By Marja





When I arrived in Ann Arbor, it was February and the ground was covered by glimmering snow. The snowy landscape looked peaceful, harmonious and fabulous when I was peeking through the window in the first morning of my stay. I had arrived at Detroit Metro Airport at midnight.

During the first weeks in a new country, one is sensitive to novelties and conspicuous differences until one becomes accustomed to those local conditions, which will ultimately turn to the new normal. Below I list such random observations that drew my attention when I was a fresh new-comer to Ann Arbor. They are often inessential minor details of secondary importance although they trigger exciting processes of comparison, resulting in further questions: “Why are Americans doing it like this? Is this a better way, or not?”

Houses and mailboxes reminded me of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cartoons. On one hand, the street view looked exotic; on the other hand, it appeared strangely familiar from comic strips, films and TV series.

Squirrels were huge by size. Squirrel density was thick. By contrast, there were fewer pet dogs than in those European cities where I had lived before.

The frequency of churches was enormous. There were so many different congregations, many of which were totally unknown to me, appearing small local splinter sects. On Sundays, one indeed saw a lot of cars on the parking lots of the mushrooming churches and chapels.

Lawn signs, placed on a street-facing lawn to express the support for an election candidate or a political campaign, were quite common in suburbs. Such openness on one’s political position appeared very American.

I was positively surprised at the broad route coverage of the public transport services in a US city. At the same time, poor road conditions, excessive use of salt on icy roads and scarce street lighting were disappointing.

All household appliances, such as ovens, microwave ovens, fridges and washing machines, seemed oversized. I was worrying about their energy efficiency. The technology of basic washing machines appeared ancient.

Fixed wall showers and, respectively, the lack of hand showers felt annoying in bathroom.

Forced air heating was new to me.

As for the home décor, the interior of many houses was more colorful than I had got used to. Moreover, the color palette was stronger, deeper and darker than in the Nordic countries. The use of colors was bolder and more diverse – e.g. a single room could be painted by two or three colors. Yet, those colors had been selected with good taste. Hence, I preferred this approach to decorating with color.

Wall-to-wall carpets brought me back to the 1970s.

Retail stores were colossal but ugly. The quality of some foodstuffs was not always satisfactory in all markets. Hence, shopping was time-consuming at first. Prices were higher than I hadexpected. I spotted imported German and Swedish groceries, among other things.

Package sizes were larger than in Europe. The amount and the quality of packaging materials, such as wrapping paper, cardboard or plastic, sometimes seemed wasteful from the perspective of resource efficiency and environmental awareness.

Most neighbors who walked across on sidewalks greeted nicely. Whenever people heard my accent, they were positively curious to find out where I come from. In general, people were friendly, polite and outgoing, but not pushy. They were ready to help. It was easy to join meetups and other groups, including IN. The atmosphere appeared supportive, encouraging and welcoming.

I had lived ten days in Ann Arbor as I attended my very first IN Day at Zion Church. The enormous number of the participants amazed me as soon as I entered the hall. The Elegant Tea Party was a fantastic, impressive event which dazzled me. I immediately felt like home, realizing that I had come to the right place!