In Chicago terms, it was a spattering of snow that had all but disappeared by nightfall.
To us, it was ‘snow time’ as Rufus shouted from a few inches away from my ‘still pretending to be asleep’ face that morning. And there were requests to be outside making snowmen to accompany almost every mouthful of Weetabix.
I know many American kids were equally excited by the white morning, but I wonder if theirs was one of knowledgeable anticipation. They do snow every winter, and are looking forward to familiar fun things. This breakfast table bouncing was full of fiction-fuelled imaginings – stories of trains ploughing through snow, of little boys building snowmen who come to life at night, of Postman Pat struggling to deliver parcels on a snowmobile.
We made it outside before 9am, were back inside by about 9.15am…and still had a long day to fill with the snow novelty having already been used up! Jonathan is currently away, so the days definitely feel a little longer when it’s just us.
What did become clear – in all of that time – was that our coats are more Fall than Winter, more English than American. And temperatures haven’t really begun the plummet yet.
One of the challenges of living here has been the fact that we speak the same language, and yet can mean very different things. While lacking a ‘true’ winter coat can be fixed with a change of clothing, it’s harder when it’s a linguistic or cultural difference.
I’m still not sure what the last meal of the day is called here, and so write rather convoluted texts inviting people to come and eat with us after work because I don’t want them to think I’m talking about lunch. That offer of a biscuit to go with the cup of tea (which does need milk not cream or half and half) sounds like I’m about to serve up a scone. Wondering out loud where the boys’ jumpers are makes people think there’s some bouncy toy hiding out, and talk of ‘mates’ or ‘blokes’ provokes puzzled expressions.
Language can be overcome with a quick clarifying conversation, but what about those cultural norms that shape our expectations? Is it normal to invite people into your home if you’ve only got pesto pasta to serve up? Do social things happen only off the cuff or do people respond to a plan? How does a post-church conversation go? How quickly is it ok to ask a deep question? What does Christmas look like here?
I don’t really think there is an ‘American’ answer to these questions, because I’m sure each culture, and it’s expectations, is localised and it’ll be different here than it is elsewhere. Even if we had moved from Lancashire to Cornwall, it would be a case of navigating the differences. Having said that, I’m sure there are some American ways that we’ve yet to work out, and are no doubt recklessly crashing through some social expectations.
But I think we’ll carry on as we are, while learning and appreciating along the way. We’ll keep doing what we can to get to know people, keep letting ourselves be known, and keep loving people as best we can while we muddle along (even if that’s with confusing English ways and expressions!).