From Sea To Shining Sea

My dad once told me that the thing about America is that it's exactly how you think it's going to be. And it's true: you step out of the subway station in New York and there are yellow taxis streaming past you, just like in the movies, and ooh, look, there's the Empire State Building, and then someone shoves you and doesn't say sorry, and suddenly every cliche you've heard about New Yorkers proves itself to be true.

Or you're in California and every time you leave a place, the person bidding you farewell tells you to have a nice day. Or you order a hamburger in Texas and it's huge. Oprah rules the world and the majority of people are larger than you expected. The cars are bigger too. The roads are wide. Everyone has perfect teeth.

The America I grew up wanting to visit was the one of Ramona Quimby, the one of the Babysitters Club, the one of Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High. I was obsessed with Roseanne---the show, not the actual woman---for about three years because it seemed, to me, the height of absolutely average Americana. I wanted to know HOW AMERICANS LIVED, normal Americans, not Manhattan hotshots or Los Angeles beach babes. I would watch Ricki Lake because sometimes they showed the inside of people's houses and I thought "that's what American houses look like! That's the real America!" Even still, the places I want to visit in this country are not the Miami Beaches and the Mauis, but the Peorias, the Springfields, the Minneapolises, the Detroits. Sean laughed at me this afternoon as we tentatively planned a trip to Chicago for next year; "you mean, we could actually drive into Wisconsin?" I asked. This is unbearably exciting to me. I promise. I can't wait to look around Wisconsin the way most people can't wait to look around Paris or Zimbabwe or Rome.

When I first visited America in 1993 with my family, we went---as many families do---to Anaheim, California, where we hit Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm and made the drive up to L.A. for the Walk of Fame and a beach or two that looked like it was straight out of Baywatch. The thing that I remember most about that trip was the breakfast buffet at the Marriott Residence Inn, the absolute abundance of it. The fact that they had cranberry juice---free! from a machine! as much as you could drink!---just about blew my tiny thirteen year old mind. I always knew I wanted to live in America after that. Thank you, Ocean Spray, you manipulating old witch.

My obsession with the U.S. manifested itself, at first, in oddities like yellow schoolbuses and Budweiser beer. Aged 15, I had an enormous American flag draped across one wall of my suburban English bedroom in a leafy village 45 minutes from London. I found an American penpal who sent me bizarre concoctions like popcorn balls and Twinkies. I listened to The Doors. I can picture exactly where I was when my father broke the news that he'd been transferred to New York, that we were moving to Connecticut. It felt like some enormous prayer I hadn't even known I'd been reciting had been answered.

The things I wanted to try in America which then turned out to be a huge letdown include pot roast, meatloaf, K-Mart, and using a blue payphone. The things I thought existed only on the beamed-in NBC we could sometimes get on Saturday nights but which turned out to actually exist IN REAL LIFE include sororities, fraternities, homecoming dances, and sweet potatoes baked with marshmallows. And here I was thinking those things were like dragons or poltergeists: pretty cool in theory but unlikely to ever be proved real.

I could go on and on about my teenage love affair with America---and how my teenaged dad had a pretty similar obsession with the country himself; I mean, he used to buy maps and plan routes across the states with a blue pencil---but I'd probably be breaking some patriotic English rule by admitting just how little I wanted to be stuck in rainy, boring Britain during the period spanning 1993 to 2002. When I started university in London in 1999, I made friends with all the American exchange students instead of the nervous new freshmen from towns I'd grown up seeing on motorway signs across England; the Americans just seemed so much more me.

Now, though, having lived (on and off) in America for going on 12 years---though only the last five of those have been full-time---I'm finding it increasingly important to announce, to enunciate, to highlight my Britishness. I'm not sure why, but it's a creeping pride. I suppose I could write a lengthy treatise on identity and how I grew up calling a whole handful of different countries home---a different one every year or so, in some cases---but really I think of it more like this: America is like that handsome guy that you'll always secretly have a crush on, even after you find out he farts in elevators and only tips ten percent. England is boring and steady and sensible, but you turn around when you need him, and he's there.

Oct 11, 2007

Wow, you have a pretty unique perspective from which to consider the whole American zeitgeist. Really good entry.

Being American in Europe is an eye-opening experience, too. Having helped serve as a Yank ambassador with my English family, I confess that talking about America with them makes me fidgety at times. I'm certainly patriotic in a sentimental way, but sometimes our society and its hypocrisies are pretty tough to understand, let alone explain. It's pretty fun bringing them here for the first time, though, and just seeing what they think of the show.

