When we first arrived in Chicago back in January, I started a daily Facebook update which charted all the new things I was learning - it started as a lighthearted way of giving friends and family a potted update to let them know we'd survived another day. After a week, I stopped but quickly received a flurry of requests to keep it going... in the end, it became the foundation of this blog which to date has been read by around 3,500 people. Almost ten months on, I'm still learning new things every day - some bemuse me, others amuse me, but each time we encounter something else new, it confirms just how different life in America is for us Brits.
Just this week, I discovered 'tailgating'. At first I thought it was some kind of driving offense - or perhaps something a weird stalker might do, but in fact, it's yet another way that Americans love to socialise with an informal meal served from the back of a parked vehicle, typically in a car park of a school, park or sports stadium. Back in the UK, I can't imagine ever driving to Iver Rec, opening the boot (trunk) of my car and firing up the BBQ, but here it's the norm - Have BBQ, will travel! There's even a specific freezer in the supermarket for tailgating foods!
Meal Trains are another new thing and definitely something I'm planning on bringing back to the UK. Put simply, it's providing meals for people around a significant life event, such as the birth of a baby. Whilst we do this in the UK in a fairly low key, ad hoc way, here there are even apps that do all the arranging for you. You simply set one up for the person in need and people sign up by choosing a slot on the calendar to provide and deliver a meal. Currently, there's one in place for a new mum at church - and so many have signed up that, at this rate, she won't need to cook a meal until some time in the middle of 2021! Like a lot of things here, it's slick and organised, but also ensures that people are cared for when they need it most. It's such a simple thing, but hugely effective because everyone just does it.
With Son#2 at high school, it's not just the lessons that provide a steep learning curve for us, but also the social events. Formal dances are big here - there's the Turnabout Dance in the spring where traditionally the girls invite the boys, and then there's Homecoming in the autumn. We had no idea what Homecoming actually was until last weekend when we were swept up in the whole tradition of welcoming back former students and members and celebrating an organisation's history and existence, in this case - Son#2's high school and this year 2000 kids went to this dance. Once again, I was struck by the difference between our two countries - yes, the UK are great at pomp and ceremony, but Americans take it to a whole other level, and everyone gets involved.
Every day seems to bring something new, just a few nights ago, neighbours dropped by with a gift of Moon Cakes. We had no idea what they were for but a quick Google told us they are a traditional Chinese pastry eaten with friends and family during the mid autumn festival. It was such a beautiful (and delicious) gesture of sharing and celebrating cultural differences through food and generosity. Something every one of us could do more of.
So whilst the days of not knowing my way around the supermarket are gone, I'm still learning about how to do life the American way. For the more reserved Brit, things can be daunting - 'pot luck' lunches still bring me out in a sweat - what to bring? How much to bring? Should I go British and introduce my neighbours to pork scratchings and pickled onions or play it safe with bagels? So far, I've played it safe... I don't think the Americans are quite ready for toad in the hole... but who knows, maybe a future meal train recipient might just get lucky!
* Picture: If you've stuck with my updates from the very beginning, you might remember my early obsession with 'eggwhite bites'. I had no idea what they were, but kept seeing them on breakfast menus and hearing people ordering them and being given little paper bags containing these little protein-packed delicacies. I eventually shared my first bag with Leonard the Terrier one freezing January morning outside Starbucks. They were just one of the many small and ridiculous things that occupied my thoughts in those crazy early days. Now I'm making my own, they freeze well and are great for pot-luck brunches! Clearly I am now officially and fully culturally assimilated!