More or Less…

I was back in the States for three weeks in August – one week in New York City for the first time in twelve years and two visiting friends and family in Buffalo. While in New York, I stayed with an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in person since she was in Dublin for a quick work trip more than five years ago. She remarked during my stay that when she last saw me, I was definitely an American in Europe but now I seemed more European than American to her.

What she said surprised me a bit at first. I’m still American – just listen to my accent! But, upon reflection, I have discovered that, after nearly six years living in Europe, I have become more European in both big and small ways.

Probably the biggest shift for me is how I think of and approach healthcare. This same friend came home after a physio appointment while I was staying with her and was upset because she needed to get an MRI on her foot. I thought she was nervous about the actual MRI and I explained to her that I’d had several on my foot and they were no big deal. But that wasn’t it. She’d had an MRI on her foot before and it cost her hundreds of dollars because the only insurance she can afford has an extremely high deductible. The MRIs I’d had in Dublin cost me exactly nothing.

Since moving to Europe, I have grown used to the notion that healthcare is for everyone and not tied to your job in any way. Having been a freelancer for a good part of my career and also having been laid off several times during said career, not having to worry about where my healthcare is coming from while also worrying about where my next paycheck is coming from is incredibly liberating. I am not going to get into a political debate on the merits and faults of the US healthcare system versus that of Ireland or France. That is not what this post is about. But regarding healthcare and one’s access to it, my mindset is decidedly European.

And there are other smaller, more innocuous ways that Europe has crept into the way I think or do things but I hadn’t really noticed them until this trip:

  • I’ve forgotten how to tip. At restaurants, I have to ask friends how much tip to leave because I no longer know what a proper amount would be. And I’ve forgotten that in the US, not only do you tip restaurant servers, but just about everyone else too. It’s maddening!
  • I get all confused with US money now because it’s all the same size and same color.
  • Also, the size of coins no longer makes any sense to me. Why are nickels larger than dimes?! Why are even pennies larger than dimes?! Why the heck are dimes so dang small?!
  • I keep forgetting that the price of an item is not actually the price of the item – sales tax has to be added. Several times, I’ve muddled my way through the same-size green bills and oddly-sized coins to come up with the exact amount, only to be told that the amount I owe is in fact about 8% higher.
  • I have to think long and hard about which button to push in an elevator. Over here, first floors are the actual first floor of a building (which in fairness, I do think makes more logical sense). I wound up in the “garage” when riding an elevator because I thought the “G” meant “ground floor”. It didn’t.
  • Why are there so many commercials on TV and why do most of them seem to be for erectile dysfunction medications?

Now don’t get me wrong, I still miss quintessentially American things like ice, air conditioning and Target. And I’ll always be American (who knows, maybe someday I’ll even be proud of that again). But as time passes, I’m becoming more and more European – and I don’t mind that one bit.

 

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Never Forget…

Fourteen years ago today – September 11th, 2001 – is the day that, for my generation at least, the world completely changed. At that time, I lived in Montclair, New Jersey and worked at Nickelodeon’s animation studio in Times Square. I believe that anyone who was living or working in New York City on that day can’t help but have been touched and changed by it. I know I was.

It’s been fourteen years, but every anniversary it all comes back to me as if it happened yesterday. I don’t fight those memories. I allow myself to remember. I think it’s important that we remember.