Oct 11, 2007

Beautiful. I love how despite the constant talk of globalisation and alikeness your post proves that there are still differences - and that they are fun to explore and discover.

Oct 11, 2007

Heh! I feel pretty much exactly the same way about America. When I had the opportunity to do a study abroad year there I had a choice between New York, Dallas, or Champaign Urbana, Illinois. I picked Illinois, because I wanted to go to REAL America, where the tourists don't go. It was totally the right choice too.

I'm back in rainy boring Britain now. And I would be beyond thrilled to actually drive into Wisconsin. I mean, they have Target there right? And Old Navy? What more do you need?

Oct 11, 2007

I, too, think highlighting one's roots should extend past one's hair. Especially if it includes baking beloved British biscuits!

I live in Japan and I love the exciting shiny-copper-penny newness of it. For example, when newscasters introduce themselves on the nightly news, they both bow. Seated. It's quite amazing.

On a different note, have you ever thought of publishing mini-reviews of the books you've read? Your taste is impeccable, at least from the books that happen to overlap with what I've read.

Oct 11, 2007

what an excellent post! Holly, you and I are the exact same age, and I moved to the US with my family in 1993 also. I'm Belgian, and I've spent only halftime since 93 in the US (I live in Amsterdam now).

Whatever, the details are irrelevant, I just wanted to let you know you struck a chord with this post. Perfectly describes a feeling that I've shared too. I understand the obsession, as well as the extreme identification with (y)our roots.

Cheers! Joke (pronounced Yoka)

Oct 11, 2007

I love you for wanting to drive through Wisconsin. Bless you for being the one person who understands that America is not just New York City and Los Angeles. Perhaps I'm bitter because I AM from Peoria (Illinois), and have traveled extensively ... to a whole bunch of American cities whose residents honestly never give much thought to that whole flyover zone known as "Everything between the East Coast and the West Coast."

I find that entire attitude both ignorant and insulting, and I can't tell you how much it impresses me that you seem able to remember the fact that America has a whole bunch of landlocked states in it. Those British schools really ARE better than America's, aren't they? :)

Oct 11, 2007

Great post, Holly. After you've tired of Chicago's "big shoulders" and Wisconsin's beauty, come on down to Indianapolis. It's not far and there's much "middle-American life" to take in here.
And Schnozz, I grew up in a small town near Springfield and drove through Peoria every time we went to visit my grandparents. As a kid I remember thinking how big and exotic it was.

Oct 11, 2007

This is a fantastic post. I grew up in the NW suburbs of Chicago and we frequently went to the Wisconsin Dells and Lake Geneva for summer vacation. I still maintain that Wisconsin is one of the most beautiful places in the fall, millions and millions of multi-colored leaves.

Also, I cannot imagine Thanksgiving without sweet potatoes covered in toasted marshmallows!

Oct 11, 2007

Wow. I've never heard this side before, and it was really neat to read. I was on the other side of the Atlantic. 45 minutes from NYC, I had a British flag in my bedroom. A London calendar, and pictures of the countryside. I listened to The Smiths. I waited until the day I went to study abroad and got to live there for 6 months, right up until the day my visa expired and I had to come home. I was amazed to discover that people actually had English gardens - wow, those blew me away. The homes looked like the ones on TV, on the BBC imported public television shows I watched. People actually had tea, with no sense of playacting. And watched East Enders! It was like every book I'd read, every TV show I'd seen come to life. The words, the streets, the attitudes that were commonplace were totally exotic to me.

I think I'd have made an okay expat, but the thing is, everyone kept telling me how American I was. And it wasn't until I went there that I realized I was American. I still love London, and the countryside, and for years I kept up very well with my friends there. Now there is a chance we might move there for a few years, and honestly I'm torn. Once I was sure my heart was British, and belonged to an English guy. Now, 10 years later, it belongs to this town and this state and this guy, the one I married. But there will always be a piece of me that really adores your motherland.

Oct 11, 2007

Hilariously, the ONLY response I can muster to this is, "Maybe you need to try my mother's meatloaf."

JB at Twice Five Miles
Oct 11, 2007

Wow! So many posts lately - it's like Christmas around here! Hooray!

