American Marvel: First Thoughts on Reentry

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: A Series of Posts our Family's Repatriation ExperienceI wrote my first draft of this post on October 31, 2014. It’s… raw.

That post where I marvel at America and all the ways she has changed since we left, the one where I try desperately not to nit pick, and the one where I take an honest look in the mirror — it’s here.

After brief jaunts in Leipzig and Istanbul, we touched down at Dulles on the very day that US passport control rolled out a more meticulous ebola screening program. Nothing like waiting forty-five minutes with squirmy boys for your first, “welcome back.”

Well, okay, waiting is something we became accustomed to in Germany. But customer service? THAT was our first clue that we certainly weren’t in Kansas anymore.

At the rental car counter later that evening, I felt like an accidental tourist at La Tomatina. The agent’s words were flung at me in rapid fire sequence.

“HI! I’M CARRIE AND I’LL BE TAKING CARE OF YOU TODAY!! HOW ARE YOU DOING? HOW WAS YOUR FLIGHT?! CAN I GET YOU SOMETHING TO DRINK? WOULD YOU LIKE TO UPGRADE YOUR RENTAL CAR? NO? HOW ABOUT NOW? ARE YOU SURE YOU DON’T WANT TO UPGRADE? IT’S ONLY SEVENTY BUCKS! WHAT A GREAT DEAL! WHAT ABOUT NOW? STILL NO? OKAY! YOU HAVE A GREAT DAY NOW!! COME BACK AND SEE US AGAIN!”

And it really was just like that – her speech was all caps and her personality all pep. I could only blink, mouth agape. I flinched at every line. Her volume and intensity were just a bit much for me to handle straight out of the gate. I had become so accustomed to the quiet.

When our rental car rolled up, my jaw dropped even further. They must have confused our reservation. Surely, this double-decker bus was not in the minivan category. I must have scored some kind of free upgrade. The car we drove in Germany was a “van.” THIS, this was something for transporting elephants, rhinos, prehistoric mammals, cargo.

What would we do with all that extra space?! Even with our five carry-ons, five backpacks, and two checked bags, we still could still do “airplane arms” without smacking each other in the face.

All of this, and we hadn’t even left the airport.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: Notes on Reverse Culture Shock

We’re like ducks out of water, electric hair and wide eyes.

The past weeks have been like this for us. Everything strange, different, absolutely gigantic. My goodness, I can’t even touch the back of the clothes dryer without crawling in there myself.

The houses, the cars, the ovens, the burgers, the boxes of breakfast cereal, the shopping centers.. they’re all incredibly super-sized. I’m thoroughly convinced that the entire downtown shopping district of Freiburg would fit within the confines of one Super Walmart.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Reverse Culture Shock: First Thoughts on Reentry

This bag of Nearly Naked popcorn is nearly the size of my five year-old!

And the people… Oh, America, you make me sad. We are so sick, so unhealthy, so shockingly overweight. We are such a wealthy country and yet the bodies around me scream that even with all our excess, we are still looking for happiness in the newest flavor of Oreos or the hottest, newly-redesigned, expensive SUV.

What a crisis we are in with obesity! When I first arrived, I wondered how could this be so?

It didn’t take long to figure it out – (1) we don’t move our bodies other than from the couch to the car and (2) there are SO many delicious things to eat here. I know I said this before, but have you SEEN the Oreo aisle?!

Honestly, we as a nation need to sober up. We ought to be ashamed at how much food we consume – and throw away! – when there are so many in our world performing unmentionable acts and deeds just to eat once per day.

Yes, there are starving people in Africa, but Americans seem to forget there are starving people right here in our own community… and they are hidden in plain sight. They’re the kids stealing from that same Oreo aisle. Don’t believe me? Add Breaking Night to your reading list. You’ll never look at a tube of Chapstick the same way again.

 

Thrifty Travel Mama | Reverse Culture Shock: First Thoughts on Reentry

Spotted at a grocery store in the Netherlands…

This is my third weekend in America. On the first two weekends, I took walks in different neighborhoods in different cities. If I saw anyone outside, it was a lone adult. No kids, no families, no exercise, no games, no old-fashioned fun. I had forgotten that Americans don’t go for walks or play outside the way Germans do. If we exercise, we do it at home or at a gym. Why not outside in nature? Are we afraid? Bored? Uncomfortable? Inconvenienced?

