It is now approximately 60 days since I arrived as a new immigrant into the US, settling myself in the Dallas Metroplex area of North Texas. This is my second emigration so far. The first was in 1975 when I moved with my mum from Bangladesh to England. Now, I have moved to the US to be with my wife, Melissa.
Having been in north Dallas now for two months has given me insight into life in the suburbs and a US one at that. My prior life in England, apart from a very short stint in the Midlands from 1975 to 1979, has been one of a city slicker. I have lived, breathed and intoxicated myself on city life. It has not been any old city on this planet of ours, but one of the greatest ones on Earth.
London has been my physical and spiritual home for the last thirty-five years. Again it wasn't the suburban avenues lined with poplar and ash trees in the outer boroughs that I called home. It was the gritty, dirty, unloved and neglected borough east of London's financial Square Mile.
My childhood home was a stone's throw away from the old Roman city wall of Londinium. I was a fifteen-minute walk from Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. I also traced my footsteps along the same cobbled streets graced by the murderous Jack The Ripper. History oozed from the buildings, the streets and the air itself was breathed by millions of immigrants from the Huguenots of France, to the Jews fleeing Europe and lately the Bangladeshis.
So I left England, excited and happy to be joining my wife and starting a new life in the United States. I arrived in early September having already shipped all my belongings over on previous trips. Where I live is a thirty-minute drive north of DFW Airport, in the suburb of Plano. Our home is a detached 4-bedroom house, a cookie-cutter design that is synonymous with suburbia in America. Plano a vast sprawling suburb-city has its downtown about six miles east of us.
Why did we choose to move here? Well, it was primarily for the schools. My two step-children are 14 and 11 years old, and Plano schools are some of the best in the US. Plano itself is clean, safe and convenient. Even the DJs on one of the Dallas radio stations call the city "rich-ass Plano", as some of the Dallas sports teams players own million dollar mansions in West Plano.
Now that I've been here a good couple of months I thought I would share my insights on some of the biggest differences I've experienced.
- Transportation: This is the land of the automobile. Without a car to get around you become like Robinson Crusoe on a desert island with no way on or off. Walking is not an option to go to the shops, gas station, library or anywhere else. In the summer months, I wouldn't want to walk as a five-minute exposure to the Texas sun would turn me into burnt toast. At home one is cocooned in the nice air-conditioned interior, then you jump into your car and drive to wherever you may be going to hurriedly enter the cold interior of another building. The DART transport system has a train that runs from downtown Plano to Dallas city centre, yet a car is required to get there. A bus service runs on some of the roads but again a car is needed to get to a bus stop. So I now must get my Texas driving licence for which my test is booked for Monday 16th November in Fort Worth. Fortunately I love driving and I have my wife's stick-shift VW Jetta to share until I get my own set of wheels.
- Exercise: With driving being the main mode of getting out and about, this impacts greatly on one's physical mobility of the natural kind. Since arriving here, there has not been a single day where I have walked 10,000 steps (however I can reach 5,000 steps trundling within the interior of my home). Those daily steps were the norm back in London. With little or no walking, I am finding my mid-riff begin to expand. It's not so easy in my mid-forties to keep the bulge at bay. However, I must say there are recreation centres, private gyms, walking and hiking trails, parks and other paid for sporting activities that can be engaged in to avoid liposuction. So I find myself visiting the local recreation centre more times a week than I would have in London, which is a good thing considering my age. Going to the gym and making a concerted effort to workout is a must here, if I were to lapse then I fear within two years I could become clinically obese. Shudder the thought. The gym is my new second home.
