[4] First Impressions

Silicon Valley. The legendary place I described as the technological centre of the world.

Not so much.

So, I know it’s only a week in and perhaps a bit too early to make these hasty assumptions. But seriously. You wait ‘til you see the photos.

What am I on about? Well, I’m pretty sure I’ve landed in the wrong location. The architecture, the fashion, the general aesthetic of the place; nothing really points to digital revolution.

Nope. Not as far as I can tell, and at least not in day-to-day terms. Being here and exploring this strange and unfamiliar land of brick and beige is akin to tripping back to the 70s. It’s curious, and it’s intriguing. Most of the time.

Here’s a summary of my observations so far:


Ah, the local Toyota dealership. We actually thought we’d made a mistake when pulling in. The place was terrible; dank, dusty, and incredibly run down. Were we missing something? Had we arrived at the wrong address?

Nope. It was an official outlet, and one of the biggest in the area. Even so, the staff seemed surprised to see customers. Alarm bells sounded in my brain.

“Um, hello. Can we help?”

Yes. We’re here to buy a car! Can we look at this one, please?

“Um, I don’t know where the keys are for that”.


“Um, you can sit in the kids’ room while we look for them”.

Okay. There’s only one toy in here. WTF?

“Um, look, I’m not sure what we need from you if you’re expats”.

Here’s our email – perhaps get in touch when you know more?

“Um, no. We can’t email customers”.

… [Me]. 

This dive would have been a treat in the 70s. Letters of commendation in cracked frames lined the walls. The most recent was from 1990. Lights flickered in the hallways. The floors were semi-covered in chunks of age-old lino. Yep.

But let’s move on.


House hunting is essentially the same deal. For a cheeky USD $5000 a month (AUD $6600; GBP £3800; EUR €4200) you can get a place in Palo Alto that would have been lovely 40+ years ago, but hasn’t been touched since. The appliances, the furnishings, the amenities: beige, brown, dying.



I don’t want to sound like a diva, but seriously: I don’t know how I’ll survive the fashion situation. Tracksuit pants, t-shirts and university sweaters are Silicon Valley’s go-to items. I’m a frock-and-boots kinda girl. I feel somewhat overdressed.

More to the point, could I be the Carrie Bradshaw of Silicon Valley? I wish.


It’s here. It’s everywhere. But it’s not obvious. Look carefully and you’ll see that every second car is a Tesla and driven by a 20-something dressed in trackies and a sweater. They’re looking mighty self-assured, and let’s face it: they’re probably managing a start-up worth USD $1bn. Jeepers.


One observation, and one observation only: my patient induction form asked me a few casual questions about guns in the home.


Don’t walk. Drive. A great slogan for life around here! When I tell the real estate agents (“realtors” – ha!) that I want to be able to walk to the shops, they cast a little shade in my direction.

“Honey, we’re in America. We drive to the shops”.


Also, get this: you’re allowed to turn right at a red light! And very few people indicate to turn or change lanes. Pair that with right side driving (see: wrong-side-driving) and you’ve got one very confused Australian family.


Opening the necessary bank accounts took two visits of a couple of hours each. Our ears pricked as the wonderfully friendly customer service staff mentioned we could get a fee-free bank account if we opted in to Bill Pay. We asked for details, assuming a likeness to BPay in Australia.

Ah, nope.

Bill Pay means the bank’s staff quite literally sit in their office, regardless of where you are, and write a cheque (check) for you, posting it to your biller.

Seriously. They post a cheque for you. Cam and I had to laugh.


Don’t get me started. Upon checking out the local offerings for the very first time, I cracked my second wobbly of our trip (read here about my first). I almost threw in the towel. To my Australian eyes, the pre-schools here are mostly bleak, grey, and soulless places. Concrete prevails and religious themes (read: Christian themes) line each wall.

I wonder: what opportunities will these places afford our girls?

Time will tell. But it’s not all bad, of course.

Any change takes a bit of getting used to, and maybe after we’re all settled in I’ll start to see the joy to be had in plurality. Maybe I’ll start to enjoy Silicon Valley for all that it adds to my experience as a human being, regardless of comparisons to my former leafy, bayside home in Brighton, Australia.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe – after all these years – I’ve discovered the essence of travel: learning to fully appreciate the value of difference.

