Por fin! Finally! After nearly a month Stateside (can you say “Stateside” if you aren’t in Europe?) — plus a frantic week preparing to go and an extraordinarily drama-filled week upon return — I’m happy to be writing again. For now, I hope you’ll put it in reverse with me to explore a few of the wonders and woes of an expat’s trip home. “Back it up!” as my son says, quoting his toy Caterpillar trucks. And with that, I bring you five “normal” American things that seem pretty weird if you’ve been out of the US for a long time:
- The astounding variety of stuff available, for better or worse, in an average US grocery store. My mental dialogue while browsing goes something like this: “Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Honey Crunch? I’m not sure I understand. Snack chips made with chia seeds? Oh, let’s try that! Take-out sushi? There is a God, and he has chosen to put heaven in this place.” And this is the way that I feel when I go into Kroger or Publix. Put me in Whole Foods too soon after re-entering the US and I might pass out. Seriously.
- Taking your iPhone out in public without worrying about your personal safety. Sad, but true.
- The simple pleasure of blasting your radio and singing along while driving solo in the car. I don’t have a car in Barranquilla, and I don’t really need one, which is nothing short of awesome. But I forgot entirely about this little joy. I don’t think there’s really any equivalent.
- The smell-less-ness of the US, or at least the suburban parts of it. It’s downright weird. It’s not like Colombia is a smelly place — it’s not. But in the US, you start wondering if the whole place has been sanitized. This can be good or bad. There’s a reason why the US is not usually at the top of the list of places that are a “feast for the senses.” Unless you’re in Whole Foods, of course.
- Prescription drug commercials. Sheesh. Didn’t miss those. The longer you’ve been away from this particular onslaught, the more these advertisements will creep you out. For all their lists of symptoms and side effects, the commercials themselves have to be a symptom or side effect of something — something not good. These go in the category of things I can live without. Along with Honey Bunches of Oats made with Greek yogurt… although I don’t know, I kinda would like to try them.
By the way, the time between this holiday trip to the US and my trip before that was eight months. That’s the longest I have ever been away from my home country. Do you live away from the country you grew up in? If so, what’s the longest you’ve stayed away? What parts of “home” seemed surreal when you returned?
Here’s hoping your new year got off to a good start. Stay tuned for more — and hopefully more profound! — insights from my time away.