Jul 17, 2011

Eighteen years resident in the USA has brought a lot of experiences: some downright confusing; some funny; some touching; some frustrating; some joyful; some just filed under, "Huh?"

I think about a photograph of myself and my parents at London's Heathrow airport, Labor Day weekend, 1993. Ironically none of us had any idea it was Labor Day weekend, since we'd never heard of it (pre-google folks!). I have a 30" waist and, well, fairly decent hair, in a Hugh Grant floppy kind of way. Common to all three of us is a washed out, shell-shocked kind of look. We're trying to be brave, not processing the inevitable reality - emigration! I was 28 years old, recently single, flush with the selfishness of youth! In short, bewildered and putting on a brave face! In the space of one month I'd quit a good job which I'd loved, closed up my apartment, sold off, stored, or donated all my furniture, sold my car, and attended the first wedding from the college crowd. No pause for breath.

I remember my first hint of what was to come. The prior month had been a blur of frenzied activity - the pressure of having to do so much in such a short time frame. This had caused me to do some nutty things - ironic when you consider the nuttiness of moving overseas, alone. I'd showered in my underwear, and to the disgust of an automobile service assistance guy working the late shift call-out on the M5, had dropped my car keys in with the trash at a service station. Actually, as we later figured out, I'd spat them into the trash since my hands were full of trash! This was after the nice man had broken into my car and we'd emptied it of furniture and assorted belongings being 'donated' with the sale of the car.

So, after a month of hectic packing, letting go of stuff, saying goodbyes, and yes, excited anticipation, I find myself standing outside my (now former) place of employment, with an embarrassed Boss asking for my security pass. Corporate security rules meant that I was to be escorted clear of the front doors.

Suddenly here I am outside a place I'd known many colleagues and made many friends for five years, alone, in the middle of a work day. Reality hit. Reality Bites? Reality bit me on the tukkas 30 seconds after my Boss returned indoors. Part of me wanted to go back in and beg for my security pass. Security pass = security blankie.

When you stand alone, contemplating what to do next, you suddenly feel very grown up! I also get very stubborn - determined to make things work! I remembered how I felt the first time I traveled overseas on business alone - a mere peon of a junior systems analyst trusted with an expense account in Amsterdam! I told myself to keep focused on the fact I'd made a decision, that it's hard to move forward if you're looking behind, and to keep concentrating on the goal. So, stunned head held high, I rejected the blankie, and sloped away meekly to the bus stop (I'd sold my car, remember?). Who gets the bus to work when you're impressing your way up the ladder? Leaving your (now former) place of employment by bus in the middle of the work day having been escorted out was not exactly a motivating forward momentum!

Fast forward eighteen years through a visa, green card, citizenship, weddings attended (one my own into a lovely family in Southern New Jersey), weddings missed, sadly - funerals attended and missed (can one miss a funeral?), happily - births (not attended - ugh!), a small assortment of consulting and corporate career moves, a relocation to the beach, head of my own business, and we come to a skidding halt, right at the door of the word, "BESPOKE!"

You see eighteen years of adjustment means learning when to fit in, and when to just let it all hang out. It also means learning how to, "Stand on your own two feet," as my Dad says.When you're the Boss at the company, something your employees don't see (you NEVER let them!), is that well, not having someone managing you, holding your hand over decision making can take some getting used to. You're the one they're all looking at expecting a decision! Eventually you get it, and just  like eighteen years ago when I reminded myself to focus on the job at hand (relocation), as the person charged with making the decisions, I just focus on the job that needs doing.

As we're taught, words matter. So, what's the matter, Cheese Man? All this time living in my adopted country. All this time being, "The Man" that others work for, poke fun of, respect (one can only hope, Miss Aretha). All this time 'naturalizing' into a new culture and one darn word can make a lot of difference!

I've been here so long at this point. Heck I chose to become an American. I took it seriously man (that citizenship ceremony was a teary eyed wonderful trip!). I studied a civics manual 1 inch thick to become an American. After all this, one word came along and burst my Yankie bubble! You see, sometimes, it can be hard, after eighteen years to remember which bits are the Welsh bits, and which bits are the learned, adopted, American bits.

I forgot that 'bespoke' is a 'British' term. Just like I forget sometimes that I have the habit of reversing my sentence structure. This habit is a hangover from the days when everyone in Wales spoke Welsh. Sentence structure in Welsh, like many non-English languages is backwards. Questions are added after statements. Statements are used for questions. Look in my direction at a party - is the person I'm speaking with looking confused? Chances are he/she is getting an American sentence all backwards just like it's being translated into Welsh!

Bespoke got me in a lot of trouble and may have cost the business a few cheese platter orders this past Christmas season. I advertise my (admittedly) beautiful (bewteefull, or luvlee said with a Welsh accent) artisan cheese platters as, "Bespoke." This is a quaint British word for, 'made to order' - custom built to your specifications. It's an old tailoring term back when suits were hand made. I like its elegance. It bespeaks to the quality of my work.

I still love the word bespoke. However, for now, I've grown accustomed to the word, "Custom." So, in my American and Welsh way, I'll acknowledge my heritage - Wales is a land I love and miss dearly, but I'm no, "Welsh-American." That coat doesn't fit me.

(Side bar - I love this colloquialism from South Wales. When a Welshman is confused over which coat to pick off the bed on leaving a party, he will ask, "Whose coat is this jacket?"  If it's spring and everyone is wearing jackets, this double-speak makes perfect sense to a Welshman! A jacket is a type of coat, is it not? Is it? If one merely asked, "Whose jacket is this?" the host would be left with a lot of coats at the end of the party.) 

Incidentally, I once had a volunteer job at a Baltimore theater. Mainly ushering, but sometimes concierge service, VIP handling, and oh the horror, Coat Check Attendant! "Whose coat is this jacket, anyone?" Good times!

You never want to be left with a coat in the cupboard after an event, staring down a VIP, and suggesting you call them a cab because you gave someone else their jacket (that contained their car keys). Not that ever happened to me since I naturalized!

I took the oath of citizenship. I'm proud to be an American, whom is proud that he's from Wales. Never a true word bespoken. Happy Birthday month America, land that I love, as much as Wales, and as much as Cheese! Eat More Cheese! Fwyta caws mwy o!


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