I oscillate between being cowardly and courageous. It’s the reason why I can strike up a conversation with stranger, speak my mind in situations most would find daunting, but have an irrational fear of enclosed spaces and don’t know how to say “no” to those I care about. Being simultaneously bold and timid, has come to characterise my existence, and the incongruence has bled into every sphere.

image

My roommate took this picture of me and I hid my arms because I’m an awkward Brit.

Have you ever felt as if your life was more characterised by inertia than progress? Like everything was stalling and nothing was propelling itself in the direction you’d like to go in? Welcome to my 2012. It was an odd year. It seemed as if my highs married my woes, and were refusing to grant each other a divorce. As the year drew to a close, I began to take inventory of my life and felt disappointment.

I remember sitting at the dinner table on Christmas Day with my family, and I experienced a moment of satori. On the verge of tears, I shared with them how I’d enabled patterns to emerge in my life that were weighing me down. My family was supportive, and reminded me that in them I have a bottomless well of love and encouragement to pull from.

However, I knew that no matter what they said, I would have to create my change, rather than wait for it.

The problem is my cowardly streak. A streak so potent it can be crippling.

It took me a while to muster up the courage. A month ago I booked a ticket to place I’d never been before, two weeks later I put a security deposit on an apartment I’d never seen and today I type these words from a place very unfamiliar yet somehow already feels like home.

I’m in Brooklyn, New York to be precise. The energy is electric, the people are eccentric in the best way possible and it reminds me of the hipster districts of London — if they got a boob job and married up a social tier, yet were stubbornly resisting assimilation.

image

The Jimi Hendrix statement wall in my apartment.

Considering that hitherto I’ve avoided uncertainty and discomfort, in the last few days I’ve faced a massive learning curve and I’ve learnt the following:

1. Americans really like British accents.

My voice is grating. I sound like sonic piss frozen and then encased in hideous wrapping paper. However, for some reason, it seems that everyone thinks that everything I say is intelligent and funny. I’ve discovered that people in shops will also give you free stuff if you have a British accent. Thus far I’ve got free hair straighteners, metro cards, chicken and Hennessey. I fear this list says more about me than I want to admit. The great news is I didn’t have to flash a boob to get any of it, not that I’ve considered that or anything.

2. The subway makes no sense.

If the intentions of the architects of the New York subway were to confuse people until they contemplate throat punching themselves — they’ve far surpassed their hopes. Everyone tells me I’ll figure the subway out eventually, but I know I won’t. I’m so forgetful, I’d forget my weave if it wasn’t sewn to my head. I’ll forever get lost on the New York subway. I’m not OK with this fact.

3. I have absolutely no sense of direction.

In England the roads are narrow and short. In New York they’re fat and long (I can assure you this isn’t a filthy pun, I haven’t been that adventurous). In England all you need to give is the street address and door number, and the cab driver will know precisely where you’re going.

In New York, you also need a cross street. Much to my disappointment a cross street isn’t a place filled with glamorous cross dressers. Also, in America they drive on the other side of the road. Ergo I’m perpetually marvelling at the sheer enormity of the roads, lost and about to get knocked down by a truck.

4. If this writing thing doesn’t work out I can fake a talent on the subway.

In the past few days it feels like I’ve observed people on every possible point of the talent spectrum perform. I’ve witnessed the insanely talented and been captivated by the enormity of their gift. Then I’ve watched people perform who I sincerely hope choose not to procreate, because they clearly live on an island called delusion. Pretty weird, because in England we tend to be quiet on the tube, unless we all take a moment to collectively grumble about delays.

5. Times Square is what happens when bright lights and tall buildings are given performance enhancing drugs and viagra.

No further explanation needed.

6. Old women will dodge fares with you.

Turns out if you use your metro card incorrectly, you’re not allowed back on the train for 18 minutes. How do I know? It happened to me last night. I was stranded and about to have an anxiety attack. I spotted an old lady and asked her what I should do. She gave me such wise advice.

“Fuck this, let’s both go under, nobody is here. And I don’t wanna pay for this shit anyway, the city owes us!”

I found myself at Marcy Avenue station, crawling under the barriers with a woman who could be my grandmother. It hasn’t even been a week and I’m already engaging in illegal activity. #thuglife

7. People are kind.

New York has rid me of any residual cynicism I may have had left. I have experienced immense kindness from strangers, old friends and new friends.

It turns out that despite what we see on the news, people are kind. They’ll help you with your bags as you struggle around Target. Pick you up the from the airport and let you crash on their couch because the prospect of spending the first night in your new apartment was too daunting. Teach you what apps to download to navigate the city. Take time out of their schedules to walk you around the city. Give you hugs you didn’t realise you needed.

People are so kind, you can feel like you belong in a foreign place and remind you that taking a risk into the unknown — and trying out the change you knew you needed — is always worth it.

XOJane

This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more on XOJane!

  • MeAunie

    Lol. This is hilarious to me, especially #5. Glad you are being encouraged on your journey. I find it inspiring and bold of you to move to another country. I have thought of this. Do you think London people will like my American accent? Lol

  • Torahga

    Oddly enough, that’s how I feel about the UK. People are overwhelmingly nice. I haven’t gotten any free stuff but I look forward to the idea. Now New York is my home in my head, I’ve always said New York reminds me of Lagos, Nigeria and I’m sure if you come across Nigerians who travel a lot, they’ll totally agree. I wish I could live in the UK but with all these immigration issues and few job availibilities for American grad students, I’m sure my time is up.