Oct 11, 2007

Isn't it funny, I felt the same way about Britain. I spent a year there as an exchange student (at a boarding school in Blackpool, of all places) and now I still dream about living there (London, preferably, not Blackpool). But after living in Europe for the past couple of years, I know that America, despite its traffic and aggressive salespeople and sometimes frustratingly ethnocentric population, will probably always feel most like home.

Oct 11, 2007

My husband is English and moved here to join me 11 years ago. I just e-mailed him a link to this with the subject, "Is this how you feel?" I think he'll say yes.

I appreciate your putting so much thought into your posts.

Oct 11, 2007

Wow... although I have a fair amount of Cheesehead Pride, I've never thought of Wisconsin as on par with Paris or Zimbabwe or Rome. We do have green rolling hills as well as a great lake coast and people of German heritage, so there is that. It's just that I've always thought of Wisconsin as charming in a quiet way rather than a shouty-shout way (you Parisians with your big tower and your long loaves of bread seem to scream "COSMOPOLITAN!", but I mean that in a good way). Thanks for giving me a reason to puff out my chest a little about my fair state.

I promise that Wisconsin would roll out the red carpet for you and Sean, and it probably would be dotted with cheese curds. FRIED cheese curds. Pack your bags!

Oct 11, 2007

and hey--he's reading _Then We Came to the End_ at the moment as well!

Oct 11, 2007

Wisconsin really is gorgeous and wonderful - I was born there and I'm going back with my husband for the first time next Fall. I'm already eagerly anticipating the way the air smells and how the trees looks just how fall should look.

Also, I spent a semester in London on study abroad and oh, how I miss it. It seems like a foreign country, no matter what county it is, has some allure simply because it's different and wonderful.

Nilsa S.
Oct 11, 2007

"... having lived ... in America for going on 12 years ... I’m finding it increasingly important to announce, to enunciate, to highlight my Britishness."

I found that to be true when I left New England to go away to school in the South. It wasn't so much that I was really proud of where I came from (because I'd never highlight it to that degree when traveling elsewhere), but I was mostly proud that I wasn't from the South.

Oct 11, 2007

Just as you were obsessed with America as a teen most of us are entirely wrapped up with all things British though and it rarely is limited to teenage years

Americans just looooooooooooove English people.

We love your monarchy, your tins of chocolate cookies (er, biscuits! Sorry, biscuits.), immaculate subway system (tube!), charming words and exclamations that always seem so much more clever than ours, the formality that seems to precede everything (why we can't have tea and cakes every afternoon I don't know) and most of all that delightful accent.

Gosh living in Texas sounds so boring now.

Oct 11, 2007

Sheila already beat me to mentioning the FRIED.cheese.curds, BUT she failed to mention that my home town has a whole festival dedicated to cheese. That's right, Cheese Days, held the third weekend of September in even numbered years. You may want to consider this when planning your vacation - there is Polka dancing too! And cream puffs, corn mazes, an endless parade, and a race that involves running from one historic bar to another, chugging the darkest, thickest beer the local brewery makes. That is the best kind of race, really.

Oct 11, 2007

I've never traveled abroad (unless Canada counts), and reading your post always fills me with a rare sort of wanderlust for places I never thought I'd want to visit. Generally, after something like this, I go home and insist to my boyfriend that we go somewhere. Anywhere.
Thanks for writing about the world for people who can't really afford to see it, Holly.

Oct 11, 2007

I think in the U.S., the pride goes even beyond the country you are from to what region or state in which you grew up. After being both abroad and living in the west, south, and almost the midwest, I will always say I am a Vermonter.

Oct 11, 2007

This is timely - I've grown up in New England, sandwiched between Boston and NYC, and took my first ever trip to Wisconsin this past weekend. Green Bay, actually, for the quintessential American experience of Lambeau Field (home of the Packers). And it was very much like I expected - wide and flat and green, and full of unpretentious, superfriendly folk who wouldn't know if my purse was a knock-off. It awakened my hunger to see the middle of the country, the "real" America, as you put it.

Oct 11, 2007

I think in the U.S., the pride goes even beyond the country you are from to what region or state in which you grew up. After being both abroad and living in the west, south, and almost the midwest, I will always say I am a Vermonter.

Oct 11, 2007

i'm quite disgusted how you think britain is 'boring'.

turn around when you need it? bollocks.

how about being proud of where you're from, not dissing your home country, and reveling in the fact that we excel in being self-deprecating about it in a unique way instead of having to wear your heart on your sleeve and bang on about it all the time which seems to be the american way.

