The Return

Ah, reverse culture shock…always fun. I’ve been keeping a little list of things on my phone in order to remember them. Arriving at SeaTac a month ago, Iris was confused by which button to press on the elevator. In Germany, the ground floor is considered floor 0 or “E” for “Erdgeschoss” (aka earth level, isn’t that great?) and the next floor up is considered the first floor.  Of course, to an American, the ground floor is the first floor and the next one up would be the second floor.  Anyway, immediate confusion and shock ensued! Then, of course, all the light switches, toilet flush, and door handles are different in Germany and when you combine these small but marked differences with a 10-hour-plus plane ride and jet lag things really get surreal pretty quickly.  Then you go to the pub-restaurant attached to your Ramada Inn in Tukwila, WA, which by the way is called “O’Beer”, and things get even weirder. For instance, American Classic Rock is playing. A friendly (!!) hostess to shows you to your table. The portions are huge and you cluelessly order way too much (it’s also so overpriced!). All the cars in the parking lot are ginormous SUVs, trucks or vans of American or Japanese provenance (where are all the SmartCars, compact VWs, and, like, Peugeots?) The 3 on 3 NBA offshoot known as “Big 3” is playing on the giant screens (this  league was new to me, although Dan told me it  was around before we left for Germany) ALL VERY SHOCKING! At least seeing Bonzi Wells playing brought back distant-yet-familiar memories.

Other shockers: Going to a brewpub in Eugene and sitting outside at a picnic table and noticing there was not a single ashtray in sight. Later, as we left, we saw 2 smokers huddled in the parking lot across the street as smoking was not allowed anywhere on the restaurant premises (even outside). However, cannabis dispensaries were EVERYWHERE. Homeless encampments alongside the road juxtaposed with gleaming new apartment towers in Portland. People literally camping in tents right next to the 580 freeway in Berkeley. The U.S. is feeling so extreme to me in its inequality these days. And the national mood definitely feels low. Lots of bumper stickers with everything from “Health care is a right, not a privilege” to “My favorite social program is a JOB!” or “America: Could be better” (This is how we communicate with each other here, by plastering our beliefs to our vehicles)

Walking around Portland it was shocking to find no one else out walking. Well, there were some dog walkers and joggers but people walking to get from point A to B seemed very rare (lots of bikers though). Taking public transportation takes time and is, let’s face it, inconvenient. I was reminded of how densely populated Berlin is with its high-rise apartment buildings and convenient subway and bus hubs that transport people so effectively throughout the city.

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Also, why is everyone gluten-free and weirdly diet-obsessed in the US (and yet also so fat??) Seems like everyone is doing Paleo or talking about which is the “right” oil to cook with. Germans seem less worried about this sort of thing and are remarkably thin. Granted, I’ve never read “Grain Brain” or “Wheat Belly”. But, this is also the person who attempted to eat cake every day for a year.

Now I’ve returned to Oklahoma and the usual things are shocking…the accent, the sorority girls and their spray-painted SUV’s (this year the TriDelts have “DRAFTED” written all over their rear windows), the car culture, McMansions and ugly billboards along I-35. But for better or worse, it’s also my home and it’s good to be back in my own house, weeding my garden, feeling those deep prairie roots and hearing the cardinals calling.

I’ve signed up our family to host a University of Oklahoma exchange student this year. Not to live with us but to socialize with and sort of sponsor for the year. I want to continue to examine my own culture through the lens of another. I have renewed empathy for expats and exchange students and the experience of living in another country long term and all the challenges and rewards it brings.  And so on that note, I’m signing off once again bringing “Alise in Allemagne” to a close.  I miss Berlin already and hope to return there one day.  So, until the next time I live abroad… Auf Wiedersehen!

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