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Monday, 27 April 2015

Letter from America

This week marks the 1st anniversary of my historic (for me) arrival in America - one giant step for me and just a small leap forward for mankind. I have learned much during these first 52 weeks in the States. Before anyone sets foot in this country, most people have already formed an impression in their minds about the place; an impression that has been fabricated mostly from television programs. Before I make any specific remarks, let me just say that my own impressions since being here have been fashioned by the region I am living in. America is a big country, so what I am reporting on may not necessarily be true for every region of every state. However up here in the North Country its validity holds.

Firstly, forget about all of those glamorous lady cops and agents you see on your black screens - people here are very ordinary, the sort of people that you would come across in any average city in the rest of the world. Okay I have seen a couple of the fairer sex that I've had to do a double take on, and they may be more common in New York City or southern California. Of course demographics come into it, so allow me to give you some local figures (by courtesy of Wikipedia). According to the 2010 Census, the population up here near the Canadian border was 94% white and just 1% black or African American. Of the total 23.3% are of French or French Canadian extraction, 20.5% Irish, 16.1%  English and some 30% from other European countries. 92% of the population speaks only English at home - indeed I have yet to hear or speak French - I guess I will have to wait for my first visit to Canada, only 47 miles away as the crow flies.

I have always been an avid reader - I love the novels of Nelson deMille and Umberto Eco, to give examples of the genre I prefer. This may have something to do with why I took to writing some ten years ago. A couple of weeks ago I joined the local library, which, although small, puts to shame those that I have been used to in southern Africa over recent years. Here, not only may I take out 30 items at a time, but I have been able to borrow such valuable sources of good writing as Harper's (no - not Harper's Bazaar), The New Yorker, Scientific American and an excellent magazine for any writer that was unknown to me until a couple of days ago, Writer's Digest.

So what have I achieved since I have been here? Well, at great expense and a lot of stressful waiting, I am at last a permanent resident with a green card, authority to work, a social security number, and a state driver's license. When that official notification arrived in the post saying "Welcome to the United States of America", a huge weight dropped off of my shoulders. All of the signs here point towards a buoyant economy, although at least 90% of the jobs advertised locally are for openings in one of the medical or nursing professions. I have been trying for a number of writing jobs, but prospective employers here are extremely bad at replying to my emails. They don't seem to realize that it is both courteous and considerate to reply to a cover letter, even if only to acknowledge its receipt.

Well, it is now the end of April. The snow that had been lying in our yard for four months without break, and up to 3 feet deep, has at last gone, although even as I write there are a few light snowflakes falling from the gray, overcast sky. However there are good signs everywhere that Spring has almost sprung. New green grass is sprouting in the yard, perennials that have been dormant under their white winter blanket have started to sprout new life, and the squirrels and chipmunks have reappeared in the yard, rummaging for last fall's hidden acorns and other seeds. Last week, before all the snow had melted, two white tailed deer strolled out of the forest opposite, and up the road right outside the house. And we no longer have to have both central heating furnace and the pellet stove going 24/7.

One thing that it's difficult to get away from in America is her politics, and it's something that you don't really notice that much until you actually live with it, and yet it's here on a day to day basis. For example up here in the North Country we have at least six free local newspapers. Hardly a week goes by without some columnist having a dig at a national political figure. For my readers who are not that familiar with it, the United States is split down the middle in a number of different ways. There are just the two parties - the Democrats on the left and the Republicans or GOP (Grand Old Party) on the political right. But that is not the only split. To southerners, northerners are still "Yankees", the southerners are "Rednecks" to those living in the North, and there is a lot of sentiment on both sides in that regard. There is the split between those who favor abortion and the pro-life supporters, those such as the NRA (National Rifle Association) which advocates the widespread ownership of guns, and those who would like much more gun control. The NRA had more than 5 million members in 2013, according to Wikipedia.