Oct 11, 2007

Love the post Holly! As a well travelled Canadian girl with many wonderful American friends - I am filled with a sense of pride every time my plane lands in Toronto. I know that with my husband's job we will probably end up living abroad or in the US - and we will love every minute of the new experience and opportunities that come our way. However, Canada with its different Thanksgiving and Boxing Day, the coloured money and funny accent - will always be home.

Oct 11, 2007

I so much love how and what you write. Each day, when there is something new, I feel as though a little present has been left just for me.... like a mint on a pillow or that special, yummy cup of coffee!
Before I moved to Texas from Edmonton, Ontario, Canada, I thought everyone in Texas lived on a cattle or oil ranch, drove huge Caddies and wore 10-gallon cowboy hats.
I thought all women lunched at country clubs in pearls and bitch slapped eachother for "stealing their man".
Two things should now be obvious.... We watched all the standard evening soaps (Dallas, Knots Landing, Falcon Crest) and I was terribly shocked for my first experience in America to be the Piggly Wiggly in Ennis Texas....

Oct 11, 2007

I feel the exact same way. I am American but lived my entire life in England, just coming back to America for extended family visits. I always felt that I HAD to move to America and I spent a lot of time defending America and Americans to my friends in England.

I've lived here full time now for almost 3.5 years and now although I am still content to live here I am desperate not to lose my accent, and I constantly find myself missing England, and the English.

I also feel like I'm just not funny any more...I think I toned down my English sense of humor when I moved here so as not to offend anyone, and now I just feel...not funny. Which really isn't good.

Oct 11, 2007

How annoyed do you feel though when someone asks where you are from and you proudly affirm England!? The response is 'ah, you're from London - that's pretty cool'. New York is not American and London is not England. Also, I have given up talking in public places; it seems that no one really listens to what is said, they just hear the accent and fixate on that.

America has a wealth to offer people, but I am still having trouble finding a rowan berry bush to sit under, or eagerly waiting for conkers to fall (tempting them down with a 2 by 4).

Still, when everything feels a million miles away, I just sit out in the Texas sunshine and remember all the misty 'lion, witch and the wardrobe' mornings that I no longer have to endure.

Oct 11, 2007

Wow, I think geofftech must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

I am a native Atlantan and strangely enough, I feel like I see the "real America" when I visit either south Georgia or Peoria, IL as well (my mom grew up in Peoria so we spent a lot of time there visiting family over the years). Maybe it's areas with farm land or something that seem more American?

It is very interesting to me to hear how people in other countries visualize America. My boyfriend is from Brazil and some of my favorite conversations with him are about the differences in our countries and cultures and his perspective on America.

Oct 11, 2007

I’ve only lived overseas for 2 years, but can relate very much to your yearn to stick to your roots. Prior to moving abroad my Dad’s lone advice was that I, “just be American. Don’t start saying “cheers” or “mates” just to fit in.” While I found it sorta uninspiring advice at the time, I now see the wisdom in it. Maybe it’s not quite patriotism, but something like loyalty or a beloved old habit.

Oct 11, 2007

FYI, Wisconsin blows.

*Spoken like a true Chicagoan.*

Oct 11, 2007


Oh, Kristabella...

Have you never experienced the great holy sanctuary that is the Mars Cheese Castle, on I-94?

Have you never tuned out an entire brewery tour, just to revel in pint after pint of free homespun cheeseland brews afterwards?

Have you never driven up to Green Bay and realized that although it's the most godforsaken boring city in this country, it also feels like home and you could probably just walk up to someone's backyard barbecue, grab a brat, and start mingling?

Have you never pleaded, year after year, for your mother to please please please take you to the House on the Rock because youjusthavetoseethegiantwhaleandthosecrazymusicmachinesonemoretime and then instead have your mother sadly take you to Mt. Horeb to go to the Mustard Museum or whateveritscalled?

I may live in Los Angeles, but my heart lives in Wisconsin. At least that's what the magnet on my fridge says. Right next to the one that says "bubbler," complete with drawing of drinking fountain...

Natalie 42
Oct 11, 2007

First of all, I think you probably have the greatest life ever. I think most people who visit this site let out a big sigh when they hear of your childhood growing up in various countries, see your travel photos and just SIIIIGH. At least thats what I do! Secondly, I think wherever you are from, you feel that your home country is boring (yet dependable!) and you "crush" on some other country. It's just the way it is.