The seasons

Autumn (read: Fall) is gorgeous here. I can’t believe I’ve arrived just in time to experience my favourite season. Leaves of every shade of yellow, orange, red, and brown dress the streets of Palo Alto and keep them looking gorgeous, don’t you agree?


The essentials

Supermarkets here are amazing too. Seriously: they’re next level. They’re huge places with so much choice, and though the brands are unfamiliar and I still can’t find a bunch of home essentials (spray deodorant, baked beans, and porridge to name a few), I think I’ll come to truly appreciate their ‘one-stop’ accessibility!

The people

The population of Silicon Valley is beautifully diverse! Everyone’s so friendly and welcoming. I’ve heard so many languages being spoken around me. People come from all around the world to work here, and everyone is accepted for exactly who they are.


Condiments? Well, obviously. The hot sauce is good in the Valley. I mean really good. And really, exquisitely hot. You can get any number of different varieties at the local farmers’ markets too which are filled with delicious foods of every origin, shape, colour, and taste.

To be honest, I’ve only slipped up once and called tomato sauce ‘sauce’, not ‘ketchup’. American language is truly fascinating. For example:

  • Banks write ‘checks’ here, not cheques
  • Herbs are ‘erbs’
  • A full stop is a ‘period’


I feel a language post brewing.

clare x 1

14 thoughts on “[4] First Impressions

  1. Kel says:

    I’ve enjoyed all three previous entries and loved this one too! The anthropological detail is fascinating, keep it coming!
    Am as surprised as you that the SV of the movies and cultural impressions – lentil eating brightly coloured 3D printed techno whizzes – is hard to glimpse on first foray. Am I confused with San Fran proper ? Isn’t SV in SF?
    The Bill Pay thing is hilarious and I wonder if it’s a labour/union thing like in India where fancy stores employ four people at the cash registers. One to compute, one to take money, one to wrap goods and one to hand you the item.
    Child care centres sound Horrid. Are there any nice tree hugging alternative/Steiner places around? X

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clare says:

      Thanks Kel! So glad you’re reading it 🙂
      So, Silicon Valley is about 45-60 mins south of San Francisco – it’s sort of between San Francisco and San Jose. If you check Google Maps, Palo Alto is the main/central town. So we don’t quite get the full SF experience – but we’re close enough to experience that too.
      I think the US banking system is just a bit slow in comparison to Australia, and certainly to Europe. They’re still a cheque (check!) reliant place and I think the massive country and population it supports makes it hard to innovate & implement change.
      We saw a nice Montessori place yesterday that we’re going to try and get in to – fingers crossed!! xx


    • Clare says:

      Haha, yes, online shopping is indeed available! I don’t think we’ll be able to do much online shopping though, given about 60% of our post-tax salary will go to rent!


  2. Labhaoise says:

    My heart goes out to you Clare, this reminds me of when I arrived 5 years ago…it can be so bewildering! Rest assured you’ll settle in.
    Just if you’re interested, here’s the link to what I was writing when I arrived…scroll all the way down to read in sequence from first post. You might gain some comfort…I definitely found the language thing weird, and I still have to pay my rent by check every month!!
    Keep up the great writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clare says:

      Thanks Labhaoise! I am sure we’ll settle in, especially once we’ve met more people and discovered the beauty of the place. It doesn’t help that the corporate accommodation they put us up in is on the outskirts of town in a pretty sh1tty area. But once we find a place to live that’s a bit more central, we’ll feel more part of it all! I can’t believe you pay your rent by cheque!!! I will check out your blog now – thanks for sharing xx


  3. Karen says:

    Welcome to Silicon Valley Clare. We moved to Menlo Park 6 years ago (just on the other side of El Camino) and reading your blogs reminds me of how I felt when I arrived. It takes a while, but you end up finding everything that makes you happy, and once you get your girls settled in preschool you will meet heaps of ‘your people’. I love it here now, but of course always get pangs of homesickness. Palo Alto is certainly beautiful, so you must be staying on the outskirts. If you need any help navigating, let me know. Craigslist is where all rentals are listed. And the check thing still blows my mind. Good luck!


    • Clare says:

      Hi Karen. Thank you for reading and thanks for getting in touch! It’s reassuring to know that you’ve been here 4 years and even though you felt the same, you love it now. We are staying on the other side of the 101 in the middle of nowhere, which I think is impacting the experience! I would absolutely love to catch up. I’ll drop you an email 🙂


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