We're Not in Kansas Anymore
By: Emma KaufmannI was whisked by taxi from my flat in central London in the early dawn. Giddy and slightly nauseous, I thought of my boyfriend waiting for me on the other side of the Atlantic.
What the heck was I doing?
I had waved goodbye to my French flatmate Jean-Claude who was a total Americanophile. A passion for all things American, had, like Borat's been ignited by a passion for Baywatch and had taken Jean-Claude on many jaunts to San Diego where he had ridden waves and bedded beach babes who went nuts for his accent. A recent attempt to emigrate to the USA had bombed and now Jean-Claude was somewhat miffed that I was off to his version of the Promised Land.
My decision to move to the USA had been swift and supernatural. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz I was being spirited to the US by a tornado I couldn't control. I hadn't ever thought I would end up in the US but here I was, spiralling towards America as the dust clouds rose, riding a wave of chance and blind good faith. As I flew through the sky I tried to enjoy the fact I’d been bumped up to Business Class because of my ‘condition’ (did I mention I was pregnant?) I was silently seething that I could not enjoy the copious free alcohol when a lady who resembled the Wicked Witch of the West leaned over to me and cackled.
“Ah my pretty, where are you off to?”
Slightly taken aback by her directness, I mumbled, “Ah, well, I’m moving to Baltimore.”
She stared at my stomach and I blurted, “I’m five months pregnant.” There was no way I was going to let anyone, even a witch, assume I was thirty pounds overweight.
“Baltimore!” Her face contorted in horror. “Oh my, my, my. Oh poor you." She patted my hand. "What a terrible place. It’s just like the East End of London, you know. So much poverty and crime. You won’t last five minutes. I live in D.C and it's just so much more civilized, you wouldn't believe it.”
By this time I was seriously stressed out and tempted to grab the nearest Flight Attendant's ankles and scream "Get this witch away from me!" while lunging for the Single Malt.
But I controlled myself.
“Oh I’m sure I’ll be fine,” I mumbled, trying not to howl.
What the heck was I doing?
Arriving at Baltimore airport I spent quite a while agitatedly waiting for my boyfriend to show up. Wicked Witch hovered on her broomstick nearby muttering to her companion about me. In my mind she was saying, "Oh dear, see that one over there. Such a sad story. Barefoot and pregnant. She actually thinks her boyfriend is going to show up! Ha ha ha!"
But at last the Wicked Witch zoomed off into the thick airless smog that was August in Baltimore and my flustered and sweaty boyfriend turned up to welcome me to a place that was very different from Kansas, or rather London.
After the Wicked Witch's warnings, I half expected to be attacked by hordes of flying monkeys armed with sub-automatic weapons as I made my first tentative explorations of Baltimore, but luckily Wicked Witch had exaggerated quite a bit although it was a bit of a shock to find some of the McDonalds paned with bullet proof glass.
We temporarily stayed with my boyfriend’s uncle while he went on vacation and looked after Toto their blind old dog (names have been changed to fit into the Wizard of Oz analogy). It was sweltering. When we walked for miles to the grocery store under pounding heat sometimes cars would honk while we schlepped our bags of groceries home. They seemed like humiliating honks rather than honks indicating I was a hot patootie. I got the feeling that in America you are nothing without a car. In fact, I did not get my driver’s licence until three years later when I had birthed two babies and felt like my wrists would give out if I pushed the double stroller one more mile.
Baltimore is a relatively small city and yet the choices in the supermarkets made my head spin. There were whole aisles devoted to pickled cucumbers. There was misting machines that spurted onto a hundred different heads of lettuces. There were insanely friendly people who bagged your groceries for you at the checkout. There were also enormous Big Bags of chips which I inhaled with greed and soon I was not eating for two but five until I grew to the size of a family sized SUV. I could spend hours lost inside one of those supermarkets, so mesmerized was I by the choices and weird products like pig’s feet and hog maw (stomach lining).
The friendliness of the people was truly amazing. I’d be walking down the street and people would say “How you doing?” I had no idea what was going on. In London people would do anything to avoid contact with you on the street, so that took some getting used to.
But as I gradually acclimatized there was a hidden danger. Alas, the flying monkeys had been there all along, circling me and ready to swoop. As I went for my pre-natal visits I got the rude wake up call that I was ineligible for medical insurance due to my ‘pre-existing condition’ i.e. pregnancy. So they swooped, those monkeys aka hospital administrators and made my existence hell. In the end I had to pay for the birth out of pocket. But I ended up with my own little non-flying monkey so it was all worth it in the end.