Oct 11, 2007

I don't remember ever mentioning that I was from Wisconsin when I lived in DC or NY, but when I moved to Texas I immediately became a loud, proud Wisconsinite just to counter all of the Texanness around me. I never thought I'd move back to Wisconsin, but now that I'm here, I will say that Madison is a great little city. I highly recommend it for your visit.

Oct 11, 2007

Wisconsin will be happy to see you! :)

Oct 11, 2007

My family lives in Wisconsin. I am moving to Chicago next summer (from Southern California). You are more than welcome to invade their wisconsin homes on an education field trip.

Oct 11, 2007

With all of the Wisconsin love that is being spread I have to speak up for Minnesota! (Don't get me wrong - love you Wisconsin, thanks for keeping your liquor stores open late). If you have the chance you really should add Minneapolis/St. Paul to your Chicago trip. It's definitely worth it. I'd be happy to have you over for a "hotdish".

I've done a bit of traveling within the US and I'm always amazed at how much regional bias there is. When people find out that I'm from Minnesota they are disappointed that I don't have a Fargo-like accent. Also? It is not the frozen tundra for crying out loud.

Oct 11, 2007

I love this post. I find it interesting because most of the Americans that I know, myself included, have grown up traveling around America but have had no real experience outside the boarders. I've been to Canada and Mexico twice, I wouldn't consider myself to be a world traveler. I envy anyone with the money to explore the world. Since I'm a college student who is forking out $40,000 a year.. my biggest vacation is to North Carolina.. or Disney World. I think mostly it is because of the vast oceans that seperate America from Europe, Asia and so on. Personally it just seems so out of reach from anything else. I'm jealous of every student I know who can actually say they have been to New Zealand or Ireland.

Also, I've always wished that I was english. Have you heard of the Georgia Nicolson series? Yes well that is how I picture every english teenager to be and I'm envious of this. Anytime I hear a british accent I just want to be around that person for hours and listen to them talk.

Oct 11, 2007

Oh, and you should visit Nashville. Everything about it screams American.. or country. It's fun.

Oct 11, 2007

I sent your link to my English husband who also grew up in a small village 45 minutes outside of London. He thinks America is a great place to live for lots of reasons, but he misses many things about England. Mainly just the feeling of "home" that all those things create, I think. Luckily this means we'll be heading back to Blighty for Christmas!

Oh, and Wisconsin is my "steady and sensible" guy. I was back there last March for a week. Long enough to remember all the things I love about it. And long enough to feel how cold it still is in March and be glad I don't live there anymore!

Oct 11, 2007

I've lived in American all my life, never left it, and I'd still like to go to Wisconsin and all those other middle states. I've always been here on the East Coast, and I assume that Wisconsin et al.are these weirdly magical middle-America places, where people all go to the one barber shop and everyone is at the Corn Festival and you know your neighbors' business. Pretty much that middle America is stuck in 1940 or something. I will be so sad when I get there, finally, and they have WiFi and drive SUVs and go to SuperCuts.

Oct 11, 2007

Superblondgirl - sadly, last week I learned that there are both Olive Gardens and lots of Chevy Suburbans in Wisconsin.

Oct 11, 2007

I've experienced a similar renaissance with how I view my small town upbringing. As a child, my mother, a city-slicker, was obviously embarrassed to tell anyone that she had moved from the city to the small town. Consequently, I was ashamed of being from a small town and hid that fact all during my college career. Ditto the fact that my father used to be a farmer. Now it's something I take great pride in and relish. I'm not sure what brought all that about, except that perhaps it simply makes me different and more interesting in certain circles.

Oct 11, 2007

Great post! So descriptive. I really identified with this:

“Now, though, having lived (on and off) in America for going on 12 years—though only the last five of those have been full-time—I’m finding it increasingly important to announce, to enunciate, to highlight my Britishness. I’m not sure why, but it’s a creeping pride. I suppose I could write a lengthy treatise on identity…”

I’m American, but was born and grew up in Ecuador. When I was there, I was proud of being American. After moving to the U.S., I found myself constantly reminding people of my dual nationality (I’m Ecuadorian, too!) While traveling abroad for two years, I picked whichever nationality was more convenient; i.e. American in the Caribbean, Ecuadorian in Africa.

