1. Car parks: You really can’t beat it. I can park in any car park and know that I can get both girls in and out of the car without a problem. I remember, we I was eight months pregnant, pushing a toddler in a buggy, walking back to my car in a British car park and finding someone had parked with little thought or consideration on both sides. What would you like me to do? Climb through the boot? Leave my toddler in the car park while I reversed? Cue hot tears of frustration. In America, you can even drive into the city centre and park more cheaply than getting the train as a family.
2. My mansion is my castle: The house is large and roomy. We have plenty of storage space. We have a back garden the size of football pitch. We can usually get the buggy into a restaurant or shop without people tutting and sighing at our audacity. We can usually get a table at a restaurant.
3. The people: We have made some good friends. People are welcoming, friendly, positive and polite. They will strike up conversations in a queue, sorry, line. They are interested in your accent, your travel experience, the fact that you’ve chosen to live in their hometown.
4. The positivity: Attitude isn’t a dirty word here because generally the attitude is positive. Children want to do well at school. And positivity breeds positivity.
What will I be glad to leave behind?
1. The space: We’re currently travelling through Utah and Arizona. We landed in Salt Lake City and plan to be spat out in Las Vegas. I’m prepared to have my eyes opened by this country. I expect, and hope, to see amazingly wild geographical sights, impossible for man to replicate. I want to understand why man moved to a desert. I don’t want to see miles and miles and miles of flat nothingness. I don’t want to set eyes on anything as horizontal as Illinois.
Don’t get me wrong. The city is fun and vibrant. Architecturally it probably can’t be rivaled in the entire United States. And the bizarreness of Vegas does not count. (By the way, if you want to see the Eiffel Tower, go there. Is life about ticking off a list of places visited or understanding why things are as they are in the first place? Country bagging or cultural enlightenment? I suppose Vegas will reveal it’s culture in a way, but it may not be one than endears me to the struggle of humankind. Persecuted Mormons moved west and struggling ninetieth century Englishmen braved rough seas and the unknown, for what? A casino and a fake pyramid. I’ll try and reserve judgment, but as you can see I’m not very good at that. I’m just going there to check these prejudices are true. It’s a research trip really.)
So yes, back to the point, Chicago, a real city, is interesting and has historical context. But the suburbs? Well, on this trip I don’t want to feel the agoraphobia of suburban Chicagoland. That’s the space I’m happy to leave behind.
2. The people: As I’ve said, we’ve made some great friends. But it’s been slow progress. Despite the rumours, people don’t visit new neighbours with tray bakes and a welcome card. In our subdivision (estate), they gossip about how much someone has paid for their house, or whether they have a full-scale bowling alley in their basement (did I mention how spacious the basement is?) People in the suburbs are all mainly homebods. They have been brought up here. They have their friends, their safe and familiar routines. We are really interrupting this and we are transient. Send invites out to a party and even if it’s your 30th (a friend’s) or a leaving do (ours) people will sound excited and then either; a) ignore your invite, b) say they will come but not show up, c) say they will come but give a last minute excuse so ridiculous your four year old could sound more plausible when asked why she is smearing the breakfast table with butter. Really this is a selfish society.
Another example of selfishness is the local driving habits. The onus is on you to get out of someone’s way if they are changing lanes, not for them to wait for a clear space longer than a matchbox. If someone asks you over for a playdate, it’s not your scintillating conversation that interests them, but rather the fact you have children of the same ages and will keep their darling offspring occupied for a while. It’s confusing when the signals are so positive. And I’m not sure we’ve really broken the code.