You might not know, as Americans, what the word FANDABIDOZI means. To me, as a Brit, it means ‘super, marvelous, great, brilliant, fabulous’- or, if you like, ‘awesome’.
This is a word I used to describe the place where I live in the USA to a British friend back in the UK the other day.
‘What’s Columbia like, then?’ she asked.
‘It’s fandabidozi,’ I replied and I went on to tell her why it was so super, marvelous, great, brilliant, and fabulous. And not just because it’s voted as being one of the top 10 places to live in the USA year after year.
That’s not to say that Columbia is not without its faults, because, like anywhere, I recognize things about Columbia that are not so great and which need a big old kick up the wotsit.
But it’s not a ‘here nor there place’, as described by Jonathan Van Meter, who recently interviewed actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus for an article in New York magazine and its pop-culture website Vulture, which has made a lot of my fellow Columbia residents a little on the cross side.
In the article about Louis-Dreyfus the purpose-built city of Columbia (where she is filming the next series of Veep) was dismissed by Van Meter as ”home to one of the dreariest American landscapes imaginable: office parks, chain malls, and a cluster of Northeast-corridor warehouses for Sears and the like.”
Louis-Dreyfus added: ”Thank God the work’s good…..Can you imagine if it wasn’t? It would be a prison.”
Oh dear, a prison? Holy smokes, did she just refer to James Rouses’ dream planned community as a prison? No wonder the Columbia community is up in arms!
The star of Veep has since tweeted that she “loves Maryland” and was joking that the warehouse where the show is filmed is prison-like, not Columbia, in a Twitter post Thursday evening.
“Just want 2 clarify. I love Maryland. Our crew is fab. The prison joke was a joke re: the warehouse. Truly sorry if anyone was offended,” Louis-Dreyfus posted.
So, she’s sorry, which is good. I think the rub is with Van Meter, who seemed to revel in the fact that Louis-Dreyfus was having ‘a pop’. All day long I’ve seen posts on Facebook and Twitter from the ‘outraged of Columbia’ declaring why Columbia is awesome, and they, quite rightly, have pointed out that Columbia is pretty awesome. In fact, the whole debate is entitled #awesomecolumbia.
I’ll be honest; it took me a while to warm to Columbia. I’m used to quaint, historical villages with a heart and centre to them, high streets and everything in walking distance , or big, grand cities with architecture and culture seeping from its very pores back in the UK.
I honestly couldn’t believe it when I first visited Columbia and mooched on out of my hotel room by the Lakefront, enquiring of a stranger “Where is ‘downtown’?”. I was excited; this was my first USA ‘downtown’. “You’re here,” he replied and I looked around me at closed restaurants and no nightlife and no ‘centre’ and I felt dismayed. I was nervous about coming to live here. This was pre-move to the USA and when I returned from this initial visit I voiced my concerns to my husband. ‘It has no soul,’ I told him.
I also write a blog about being British in the USA (www.ukdesperatehousewifeusa.com), and, in fact, my blog entry, from that visit March 2012, reads thus: ‘There is a lake near Columbia “town center”. Columbia does not actually have what we Brits would call a town center. It has a shopping mall. This happens to be near it.”
Yes, I had concluded that there was not much to Columbia from that one flying visit, but I decided to give it a try and test things out when I moved out here, just in case there was more to it than a bunch of 1970s buildings and a lot of roads with no signage. After all, there is that old adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, and I’ve been wrong before!
Well, after 16 months I can tell you that there is much, much more to it. Columbia is still a young city and the downtown is in development. I am a fully-fledged (honorary, perhaps?) member of the community here in Columbia now and I am always astounded by the amount of love and passion that people are putting in to developing the community aesthetically, spiritually and culturally. Columbia doesn’t yet have a downtown to shout about, and it’s stationed between the cultural hot bed and crazy night life of Baltimore and the political and historical arena of Washington (both of which I frequent and love), so it’s got a lot of catching up to do.