Now I’m married to a guy from The Netherlands. I guess it’s all just the big salad of who makes me.

the usual Gretchen
Oct 11, 2007

This entry is fascinating to me, as I'm a lifelong Anglophile (blame the old "Avengers" TV show) but have never made it to the UK. I understand your desire to keep your Britishness; it's a lot like my determination to retain my East Coastiness despite having been in La-La Land for 23 years. Because, as you know, there is nothing real about Southern California. New York may be gritty, but at least it's real.

Perhaps someday I'll make it to London and find out for myself how "Notting Hill" it really is.

Oct 11, 2007

Oh, and K-Mart is a disappointment to everyone, not just expats. But we do make up for it with Target.

Oct 11, 2007

What a lovely post! It's especially nice to hear after living abroad for a couple years and being verbally assaulted on a daily basis just because I supposedly "look American." Nice to so America is still beloved in some eyes!

Oct 11, 2007

A bit off topic, but I just stumbled across your blog and was happily reading your 'about me' section until I came to the part where it says "and it hardly ever rains in San Francisco" and that's when my brain did a complete summersault inside my head because I lived there for 8 years and let me tell you something about San Francisco: it rains. But then I came to this post and I realize you are from England and perhaps it rains so much there that, RELATIVELY SPEAKING, it doesn't rain that much in SF. Still, it rained enough in the 90s to send me running for Southern California, and that's saying a lot, because 1. I love SF more than any other place in the world, and 2. I can be as big an LA snob as anyone.

Of course, when I first moved to SF, I thought it never rained too; they were in the midst of a drought and the weather was beyond fantastic for a year and a half--and then the rain started.

Here's hoping you enjoy many more beautiful sunny days and that if the deluge comes, you have a sturdy umbrella to survive it.

Oct 11, 2007

Wow! I can't believe how many of your readers have ties to Wisconsin.

Oct 11, 2007

I was born in Hong Kong but I've lived in Seattle pretty much my whole life. . .not that I'm complaining although I have some sort of ridiculous obsession with Hong Kong since I haven't been back since birth.

Anyways. . .I had a point. . .oh so recently I flew to Chicago and drove into Wisconsin for a wedding and I too was like "you can drive. . .like actually drive to Wisconsin?" WISCONSIN HAS SHOPKO OMG. See I'm from here and I even got a kick out of it.

Madison was pretty sweet by the way, if you get a chance to go you should check out the Eseenhaus :)

Oct 11, 2007

Wisconsin is the best state in the whole United America.

I might be a little biased, seeing as I've lived in Madison, Wisconsin my entire life, but, still: I'm pretty sure I'm accurate.

Sean shouldn't knock it until he's had Chocolate Shoppe ice cream (my current favorite flavor is Snap-o-Lantern: ginger snaps in pumpkin ice cream!), walked around the Capital square for farmer's market, watched a free concert on the UW Memorial Union, or simply driven through the lush farm-country roads.

And yes, Essenhaus is awesome. But so is everything else both here in Madison, and statewide.

Loud and Proud: Hooray Wisconsin!

Rachael W
Oct 11, 2007

My mom and I once drove from Minnesota, then to Iowa and Wisconsin, then back to Minnesota, in one day. Wisconsin was by far my favorite of the three.

I agree with what some other people have said here about Americans not just having American pride, but also regional pride. Over the past four years, as the idea of possibly having to leave California looms nearer and nearer, I've found myself telling a lot of people, "You know, the problem with being born in California is that you can never really ever live in any other state."

Oct 12, 2007

I think what you've touched on is that unusual feeling we have when we are faced with the question "Where's home for you?".

We do like an anchor, a sense of comfortableness, a feeling that there is someplace where we know our way around.

Given that for thousands of years our ancestors probably never wandered more than a hundred miles (if that) from their place of birth - it is certainly wired into our DNA to feel the wind against our face and turn towards the scent of "home".

That we experience a chapter or two in our life were we seem to value whatever is "not home" more than home itself - yet eventually find ourselves with a greater appreciation for that which we once made haste to leave is a universal experience that comes with riding this little blue ball around the sun just a few years more.

What's important is to not dismiss out of hand that which we once sought to put behind us . . . and to learn to appreciate the beauty and richness of that which once seemed to be without flavor.

We are all from somewhere no matter where we are at the moment.

