Ten years ago this month, I cashed in my Virgin Atlantic air miles for a one-way ticket from London to Los Angeles. Born and raised in England, I was leaving my home country behind for a new life in Southern California, a place I'd fallen in love with after several visits. My husband — who'd made the trip ahead of me to get things set up — has dual citizenship, which cleared the way for me to move here, too. I got my green card and then my citizenship. In the decade since that foggy autumn day, I've found many, many reasons to love the City of Angels — and, by extension, the U.S.A.
For starters, I love the people: I've met some amazing individuals who I now consider close friends. The scenery — catching a glimpse of the majestic mountains on my daily commute through the San Fernando Valley never gets old. The weather (okay, this is more of a love-hate relationship — see number 7 below). The arms-open, you-can-do-this-even-though-we-know-you've-never-done-this-before attitude. The fact that Americans embrace all Brits, no questions asked. I can get away with things here that I wouldn't back in the U.K., just because of my accent (doesn't the F-word sound quaint when uttered with an English twang?) Would that all immigrants were embraced this way.
But, for all my fantastic experiences in this amazing country, there are things I'll never get used to, no matter how long I live here. In no particular order, here are 10:
1. Excessive exuberance about everything. Yes, I'm more outgoing now than when I left the U.K., but I just can't bring myself to say "awesome" even once, let alone 16 times a day. Granted, it takes a lot to get us Brits going, but still. A word to the wise: A volcano erupting before one's eyes is awesome; a latte is not. Also on this list: excessive (read: any) whooping, clapping, or cheering.
2. At-will employment. California is one of eight states where this applies. My boss could fire me with a minute's notice. Sure, that also means I could quit with a minute's notice, but why on Earth would I want to? In practice, most people give two weeks' notice, but that's barely enough time to clear your office out — or for your company to start interviewing for your replacement. Back in the U.K., three months' notice isn't unusual.
3. The assumption that everyone is deeply religious. I'm not even shallowly religious. I don't believe in God, and the same is true for many of my countrymen (although we are fond of a church bake sale). Many Americans look at me aghast when I say I'm an atheist, as if I've just told them I've kidnapped their children. I must admit, though, it does make me wonder what I'd do if I was ever called to court as a witness and asked to swear on the Bible.
4. Over-sentimentality. Americans are fun, friendly, and quick to laugh. It helps that they appreciate the Brits' sarcasm and deadpan sense of humor — thank you, Maggie Smith! But while our reputation for being reserved and aloof is unjustified, just because we struck up a three-minute conversation while awaiting our skinny soy mochas together doesn't mean we want to come to your pool party next weekend. You're not my new BFF. (Confession: I once exchanged numbers with a perfectly pleasant Anglophile at Starbucks. She then proceeded to leave me three voicemails. I ignored her. I felt bad — but not bad enough to call her back.)
5. The lack of a free national health system. Yes, I'm well aware that setting up and funding such a project would involve raising billions of tax dollars. But, ultimately, wouldn't it make for a downright more civilized society, one in which breaking your leg doesn't mean your house will be repossessed because you were forced to choose between paying your medical bills or your mortgage? Here, doctors don't ask, "Are you on any medication?" but rather, "Which medications are you on?" They look at me skeptically when I respond, "None." And don't get me started on the interminable commercials for tablets proffering side effects that sound worse than the original condition. Mock the U.K.'s NHS all you like, but I'd rather wait two weeks extra for a complimentary procedure than live in a cardboard box.
6. The lack of respect for animals. Admittedly, I picked one of the worst states in which to dabble in dog rescue — my Facebook feed is an endless stream of sad faces begging to be set free. People randomly abandon their pets on the street, despite the risk of them being mowed down by a car at any point, or dump them at the pound because they "no longer have time for them." (The worst reason I ever heard: "His color doesn't match our new drapes." I wish I were joking.) Local shelters are rammed with highly adoptable, beautiful creatures, most of whom won't make it out alive. In England, the sighting of a stray dog is a big deal, worthy of the local paper. Yes, there are unwanted, unloved animals in shelters there, too, but the sheer scale here — it's estimated that at least three million cats and dogs are euthanized every year — is mind-blowing.
7. Having to sport SPF 50 sunscreen — in December. Christmas should be about snuggling up around the hearth, not barbecuing a turkey while you're wearing a bikini. Walking around the Grove in 90-degree temps while they pump out fake snow and Frank Sinatra just feels wrong. This is when I start feeling really homesick and start yearning for country pubs and — yikes! — EastEnders specials. I'm actually not one of those stereotypical Brits who strips down to their undies at the first hint of sunshine. Just the opposite: I'm so paranoid about getting burned that I'm as pale as a ghost; when I go back to Blighty, no one believes I live in LA.
8. Random celeb sightings. This is one thing I don't want to get used to. Victoria and David Beckham in the King's Head Store in Santa Monica; Ricky Gervais on Rodeo Drive; Matt Lucas at a low-key West Hollywood restaurant. Yes, I threw myself at them all. I couldn't help it! They were my fellow countrymen. Famous fellow countrymen! In Los Angeles. My favorite "sleb spot" so far is Erik "Ponch from CHiPs" Estrada at the Studio City farmers market. I somehow refrained from throwing myself at him and just politely stood in line behind him at the berry stand — I am English, after all. (Footnote: I tweeted him later in the day to ask about his healthy haul… and he replied!)
9. The all-work-and-no-play mentality. Trust me: I love my job. But there's something not quite right about having to beg for a week off. As for two or — gasp!, three — that's virtual career suicide. In the unlikely event that your request is granted, you may as well not come back.
10. The gap down the side of the loo stall door. Really — what is that about?