It was Jan 01, 1985. A new year and a new beginning.
I arrived in Miami, Florida in the evening from London's Heathrow airport. My aunt and uncle were there to pick me up from the airport. As we drove to their house, I remember seeing the big Coppertone Billboard which was infamous to Miami and feeling so excited about being in America. I was in the great US of A, home of Six Million Dollar Man, Knight Rider and the hit series Dallas. It didn't matter that my reason for being there was not so glamorous, as I was to stay with relatives while I attended college. All I cared about was that I was 17 with no parents, in the beautiful Sunshine State known for it's gorgeous white sand beaches, Spring Break and of course Disney World.
Upon arriving to what was now going to be my home for the next however long, I was shown to my cousin's room who I was going to bunk with during my stay. I sat down to unpack and as I rummaged through my luggage and began to pull out gifts that my mum had packed for everyone (this was a desi/South Asian tradition). I saw the most disgusting, humongous looking bug casually crawling up the wall. I quickly glanced over to see if anyone else noticed it, but they all carried on as if it wasn't there. It was at least 2 inches long with wings so big, I swear it looked like it was about to fly right in my direction. I needed a chapal! (slipper) - where was my mum with her chapals when I needed her! My cousin must have noticed my pale face and look of horror, because she nonchalantly said "Oh that's just a cockroach. Welcome to America!
The light switches were opposite, driving on the road was opposite, automatic cars instead of stick shift - this was all new to me. Also, not replying with "You're welcome" when someone thanked you was considered rude in America. Where I came from a nod of your head, sufficed.
Initially, my first few months here, I felt frustrated and annoyed. I had to slow down to speak so people could understand my cockney accent. My little cousin become my interpreter and I would get irritated at always having to repeat myself because people didn't understand me. However, I quickly realized my accent was actually an asset , everyone was fascinated with the way I spoke, it set me apart and I was able to make friends easily, which made adjusting to the US a lot easier.
I've been here over 30 years now. I still have my accent, but it's not as strong and I admit I deliberately watch British Shows such as Eastenders, Hollyoaks, The Graham Norton Show, ITV, BBC, ANYTHING so that I don't lose it and I'd be lying if I said I don't enjoy the attention it brings. But truth be told it's the only tie I have left to my place of birth.