- Food: Welcome to the land of high fructose corn syrup. Anything and everything that is processed contains this ingredient. It is a cheap substitute for cane sugar. It is used liberally in all soft drinks, in bread and in every other food item that requires sugar. It is sweeter than cane sugar and akin to any sugar can cause diabetes, obesity and other health issues. I cannot stand the product but you cannot get away from it. Being South Asian where people are prone to diabetes, I have to be careful of my sugar intake. Luckily I rarely drink any of the toxic sodas such as Coke, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi or Mountain Dew. Apart from that I am finding my palate does not like the taste of other food products. Milk here is fortified with so much 'stuff' and comes in so many varieties, yet it tastes so bland. Butter also leaves an aftertaste and the bread here is fluffy and aerated which I consider a non-food of no nutritional value. What is even more strange is that I can go to a restaurant, fast food or otherwise and get served a portion that could feed a family of four in Europe, but is intended for one in the US. Yet when I go to a grocery store to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, they are far more expensive than the UK, which is puzzling considering in the UK, a vast majority of the produce is also imported. I am now careful what I eat. I choose to eat a mainly vegetarian diet with occasional fish or chicken - of the free range variety. Red meat I will consume once in a blue moon and only if I have to.
- Social Life: When my wife and I rented our house back in early 2014, we decided to go out and meet our fellow neighbours. We introduced ourselves to seven households; three across the street, two either side and two behind us. We went visiting with gifts and cards and said hello. If I recall correctly only two neighbours reciprocated. Even today if I see someone next door or across the street, it's a forced smile and a hello. Plano, with its good schools, has created a strange transient populace. The demographic is very diverse which creates a wonderful multicultural environment, but once people have educated their kids they move on. Take the streets and front yards of the city where there are never any children playing. The parks are more often than not empty. You may ask the question about the extended family and where are they? Our situation which must apply to a vast majority of people is that grandparents, uncles and aunts live hundreds if not thousands of miles away. Friends are not within walking distance but a good drive away. It's no wonder social media is such a big thing in the US. It is one of the best ways to stay in touch. Without social media, I would have been cut-off from my siblings, nieces and nephews back in England. Not wanting to sound like I'm plugging Facebook, it is such a great way to stay in touch with friends in the US and overseas.
- Space: There's lots of it, especially in Texas. I love the fact that I have more space in my house than I have stuff. My walk-in wardrobe is fabulous, where every item of clothing - apart from underwear - hangs ready to be worn. The four of us, two adults and two kids can get lost in the house. A search party has to be sent out at meal times into cavernous rooms to find the kids. In England, especially in London, space is a premium and for the same price I was renting a one-bedroom apartment in Canary Wharf, I am able to spread myself out in a four-bed house. Our back yard is tiny by US standards but it's big enough to start a micro-farm in London. I love the space both in the house and outside. Regular main roads are six lanes in total. Highways can be more and there are no roundabouts at major highway junctions. Space affords Texas the ability to build sweeping exit ramps joining alternate routes. The state is so big it took me ten hours to drive to El Paso at its most western point which was in a different time zone. We here in Dallas are Central Time, El Paso is in Mountain Time. This does nothing but befuddles the mind of a Londoner.
Other crazy oddities that I have come across that cause a quizzical look to cross my face and my wife to laugh:
- The size of a pick-up truck such as a Ford F-150. These are custom raised in the after-market such that a tyre is almost as tall as my 5 feet 8 inches height.
- The produce in the grocery store are gigantic in size; such as pumpkins that require a wheelbarrow to ferry around, peaches that need two hands to hold and garlic bulbs that are the size of baseballs.
- Halloween is go bonkers time. It seems to me that more money and effort is expended in this celebration of All Hallow's Eve, where giant inflatable ghouls, goblins and monsters hang from people's front yard. Roads are closed off for trick or treating and, PS I was dressed as a banana for my first Halloween party.
- The real working ranches that dot the countryside and even the outskirts of our city, stand out with names straight out of Cowboy Movies.
- The Nodding Donkey oil wells work away diligently across West Texas extracting the black gold. They look like man-made forests of metal, gears and pumps.
- The lack of seasons, although everyone talks about the four seasons. There is only two, hot and a little less hot.
Thus, you have some of my observations of living in Texas, USA that have baffled me so far. I am sure there will be others both minor and paradigm shifting. It's all in the name of growth and change. I am enjoying adapting to life here, fortunately, my English accent gives me enough novelty clout to be afforded that extra bit of leeway when making a faux pas in public.