Getting Reacquainted With America
It’s been four months since packing up and moving back from Sweden and we’re STILL waiting for our household shipment to arrive. I’ve got patio furniture set up in our living room and sleeping mats on the bedroom floors. We look like a KOA campsite only with really nice bathrooms. I miss my toothbrush holder; I miss my paper towel holder for the kitchen—it never let the roll get soggy or unravel on the counter. I miss things being organized. I miss hangers. Sure I can go out and buy all that stuff, but then what do I do when it arrives? It’s the conundrum of moving every couple of years…how long can I hold out without an iron and ironing board? How many irons does one person need in a lifetime? A lot if you live this lifestyle.
I keep thinking I’ll feel more settled once my stuff gets here, once I’m able to have some wardrobe choices and bikes to ride and Maggie has her toys to play with again. But I’m not convinced that will be the sum total of getting “settled.” Having your stuff helps, but the process also just takes time. I need to get reacquainted with America after our long-distance relationship kept us out of sync.
I’m adjusting to driving in America again. In the past three weeks I’ve successfully racked up three traffic tickets…one for speeding, one for following too closely, and one for switching lanes too fast. You’ve got to stay in each lane for approximately 2 seconds before moving over (now they tell me). Let me be clear, I’m an excellent driver. I got the Driver’s Ed award in high school, a fact that was mortifying, but nonetheless impressive. I KNOW how to drive, it’s just here cops actually pull you over and give you tickets for breaking the rules. (I miss Sweden.) And this S P A C E thing, there’s a whole different need for space in America. People like their space. They need room around them AND their cars and everything else. I get it, I just forgot.
It’s the same way at school. In Maggie’s class, the teacher has to remind the children NOT to hug and to give others “their space.” One mother told me her daughter was sent home with a note asking her to “Please talk to your daughter about not hugging other children.” Six-year-olds are very European. They show affection freely and like to embrace their friends. Hugging is one of those things that come naturally to children, so naturally that teachers must teach children to unlearn the behavior. It’s fascinating, really, to witness just how much culture our children absorb by unlearning and learning in America. (I think that’s another blog post.)
There are ways and traditions that once practiced are hard to change. Like giving flowers to someone who has invited you over to their home. In Sweden you’d never arrive at someone’s house empty handed, but twice I’ve given flowers to people who have reacted with mild shock. It’s not “typically” what’s done so people don’t know what to say or they say too much. In Sweden flowers were appreciated, but never cause for a scene.
The most challenging part of getting reacquainted, has been keeping up with the pace of life in America. Life moves faster in these Fifty United States. We’re all driving. There’s no time to sit on the public train and read. We’re driving kids to school, driving to pick up dinner, driving to work. The drive-through lane at Starbucks is packed. People don’t have time to sit and chat and enjoy their drink, they need to get it on the go and get to the next thing.
I joined a yoga studio thinking I might meet some people, people who were a little more chill and relaxed, after all, yoga is all about taking time for yourself and deep breathing. Uh-ah, nope. Unlike in Sweden, where the instructor allowed for a five-minute resting period (called Shavasana) at the end of class, followed by everyone saying “Namaste” to each other and lingering to chit-chat. Here, after an intense 55-minute workout the instructor says “Namaste,” so folks can get up and leave if they want during the resting period.
America, you can’t rest!! Seriously. Sit for sixty seconds will you? Just relax. Chill. Hug someone.
I’ve always said when I move to a foreign country, “Don’t judge, it’s just different, not wrong.” That little phrase helped me navigate the unfamiliar ways of locals around the world. But I’m finding I need the same phrase here, in my own country. And maybe that is who we’ve become…a nation filled with different people who do things differently. And that’s okay, I’m not judging, I’m just trying to figure it out so I don’t get another traffic ticket or hug someone who doesn’t want to be hugged or find myself the last one lying on the yoga floor studio after everyone has packed up and left Shavasana. I’ll figure you out America…just give me some time and a hug.