Working in the Napa valley for a harvest is the dream of most of the young winemakers and viticulturists, as me. Every season, the wineries in the valley open harvest positions for the international people to make an exchange of knowledge and experience. In this sense, Napa valley has a lot to offer to the people from wine sector. As a point of view of the winemakers, this gives the chance to discover the secrets of their success, while wineries have the opportunity to have an objective eye on their production.
As I worked in Napa Valley for half a year, I had enough time to discover the wines of the valley and experience the harvest. It was amazing. However, in this article, I am not going to talk about wine part, I will try to list some of the highlights of my experience, step by step and what I learned from each step. Let’s see how it goes.
Before the arrival: Be patient.
I needed to be very patient in this period. After I found the winery that I would like to work for, the document-mania started! I signed papers, I sent them papers, they sent me papers, and I sent them more papers. Then I had to find a sponsor, they sent me papers, I sent them papers and I paid. Finally I needed a visa, I gave them papers, I paid, I waited and then I took the visa. Documentation part was finally over and then I started to search for place to stay. That is when the actual challenge started! Napa is a small town and the places to stay for a short period are quite limited. If you are super lucky, you can find a room before the arrival, but it is very unlikely and not recommendable at the same time – how you will trust a person online to make the payment? I couldn’t.
Just after the arrival: Be aware of frauds.
The same challenge continued for me, as I was trying to find a place, I received a lot messages and e-mails from people who were trying to cheat me. The funniest thing was when a guy offered me a place in Napa very closed to subway station (!), when I told him that there is no metro in Napa, he said he mixed it with Subway restaurant! Another guy wanted me to make an online payment for the deposit and send him the scan of my passport. Oh my god, I was really close to lose my hope but then I made a lease in an apartment, although the rent is very pricy. But in that point, I didn’t care because all I wanted was a secure and neat place to stay and I got it!
Socializing: Learn how to greet people.
Every place I have been, I had to learn how to greet people since it changes a lot from culture to culture. Here in Napa, unfortunately, I cannot say that I made a good job in learning it. As far as I’ve seen, most of the times, when two people meet, they shake hands. But depending on the place and situation, some people prefer to make no physical contact, so you just meet them verbally. After living in Europe for a long time, I am used to kissing people at least 2 and sometimes even 3 times when I meet them. Here, sometimes I forgot the fact that I am in USA and I make the move for hugging and kissing people of course, it puts me in the most awkward position! And sometimes, people also confuse me with different types of greetings so currently I am just trying to stop myself and let them make the first move to shake hands or do whatever we supposed to do.
Transportation: Improve driving skills.
‘I definitely need a car!’ This is how I felt in my second day in Napa. Before coming here, a friend of mine who lives here told me that a car is a crucial need in the valley, but I didn’t really believe him. I thought he was exaggerating. But, unfortunately, he wasn’t. I really had to buy a car. Otherwise, it was very difficult to move. Thanks god, you can buy them really cheap and it’s easy.
Sometimes, when I drink some wine after work, I would say ‘Oh, I will just take the bus to go back!’, and native people would look at me like I am an alien, ‘Are you sure? Can you do that?’ It is something very unusual to take the bus, since everybody has a car. For the times that I consume alcohol, Uber works perfectly. And walking… I can say that pedestrianism is not really popular, but of course it is an option. Biking could be a solution, but personally I find it dangerous, especially in Silverado trail where the biking road is the same place with the security line. So, car it is!
Food: Be careful on the supermarket.
Here, there are lots of foods! Every time that I go to supermarket I am impressed with variety of foods that they have. In the first weeks, especially the sweets were attracting me. Cupcakes, muffins, pies, cakes, cookies… All colorful, all types, with fruits, with chocolate, with cream… After tasting couple of them, I decided to be careful because it is very easy to put on weight here, especially if you are coming for a short period with an aim to try as much as you can, like me.
Food: Forget the privacy.
I met some very curious people about what others are eating, both in restaurant and in the supermarket. Once in a restaurant, the person in the table behind me showed my plate to the waitress and asked ‘What is she eating?’. It didn’t bother me, but I found it very strange. In the supermarket, it was more often. Once I bought 2 cakes, because there was discount if you buy the second. In the queue, the man in front me turned back and told me ‘Oh, you bought delicious cakes’. I felt kind of strange and I tried to explain why I bought them, but then I realize how strange the situation is! But the biggest curiosity about what I will eat was from the cashiers. They would always make a comment about my grocery; if I buy a soup ‘Oh, perfect weather for the soup’, if I buy a pizza ‘That would be your dinner?’. First, I was feeling strange, but now I got used to it and even enjoyed it!
Communication: Speak Spanglish.
I speak English, I speak Spanish. But to be able to understand most of the people I had to figure out the Spanglish. Spanglish rules are not so difficult. For example, you take an English verb and add ‘–ar’ in the end to make a spanglish verb; ‘have lunch’ turns out to be ‘lonchear’. Or simply you take an English word and change the pronunciation and use it in the sentence as if it was Spanish; ‘I am working in a winery’ turns out to be ‘Estoy trajando en una wineria’. And sometimes you translate an English proverb literally to Spanish and use it like that; ‘I will call you back’ turns out to be ‘Te llamaré para atras.’ It took me couple of weeks to figure out how it works, but then I got used to it and was able to communicate with everyone without problems.
Never hesitate: Speak up!
If you want something, you should ask for it! Here, it’s the only way that you will get what you want. It took me a while to figure that out, as I am coming from a culture where you should be very careful with your requests. But here, being shy and hesitating to ask will not bring you anywhere.
Be positive: Don’t lose your hope!
There are very nice people out there in Napa. People say hello to each other on the street, they give their blessings you if you sneeze on the stress, they are helpful and they are smiling most of the time. They give importance to the people who come to Napa for the season. I was very surprised when many people ask me if I have place to go for the Thanksgiving, otherwise they would invite me for dinner because they didn’t want me to spend an important day alone. Even the aunt of the girl to whom I sold my car invited me for Thanksgiving dinner, although we saw each other less than half an hour in our lives! Living with kind people helps me to keep myself positive and I can easily convince myself: The world is still a nice place!
All in all, my experience in Napa valley was not only about wine, but also about how to adapt myself in a different culture and place. In the end, this is the fun part of accepting the challenge of living abroad and I love it!
All images © 2016 by Neslihan IVIT. All rights reserved.