Ok, so by now I’ve done this a few times. No big deal. You live abroad in another culture for a while and coming back to your own is a little less comfortable than you thought it would be. It’s like the senses are heightened for a bit; all of a sudden you can understand the conversations going on around you, there’s no need for the just checking that we understand one another pause after talking, and the magazines and books well they are everywhere and it feels like someone has put them there just for you. But then you’re back and you remember what it’s like and your old habits come quickly, pretty soon you’re talking fast and not paying much attention to things unless they’re in front of you.
After my first four months abroad in Florence I flew out to Amsterdam then Detroit then Seattle. I remember being so confused when I went to grab a cart in Detroit customs and realized you had to pay. What?! No that’s not right, how am I supposed to have American money let alone four quarters? They’d been free in Amsterdam and Florence, pfft, America. Then I went out into the domestic flights terminal and wondered if there was some sort of bacon convention going on. It smelled awful and it seemed like the majority of people around me were terribly overweight. Friends laughed when I told them and then we’d be back in comfortable conversations like; listing all that’s wrong with the US and how Bush made us want to move abroad.
The next time I wasn’t very phased at all. I cursed the carts and patted myself on the back for checking all my luggage (this was the time that all my luggage was lost from Dec 17th until Christmas). I over eagerly eavesdropped and accidentally said ‘grazie’ instead of thanks which recieved skeptical glares. Right. Then I raced home to be with my family, cook in a kitchen I knew, and watch Law and Order reruns at my leisure. But that was short and sweet, I savored what American things I could then headed right back overseas.
This time is different. Maybe it’s because I assumed I knew how to handle it and it caught me off guard or the that I didn’t go back to my hometown first, or that I was coming from Germany instead of Italy, or that this is the first time I didn’t feel conflicted about leaving, or everything, maybe it’s everything.
First I forgot my own currency for a minute and had to remind myself that we no longer use fifty cent pieces, I mean it’s been a while but come on, then days later I find myself at a mall where I feel like some sort of alien sent to observe; I touch everything and have to stop myself from gawking at mother and daughter shopping teams, and awkward groups of teenagers. The strange thing was a lot of people looked just as confused as me, searching for answers or comfort by buying something from the sale section. I used to love to hunt for things while shopping but even later on my visit in New York of all places I find myself overwhelmed and kind of repulsed by it. It even hit me on Whidbey, I started pulling out my camera in those touristy places I’ve seen people take the same pictures in all my life, suddenly I had a great need for my own.
I’ve always felt I was pretty quick to adapt. I don’t get grossed out that easily, I can convince myself that things are going to be alright long enough to stay calm through the things that aren’t, and when I can’t handle things on my own I can be open to trusting the compassion of strangers. However, I’m starting to feel this lost feeling that doesn’t go away. I suppose when you feel like you can acclimate to anywhere it’s most difficult to realize there’s nowhere you don’t have to adjust.