Oct 12, 2007

I feel the same way about America as I daydream about my hopeful trips to quaint places in Europe! Heck, I daydream about my trips to New England (which I'm hoping to do this year). Meanwhile, I shall be inspired by your writings as if I was there.

May I borrow your accent please? :-)

Oct 12, 2007

While living in Chicago, my husband and I would often escape on a Sunday afternoon and drive up to Wisconsin - Destination: Mars Cheese Castle ( - Shawnte mentions it above as well).

It's just inside Wisconsin on I-94 - maybe an hour from Chicago on a non-traffic day. We'd buy some cheese, maybe some sausage,and a pecan Kringle (trust me on this) and head home for a picnic. Yep, we drove an hour out of our way to buy cheese and then turned around and went home.

Definitely worth the trip.

runs like a girl
Oct 12, 2007

(delurking to comment...I missed delurker day last week.) I loved this post, as I love 99.9999% of your posts. Ah, heck, make it 100%.

Anywho, I'm from Milwaukee. And when you mentioned Wisconsin in your post and how you can drive to Wisconsin from Chicago, I got a little excited. Okay, a lot excited. Because, really, you should come up and look around.

Milwaukee, although it's only 90 minutes from Chicago, is a completely different place. You can go to Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, but keep going north and actually make it to downtown Milwaukee. You won't be disappointed. Plus, we have brewery tours! (Lakefront Brewery's is the best in my opinion.) And an art museum addition that looks like a bird! And...lots of cheese and fried food! And nice people!

Oct 12, 2007

Wow. Such a fantastic post, Holly! It's funny, because I was obsessed with British culture for a while when I was teenager. I may or may not have watched My Fair Lady repeatedly so as to perfect my Cockney accent.

Oh, and while I know that America doesn't consist solely of NY and LA, the next time you ARE in NY, you'd better call me, m'kay? :)

Oct 12, 2007

Great post. I am English and grew up with dreams of all things American, and was dazzled when I finally made it to New York when I was college age. My husband and I moved from Edinburgh to Wisconsin of all places 6 years ago. Whilst the move was relatively easy (very friendly helpful people) the culture shock of moving to a small town really did push us to almost breaking point. We moved to St Paul 4 years ago, and I am amazed at how much I love it here. We always thought we'd end up in NY or Boston or the West Coast, but actually life here is just so fabulously comfortable. We always thought that we'd take holidays to all the big cities here but we just can't afford it.
But, what I wanted to say was hear hear on the affirmation of Britishness- the more our 2 year old (Wisconsinite) daughter sounds American, the more I am mourning the loss of my accent and all things British. Now I feel like when I try and recapture my accent, I am doing a caricature of all things "Northern" without any trace of what I actually used to sound like. People here think we have cute accents, but our friends at home remind us of what we know- we are climatising to American life more and more each day. And I no longer crave Digestive's on a daily basis, which saddens me. But, I have to say, whenever we discuss moving "home" we decide against it- it's comforting to have the nostalgia and sense of belonging to something "other", without dealing with the sometimes-depressing realities.

Oct 12, 2007

".... I had an enormous American flag draped across one wall of my suburban English bedroom in a leafy village 45 minutes from London."

My 16 1/2 year old daughter has a 6 foot painted Union Jack on her dark red wall, matching duvet cover and Union Jack themed bedroom. She's making her first trip to London this holiday season to participate in the New Year's Day Parade in London. I am interested to see her perspective when she gets home as she's loved everything English and British for about 5 years.

Oct 12, 2007

Really, Holly. Why can't you be more dry and arch like your fellow Brits? Why do you have to go "banging on" about things all the time? (Piss off, Geofftech. Bugger off, too.)

What a great post.

Nora Bee
Oct 14, 2007

Dude! Total Anglophile here. When I was in England for my study abroad in 1994, my British friends were so surprised when I said yes, that is what many houses in the US look like. They were surprised that there were not separate doors to each room! I love that. I love England. Thanks for the memories!

(And, I love Wisconsin too, because of the Little House on the Prairie. Don't get me started...)

Daily Tragedies
Oct 14, 2007

Holly, I will hook you up with a whole LIST of things to see in Wisconsin!

And Sean need not worry -- there's baseball and beer there. He'll be fine.

Oct 15, 2007

I am American and I too enjoy the "real" America. I am fascinated by middle America still to this day and I grew up there. Granted I am not fascinated to a point of still living there, but oh how I love to visit. One of my favorite places is Salina, Kansas and the surrounding area. I could people watch all year long there.