Thirteen years have passed since I found myself thrust out of Kansas and I still think about that Wicked Witch on the plane and while I wish her no ill I would not be entirely upset if her new broomstick turned out to be full of splinters.
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Contest Comments » There are 20 comments
Loved all the references to The Wizard of Oz! :) Nicely written and conjured up great imagery!
Pauline Wiles.....Yes we have quite few schools near where I live so I often have to stop for the red flapping ears!
Fab whirlwind adventure to Kansas. I hope you have sparkly red shoes!
Its horrible when people say things like the wicked witch did without a thought for how it might have made you feel, it's moments like those which you never forget. I can't believe how you managed so long without a car, well done you and love all things Oz, great story.
The good thing about you being whisked away in that twister is I don't have to suffer alone in Baltimore! Highly amusing account of your story.
Is there such a thing as an Americanophile? Is that possible? Or is that one of your British witticisms? Welcome to the American healthcare system; broken, never to be repaired. Don't forget the Ravens. You guys DO have the Ravens. Do you care about that stuff? Really thoughtful piece. Nice to get an outsider's perspective. I've half a mind to move to London and file an ex-pat report myself. @Holly: Some of this was fiction? Which part? It all seems plausible to me. Witch and all.
The Unbearable Banishment - Well I did not know the rules of American football until recently but got Raven's fever when they were headed for the superbowl! You would be surprised how many Americanophiles there are out there especially in the UK - I guess a lot of Brits and French people too long for a life of sun, surf and unlimited hamburgers.
A fabulosity riff on my favourite story. Loads of wicked witches on my coast too
Hello Emma, I found this really amusing as I'm an American and I work with many people from London. It's totally true what you said that in the US you feel like you're nothing without a car. I'm an expat in Italy (without a car) and I feel that way! It's like I'm embarrassed to walk to the supermarket or elsewhere, I just need to adapt to the new mentality. Anyways I can totally relate to your story because I myself flew across the ocean to Italy and had to wait for my boyfriend at the airport hoping that he didn't run off with some Italian goddess! Nice post, you deserved the win!
Emma, I loved this excerpt! How fun! And the last 60+ hours, my life has been spinning out of control, just like Dorothy's house in the Wizard of Oz... I'll definitely be picking up your book! ~ Kathleen
Emma creates such atmosphere and giggles. Strikes a chord with me! Excellent piece! :)
You know, showering the lettuce in water and packing my groceries entirely wrong are two of my very few peeves about living in the USA. I'm impressed you managed so long without a car; where we live, people certainly walk, but I get the impression it's for leisure or exercise, not errands. What I'd like to know is, have you had to stop yet for a school bus? I've been here over 8 years and am fascinated that, at the time of writing, I have never seen those wonderful red ears flap out of the side of the yellow elephant.
What is it about some people, complete strangers, who feel it is there duty to tell you how hard it is all going to be?! I imagine she is still tweezing the splinters out of her arse as I type.
Is it possible to fall in love with a piece of writing? I think it is! I love this piece, especially with all the Wizard of Oz imagery. Love, love, love... did I mention I love it!
Brilliant - I hope she finds a big splinter in her butt too!! Oh how I dreamt of moving to the US when I was younger, I even entered the green card lottery at one point. Baltimore does sound very like the Eastend in that since moving to live East I've found it to be by far the most friendly part of London, where people on your street actually acknowledge you and say hello. Sounds like you made a good move and good luck in the comp!
Really clever symmetry between fiction and reality. Immigration is always such an adventure, everybody who experiences it have stories worthy of the classics. No exceptions here! I love how I can relate my own immigration to yours too. I totally relate to the supermarket problem!
Oh I loved this you had me rolling on the floor laughing not really but that line seemed to fit. I was really hoping for splinters in that broom handle too nasty woman:) Great piece
There's a wicked witch in every crowd. ;) I've been to Baltimore, and thought it was a nice visit. I've been to London too, and loved it. :)
LOVED this, really loved the Oz theme and just really entertaining writing. As always. I've never been to Baltimore but I always had it in my head that it'd be a nice place.
Loved the imagery you used in your story! I can only imagine what you felt like before you arrived in the US. My husband and I are kinda from Baltimore, lived there 3 years and still own a house there. Now we have lived in Istanbul and just moved to Warsaw. I think of Baltimore fondly, miss my Mexican restaurants in Fells Point and walking along the harbor.