Let’s stick to the theme, America, in this expat interview as well. Compared to the previous two (Carolin and Dannielle) I actually had no idea who Alessandra was until she replied to my tweet saying she’d like to be featured in my interview series. I was really flattered and love taking opportunities to get to know new people. Alessandra is originally from Florida, only living there for a couple of months before moving to Georgia and later the UK. Most of her family still lives in the US which she goes to visit as often as she can. Let’s see what she has to say about having to move to a different country at a young age.
Expat Interview with Alessandra from PineappleBazaar
1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I always find ‘where are you from?’ a difficult question to answer! I was born in Panama City, Florida, but only lived there a few months. We moved to Valdosta, Georgia and lived there until we moved to the UK when I was four. My Dad was in the military and was stationed at an RAF base just outside of Harrogate, which meant that I was lucky enough to grow up in the lovely Yorkshire countryside! I moved to Leeds almost five years ago and I can’t imagine living anywhere else now. My folks are from all over the place (Mum’s family are from Panama in Central America, Dad’s are from West Virginia) so I’ve got ties to a lot of awesome places, but Leeds is the first where I’ve really put down roots.
I work at lovely PR and social media agency Umpf, and I live just outside of Roundhay with my fella and our two (incredibly cute but terribly naughty) cats.
2. How would you describe your blog and what can we expect to read about there?
I love food and I love writing, so I’d always wanted to create a place to jot down my recipes and to share things I’ve tried. Food is a huge deal in my family – friends make fun of me for over-enthusiastically planning my next meal(s) and more often than not making my plans around meals, but that’s how I was raised! My Mum loved to experiment in the kitchen and was always keen to get me involved. She was even supportive when I was flinging flour around her spotless countertops! She taught me how to make traditional American comfort foods while growing my appreciation for the dishes she grew up with, like ropa vieja and delicious fried plantain.
I also wanted to create a place to share my Dad’s family’s recipes. We had a reunion in 2015, and food was one of the first things we planned. We all made something local to us: one cousin made Texan fajitas with fried ice cream cake, I served an afternoon tea (of course), Pawpaw (Granddad, to you!) made his famous rigatoni. We share these recipes among ourselves, but they’re worth sharing wider than that too. Dad’s folks came to the States from Italy way back when and that’s had such a cool influence on the meals we cook and the way we eat. It’s always family-style – everyone pitches in and everyone eats together – and it’s still my favourite way to share a meal. My Dad now lives in Boston and while I had a brief trip to some awesome food markets on my last visit, I can’t wait to explore and share more later this year!
3. Talk us through your thought process and reasons for moving to England and how you ended up in Leeds.
I was so young when we moved that, in all honesty, I don’t remember that much about the big event! I remember that our move overseas was my first flight, and I hated the feeling of my ears popping – although I soon got over that, as we took advantage of our first few years in the UK to travel all over Europe and I’m so grateful for that. I also remember that my Mum made a fuss over the car steering wheels being on the other side, but as I was only four that just confused me more than anything else!
I lived in Pateley Bridge and then in Glasshouses, where my Mum still lives now. It’s such a lovely, rural place to grow up – but that’s not something you appreciate as a teenager! I moved to Harrogate with my Dad for a year or so, and then to Leeds in 2011. Shortly after moving to Leeds I began working at Umpf, where I’ve loved working ever since. I spent a year in Burley Park before moving to Oakwood, which is a great place to live. We’ve got tons of lovely cafes and pubs within minutes walking distance and Roundhay Park is right on my doorstep.
4. What do you love about living in England?
Everything. The people, the culture, the food and the size. The only downside is the weather! It’s such a varied, diverse country and I love that. I love it when family from the States visit and I can show off everything England has to offer – one day we might wander around York and soak up the history, the next we’re off to Whitby or Scarborough to see the seaside, after that we’re down to London! I took some relatives to Brick Lane for a curry last year and they loved it, that’s something that they’d never get to experience where they live.
5. What are common questions you are asked by English people when you say you are from the US?
The first is always ‘are you lying?!’ because I sound Yorkshire through-and-through! The second is usually about the foods that I miss most – and those would be Kraft mac and cheese, Ranch dressing, Miracle Whip, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch!
