by Heather Cassell
Sowing her Americana oats, Londoner Iris Mansour, made an Americana wish list and hopped onto a plan to the United States for a 60 day summer adventure.
Like many other people around the world, Iris grew up experiencing America through exported TV shows, books, animation, and other Americana products.
“I had this moment in my life where I felt the need and [I] had the opportunity to explore [and] … I’ve always had a fondness for America and Americana,” says Iris, 29, over tea at Dolores Park Café in San Francisco last summer halfway through her project exploring her obsession with America fostered by cultural exports “across the pond.”
“You can’t underestimate how much you learn about a country from TV, music, [and] film,” says Iris, who grew up surrounded by American influence. Pop culture only wetted her appetite. She consumed American author’s works, and studied American history and politics.
“There is something for everyone. It doesn’t matter what you are interested in you can be engaged by America,” says Iris.
The European freelance TV journalist, producer and reporter — who has covered high fashion to entertainment and travel to presidents and political riots — turned playwright and standup comedian decided to make a list, create a blog – Iris60Days.com, and take 60 days to explore America.
A self-described “technological luddite,” the project was a crash course and experiment in creating her online presence, says Iris, grateful for the guardian angels who have guided and saved her. Midway through her adventure, Iris’ blog captured the attention of a few 1,000 followers, she says.
Iris eased into her adventure taking a vacation visiting friends in New York City, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. before venturing to California, where she did more vacationing hanging out in Santa Cruz and Yosemite with a gal pal who visited her from Britain, she says.
Familiarized with America, Iris landed in San Francisco to get down to the business of checking off the items on her list.
She didn’t know a soul when she arrived in the City by the Bay. She didn’t know where she was going to stay or how she was going to complete the tasks on her list, says Iris. But people quickly embraced her and her mission winning her heart.
“I was expecting people to be open, but I’m surprised at just how open people have been and how helpful people have been,” says Iris, who financed her trip herself. “People have been amazing friendly and creative.”
More than just friendly, people she met on this adventure “have been fantastically engaged and giving me loads of help and advice and being super creative about how I can do everything … it’s been a big social experiment,” says Iris about the curious and friendly reception she received for her project.
The reception altered her plans to travel around the U.S., she says. Instead, Iris stayed to complete her Americana experience in San Francisco.
“It’s a city I just love it! I just love what it has to offer. People have been amazing, friendly, and creative,” says Iris.
“This was the place, the only kind of place where you can do this kind of crazy stuff and people wouldn’t look at you weirdly and actually go for it,” she continued, about how people have gravitated to her to help her complete her “crazy list.”
So, what was on her list?
Among the items she was checking off on her list of 50 things to accomplish was to be a cheerleader, comic book character, a prom queen, breaking a world record, to live off the land, record a song, do a standup comedy show.
For her goal to make a million dollars might have been a far stretch, but Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, gave her some good tips for “make a million.”
“I got some good tips from Tim,” says Iris. “A million of anything is hard – a million dollars, a million grains of sand, a million paper cranes – everything is hard when it comes to a million.”
By the time Girls That Roam caught up with Iris she already accomplished a quarter of her list. She was a prom queen, wrote an advice column for the SFGate.com, was a street performer for an afternoon, did a standup comedy act, and was in the process of becoming a comic book character.
Iris wasn’t raised with a sense of adventure being raised in a banker’s house with a mother who stayed home to raise Iris, the youngest, and her two older brothers.
“My parents actually love it. I think they long ago accepted that their children [weren’t going to be] accountants or doctors or lawyers,” says Iris, about her two innovative bothers. One is an art historian in Hong Kong and the other followed the financial path in New York City, but launched an electric bicycle company on the side, she says.
“It’s pretty brave of them because they don’t know anyone the kinds of things that we do,” says Iris, who before she left her teens was traversing through Asia and Europe.
One of her job descriptions on her resume is collecting indigenous French Polynesian recipes as a part of a scholarship trip she won when she graduated from University.
“That was pretty fun. I worked with a group of six friends and we went around the Polynesian islands tasting really good food,” says Iris, who is fluent in English, French, Hebrew, and Italian.
“I’m a firm believer in the random. You can’t have any preconceived ideas about love,” says Iris, who was free as a bird without a boyfriend in tow, or anything else is seems. This trip confirmed it for her. “You never know who you are going to meet. It will happen when the time is right.”
“Since being here I’ve discovered a different side to myself,” says Iris, who knows that striking up conversations with strangers or having a stand at a market asking people to help her complete her list of things to do simply wouldn’t happen in the Europe or the U.K.
“In Europe, I could never do this kind of thing. It is rare that I could become good friends with someone I met in a coffee shop or someone at a baseball game,” says Iris. “I discovered people are more open here, more open to strangers talking to them. I discovered a side of myself where I’ve struck up good relationships quite freely, quite easily.”
“I hope I’ll apply the same kind of adventurous spirit and curiosity to everything that I will do after,” she continues.
This one woman British invasion of America won’t end in the Golden State, Iris hopes to return to the states to get out of the big cities to explore the smaller towns from the prairie lands to the Rocky Mountains to the South, she says.
“It’s such a fascinating place and it’s enormous. There are so many shades of opinion and different kinds of Americans. There is so much diversity that you need to come back over and over again to get a handle on the place,” Iris says. “I can see lots of coming back to America.”
Read about Iris’s Americana adventure first hand and find out where she might be going next at http://iris60days.com.
Clarification: In an earlier version of this article it was stated that Iris’ father worked as an investment banker, but he actually only worked for a bank.
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