I’ve been home for exactly 50 days. After listening to all of the stories of those who had returned to the U.S. after long stays abroad, I was prepared for full-on culture shock as soon as I walked off the plane. I wondered if the eight lanes of traffic on the beltway would overwhelm me. Would the SUVs that dominate the roads here make me cringe? Would I be overwhelmed while shopping in my favorite mass merchandiser? Would the sound of “loud Americans” make me want to run back to Italy? I wasn’t sure, but I was prepared for the worst.
As it turned out, none of the things I was told may freak me out made much of an impact on me. I loved understanding what everyone around me was saying. I didn’t mind the jam packed beltway (except for the fact that they seemingly cut down every tree that lined the roads in the Tyson’s Corner area to make way for the above ground metro system.). And it seemed that a lot of SUVs had been replaced by Mini Coopers and hybrid cars.
The first time I walked into my favorite mass merchandiser, I found myself greeting the store with a warm smile, “Hello Target, my old friend. Let’s get reacquainted shall we.” And get reacquainted we did, as I spent nearly two hours in the store that day roaming up and down the aisles looking at the wonder of all this affordable stuff. My god we have a so many products to choose from in this Country, and at such reasonable prices!
My initial impressions coming back were these. Americans are polite and friendly. When a woman in the Target store almost bumped into me with her cart she apologized profusely. If an Italian took out my eye with the spike of their umbrella I would not even get as much as a glance back to see if I was okay. But here was a woman who ALMOST hit my cart and provided a sincere apology. Ahhh, God bless America!
Americans smile at you, especially if you smile at them. This was so refreshing to me. No one looked back at me like, who the hell are you and why are you smiling at me? I felt a kinship with these smiling people, like we had an understanding without saying a word.
And then I remembered we DID have an understanding. It’s called culture and it’s what defines how we act and who we are whether we realize it or not. And man, as much as I ended up loving Italy, I am happy to be surrounded by my American culture.
We have freedoms and luxuries in this country that most of us take for granted. Long hot showers (in an ACTUAL shower and not a bath tub with a long handled spigot), air conditioning, and clothing driers were the things I missed the most when I moved away. Now I find myself grumbling that Americans use too much air conditioning (And we do by the way. I am freezing most of the time I enter a building here. Is there any reason it has to be SOOOO cold? ), we waste water, and we over use our clothing driers.
I find that I still line dry pretty much everything. The only exception to this, the one luxury I allow myself is to use my clothes dryer to dry my bath towels and sheets. I know many people love the smell and feel of line dried sheets and towels, but I HATE the stiffness of them. To me there is nothing like rolling into bed with warm sheets straight from the dryer.
After 40 years of loving long hot, hot, hot showers I find myself sticking with the habit I had to develop during my first week of living in Italy, which is to turn off the water while you are washing your hair and your body and just turn it on to get wet and rinse off. How, HOW did this happen to me? I just can’t do it anymore; I can’t spend 15 minutes in the shower letting hot water run over me. It just feels like such a waste. Damn those environmentally conscience Europeans! Have they ruined me forever?
The biggest disappointment to me has been the food. After nearly a year of only Italian food I was CRAVING other foods. In the months before I returned home I had dreams about Pad Thai from my favorite Thai restaurant in the area. I longed for some authentic Indian food and couldn’t wait to eat anything other than Italian.
Unfortunately every meal I had been craving was a letdown. It was flavorless, or drenched in dressing that it didn’t need, or over salted, or over cooked. Even my favorite American gourmet chocolate seemed to have no flavor.
I was sick every morning for the first two weeks I was home. I’d expect this if it’s your first time eating BBQ in a year, but I was sick even after preparing meals for myself with ingredients I purchased at Whole Foods, “America’s healthy solution to regular grocery stores.” I’m sorry but this speaks volumes to me about the food in this country. I think we’re poisoning ourselves and we have no idea we’re even doing it.
After nearly a year of no radio or TV, the one thing I have found almost unbearable since I’ve been back is listening to radio commercials. The sound of them makes me cringe and I have to turn them off immediately. Luckily I don't have a car anymore so it’s not a big problem, but whenever I borrow one or use my local car share service I usually have to turn the radio off. This is a huge change from how I used to be when I could not stand the sound of silence.
I stopped watching TV a while ago, but used to turn it on for background noise. I don’t do that anymore and only turn it on to watch a movie or get caught up on the news. This is another big departure from my younger days when I used to be called a “walking TV guide!” However I am curious to find out what all the hub-bub is about over this show called, “GLEE!”
Everyone keeps asking me if I miss Italy, and the truth is I don't; at least not yet. What I do miss are the friends that I made while living in Italy. I don't know if I will ever be friends with more genuine, interesting, and supportive people; and I truly feel a void in my life because I cannot connect with them on a daily basis. This has been the hardest transition for me, but believing this small group of amazing women will be a part of my life for a very long time makes it a little easier for me to be here and not be there.
Okay this blog has run much longer than expected, so stay tuned for my next blog which will talk about my new job, living without a car, and what happened when I recently met up with the guy I was falling in love with when I left for Italy.