Happy Sweet Sixteen to Us!

source: footage.shutterstock.com

source: footage.shutterstock.com

Sixteen years ago today, June 9, I arrived in San Francisco with little more than a suitcase, a new husband, and the kind of anticipation that makes one shiver from excitement and pure nerves… although the shivering may have been because of the chilly fog swirling rapidly over the Golden Gate and up and down the hilly streets. I was possibly the furthest I could be in the world from my home of Pretoria, South Africa.

I would come to learn that the fog is the Bay Area’s “own natural air conditioner” and even though it means I never go anywhere without a fleece or a hoodie in summer, not even to the beach on a rare 90-degree day, it’s what makes San Francisco the magical place it is, together with the clanging cable cars, the crookedest street in the world, earthquakes, bridges, and iconic Transamerica building. Welcome to San Francisco!

During my 16-year transformation from shivering, bewildered South African to proud American, I have discovered these invaluable Sixteen Truths You Must Accept to Survive Life in the United States (besides emphasizing the “r” at the end of words like “chair, here, four” in order to be understood):

  1. It’s easy to make friends if you have an accent – not a week goes by that someone doesn’t tell me they could listen to me talk all day, and they really mean it. If my husband is around, he assures them they actually couldn’t.
  2. Unless Americans know a South African or have been to South Africa, unless they have actually heard a South African talk, they have no idea what accent this is. I am most definitely from England, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand – but very rarely from South Africa.
  3. Sushi, tacos and dim sum are as American as any kind of pie (except you will be hard-pressed to find a steak pie, curried lamb pie or Cornish pasty pretty much anywhere in the US).
  4. A boot is a trunk, a nappy is a diaper, a plaster is a Band Aid, football is soccer, and a lift is an elevator – but also in the US you do not hire a car, only people are for hire. Everything else is rented. In South Africa the only thing you rent is a property – from a letting agent not a rental agent. I know. I’m still confused.
  5. You can ship anything, anywhere in the continental United States – even raw meat. And live frogs.
  6. “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” reads an inscription at the General Post Office in New York City (source: Wikipedia). And the US postal system itself is extremely efficient. Our frog arrived within two days of ordering it. But a universal truth is that post offices themselves are inefficient no matter where in the world you are. This is strangely comforting.
  7. Americans love ice. With everything.
  8. Bananas, onions, pineapples and toilet paper rolls are four times the size in the US than in any other country in the world. I’m pretty sure this is a fact.
  9. Woolworths (every ex-South African’s favorite store) is not the only place in the world to buy comfortable underwear and pajamas – it’s only taken me 16 years to figure that out. I’m not sure what to ask my mom and mom-in-law to bring me now. Oh yes, tea!
  10. Halloween and 4th of July really do happen exactly like on TV in the eighties. And there is no better way to celebrate anything than with a parade.
  11. Disneyland is “The Happiest Place on Earth.”
  12. Any establishment can be a drive-thru – even a bank.
  13. You can return almost anything you don’t want anymore, any time, even if you’ve worn it or used it. I’m not admitting to have done this… okay, maybe once.
  14. Roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pecan pie are delicious for everyone on Thanksgiving – even if you’re not a born American. Our goal over the next 16 years is to deep-fry the turkey like they do in Arkansas.
  15. When someone asks where you went to school, they are not expecting you to say Carmel Primary. Elementary school is not school! They want to know where you went to college, university, and did you do a post-grad. My answer to this question used to be fairly long, even though I did not do a post-grad: I went to Rhodes University (blank stare), in Grahamstown (polite smile), in the Eastern Cape (maybe some recognition), in South Africa (oooh, so that’s where you’re from. I thought you were Irish). Now when I’m asked where I went to school, I say, “South Africa.” Kills at least three questions at once.
  16. Until my sister moved to San Francisco, we had no family around – which was okay in our daily lives, but made Shabbat dinners, weekends, holidays kinda lonely for a while. My very first San Francisco friend taught me that “Friends are the family you make for yourself,” and I am grateful for this every day of the last 16 years.

