it is hsyterical, but when it’s a bunch of strangers, and it keeps happening, and you keep having to tell people that, no, I’m afraid ‘spot-a- tea in the mornin tip top elo elo mi-jubblies’ is not really going to cut it…

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Anyway I hope that was even slightly sensical and not too whiney, patronising or egotistical. As I say over and over again the people here in Denver are incredibly kind, sensitive people. The points I make in these blogposts are mainly generalisations so do take them with a massive pinch of salt.

(This post was brought to you by too much iced Mocha and excessive playing of Xenoblade Chronicles.)

Ghost people

26 Apr

Before reading this post I want to press upon you that I really am no expert on American society having been in the States for only 3 weeks. Therefore this observation is simply that, an observation. With that said it is something I have seen over and over again this past month and after speaking to a few locals I don’t think it’s all in my head.

So homelessness is obviously a global phenomena and I would be a fool to say otherwise but there really is something about homelessness here in the USA that stands out in a big way. In London, like any major city, we have a massive problem with people living on the streets: Whether it’s down to substance abuse, mental health issues or young runaways there are always people that slip through society’s net and end up sleeping rough BUT I really do have to question just how big the holes are in the net here in the USA.

Homelessness in the USA by state

Firstly, the number of homeless people that I see every day is so much more than what I’m used to. Both in Washington DC and here in Denver the parks, city centres and cultural quarters seem to be home to hundreds of homeless people. These malnourished, dirty and bedraggled individuals, often shouting at cars or mumbling into paper bags (archetypical hobos many of them) are a stark contrast to the lavish museums, shiny malls and multi story car-parks which surround them. As a personal example, whilst walking from my apartment in uptown to a craft store on one of the main roads I passed 8 people talking to themselves, that’s 8 people in 3 miles! This was so striking that at first I thought everyone must be using Bluetooth…

Homeless people on the 16th Street Mall in Denver

And yet, despite being so much more conspicuous and vocal than I have ever experienced before (and living in such landmark and popularised areas) these people are ghosts: A dirty woman stands weeping in the middle of the park and families walk by feeding the geese; A sunburnt man with a cardboard sign round his neck shouts racist remarks at passersby and people look right through him.

Now I’m not advocating that we all become ‘good Samaritans’ and rush to ‘help’ these people (In some cases you’d have to have a deathwish!) I’m simply astonished at how much these people become the wallpaper to everyday life here in Denver. In London a woman shouting at traffic would be given a wide berth but I believe that at least it would turn heads, but not here. When I’ve asked local people about the situation a number of them refer to homelessness in the USA as more of a lifechoice or a subculture. A few have made comparisons with the way these people live and the Occupy movement, a sort of rebellious counterculture if you like. Now I do see the logic in this to some extent, and perhaps for some it is a choice, to be honest I haven’t stopped to ask. But whilst I know it would help us all to sleep at night if we could pass off all these people as eccentrics who simply enjoy a life on the streets… I just don’t quite buy it. Firstly here in Colorado the weather is extreme to say the least, I still haven’t experienced the coldest months but I’m prepared for months of heavy snow and subzero temperatures contrasting with the current sunburn inducing heat. Cold like that can kill you, surely nobody would chose to sleep rough when it’s -15c outside or when your sleeping quarters quickly become a snowdrift? Well at least nobody in their right mind and that leads into my next point.

Many of the people I see walking along aren’t just quirks they’re seriously disturbed, if living rough is really a choice then surely you need to be compus mentus to make that choice? Junkies and paranoid schizophrenics are hardly a rebel subculture, and are not the kind of people that should be trusted to look after their own best interests. Whilst I understand that they may not function in society at all, and dragging them into our care is no doubt a tremendous struggle, it does upset me to see SUCH a failure in the duty of care.

Ok, so I’m really no longer entirely sure where this is going and I fear its disintergrating into a bit of a bleeding-heart rant as I haven’t really got any solutions to offer. All the same I would like to end on one point: As much as Britain takes a wrap for being a ‘nanny state’ that allows ‘freeloaders’ and the ‘workshy’ to take advantage there is something to be said for a state’s duty to care for its people. I think that perhaps Britain has gone too far one way, but having lived here for only a few weeks I feel that there is another extreme operating here in the USA.