You truly are a global woman. When I read your entries I never get a true feeling of where you are from. Don't take that negatively, I believe it is a quality we could all use.

Oh, and might I recommend the movie 'Vernon Florida' for a taste of true Americana? pure genius.

Oct 15, 2007

i'd like to highlight my own briddishness. by pretending to be briddish.

sadly, my accent comes out sounding like benny hill. producing more embarrassment than that i often feel at being a yank these days.

Oct 15, 2007

If you happen to drive through Minneapolis to go through Wisconsin on the way to Chicago (which would take you a bit out of your way, but you said Minneapolises, you'll find that most people in downtown scurrying from their Starbuck's to their Wells Fargos try really hard to act like they are New Yorkers. Now, go out of town to one of the suburbs (like beautiful Stillwater, the birthplace of Minnesota AND my hometown), and you'll get the real Minnesota nice! My twopence, if you will...

Oct 15, 2007

And, BTW, Little House On The Prairie happened in southwestern Minnesota, not Wisconsin (Google Map Walnut Grove, MN)

Oct 15, 2007

I didn't even know you were British. I'm not British, but I am a British citizen, and I just got my British passport, and I feel very pleased about that. Now I'm going to have to start reading your posts with an accent.

Andrea Jolene
Oct 17, 2007

And the complete irony of reading this post - is that this is me, but harboring a desire to live and in fact BE "British." Perhaps it's time to make that transition. 6 weeks living in London was like eating a cruelly delicious bite of the most scrumptious chocolate (of course chocolate) something or other in the entire world, and having it suddenly ripped from my presence before I really got to finish it, never to be tasted again. Sigh. That IS cruel.

D Phud
Oct 18, 2007

OK, I guess I need to give you my 2 cents because I consider myself an "authority" on a few subjects of interest.

I'm a (VERY PROUD) native of St. Paul (NOT MINNEAPOLIS), MN. A previous writer was correct; Minneapolis is full of city people trying to be cosmopolitan. We St. Paulites were a bit different; we were busy trying to distinguish ourselves as uniquely NOT Minneapolis. (Does F. Scott Fitzgerald come from Minneapolis? I think NOT!) To see "real Minnesota" is difficult because the state is pretty diverse; it is both city and country, both farm and forest. I'd tell people that they need to go to some farms in the south, head up to the Iron Range and tour a mine, take a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters, go to one of the state parks in the SW that is the Prairie, etc etc etc. It would take you a long time to get the feeling of the REAL Minnesota.

Now I'm a happy transplant (job related) to Milwaukee, WI. Wisconsin is also a pretty diverse state, so I'll just tell you why you should skip Chicago and just come to Milwaukee. (OK, go to the art museum and have some pricey but good meals in Chicago- THEN take the train up to Milwaukee.) Milwaukee is a cool city because it doesn't know it is cool. It is very neighborhood-centric and the people are some of the friendliest in the country (close tie with Iowans). It is the kind of city where you can see an opera one day and go bowling the next. And you could probably find an outfit that would be ok for both. In the summer, there are different festivals every weekend- most celebrate some ethnic group. It is a city where there still are corner bars everywhere, and you can make one your home away from home. We take drinking seriously and know how to polka. And you can get really good food here at local ma and pop restaurants. You can have fantastic Serbian, Polish, Thai, Mexican (just to name a few) dinners at bargain prices served up by somebody's grandma (better cooks than my grandmas were). Anyway, seems many Wisconsinites have written in. We should all get together and have some curds + beer.

I could go on and on (already did!). Anyway, take the train up to Milwaukee. Send me an email and we'll take you to a great dinner and my local bar where Kelly will serve up one of about 45 beers from the tap (and none of them Budweiser crap).

If you are from NY or LA, you may hate Milwaukee because it may seem foreign. But if you are tired of spending more than $30 for a handbag so that other people don't mock you, come to WI. Everyone will be nice to you- and we probably wouldn't recognize your $1500 designer bag anyway.

And just to clarify: Laura Ingalls Wilder books (based on her life) were set in many places (just like her life). "Little House in the Big Woods" took place near Pepin, WI. "On the Banks of Plum Creek" took place in Walnut Grove, MN. "Little House on the Prairie" was actually in Kansas. Most other books ("Little Town on the Prairie" etc) were in DeSmet, SD. Yup- I've been to all of them except the Kansas one.