I’m Irish, and my blog is about my experiences living in different cities around the world including Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and now San Francisco. This is my first post.
In the middle of 2015 I moved to the Bay Area with my family. History shows us that we Irish have always settled well in America and the rest of the world, from the St. Patrick ‘s Day parades to the Irish pubs on many corners in just about every city on the planet.
True to form, I have spent about half my life away from Ireland and I find myself using more of my experiences in Asia as my reference point and guide to life in America than I do my home country. Many of the comparisons and what I find unusual here come from my life in Singapore. For example, I have no experience of bringing up kids in Ireland, the UK or anywhere else, only Singapore. And similarly with work, I’ve only worked in Asia, buying my first car and doing my driving test in Singapore.
I drove in Ireland but only on a provisional license. Lots of people in Ireland it seemed in the 80s and 90s drove only on provisional licenses. You could fail your driving test in Ireland, get back into your car and drive home still with your provisional license intact. There was a rumour at the time that the government were purposely failing people in order to use fees from the driving test as a revenue stream. Some might say, “Only in Ireland.”
I was quietly excited about the move to San Francisco and what lay before me. I say “quietly” as I had mixed feelings, having spent the last 20 years of my life in Asia, and I was apprehensive about leaving a life I knew and was comfortable with. How I ended up in Asia for so long is still a mystery to me, as I never had a great yearning to see the world. It was more a case that there weren’t many jobs in Ireland so I felt I should go to another country and find one. Isn’t that what Irish people did? A young girl newly graduated from Trinity College, wondering whether to book a ticket to Asia; blink and two decades later I have lived in four different locations and never moved back.
I’ve been congratulated so many times about moving to San Francisco. I thought it was a bit odd about being congratulated; would people have said “Well done,” if I had moved somewhere less newsworthy? “Well done on your move to Cleveland!” What’s so special about San Francisco? Having been here quite a few months now I understand a bit more why it was seen as equivalent to winning a lottery ticket. It’s a cool city, it’s extremely multicultural, it’s near enough to drive to lots of great holiday destinations.
Did I mention wine country is close? But as in any good debate I can also have a good discussion on some (many?) of the more challenging moments I have lived and am living through. Many of these I will be writing about in my upcoming posts.
On most days I come out smiling, or at least with a determination to embrace the next day with the positive and sunny disposition that many San Franciscans possess. From the ubiquitous “Have a good one!” to “We love your accent, are you from Australia?” there always seems to be a cheery comment punctuating exchanges here. My emotions can range from “Am I ever going to get the hang of it here?” to “People are so friendly and what a great city”. On the surface everything seems pretty familiar but beneath it is a minefield of often-complicated customs and an accepted way to do things that I have no idea how to follow.
You are supposed to always stop for pedestrians, regardless of whether there is a pedestrian crossing or not. When they walk out in front of your car unannounced, wearing earphones, and reading their phone, they may look at you as if to say, “Slow down and stop, I am crossing the road now.” That’s if they bother to look up from their screens at all. Conversely when driving a car you can beep a car in front of you who doesn’t move quickly when the lights change. I always thought I was a pretty punchy driver, not here I’m not. I’m the go-slow granny, or at least that’s what it feels like. You don’t need to pack your own shopping in supermarkets, the cashier always does it for you (try that in the UK and see what happens). And if you do it they may say “Thank you for packing!” You have a cheese plate before your dinner and not after it. Don’t be surprised when you are asked for I.D when ordering or buying alcohol ( even if you are 45 years old). San Franciscans love their food and they don’t mind queuing for it, I would go as far as to say queuing for things here is an accepted and normal pastime embraced by many.
It’s common enough to see dogs going to work with their owners in the morning and then hanging out in the office all day (the dog not the owner). I went to a yoga class where the teacher had her dog with her, and I’ve been to the cinema where there were two dogs also enjoying the movie. One of them was sitting in the lap of the woman beside me and she kept kissing her dog. If any of that seems run of the mill, pick an activity and try it next time you go outside San Francisco and see what happens. Dogs in theatres in Singapore would probably attract a news crew.
More to come on the pitfalls of moving to a new city; I hope you enjoy reading about my experiences in the meantime. Drop me a line and let me know what you’d like to know more of. And in the meantime… Have a good one!