8 things America just does better…

8 things America just does better…

FullSizeRender (24)Having spent over four years now living Stateside, it’s fair to say that we have moved on a bit in our appreciation of all things American. I remember my first impression of the good folk of the Golden Coast was that everyone was just a tad too friendly and a tad too loud.  (I know I know… but remember we moved here as fully carded-up grumpy Londoners).

These days we know full well that our neighborly Northern Californians do a lot of things, well, just better….
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Parades
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People here love a good parade. They also love a bad parade. You know the ones full of real estate agents and car insurance executives with pop up stands taped to the top of a Subaru. The parade itself is not the issue, it’s the general willingness of young and old (more on this later) to stand in the street, wave flags, play brass instruments and cheer at something passing us by. It’s bizarre, heart warming, happy – and very American.
 
Foodie enthusiasm
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Recommending foodie joints and then endlessly enthusing about them is a major part of the social small talk here in CA. Yes, the Bay Area has some fabulously creative restaurants and some of the best artisanal and organic produce around. But really it’s all about out-doing others with your own personal mom & pop shop list of secret eateries and delicacies. Speaking of which…
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Standing in line
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Traditionally thought of as a very British past time, west coasters actually beat us hands down when it comes to the art of queuing. And it’s all about the grub. Standing in a line that trails half way round the block to order that one particular delicacy is a big part of weekend mornings here. The tastiest tacos? The awesomest ice cream? And as for coffee… Brits would simply never stand and wait for food: Your establishment is full you say? No problem, we’ll go to ANY OTHER LOCAL EATERY. But here in CA if you can’t line up for it its simply not worth eating.
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Potlucks
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Or basically everyone bringing along a random dish of choice to any given social get-together. Now we do this at home, but it’s not recognized as a ‘thing’ in itself. When a group of Brits arrange to each bring a different course for lunch we, rather pedantically, prefer for it all to ‘go’ together. Not so on this side of the pond. Potlucks take place in the work place, neighbors’ gardens, fund raising get-togethers (think the WI) – and it’s all about doing two of the things Californians do best;  joining in and tucking in. I long since got used to Friday work lunches where a birthday or month-end is celebrated with sliced lasange followed by marshmallow pie and samosas. Yum.
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High School
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Remember those colorful happy places in the Judy Blume and Sweet Valley High books? How much did you want to go to Beverley Hills 90210? Since getting involved in the county school system here (through friends with older kids) I’ve come to realize that these schools were based largely on reality!
We just don’t make ’em like this back home. My experience of school was a rather grey and uniformed place where any normal  individual would saw off their right arm before ‘joining in’ on a sports team, and where ‘cheering on’ your school sports team would have been actively discouraged. I’m pretty sure we had to be off the property by 4.30 or the police were called.
Here school sports is genuinely a fun thing open to all kids – and if not sports then there’s bands or cheer leading squads – school identity is a huge thing. These kids just seem to grow up knowing that joining in is a GOOD THING. I didn’t learn this until I was about 35. (It prepares everyone well for the pot lucks and parades.)
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Philanthropy
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Far from the socialist welfare state that is the UK (don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it), over here philanthropy is big part of everyone’s social calendar from a young age. I’m still getting used to the huge number of charitable events we get asked to attend every year, from pre-school fund raisers to Firemen’s Pancake Breakfasts. The idea that you take individual responsibility  within your community rather than pay your taxes and be done with it is, of course, central to the American way, and it really shapes the way people spend their free time. Not just small town community people, but city people/busy people/the young/the hip/the ‘it’… the kind of folk who, back home, never have time for charity – everyone gets involved. It’s not that people here necessarily care more, it’s just that fundraisers are an assumed part of the social scene. When it works it’s really very impressive. There’s that joiny-in thing again.
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Summer camp
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Here it’s huge. British children, even perfectly well-off ones, spend their summers having picnics on rainy beaches with their families or hanging out in the local shopping centre with their mates. Over here the list of possible summer camp activities that our kids are expected to get involved with is phenomenal. Arts, sports, maths, theatre, choir, outward bounding, you name it. The downside of it is that not getting your kid involved in summer camps seems to be viewed as pretty neglectful parenting – and they don’t come free. But as a kid I know I would have loved it!
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Holidays!
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And by that I mean the days we don’t even consider to be ‘holidays’ in the UK. Back home, a holiday is by definition something you do once or twice a year and involves suitcases and postcards. Here in the U.S. EVERY single event in the calendar is referred to as a holiday – and boy do they do it in style. From Fall pumpkin patches to Michaelmas gingerbread houses to Valentines’ red velvet cakes, every season and every public holiday (that’s bank holiday, Brits) has its own costume, menu, insignia and events calendar.
Since I’m the type of person who lives for Christmas it didn’t take me long at all to jump aboard this year-long celebration of slightly cheesy festivities. In fact, it’s secretly my favourite thing about living in America.

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