About my first full year in the US of A
It’s just over a year – one year and one month to be accurate – since we waved goodbye to our flat in Glasgow’s West End, took a taxi to the airport, a plane to Heathrow, then caught a transatlantic flight to Phoenix, Arizona, for what has been without question the biggest upheaval and adventure of my life.
The first 12 months in America have been a lot of things – exciting, eye-opening, interesting, a culture shock. But I should get the confession side of things out of the way first. I do find myself saying zee instead of zed all the time. I ask for tom-ay-to and bay-zil soup. Home Depot (pron. Dee-po) is a major home improvement store. I have tried to maintain ‘correct’ pronunciation but sometimes it’s easier to follow the crowd.
Another thing I have come to realise is that it’s impossible for me to say I like the United States. All I can say is that I like Arizona. Every state here is like a different country. It’s like an American spending time in Iceland and telling his friends what a wonderful place Europe is.
Arizona is part of the old Wild West and that culture is still very much alive. Go to bars and there are signs saying ‘Doc Holliday drank here’ – or Wyatt Earp, Butch Cassidy, Billy the Kid. They all hung out here and there are memorials to them everywhere.
When I arrived here there were two major stories dominating the headlines. One was the revelation that Josh Duggar, the eldest son of the uber-religious family and subject of the TV show 19 Kids and Counting, had molested a number of his sisters. The other was ‘Deflategate’, the story about New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady deliberately letting air out of footballs.
They were on the front page of every paper until June when Donald Trump announced he was running for President. Since then Trump has dominated every single news agenda on every single day. America has gone Trump crazy. Part of me wishes I was having a final news fling covering this election – it is journalistic manna from heaven.
One morning I was at a pharmacy – needing Gaviscon would you believe – when I saw a guy in his 30s walking towards me in the same aisle. He was a normal looking guy – until I spotted his belt, complete with holster and handgun. This was about 10am in an urban chemist shop.
My initial thought was ‘Christ, this person could shoot me here’. Of course he didn’t, in fact he acknowledged me in a perfectly friendly way as he walked past. And he was breaking no law, it’s perfectly legal in Arizona for a law-abiding citizen to openly carry a handgun. I’ve had a few similar experiences since. I’ve become used to it but I don’t think I’ll feel ever feel comfortable about it.
The stereotype of Americans as loud, brash, ultra-religious, in your face, warmongering and arrogant is just that – a stereotype. I have found the vast majority of the people I’ve met to be extremely friendly, no talk about religion, little talk about politics. They are outgoing, easy to talk with, always happy to meet new people and share stories. They are a lot of fun, with a great sense of humour.
Perhaps if I lived elsewhere – a rural part of the Bible Belt for example – I might be saying something different. But my experience of American people so far has been overwhelmingly positive.
I have spent time explaining to people how we are more tolerant in the UK than America. Then this week the upper-class buffoon who masquerades as Lord Mayor of London opened his fat, bigoted mouth and proved me wrong. Mind you, even Americans don’t think Boris Johnson speaks for the rest of the country.
If you’ve read this blog then you’ll know I’m far too young to be a grandfather. A step-grandfather of two boys – one aged two, the other seven weeks – is one step removed but no less delightful.
Before we left Scotland I had a discussion with my wife about what the older boy, Ford, should call me, given that he had two grandfathers in the US. I suggested Iain – that was dismissed as silly. So I suggested he call me dude – equally silly. So I said, seeing as I’m Scottish, what about MacDude?
So there is a two-year old running around Arizona shouting ‘MacDude…MacDude, take me to the big park’. It doesn’t get much better really.