We’ve been one week in the United States and I’ve had a few American experiences, none more than going shopping. This is not the London variety of shopping, where you pick up a cute little basket for a few things you might need for dinner that night. Or browse through a little boutique for an overpriced dress. This is the American variety of shopping, where you push a massive shopping cart through a store where everything seems to dwarf you.
I’m in Target, an American institution, when I have a disorienting experience. Everything is large and I’m pushing a cart twice my size through aisles packed with products made for what appear to be families of six big people. Worryingly, the cart is actually half full with stuff.
I am in American-mom mode, picking up sun block and a beach towel, some gifts for the Raging Bull’s fourth birthday, a pinata shaped like a butterfly, a t-shirt, a DVD, even a couple of random zucchinis and frozen waffles from the food section.
There’s not much you can’t buy at Target. It’s the kind of store I always wish for in London, but which has no equivalent. Where I live in in the UK, everything is small. To get what I find at Target would take me an entire day of frenzied shopping, zigzagging through a myriad of places that sell different things; you’d never find it under one roof like you do here in California.
So the fact is I don’t bother trying to find it. I make do without closet organizers, plastic boxes and wicker baskets. I don’t buy milk in the same place where I can buy clothes or DVDs. Is this is a bad thing? No. Is it less convenient? Yes.
The irony of my Target shopping experience is that it makes me feel less American than I ever do in the UK. Here in the United States I feel totally out of place pushing my gigantic shopping cart. I feel weird (and anxious) getting behind the wheel of a car and driving. All the things that are quintessentially American make me feel like anything but. I am an imposter here – I have the right accent, but not quite the right attitude or frame of reference anymore.
I always have this disorienting experience when I go ‘home’. I find that I’m not quite as American as I feel in London, where people hear my accent and immediately make assumptions about me. The things that make me American in the UK don’t make me American here. In fact, they make me a kind of strange hybrid.
The kids are enjoying their American summer, though. It doesn’t escape my notice that they have two homes in two different countries. They have two passports and two distinct nationalities, but one day they will have to choose. This is the choice I have avoided making for a long time – where do I want to end up, London or sunny San Diego?
The Raging Bull turned to me the other day, her milky skin already turning a golden brown. ‘I like America. It’s sunny and I like the sun. I don’t want to go back to London. I want to stay in America forever.’ Her heart-shaped mouth is a small pout as she overemphasizes ‘forever’.
I sometimes wish for the same thing. As I left Target today – my second visit in a handful of days – I buy my iced caramel macchiato from the in-store Starbucks and then head to my mom’s air-conditioned car in the gigantic parking lot. I’m getting comfortable, but I still need help parking the car.