I get asked this a lot. I think it's a polite way of saying 'So what do you actually DO all day, you lazy cow?' but the subtext may me mine, rather than the questioners.
The job situation has been an interesting one- source of continual frustration and panic and dull acceptance followed by calm enjoyment, then back to the start with a welling feeling of frustration etc etc. For a long time I didn't have a social security number and was not allowed to legally work in the US. I started to look at volunteering but I was pregnant and miserable then not pregnant and not really up to it then it was christmas and I had my work permit... You get the picture. It never happened.
Part of my issue seemed to be a total loss of confidence. My nursing degree is not valid here, and I could do classes to make it valid but it would be expensive. Given that we've not decided how long we are going to be here, it seems a bit imprudent to spend a lot of time and money on changing my degree over. The question then became 'What do I want to do instead?' This has no easy answer. I am essentially unqualified to do anything in a care-related position. California has certifications and regulations for EVERYTHING, all centrally controlled and all extremely unwelcome to foreign degree-holders. To the point it makes me cry hot, angry tears at times. I KNOW I am a good care-worker, and yet I'm not able to do it.
An admin type job seemed like a good plan, but I've not got very far with that either. Lots of applications, not much response. After a while, you start to doubt if you were ever any good at anything and you should probably just stay in with the cat so you don't bother anyone. More logically, there are a couple of reasons I can think of for this- my CV is kind of all over the place, with my admin days squashed in the middle of lots of childcare jobs, but I do think not having any American work experience or references is a sizeable negative factor.
Even the nicest Americans you meet* are still convinced everything is (slightly) better here. It's ingrained into them, a doctrine from infancy that *this* is the greatest country in the world, everywhere else is like an irritating sibling or poor cousin- trying hard, but never quite cool enough. Generally it doesn't come up very often, but when it does, it drives me nuts. It's upsetting if I think about the hours I spent on the wards holding sick bowls, suctioning snot or scrubbed in during surgery, or the teeth-rattling headbutts and hard-fought feeding battles as a support worker that are discounted for taking place in the wrong continent. I need to prove that I am up to the challenge of being with real live Americans all the time. Since no one wants to hire me to do this, it'll have to be proven through volunteering.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. I do find some Americans challenging to deal with at times.This sounds terrible, and obviously you cannot lump an entire continent of individuals together, but people here are loud and insistent. They have a sense of entitlement that can be jarring to my inherent Britishness. They show a great deal of enthusiasm for everything. I find it needy and insincere. I'm not sure of the sincerity, I can't quite work it out. People have assured me that it is sincere enthusiasm, but I cannot quite bring myself to believe it.
I am quieter here, less likely to wish to be the centre of attention ('NEVER' I hear you shout, horrified.) I am more reluctant to initiate conversation, less likely to join in and venture an opinion. I can't really explain why. I sometimes wonder if my desire to be the opposite of the loud, enthusiastic voices means I'm having less fun than I otherwise could, but c'est la vie.
I set out to answer the 'what do you do all day' question, and have succeeded in only explaining why the answer is not 'earn lots of pennies'. I'm finally volunteering most days of the week. I talked a bit about Baby to Baby before, but I'm going to be branching out from beyond the yummy mummy coffee morning, giving them my Friday to organise clothes and hang out with the interns, none of whom have two nannies for one child.
I have also (finally) completed everything that needed to be done to volunteer at the UCLA hospital, which was no mean feat, and involved approximately 80 vials of blood, a week of phone calls and general grumpiness by all involved. I should start next week. It involves some seriously early starts, but I'm looking forward to it. The best I can work it out is that US hospitals use those who want to go to med school to do all the jobs student nurses manage in between learning/making beds/doing obs (or vitals, as they call them here). Given that I'm not trying to earn myself a letter of recommendation or boost an application, and the fact I am well versed in dealing with unpleasant people, I've been recruited to the least glossy volunteering position: the surgical waiting area. This basically involves corralling unruly relatives who are waiting for their brother/mum/cousin to have their kidney transplant and are labouring under the, quite frankly absurd, illusion that the surgeon will come and speak to them when it's over.
As this is America, they family members believe, quite rightly if we're honest, that they are entitled to an explanation from the surgeon. As anyone who has ever worked with surgeons will know, this is optimistic to the point of foolishness. I will be the one who has to tell people that the surgeon has now gone for sushi/is straight back in the OR (MUST remember not to say 'in theatre'- means something very different here...) and will not be offering them a blow-by-blow account. If I do happen to get a nice surgeon who comes to speak to the family, I will have to explain to him or her that the family has gone for coffee. It will be challenging, intense and slightly mental. I cannot wait.
I am particularly good at dealing with grumpy families. Once, after a lady had complained at me for 20 minutes about how much she disagreed with me, I accidentally poured a jug of water over her. Another time an irritated mum told me I was 'cutting corners' administering her sons inhaler in front of my mentor (I was, he was kicking me in the face. She was apologising to him for my 'mean-ness'). I made up some shite about not upsetting him too much and finding a balance between following procedure and doing what was best for his emotional well being. My mentor told me that was the moment she knew I'd make a great nurse.
So that will be my new activities. Sorting designer baby clothes and having pagers thrown at my head. Very much looking forward to it.
*Not my friend Hillary though. This is the main reason she is my friend.