Thank you to this great country for welcoming me with those open, misty arms so many years ago (almost half my life), for giving us a safe, beautiful place to raise our four Jewish American children, for lighting our lives with 4th of July fireworks and for offering all six of us daily opportunity to be the selves we want to be.

Happy Sweet Sixteen to Us!

Tea for Two and Two for Tea

There is no better place in the world to enjoy a cup of real English tea than in England.

The thing about tea is that when it’s good, it’s very very good – heavenly actually – and when it’s bad, it’s horrid. And we don’t get very good tea in America. We get Lipton. And Lipton is horrid.

I’m not talking about herbal tea. The U.S. has fabulous herbal teas, many even locally produced like Oakland’s very own Numi Tea, and I love me a cup of organic mint or chamomile tea after a meal as much as the next guy.

But that’s not the tea I adore. My tea is real English breakfast tea, milk two sugars (although now I’m trying to eliminate sugar because I live in California where everyone is eliminating something from her diet and I had FOMO). So real English breakfast tea for me, with milk. And by real I mean not a U.S. brand. This is the Starbucks nation after all. I mean a brand from England. Or anywhere in the U.K. Or South Africa. Australia. I guess a brand from anywhere they play cricket. Because tea and cricket go together like Laverne and Shirley, Danny and Sandy, E.T. and Elliott (all of whom are American and would probably never drink tea, but rather double espressos. Sandy is Australian though – she definitely drinks tea).

Tea makes my day. It starts my day. Often ends my day. Calms the chaos (all that caffeine) and enhances the calm (more caffeine). It has moved me through moments of terrible sadness and despair, and held me happier in the happy. Weekend afternoons are always about tea, whether rain or shine, soccer or swimming (no cricket in my very American family) because that’s how our parents do it in South Africa, and that’s how their parents did it too. One of my favorite memories is slurping tea from my grandmother’s saucer, like a cat.

And last week I did get to enjoy tea in England. And it was delicious. It wasn’t even a special brand – just regular PG Tips, but the English kind. And it tasted so much better. I didn’t pay attention to it while I was drinking copious cuppas in England. Rather, I noticed it when I came home. Because when I made a cup of tea on Saturday morning – real English tea – in my own kitchen, it tasted different.

And it could’ve been because it was rainy and damp in London all week, or because the water tastes different over there (the big story last week was that traces of cocaine have been found in Britain’s drinking water), or that I was using brown sugar instead of white sugar (or no sugar).

It could have been because of all those, or none of those or some of those. But it was definitely because of who I was drinking those cups of tea with in London.

A friend so dear and special. A friend who has known me 35 of my 40 years. Who wanted to clear the slate on a little dispute we had in high school. Who loves “Mad Men” as much as I do and for all the same reasons, Don Draper being only one of them. Who remembers things I have forgotten and who can’t believe the things I have remembered. Who took me to see the fantastical cut-outs of Henri Matisse and then schlepped the banks of the Thames with me in search of tea and scones. We came up empty-handed – can you imagine? No traditional tea and scones on the south banks of the Thames?!

We made tea for each other every single day, many times a day, during my week-long stay in London. We sat together at the beautifully distressed wooden table in her kitchen, while her slightly unruly English garden steps away on the other side of the glass door soaked up the gentle rain. She thought I made the best cup of tea, and I thought she did.

Because a lot of love and decades of friendship, book reviews, gossip and chitchat, fashion do’s and don’ts and movie synopses, big decisions, hard conversations, silly stories, and so many tears and hysterical laughter and comfortable silences were poured into every cup of tea, made each one stronger, taste better, last longer.

I missed her on Saturday morning when I drank my suddenly strange-tasting tea without her. And it may well be there is no better place than England to drink real English tea – or it may just be that I miss my forever friend.

Because the thing about finally being together after a long time apart, about spending wonderful time with that special someone I haven’t seen for a while, is that I miss them more than ever after.

And the tea tastes a little less satisfying… but only until next time.