There is something rather magical about arriving in the United States of America as a foreigner- something about arriving at Dulles that really does butter my toast. As soon as one gets to America, if you aren’t a citizen, once at the airport you’re stuck in a long and bustling queue of other confused outsiders, all with different colored passports accompanied by different alphabets and languages. Tired sympathy fills the air as people ask each other where they’re from. On the other end of the hall, the Americans gather to have their passports swiped by those clever passport-swiping machines that, if it takes more than 3 swipes, will earn resounding groans and eye-rolls from people lined up behind you. As soon as you get through those gates, though, the airport arrivals crowd becomes one, you are welcomed; a guest in the Land of the Free.
As a European, I first noticed how warm the average American is. People smile at each other for no reason in particular, and striking up conversation with strangers seems, in the South at least, to be a casual and daily event. In Europe, this is not commonplace. One keeps her head down, headphones in, and newspaper held firmly across the face as to expose only the bridge of the nose and forehead to avoid engaging with others. This is a particularly frequent occurrence on public transport. Waiting rooms, offices, and queues call for the same protocol. Americans somehow manage to turn day-to-day life into a much more uplifting affair.
I hadn’t anticipated many things about the USA, such as: the amount of flags that adorn the walls of every public building, the concept of a corn dog, and the prominence of American football and baseball. The idea of learning to drive at 15 and a half is baffling too. In England, one is able to start driver’s education at the age of 17, but in most of Europe, it’s 18. The average price for obtaining a driver’s license in Europe is approximately $2,000. Here, I can get away with a couple of hundred dollars total. What a bargain.
One of the most striking things about the United States, I think, is the landscape. The first thing I said when we landed in D.C. went along the lines of “Blimey. Lot of trees, aren’t there?” and yes, there were an awful lot of trees, also shrubberies, flowers, and an irritating quantity of poison ivy, which Europeans are not familiar with; they’re like stinging nettles on steroids. However, during the summer we arrived, Virginia also presented us with a beautiful array of dogwood, cherry blossom trees. and white picket fences. And although change is always tough, leaving what you know and the people you love behind, I think whoever you are and wherever you’re from, America always feels a little bit like home.