Lucy Jensen
Lucy Jensen

I’ve been living in America for 35 years now. Almost to the day. There you have it. I am either very old — or I came to this country very young — you be the judge of that. It is truly amazing how time flies and how I cannot believe I have lived in this country longer than in my home country of origin. That certainly puts things in perspective!

When I arrived in the U.S., I had not done my homework. I had no clue how things worked over here — it was all a mystery I found out mostly the hard way. We speak a similar language — kinda — but I found that even that is hard to navigate your way through at times, especially when there is a presumption it is the same language. (I do recall being asked on occasion if the primary language in England was French…)

(Who calls their child Randy? How does Charles go to Chuck without it being funny? Why all the misspellings of perfectly well-spelled words? See favor, flavor, labor … or, more comfortably, favour, flavour, labour?) It is very hard to do anything or get anywhere in America, I discovered, if you had your formative base someplace else. (Regardless of whatever similarity of language.)

I couldn’t open a bank account with a certain large bank because I had no family banking history in the U.S. (That’s right, Einstein. I am a First Generation Immigrant. They do happen.) I couldn’t account for work experience because they didn’t want to call for references overseas or trust that they would be accurate ones if they did. (See, again, do they speak French in England?)

Everything was just super odd the first few months I lived over here. OK, so the East Coast is a bit odd anyway — not a super fan — but I didn’t know any better, so it was my landing point, a place to start. It could so easily have been the place I stopped and said never mind, fleeing home with all kinds of bad impressions in my wake.

When you just get off the boat, as it were, you are starting with a minus stature in this country. It was exciting initially to go to the grocery store and see 500 types of cornflakes or 25 different ways to envelop a chocolate biscuit with marshmallow; it was a blast to go through a drive-thru and imagine yourself back in the times of “American Graffiti,” those marsh-mellow days of great music, cars and style, now you were now in the heartland of all that; but that dairy wore off fairly sharpish, once reality kicked in — (don’t ever go to the streets behind the White House, they are a howling ghetto, shame on us) — it was hard to convince people of your authenticity, when they got all drunk over your accent. And they didn’t know what a green card was and what it entailed. (“Are you Illegals?” No. “You’re citizens?” No, again.) I was left with the blehs.

Fortunately, my youthful ignorance/optimism made sure that I knew, in the back of my mind, I could return home at any time, that this could just be a curious stepping-stone from my former life to the new and improved one, which was likely another step beyond the current land mass where I found myself.

I didn’t make friends, I didn’t find any kindred spirits, the weather was dreadful — there really wasn’t much good news to report, except my “illegal” job on Security at the State Department was a bit of a hoot. (You have to be a citizen to work there. I wasn’t. I believe that has now changed.) But then when I found out that their sense of humor (or more comfortably, humour) was way different to ours, I recall thinking there was no way I would be able to stay. If you cannot find things funny, like ever, that is a bit of a game changer.

I can’t exactly remember when I found “Seinfeld.” (Like finding God, but funnier.) I am not entirely sure; but I think it was likely about two years into this American adventure that is still going on and winding its way toward who knows what. I remember pausing at the comedy show before me. Wait, this was pretty funny! I sat down and watched some more. There was American comedy out there that would make me laugh? I felt as if I were stepping out of a cultural desert and into the light of a place where I might be able to stay a little while longer.

I remember consciously deciding to look for that show again. I needed to make sure it really was funny; not a one-off. If I could trust that an American comedy show could make me laugh; then there was hope, real hope, that I just might be able to hang out in this rather extraordinary, cultural mishmash of an enormous land mass I had found myself in a bit longer.

The 1980’s characters of Jerry, George, Elaine, Kramer — even Newman — made me feel more at home. I sought out the show to feel less homesick and more connected to the people and things around me. I never understood why, but other English friends of mine liked it too.

To this day, 35 years down the road, I still record the Seinfeld series and keep for when I’m feeling a little low, a tad shy from the touch of the laughter and friendship I miss from home, my original home. The characters from the show insert me into a universal level of regular life quirkiness and humor (or humour) that is like a welcome home song in my mind that embraces my senses and breeds a divine situ of contentment. Why does it remind you of home, you might ask. It’s based in New York, not London? I don’t know the answer to that exactly. What I do know is that my old friends — my Elaines, Jerrys, Kramers and Georges — have always been there in my life, my living room, supporting and cheerleading me through and onto the next adventure.

With the techy aids of modern society and the diversity of communities the world over, New York is right there on a par with London, they are not so far away. Looking back at my first impressions of this country I have made my home; I am reminded how very similar we all are. We can speak the same language and be poles apart. We can share a similar language — or none at all — and yet be soul mates with the odd cultural challenge ahead. My first impressions reviewed 35 years later — aren’t we lucky to live where we do?

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Soledad columnist Lucy Jensen may be reached at [email protected].


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