As much as I’d like to say I’m not one for celebrating every little milestone, my brain is wired in such a way that I never really stop thinking about dates, counting weeks and all that nonsense.
Take today, for example. Tuesday March 11 marks three months to the day since I arrived in Augusta, stepping off the Concord Coach Lines bus into a cold, dark evening (at 4:30pm). That was pretty much the biggest step I’d ever taken out of my comfort zone.
(No, the bus wasn’t my comfort zone. Wiseass. That’s cheap symbolism.)
As this blog has attempted to convey, I’ve learned a lot about Maine, the United States and myself over the last three months. I certainly didn’t come into this immigration thing expecting it to be a cakewalk, but there have definitely been some realizations and unwelcome surprise emotions since I arrived that I hadn’t really expected.
But anyway, I’m drying those tears for the moment. I’d wanted to post a fun list of Maine lingo that I’ve learned so far today, but all sorts of other things get jumbled in there. So here’s a bit of a mish-mash of my discoveries, good and bad, over the past few months.
Nature rules, seriously. And I don’t say that in a “nature’s awesome dude!” tone. Never have I been in a place where nearly everything you do – everything – is dictated by the conditions outside. When I first got here, I was warned that Mainers were weather-obsessed, and now I understand why. Six inches of snow overnight? Right, well that means you’ve gotta allow an extra 20 minutes to dig the car out before you go anywhere. But did the sun come up and the weather warm up to above 0*C in the meantime? Right, well don’t wear good pants because there’s a high likelihood you’ll put your boot in three inches of freezing slush. And if you think it’s bad in Australia when there’s a public holiday coming and people raid the supermarket shelves, you ain’t seen nothing like shopper frenzy before an ice storm.
It’s fun when people learn your name. As I’ve written before, recently in fact, back in Brisbane it was very easy to live an anonymous life. But in a town of 18,000 or so, you see the same faces day in and day out. Bartenders, cashiers, the staff at my gym – I’ve started to develop an easy banter and a familiar rapport with many people around Augusta, and it’s a nice feeling. I realize that I have a novelty factor with the stupid accent and crazy immigration story, but even if I didn’t I’m sure things would be the same.
Bureaucracy is a pain in the ass. I somewhat expected this but, as a new immigrant, navigating piles of paperwork and government departments can be tiresome at best and downright hair-tearing at worst. I understand why I had to prove I could drive (from scratch), and why I have to have the highest interest rate on my car loan, and to an extent why my bank panicked when I moved address but still hadn’t provided them with proper proof of my American residency, but that doesn’t make it any less easy.
Thankfully, customer service is wonderful. I occasionally stop and realize how lucky I am to be Australian when dealing with this “US immersion” thing I’m doing. Most people I talk to are fascinated (at best, mildly amused at worst) to hear an Aussie accent, so it certainly is a great ice-breaker when I’m trying to plead with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to just let me have a license, or apologetically asking my HR team at work for the millionth time what an HMO is and what it’s gonna cost me if I go see a doctor. People respond well to my allegedly interesting story, and that actually helps me be less frustrated with whatever bullshit I’m trying to shovel through. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must be for immigrants from Eastern Europe, or Africa, or the sub-continent, with less command of English and the type of accent which (STEREOTYPE AHEAD) probably puts customer service reps on the defensive automatically. We’re a pretty charming bunch Down Under.
Almost EVERYONE is wonderful: At the back of my mind I’ve had this niggling feeling that, at some point, the Aussie shtick is going to put someone offside and I’m gonna get belted. In this imaginative scene in my mind, I’m totally innocently telling some girl at a bar what my story is, after she hears the accent and becomes curious. Her boyfriend, however, doesn’t like this development, and isn’t altogether impressed with my one-trick pony, so he decks me for disrespecting his relationship. This, of course, is pretty unlikely (and not just because I’m a bumbling idiot when it comes to the opposite sex), because Mainers have been incredibly welcoming and friendly. Like I said, there’s that element of novelty and curiosity about what in the world brought me here (“a big plane…ho ho ho ho”), but I feel like the neighborly bond I’ve experienced since December isn’t at all to do with where I’m from, but where I am.
There’s such thing as the “Champagne of Maine” … which goes by another name; “an epidemic”. Or another: “fat ass in a glass.” Or yet another: “The perfect food for crime.” This excellent-sounding concoction is none other than Allen’s Coffee Brandy, the unofficial beverage of Mainers, blackout drunks and itinerants all over Vacationland. I’m yet to partake in it, not because it’s expensive (it’s like $5.99 at the supermarket) but because I’m legitimately afraid of what’s going to happen to me if I drink it. I don’t want to be posting my own police report to the KJ website the following Monday.
This is all incredibly surreal, still. Every now and then, I’ll be in a work meeting or a group conversation with a bunch of people and my brain will go “holy shit…they all have American accents. Dude, they’re all American. You’re the only Australian here. Do they know you’re not like them? What the hell is going on?”
While I’m more than settled into my daily routine here, and this move has been something I’ve been seriously planning for at least 18 months, it’s still an absolute trip to think “hey…I live in the US!” Oddly, I don’t have that same thunderstruck moment when I’m driving to work on the wrong side of the car and the right side of the road, although the thought did hit me as I was cruising up I-95 to Bangor a few weekends ago. It was a beautiful sunny day, the temperature was above freezing, and as I looked out the window I realized “wow, I’m cruising up an American highway, in a car I bought here, because I live here, and this is what I’m doing with my weekend off, because I can. I made it.” I wonder if that feeling will ever wear off.
So here’s to the last three months, and many more. And here’s to all of you for reading, whether it’s a casual flick through every few weeks or whether you’re one of my followers or regular readers. I’d still be writing this even if you weren’t reading, but I’m really glad I can share this with people near and far.