First week in the U S of A

Cabin deck

International differences in slang are ripe for giggles. Whilst at my sister’s backpackers in Derry a Canadian came into the kitchen laughing, and telling us that her boyfriend was double-fisting in the garden. At this point I realised that the fanny pack wasn’t likely the only snort-worthy misreading of intentions I was likely to encounter, should I visit the America’s. A couple of days ago Francoise and I went for a walk around the Farmers Market in central Boulder, and then for a stroll through the bohemian quarter. At one end was a “Cheesecake Factory”, and whilst jittering at the number of © and (™)’s on the menu, I noticed they served “root beer”. “wass that then?” I asked. Quickly I was led to Mountain Sun, a brew pub which happens to make their own root beer. Now for Kiwis (and Aussies) the giggles might have already begun, as a “root” in the Southern hemisphere, is another name for sex. I guess a root beer lowers everyone’s inhibitions? But when I was asked whether I’d like to take it away in a “growler” my poker face gave way. Down under (don’t even start) a growler is a cheeky euphemism for a woman’s lady-parts. Of course we passed a playground on the way back to the car which had a beaver on full display, and at this point I’m sure my estimation in Francoise’ eyes must have dropped. If not then I’m sure we’ll be friends forever.

One of the things that’s sometimes struck me about a couple of the Americans I met whilst travelling, is that they tended to vocalise almost everything that passes through their minds. “That’s a big ol’ bus” as a bus goes by, or “mmm-mmm, that’s red wine alright” as they take a sip of (yip) red wine. Occasionally these same individuals also dropped over the top responses to minimal stimuli, “Oooooh my Lord! Sweet Jebuz wrap me in a chunky Kentucky man’s bathing costume and throw me to the coyotes…” in response to a traffic light shifting from amber to green. I’m so used to growing up in New Zealand, a world of muttered, muted understatement, that this broadcasting of one’s inner monologue always used to seem a little…attention seeking. Like the red headed cousin that’s lost the focus of their neurotic parents attention and decides to shove dry roasted peanuts up their nose until the cough-cry-snot combo has the desired affect. This morning I went on a bird hunting hike with a group of around 25 citizens, most in their 60’s, and I had to shift my perspective. The harmonic vocalised enthusiasm that accompanied every hummingbird spotting was endearing when matched with widened eyes and “o” shaped lips. I’m glad my inner cynic has given way, I’d sooner listen to a chorus of oohs and aaaaahs of appreciation, than a cacophony of scornful derision. Expressed happiness trumps arched eyebrows and rolling eyes heavenwards.

Amongst the childish observations, I’ve also jumped in the deep end, and been trying to draw real learnings from my experiences and conversations. One thing I’m finding is that there seem to be serious concerns that the US Government is working hard to reduce people’s freedom to choose. The implementation of the Patriot Act utilised a nation’s fears to introduce Big Government in a nation built on rejecting State control. And since then it seems further erosion of freedoms, many which appear to contravene the constitution, are causing angst, though maybe not for enough people. Despite this though, there’s still an underlying belief amongst people I’ve met so far, that they should be able to achieve anything they want, as long as they’re prepared to work for it. And just as importantly, they have picked their own paths through life, avoiding “convention” when it ran contrary to their needs. And up until recently the mix of federal and state leadership promoted this. Imagine 50 regions with different environments, different laws, different attitudes. Americans have been able to choose to live in the area that suited their desired lifestyle, from gun control laws to attitudes towards homosexuality. I love the idea of those sorts of personal freedoms. But it seems increasing federal powers threaten the ability of States to maintain this degree of independence. Hopefully Americans still have the will to protect their freedom of choice, hopefully they won’t sacrifice it in fear, so that the state can “keep them safe”. Hopefully they continue to insist that the Government support the right of the individual to be just that, an individual.

So. At the moment, I’ve got a bit of a man-crush on the US. Ok, I’m on holiday, I don’t have to fight others for a job, I don’t have to be concerned over my children’s education. My glasses are definitely rose tinted. But each day I find a dozen grins, a half dozen chuckles, and several stunned shakes of the head. Soon I’ll have to staple a bungy cord between my forehead and my chin to stop my jaw hitting the ground so frequently. As far as I’m concerned, this is an incredible land, and I can’t recommend enough that people come here and give these people and this country a big hug.

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