  • http://parentingbytheseatofmypants.wordpress.com greendoondoon

    I’m American and have been in the UK for 11 years. People are amazed when I say how long I’ve been here and then they wonder why I chose the UK over America. I love it here. I’m sarcastic and cynical and the UK suits me. The people are nice– even in London.

  • ImJustSaying

    The major advantage that London Cabbies have over american is the approval system to become a cabbie. London has basically a school for cabbies where they need to know what streets are one-way after 5 o’clock and if A street crosses B street or runs parallel to it. And you CANNOT become a driver until you pass an extensive test on the layout of the city.
    On the other hand, Cabbies here either rent a cab car or buy a cab car get a bogus gps and call them selves a cabdriver. I so wish they would bring that sort of organization to America

  • That girl

    I loved this article! Really nice to read

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    go to the ticket booth at he subway and ask for a subway map. they are free.

  • Lisss

    Wow! Number 7 made me miss Florida so baaaaddd! I live in Quebec now, Montreal to be precise. Its a pretty great place to live actually but the friendliness isn’t the same as down south. Hardly any “Merry Christmas” at Christmas time, no smiles on the bus (the only ones who do are small children and the elderly), no one so much as look your way much less help with the bags *sniff*
    Anyways, i hope you’re enjoying your new home.

  • LeonieUK

    It’s caled “The Knowledge and it’s sooooooo intense my friend took 3yrs to pass. So extra proud of him.

  • LeonieUK

    Wait your a Londoner, you should be able to navigate the Subway with your eyes close. If you can handle the tube you can handle the bloody Subway. Now the smell is another issue all together, but yes I love the talent on the Subway much better than home
    NYC is very Londonish, but go to another state and then you get excited and rub your hands with glee. Keep enjoying your time luvvy, praying hard you get all that you want and need out there…

  • Mr. Man

    Real funny read, I needed that this morning, thank you. Glad you’re having a successful transition so far. Hang in there you’ll be just fine.
    I think I need to start speaking with a British accent…

    Wait your British and beautiful, oh yeah you’re getting free stuff so nevermind I’ll save my accent efforts.

  • Londoner

    This article made me smile! I was you two years ago. You figure things out eventually, but I never did get used to people driving on the ‘other’ side of the road…

  • Fantastico

    Yes! That’s what I want to know!

  • stef

    that was cute. I liked that, As a new yorker I agree on a couple things.

    Love British accents they are hot
    The Tube( subway) in London is easier to figure out
    We really do have some talented subway performers
    and Londoners and New yorkers both believe we are kings of the world.

    She does need some advise to not jump the turnstile or she will get a record

  • stef

    tickets booths dont exist no more and the ones that do shut down after certain time

  • http://thebrokejetsetter.com Becca

    In all my experience abroad, having an American accent has NOT helped me. Poop

  • Blue

    The subway makes plenty of sense. Uptown…downtown…east, west, etc..Learn above ground & you’ll learn the underground. When in doubt, there’s an app for that or ask an MTA worker.

    Oh & if you use your metrocard the wrong way, go to the token booth clerk & he/she will let you in. Getting caught by an under cover cop & having to pay a $100 fine is not worth it.

    Let me know where these kind people are at. They are few & far between in this city.

  • Bosslady

    As others have said, London subway is easy, NYC is a hot mess!!! I’ve been to NYC more times than I can count and I still haven’t fully grasped it. Washington, D.C. metro is comparable to the London tube system, actually, probably easier to master

  • PrincessDi81

    I studied abroad in London and people used to say the loved my accent all the time.

  • Liz

    Native New Yorker here… I will admit the Tube and the Paris Metro are far easier to comprehend. And I love number 7!

  • Wong Chia Chi

    It just takes time to get used to. Cute little outta towners!

  • Wong Chia Chi

    Turns out if you use your metro card incorrectly, you’re not allowed back on the train for 18 minutes. How do I know? It happened to me last night. I was stranded and about to have an anxiety attack. I spotted an old lady and asked her what I should do. She gave me such wise advice.

    “Fuck this, let’s both go under, nobody is here. And I don’t wanna pay for this shit anyway, the city owes us!”

    I found myself at Marcy Avenue station, crawling under the barriers with a woman who could be my grandmother. It hasn’t even been a week and I’m already engaging in illegal activity. #thuglife

    I used to HATE this. I know it’s to keep people from selling their metro pass but, UGH! Once I was running errands and I entered the same station I came out of earlier. I was in a really big HURRY. I ran my metrocard through and it didn’t let me in.

    The train operator was like, ” You have to wait 18 minutes.” And he had a really nasty attitude about. Like he hadn’t just seen me ten minutes earlier and every day since I lived by the train station.Thankfully a nearby transit cop opened the gate for me to get on.

    ID train passes would solve SO many problems.

  • http://parentingbytheseatofmypants.wordpress.com greendoondoon

    @Princess– people say that to me. I was out at a bar and this guy heard me chatting to my friend. He said that I sounded like something from a film and then asked me to record his voicemail message. Of course I did it– I was drunk!

  • Danika

    Haha, a lot of people have realized that we Americans are actually really nice! My school got an exchange student, and she says we are all so nice it’s almost weird. Yet, thanks to media, I feel as though we’re just pictured as fat jerks that like to say OHMYGOD, SO TOTALLY HOT! it’s a little depressing.

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