When you traverse the globe and land somewhere far from home, it feels different. At first you can’t quite put your finger on it, but it is a noticeable shift in how you experience the world. Outside looks different, like you’re looking at through Coke bottle glasses, or a smudgy window. It also sounds and smells different. Even if you’ve landed in another English speaking country, your experience of the ordinary is skewed.
It’s the little things. Lots of little things all adding up to one huge shift in perception.
It has been like that since I moved here to Seattle. And because I have been here and experienced this feeling before, it is like an intriguing form of deja vu. My reality is shifting, and more and more the little things that stand out as different are becoming my new norm. The light switches go the other way, I need to look left before I step off a curb, not right, and when I reverse in the car, I look over the wrong shoulder and can’t see anything. But these details are pretty ordinary.
There are things that are a little, well, quirky, about living in Seattle.
In the grocery stores here – notice the Americanism – there is the sound of thunder a few seconds before the automated reticulation mists the fruit and vegetables – so you have time to step back and not get wet. Thunder, then rain. You gotta love the genius behind that.
And the people who work at grocery stores are unbelievably cheerful. Kind, helpful, and when you check out they pack your bags and then offer to take them out to the car for you. They always look a little disappointed when I say, “No thank you, I am walking.” I doubt I will ever tire of a friendly chat over bags of groceries. They even thank you – on behalf of the environment – when you bring your own bags.
In fact, I have noticed that most people here are unbelievably friendly and cheerful. It is such a difference from Sydney that I have often spent a moment or two in stunned silence before responding. And I am determined to get to the bottom of this rampant friendliness. Not in an ‘I am dubious that it is sincere’ kind of way, but because we should bottle this stuff and send it Down Under. I mean not to disparage my homeland – in fact the friendly factor still rings true in many parts of Western Australia, like where my Dad and Stepmum live – but in Sydney? Let’s just say that if you can get a smile out of someone who works in the service industry – behind a counter, with a cash register – you should go and buy a lottery ticket. It’s your lucky day.
But not all the differences here are rainbows and butterflies for the soul. Try and find a low-fat, healthy version of anything that does not contain ‘high fructose corn syrup’ (which is pretty much BAD for you), and you will be looking long and hard, or dipping into your retirement fund. Healthy food, including fresh produce, can be pretty costly. But you can buy a burrito at Taco Bell for 99c. Which is why it is so intriguing that Seattle-ites are a fit and healthy bunch. There are as many gyms as coffee shops, and at the first sign of sun, the paths and cycle ways fill with people traffic. And people walk a lot in this city just to get somewhere – even when it is rainy and cold. In Sydney ‘cold’ means 12C or 54F. In Seattle, to be deemed ‘cold’ the temperature requires a minus in front. The other day it was 2. Degrees. Celsius. And only I mentioned how cold it was.
Just one more thing I will get used to as the ‘smudgy glass’ of my perception starts to clear, and Seattle becomes ‘home’. Less and less I find myself saying, ‘Back home, it’s like this…’ Because, I am home.