6. What are the main culture shocks you’ve had moving to England? Is there anything USA has that you wish England had?
They’re very similar countries – growing up in Florida and Georgia, I got used to the good ‘ol Southern Hospitality and Yorkshire is so similar! People are friendly, strangers will nod ‘morning!’ to you while you’re out and about, they’re both such pleasant places to be. The biggest difference for me is the amount that people walk. Today, for example: I walked to the bus stop, got off the bus early and walked to work, I had a little wander around town at lunchtime and I walked to the shop after work. In the States, that most likely would’ve all been done in a car! That’s always a real shock to my family that visit – the folks I took to London couldn’t believe how much walking was involved in exploring the city.
The one thing I really wish we had here: Waffle House. My attempts come close, but no one does breakfast like Waffle House! It’s actually a pipe dream of mine to start a UK franchise one day, so watch this space!
7. Have you considered moving back to the US?
I’ve considered it. The majority of my family live there and my Mum’s likely to be moving back soon – it’s hard being that far away from them, especially when they’re having get-togethers and I’m the only one missing. I try and make it over at least once a year, but they’re quite spread out so it’s difficult to see everyone in one go!
Fortunately, I’m really lucky to have an amazing group of friends that are practically family to me, and my other half’s folks have been amazing in taking me in as their own! They’re wonderful and have always treated me like part of the family. Thanks to these awesome people and my huge love of Yorkshire, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. While the UK isn’t perfect, there’s a lot of things about US culture that make me really happy not to live there. I’ll always love visiting, but I wouldn’t want to live there – right now, at least.
8. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice prior to moving to England, what would that be?
Explore! When we first moved here, we didn’t know how long we’d be staying so we took full advantage of seeing as much of the UK and Europe as possible. I’m really grateful to my parents for taking me to some amazing places and allowing me to soak up so much culture and history. My Dad would occasionally work abroad and we’d sometimes tag along – Mum and I would be tourists during the day, and we’d meet up and enjoy awesome local cuisine in the evening. I’m hoping to re-visit a lot of the places we travelled to now that I’m old enough to remember more and create my own agenda. Greece is high on my list (our trips there ignited my love for Greek mythology as a kid), and closer to home I’d love to spend a bit more time in Wales too!
9. If people reading this would like to travel to USA and Florida, name three things they should do/see/visit.
Oh wow, this is a hard one! Okay, here goes:
- Ask the locals their advice, and head to the more quiet beaches. In Panama City FL, the most popular beach by far is Panama City Beach – especially during Spring Break! But my favourite is (IMO) a million times better and much less busy: head to Mexico Beach. It’s a gorgeous little seafront town and I love it so much, I have a tattoo on my arm inspired by it. On the drive into town, there are cute little local stores including the Shell Shack which I’m pretty sure has been there longer than I’ve been alive! I always stop in and pick up a little souvenir! There’s a jewellery-maker and a few other nice independent shops that are well worth a visit. Next, head down the beach to Toucan’s. It’s a beachfront bar where ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service’ has never been uttered – you can sit on the deck and eat fresh seafood washed down with cold iced tea in your beach gear. The areas next to Toucan’s are my favourite spots for lounging in the sand and it’s a stunning beach to walk down. I recommend having a dip too, because the water is so warm it’s like stepping into a bath!
- Next, and similarly, eat like a local. Sure, take advantage of the classic American fast food chains (I love you, Arby’s), but head to the hole-in-the-wall restaurants too. The past few times I’ve been visiting my Grandma, she’s taken me to a few different places that I never would have found on my own – including an amazing place that looked like a community centre but served the best steak I’ve ever had in my life (that’s a big shout, as my Dad grills a cracking steak).
- This one might take a few trips, but is worth it – try and visit more than one state. The USA is just as diverse as the UK, just a little bit more spread out, and I think it’s worth experiencing. There’s a huge difference between the hot but beautiful beaches of Florida, the lush greenery of West Virginia and the beautiful cityscape that is Boston. It sounds obvious because it’s New England, but when I first visited Boston last year I was struck by how similar it was to Leeds, just a little bit more spread out! I naively assumed that, because I grew up in the southern states, I wouldn’t like New England as much but I was so, so wrong. It’s worth taking the time to experience as much as possible – I’m really enjoying working my way through the States when I visit, and hopefully one day I’ll have been to most of the 50. Yep, even Alaska and Hawaii (especially Hawaii) are on my list!
Thank you so much Alessandra for sharing your experience between the US and UK culture, it’s really interesting to see the difference but also similarities. I’m so happy that Alessandra shares as much love as I do for Leeds and Yorkshire. Make sure to check out Alessandras blog, PineappleBazaar, and keep an eye out for that Waffle House – I’d be there in a heartbeat!