Since I come from the land of tea and crumpets and few mosquitoes, I consider the overly sweet “sweet tea” and biting, flying bugs only minor drawbacks to living in this generally wonderful part of the United States.
However, two things that I really am uncomfortable with here are snakes and guns — although the concept of shooting snakes is reassuring. I did not grow up with these, so I have had a hard time being relaxed in the presence of either.
However, you will be pleased to hear that I am working on these phobias.
There are not many snakes where I lived in London and only three types of snakes in the United Kingdom as a whole: the harmless and common grass snake, the rare smooth snake, and the adder, the only poisonous British snake.
Compare this to the 41 varieties of snakes in Georgia, with six of them venomous, according to www.georgiawildlife.com. Add the fact that I like to go out walking with my dogs — which thankfully are a deterrent, since snakes hate and avoid dogs — and you end up with a somewhat nervous British woman in the woods on a daily basis.
I now can look at pictures of snakes, which is progress of a sort, but I still can’t really watch them on TV because they are moving. So when I almost stepped on what was either a dead 4-foot-long copperhead or its recently shed skin (I didn’t hang around to find out which), I only screamed a little bit as I ran away.
In light of this admittedly limited progress in overcoming my fear of snakes, I thought I would work on my second area of discomfort — guns. They are almost entirely illegal in Britain, and U.K. citizens do not have a constitutional right to bear arms.
Frankly, guns scare me, mostly because I have never been around them.
My husband, however, grew up with firearms of all kinds and has accumulated quite a collection since moving here — some inherited and some purchased. When I suggested to him that a couple of guns might be enough, he suggested back to me that a couple of pairs of shoes might be enough as well. I backed down immediately.
Although his guns are safely locked up most of the time, I decided that knowledge is power, so I decided to exercise the Second Amendment rights that I inherited last year when I became a U.S. citizen and headed to the gun range for a shooting lesson.
I didn’t ask my husband to teach me since I thought it might be too frustrating for both of us, with the memory of his trying to teach me to drive in the U.S. a few years ago still fresh in my mind.
Instead, I opted to “splash out,” as we say in the land of my birth, and pay for a private lesson. That I have $75 less to spend on shoes, so you can tell I was serious about this process.
It started with a knowledgeable, patient man giving me a slide presentation on the different parts of a gun and how to be safe around them and when using them. When I explained that I really did not have a clue about anything to do with shooting, he reassured me that at least I did not have any bad habits to break.
We then moved onto handling a rubber gun that we treated with as much respect as a loaded pistol. When we did move on to loading a real gun — a small .22-caliber pistol that probably would only kill a squirrel, I was told — I literally was shaking.
Nevertheless, I told myself to “put on my big girl pants and deal with it” (a fine old British expression) and accompanied him to the gun range.
I assumed the firing position, which is different from what they do on TV, and actually managed to hit the target a few times — once even hitting the bull’s-eye, which surprised both of us.
So am I now completely comfortable with guns, and will I be assembling my own collection and joining the National Rifle Association? Well, no.
But knowledge is power, and I do feel that I could now load and unload a gun to defend myself if, God forbid, I ever had to. I am pleased and proud of my progress in dealing with this fear and operating outside of my own comfort zone.
That said, however, I am not going take a lesson in snake-handling anytime soon.
I will leave you with a great quote from first lady Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
God bless America!
Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009.