Reprinted from the TimesOnline
Anne Dixey was a perfectly normal working mother, a producer on Radio 4’s PM programme in London, when she was plunged, not entirely willingly, into a new life as a mum and homemaker in American suburbia.
Worse, as Dixey arrived at her home in Montgomery County, Maryland, the hijacked planes hit the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. She lost contact with her partner and, later, two FBI men arrived to question her.Then, in quick succession, there was an anthrax scare at a local post office, and a sniper began shooting people on their lawns and at garages.
Dixey went to America in August 2001 with her two children and partner, Roland Watson, the Times’ Washington correspondent. She gave up her job, but planned to freelance. Instead she ended up on the home front, mostly alone, in an increasingly strange country in the aftermath of September 11.
When the planes hit, Dixey was with her two-year-old, Josie, and had just taken her four-year-old, Amalie, for her first day at nursery. Suddenly, the phones went down and Watson was 1,000 miles away in Florida. He drove for two days to get back to Washington, filing reports from roadside motels, behaviour that the FBI considered suspicious in the nervous climate.
At Dixey’s house among the white clapboard and verandas of Chevy Chase, Maryland, the Stars and Stripes began to bristle on lawns, and the talk was of war and bioterrorism, instead of little league softball. Yet the community was warm and welcoming; new neighbours arrived bearing fresh raspberries – and frozen vodka and orange juice to calm nerves.
The neighbours soon became fast friends. “Yet it seemed a bad dream at points,” says Dixey, now 43. “I was trying to get to know people, but I kept thinking ‘this can’t be normal’. It was so extreme, the constant fear of what would happen next. Americans around me were hysterical: there was none of that calm British getting on with it.”
Eventually, Dixey decided that her weird experiences merited writing a book, The United States of Hysteria. “It’s sort of a home movie through the white picket fence, through the eyes of a foreigner. We do have this national fascination with all things American – but I realised that we had no idea about ordinary people’s lives.”