So this time two weeks ago I was sitting in my Minnie-Mouse-clad kitchen, surrounded by (almost) all of my favourite people; raising a glass and shedding a few bittersweet tears over the fact that I was about to embark on the year of my dreams.
And now here I am. Curled up on the sofa eating cheese on toast, watching The Princess Diaries and writing my first stateside blog. Living the dream.
As sarcastic as that may sound- I'm actually being genuine.
Somebody from home told me that he worries about me every day. Not because of the high rate of gun crime in America. Not because of the threat of Mother Nature in this part of the world. But because this has been my dream for so long that he fears that it won't live up to my expectations, and that that disappointment could be far more dangerous for me than any American politics.
Luckily I have been able to assure him that- at least two weeks in- the dream is coming true and even exceeding expectations.
Not everything is as I predicted though.
I had prepared myself for Disney. I had prepared myself for basic housing (something that has far exceeded my expectations), and I had prepared myself for the usual culture shock that comes with moving abroad.
What I had not prepared myself for was just how huge the culture shock would be.
America is different from England.
A lot more different than I expected.
Until now all of my knowledge of American culture has come from a combination of Friends, Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives; and somehow I had never registered that America does actually exist outside of the television, and a lot of the ridiculous things that appear on these programmes are actually a part of real life here....
1. Country and Western Bars.
Last night I was lucky enough to visit one very similar to the one that the characters from Desperate Housewives often frequent. Yep- they actually exist. Almost everyone was wearing stetsons and boots, there was free beer, and we spent the evening line dancing to a combination of country and western and Pit Bull.
That would never happen in the UK.
2. Outrageous food portions.
On my first night here we went out for dinner in Hooters (who knew they actually existed outside of Big Daddy?!) and I ate all of mine.
On finishing I looked up to find that everybody else had eaten less than half.
Everyone laughed and commented that I must have been starving: I actually wasn't, I'm just very well trained in eating all of my dinner. I have since come to accept that wasting copious amounts of food every meal time is a part of life here- if I tried to eat everything I was given by the time I arrived home to be Minnie Mouse's bridesmaid my dress would be unlikely to fit my little finger.
There are also (don't judge me for saying this) outrageously huge people. I have never, in the twenty-three years and nine months that I spent living in Europe, seen anyone as big as people are here. I didn't even know they made clothes that big. Crazy.
3. No care for the environment whatsoever. At least in Florida.
The staff in Walmart use a plastic bag per item, there are no recycling facilities outside of Disney and, as mentioned, they waste food like there's too much of it in the world. Seems a bit ridiculous that we all go to so much effort in our little corner of the world really.
4. Random Applause.
I love this one. I don't know for definite whether it's America or Disney- but based on my minimal research I do believe it's fairly standard in America to clap and cheer for everything. During my training we would watch boring video clips about health and safety- and even on one occasion stealing- and when it finished everyone would clap and cheer like we were front row in a Beyonce concert. Hilarious. I'd love to bring it home with me because it does really lift the spirits but I think in Britain we might be a bit more comfortable with an 'ooh that was a lovely video, cup of tea?'
Bedding is so confusing. I was under the (misguided) impression that although they referred to bed sheets in sitcoms, they did actually mean duvets because Ross has one in Friends.
He doesn't. I'm thinking of suing.
What Ross has is a comforter- a thin duvet that doesn't have a cover.
I decided that would be fine. I would just buy sheets to put on the comforter so that it was more like a duvet. But they weren't duvet-covering sheets like I expected, but just random, thin, uncomfortable-shiny-material sheets to sleep under. So now the gorgeous Minnie Mouse sheets that I paid a small fortune for are hidden under my comforter anyway.
America might be ahead with a lot of things but they are definitely behind when it comes to bedding.
6. Disgusting supermarket items.
When it comes to food, you can buy more or less anything in Walmart. They even still sell Starburst Joosters over here (my all time favourite sweets- that moment in Walmart might have been a highlight of the whole year), but with those come some fairly repulsive options. Sachet of blue cheese anyone? Box of dried macaroni cheese? Beef Jerky? Or my personal favourite- and the most popular snack sold in the whole of Walt Disney World- giant turkey leg?
