Key West, Florida, 2012
Going back to the USA is one of those things that happens to me in gradual stages of recognition. For me, they can be summarized as follows:
- The “Americans are really loud!” stage, which more or less happens the same time as the “everyone is talking with my accent” stage- that is, while waiting to board the plane to the USA at the airport. Suddenly the banal conversations of how Aunt Reba is doing or your theory on why the US dollar is about to undergo hyperinflation is suddenly very loud and un-ignorable and often even bringing in surrounding strangers into the conversation. I’m not sure if this exclusively because Americans talk very loudly together or I tune out all the Dutch I don’t understand, but suspect it’s a healthy dose of both.
- The “you expect everything to be the same but life of course goes on without you” stage, which of course happens in most places you re-visit after some time elapses but is somehow more unsettling when it’s the country you were born in. For me this moment happened this time upon landing at the Newark airport for my connection, seeing a bunch of skyscrapers on the horizon and idly wondering what city they were, and realizing with a start it was the New York City skyline now dominated from New Jersey by the Freedom Tower. Which yes, I knew they were working on in my absence, but it is somehow unsettling to realize you don’t immediately recognize the New York City skyline.
- Somewhere during the course of the trans-Atlantic flight, by the way, one reaches the delightful stage of realization that you can have random conversations with strangers and no one thinks strangely of you for it. I know this isn’t a language thing because the Brits never do it either- instead all of European culture doesn’t encourage random idle conversations that I know of- but now I’m back in the land where if I don’t have a few random conversations with those around me in the course of a few hours I’m the odd one out. It’s great!
- Reverse culture shock stage. America is big- our buildings are big, our cars are big, a meal in a restaurant is usually lunch and dinner in other countries, and we sprawl out our cities to make them bigger and require use of our cars to manage them. The size of the country also leaves me quietly happy because when you grow up knowing you can fly several hours and still be in the same country the Netherlands always seems a bit stifling.
The other thing I always enjoy in the USA by the way is nature- Holland is an amazing place to live for urban life and culture and all that jazz, but I’m still fairly convinced every square inch of the nation is cultivated (even the national parks have fences). Nature is one of the things America does best, and you don’t really realize it until you don’t have easy access anymore.
- Then if you’re heading to visit parents in Florida like me, there is the “it’s December but 80 degrees out and I managed to get sunburnt” stage. It’s frankly a little strange to arrive down there and realize all the cold and dark from northern latitudes does not apply to people’s daily lives, and it’s rather tempting until you remember that in exchange for this you must live in Florida.
- Then finally the last stage (which, if this was a stages of grief thing, would be “acceptance”) which is the odd realization that while I love the USA I have no plans to move back for a few years at least. I wonder how much this opinion would change if I had ever lived in a New York City or San Francisco in my life instead of Pittsburgh and Cleveland, but too much familiarity strikes me as a little boring in my day-to-day life.
Put it this way, I love to roam around the USA whenever I’m here, but when I lived in Cleveland meticulous planning of multiple round the world trips seemed like a reasonable and rational thing to do. I still do plenty of trips now, but at the end of the day they always assume my return to Amsterdam.
Until then, I’m home-but-not, enjoying a few weeks in the country of my birth. Merry Christmas!