I use the words “we” and “us” because as much as this country is foreign to me now, it is my country, my home land. I used to work out in a gym, I used to drive everywhere, I never went for walks, I used to eat only packaged/prepared food.

As much as I feel like an outsider, my passport says I’m not. I know the way things work in this country, where to go if I need something, and how to ask if I don’t. I can’t comment from the sidelines anymore; I’m back in the game.

In our marveling at each re-discovery, Doc Sci and I have the best of intentions not to let our wonder devolve into negativity. I think it’s okay to walk through each emotion (shock, sadness, confusion, wonder) as long as you don’t stay there indefinitely.

Due to the fact that our family has needed to just survive the last eight months, I’ve resigned myself to striving to end the string of discouraging thoughts on a neutral note – it just is what it is. Ultimately, I hope my feelings toward this culture and repatriation can grow roots in the positive, asking myself how I can change, how I can encourage others to change.

Have you ever left the US for a while and returned to find things you once considered normal to be completely foreign? 

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10 thoughts on “American Marvel: First Thoughts on Reentry

  1. I just got back to NL after a 3.5 trip to USA after not being there for 2 years. I was and am still in shock about my super sized Americans. And since i have no will power, i shiver to think what i would become if moving there again. (I probably gained 2 kg on that sort visit)! Most of your comments ringed true in what i experienced and thought. But boy did i love that everything was open until late…..americans understand and deliver convenience.

    • This might surprise you but my will power seems a lot weaker here as well. It think it helps tremendously that Europeans have exercise built into their days, walking or cycling wherever they need to go. Longer opening hours is REALLY nice, I have to agree :). There is something, though, that I appreciate about being closed on Sunday, something that forces you to take that rest and realize that things usually can wait one more day.

  2. Lots of nodding in agreement here.
    Customer service when we’ve gone back has been intense and overwhelming. (But I still often wonder how many businesses stay in business in Europe…) Plus even just basic eye contact and smiling at strangers takes some getting used to again. And servers at restaurants showing up every 2 minutes to interrupt your conversation and ask how everything is going or take your plate away. We learned to aim for restaurants that people complain about in the US for having slow/bad service, and those seem to hit just about right for us now!
    Also back in Oregon we’ve gone for walks in my in-law’s neighborhood, which is actually a planned community supposedly based on a European model, with half-timbered houses and all kinds of terraces out front with tables and chairs. Except that on a beautiful summer night, no one else is out walking or sitting on their terraces. Instead you can peer inside the windows and see them watching TV. Whoops.

    • Rosie,
      We often quote “that is not possible” from your ping pong table purchase experience :). Great idea to aim for the restaurants that most Americans think have bad service. I like to stick to the ones where you order at the counter and clean up your own mess. Your in-laws’ neighborhood sounds amazing; how sad that it is not used the way it was intended.

  3. I agree 100%!!! We have been living in Germany for two years, but spent the summer in the States. I was appalled by the availability of food everywhere and the serving sizes. There was hardly anyone outside, and it is impossible to get anywhere without a car. Great post-because it is honest and true!

  4. YES on everything being big. We just did a visit back to the States after a year in Rome, and I kept marveling at big stores, big cars, and big lanes on the roads. It was also jarring on my neighborhood runs to see so many large lawns that appear to be generally unused. The convenience factor was nice, particularly with little kids, but I really heart a walk everywhere lifestyle.

    Look forward to hearing about more of your reintegration!

    • Hi Melissa,
      Oh, yes, I should’ve mentioned the lawns. We spend a fortune to make our yards look amazing in the US, but then nobody uses them! No games, no picnics, nothing. I’ll bet Italians in your area covet every last piece of green and use it ’til it’s shredded :).

  5. Pingback: Walmart is Terrifying! – Notes on Reverse Culture Shock | Thrifty Travel Mama

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