Who thinks of this stuff? And more to the point- who buys it?!
7. Serious lack of understanding when it comes to sarcasm.
This has put me in a couple of awkward situations already.
During Disney training they announce approximately five hundred million times that THE DRINKING AGE IN AMERICA IS 21.
So when my Canadian roommate- who has been here for seven months already- asked me how training was going and mentioned that it can be a bit repetitive, I responded 'yeah it's going well thanks, but I feel like they haven't told us the drinking age enough yet- I can still never remember.' Her answer? 'Oh it's 21'.
In her defence it is the lowest form of wit.
It's not just the lifestyle either. The language used here is surprisingly different. Not just the obvious ones- trash can, sidewalk, parking lot- but a few others as well...
1. Chips: crisps.
Okay this is a fairly obvious one, but it didn't make it any less disappointing when I asked for a side order of chips with my dinner and got a bowl of crisps.
2. Spot: parking space.
At the risk of sounding patronising I find this one adorable. There's nothing like hearing an adult saying 'oh we're okay, there are plenty of spots here.' So cute.
3. Elliptical: cross trainer.
This one is so far away from what we would say that when one of the girls told me that she was aching because she'd been on the elliptical the night before I made a mental note to avoid that ride in the Magic Kingdom.
4. Romper: Playsuit.
I do prefer playsuit but somehow romper sounds a lot more fun....what do you think?
5. Faucet: Tap.
No idea where this came from. Not even a little bit alike.
6. Go ahead.
This is just added by Americans to the beginning of a sentence telling you to do something. This featured a lot in our training because we were so often being told what to do. 'Now you can just go ahead and write your name on it' was said so many times that I thought it might creep into my own vocabulary, but I'm not convinced that I could pull it off in my Essex accent.
Since I've been here I've found a few phrases that I would love to pick up but that I know would just never be the same in my accent...
I love this. It's casual and affectionate and sounds lovely. If you're from Florida. If you're from Chelmsford it sounds more like Yule. As in the chocolate cake you have at Christmas. Maybe I won't start using it.
This isn't so much a phrase I'd like to pick up, but a word that can definitely only be said in an American accent. I won some last week and had to change my accent to sound like I was from New York every time I gloated about them.
Yesterday as we floated down the Lazy River in Typhoon Lagoon Ariel said: 'This is real.' Ariel is actually from Southampton but does an amazing American accent so can pull of ridiculous phrases like that. I'm determined to get there before the year is up.
4. Good Job!
When I lived in Italy I worked with a lot of Americans who used this with the children and I loved it, but- like the other phrases I've mentioned- it sounds ridiculous when I say it. It's so much more re-affirming than 'well done', especially when it's followed by....
'Good job buddy!' sounds so much better than the Essex equivalent- 'well done babes.' Don't you think?
I'm aware that it sounds like I'm being fairly negative in this post- trust me- I'm not. I absolutely love America so far. I love that kids are excited to meet me because I sound 'just like the characters from Harry Potter!', and that adults are excited to get me to repeat the words 'Peter' and 'Darling' (who knew that was all you needed to impress Americans?), I love the lifestyle, the weather, the enthusiasm and the magic that comes from working in The Happiest Place On Earth.
But most of all I love the people that I have been lucky enough to meet here. I have only been here two weeks and already I have met and exchanged stories with people from all around the world. I've heard about amazing lives, incredible experiences and met wonderful people, and already feel that I have made genuine friends in Ariel, Crush, Roo, Snow White, Aladdin and many more.
Exactly one year ago I wrote that I was changing my tactics when it came to getting a job in Disney World. I was going to abandon the other characters and take advice from a new, more determined one: Rapunzel.
After all these years of dreaming, finally, I'm standing here. And it's crystal clear: I'm where I'm meant to be.
Here's to a whole year of weird food, crazy clapping and magic making....
How exciting :)