But, for me, right now, it is a great place to raise a family, hike the urban trails, get involved and be part of. It’s exciting times for Columbia and things are always moving on, evolving and getting better. That’s the spirit of Columbia – change is good and it recognizes that it does need to change and keep on improving. I understand that for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Columbia probably isn’t a great place to hang out when you’re used to New York (I adore NYC, by the way!) and wot not; but then she should have come out with me and the #hocohomos to Ellicott City one night – we’d have changed her mind! 😉
These are some of the great tweets defending #awesomecolumbia and #morethangateway (‘Gateway’ is where Louis-Dreyfus’s filming took place)
- Bill Santos @columbiacompass #ColumbiaMD is hundreds of little places for rest, relaxation, and reflection; and that is #AwesomeColumbia
- #ColumbiaMD is living among the trees, next to the water, and surrounded by beauty; and that is #AwesomeColumbia
- Megan Barnes @Rafferbee I live in a place where kids still play ball in the street and can walk to school. #AwesomeColumbia
- Courtney Watson @courtneywatson1 People Tree – symbol of diversity, tolerance, & acceptance. “A place for the growth of people”.
- HowardCountyLibrary @HoCo_Library 2013 Library of the Year in North America is another reason Columbia is #MoreThanGateway
- Mary Cat Cochran @auntmarycat Firefighters and first responders that you can count on – Tops in the State #HCFDRS#morethangatewayhttp://ow.ly/i/40svZ
- Nicole McFarland @nicole_mcf No other place does Wine in the Woods like #AwesomeColumbia#morethangateway
- Ian Kennedy @iankennedy7 #AsFarAsICanTell we have more pools per capita than anywhere. #AwesomeColumbia
- For more #awesomecolumbia stuff, watch County Executive Ken Ulman’s tongue-in-cheek video response to the recent debacle!
So, these are just some of the things that Columbia folk are saying about living here. Oh, don’t get me wrong, whilst I do love it, and I am very proud to live here, sometimes it totally does my head in and I recognize its flaws and I wish I could walk to places more easily, and that the public transport did not suck, and that the ‘center’ would hurry up and be developed before I leave (I’m only here for three to four years).
You just have to read my blog to find out all the amazing things I’ve found and done in Columbia.
You can be part of something when you move to a place, or you can decide not to be. You can embrace it or you can resist it. I discovered Columbia is richer in culture and intelligence, passion and spirit than I ever imagined. Living in Columbia has taken me on a journey and through this I have become part of something. For me, that is pretty special.
Columbia and its people (and I’ve met some amazing ones) have allowed, and encouraged, me to do this and you just know you’ve developed a relationship with a place when you find yourself in sync with its culture, its thinking and its philosophy. And yet, at the same time, because of my relationship with Columbia, I feel that I can also freely challenge things that concern, confuse or bemuse me. Because a lot of stuff still does.
Overall, though, living in Columbia has shown me that to be truly part of something – part of a community – you just have to take a leap of faith, and it’s by far the most rewarding leap I’ve ever taken. Ever. I’ve made new and exciting friendships; taken new and totally outside-of-the-box opportunities; been to some amazing events; and experienced a whole new way of life. For that I am so, so grateful. I don’t know if that would have happened anywhere else, I truly don’t.
I am proud to have developed a close relationship with Columbia, and, while I am still being a complete and utter Brit at heart, this place has, at the end of the day, allowed me to appreciate the USA, change my perspective, enjoy differences that I never knew existed and enhance my expat journey.
Thanks Columbia, it’s a privilege. I think you’re fandabidozi.
P.S. Julia, next time you’re in town, tweet me @ukhousewifeusa and we’ll hang out.
P.P.S. Jonathan Van Meter, you’re not invited 😉
Claire Bolden McGill is a British expat who lived in Maryland for three years and moved back to the UK in August 2015. Claire wrote about her life as a British expat on the East Coast and now works in travel and hospitality PR in the UK. She still finds time to blog about her repatriation and the reverse culture shock that ensued – and she still hasn’t finished that novel, but she’s working on it. You can contact Claire via twitter on @clairebmcgill or via her blog From America to England.