  • I remember that I was in the World Trade Center on September 10, 2001. The studio where we shot our live action sequences was downtown and it was easier for me to take the PATH train in, rather than my usual bus to Port Authority.
  • I remember that night we wrapped the shoot and all went to dinner at Chelsea Pier. It was raining and I had a hard time finding a taxi.
  • I remember that the morning of September 11th was absolutely gorgeous and I was in a really good mood. I even remember what I was wearing – I had dressed up a bit because I had theatre plans for that evening.
  • I remember thinking it was just the usual bottleneck traffic as we approached the Lincoln Tunnel.
  • I remember looking over and seeing a huge, gaping, smoking hole in one of the Twin Towers.
  • I remember the second plane.
  • I remember everyone on the bus not knowing what to do. The Lincoln Tunnel was actually still open and vehicles were still heading into the city. The bus driver put it to a vote and we all voted to turn around.
  • I remember not knowing if another plane was going to crash into the city.
  • I remember returning to Manhattan a few days later, once again on the bus. This time our view was a huge pile of still-smoking rubble.
  • I remember all the fliers posted everywhere with pictures of the missing.
  • I remember walking by the local firehouse and even the building seemed to bleed grief and loss.
  • I remember how absolutely sad everyone seemed.
  • I remember loving New York more than ever.

9/11 was something everyone in NYC found a way to get through. I was, of course, lucky in that no one I knew personally was killed. But it still changed me. Whether you were an office worker, a waiter in Windows On The World, or a fireman – those killed on 9/11 did nothing but go to work that day.

It could have been any of us.

I’ve never lived what one would call a conventional life, but one of my take-aways from that horrible day is that none of us knows how much time we have on this planet. Sure, we all hope that we will pass peacefully in our sleep at the age of 95 but, the truth is, life is random and precarious and we have no way of knowing what our fate will be.

And so I have tried to never take the safe route, never choose to NOT do something because I am unsure or afraid or because I feel like I don’t have time. 9/11 gave me the guts to go after what I want in this life. It gave me the guts to pursue being a writer. It gave me the guts to move my entire life across the ocean.  Essentially, it have me the guts to follow my dreams and attempt to make them a reality.

But it isn’t just about the big moments. 9/11 also taught me to find the joy in the everyday and the mundane. In my morning cup of coffee, in the text from my niece, in a really good book.

All those people did fourteen years ago was go to work. They didn’t get to follow their dreams or continue to find their joy. Even though I didn’t know any of them personally, they have all changed me. They have taught me to be thankful for the small things and to go for the big things.

Never forget.

As Time Goes By…

Yesterday, out of the blue an old friend emailed me something she had written nearly ten years ago about something that happened nearly ten years ago.  And immediately upon reading it, I was transported back ten years to a very different time in my life.

Ten years ago I was still in New York; moving back to Los Angeles was still just an inkling of a notion of an idea, never mind moving to Europe.  I was working with my writing partner in developing a television show about a rock band.  In fact, almost exactly ten years ago, we were in London with that band, doing research, going to gigs, and partying, well, like rock stars.  It was a fun time in my life, a time where the sky seemed to be the limit. I don’t regret a minute of it.

The life I am living today is not at all the life I hoped or thought I’d be living when I imagined it ten years ago.  I’m not living where I thought I’d be living, I’m not doing what I thought I’d be doing, and some people who I thought would be in my life for a long time are now nothing more than Facebook acquaintances, if that.

I am not saying that this is a bad thing. Ten years ago, I didn’t imagine I’d ever live in Europe because I didn’t even know I was an Italian citizen. Ten years ago, my present-day reality wasn’t even a possibility.

Thinking about where I was ten years ago, naturally moves my thoughts to where I might be ten years from now. I’m not sure if this is true for other expats, but for me, since moving to Europe I find that if I think ten, five, even three years into the future I start to freak out. Expats, I think, lead lives with a greater degree of uncertainty about their future.  We don’t necessarily know how long we will stay in a certain place or where we will end up next. That can be a scary concept for a control freak such as myself.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying that he “never thinks of the future, it comes soon enough.”  And now that I am settling into my expat life in Dublin, I am making a conscious effort to do the same.  One thing I can definitely take away from looking back ten years is that the future, despite my best efforts to shape it, will most likely do whatever the hell it wants anyway, so why sweat it?  Life, especially the expat life, is something to enjoy in the moment.

And I’m going to go outside on this gorgeous Sunday in Dublin and do just that.