I’m a Stranger Here Myself

So here I am home again after 10 months away, with just a 2 week interlude at Christmas time.  Coming to America then after 4 months abroad, it was nice to be home; it was such a whirlwind that I didn’t have too much time to notice differences.  But now after 6 straight months, after Liguria started to feel like home, after I’ve gone through all the phases of culture shock and adjusted to life in Italy . . . coming home has been . . .surreal.

Back in my city with my Starbucks Iced Coffee and the Empire State Building in the background

Back in my city with my Starbucks Iced Coffee and the Empire State Building in the background

Of course home is comfortable.  And it’s wonderful not to work, focusing on traveling, seeing friends, and just curling up on a couch with a book or my computer and this blog.  🙂  But it has definitely been a kind of reverse culture shock that has had me feeling weird and sometimes overwhelmed.

They say, “Leave New York before you get too hard; leave Los Angeles before you get too soft.”  I chose Italy instead of Cali, I guess.  Same idea.  But while I’m still known around the school and the hood for my “tough, no nonsense, get it done and get it done now style” I have learned to relax and slow down more.  I have that side of me that loves “Il dolce far niente,” the sweetness of doing nothing, as the Italians like to say.  In New York, that is viewed as time wasted, and we’d be criticized for being unproductive.  Let me tell you, I love to chillax’ and I brought that peace right here to my couch and the local beaches.

Jones Beach Field 6 in Long Island -- where I went Saturday (not my own photo)

Jones Beach Field 6 in Long Island — where I went Saturday (not my own photo)

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A local swimming hole by my parents’ house. I used to be the head lifeguard here for many years. Now I just enjoy the sand and fresh water swimming.

Before boarding the plane, I had a strange thought.  “I’m heading back to a gun culture.”  A thought that never really crossed my mind until I had so much time away from it.  I could walk around Genoa at 3am, and often did.  Even in the “bad” neighborhoods, you wouldn’t have to worry about guns, and shootings were not really in the news.  I lived in a neighborhood in the Bronx where I used to hear gunshots periodically, sometimes once or twice a month or more.  I got used to it, and I knew how to protect myself and avoid dangerous situations.  But now that I’ve . . .softened . . . I’m wondering if I let my guard down too much.  I have to remind myself to watch my back but to avoid fear.  My coworker Paul said it best: “Genoa is so peaceful and passive.  We really don’t have much to worry about here, do we?”  And that has been nice.

There have been other moments of reverse culture shock that I will list.  Not necessarily bad, just clearly different.

  • Driving my car, I realized I didn’t have those smooth, sharp skills and couldn’t just parallel park her like a thoughtless breeze.  I did, however, improve my scooter skills during the past few months.
  • In the grocery store, I was overwhelmed and almost didn’t know how to handle it.  All the variety of foods that I couldn’t find for months.  Cheddar, all kinds of cheddar all over the place. Mexican, Thai, all kinds of options.  Yum!  And then aisles and aisles of pre-packaged, processed or frozen foods — foods that taste great but are filled with things that poison us.  I learned really quickly once I moved to Italy that my health, fitness, weight and general well being improved in days just by eating fresh food.  I missed a lot of these foods, but I knew that I couldn’t just dive in and gorge because my body is not used to it.  How do I shop now?  And oh wow, that blood orange juice from Italy is $7, where I could get it for 2 euros in Italy.
  • In Duane Reed, waiting for a train, I spent the time walking up and down the aisles at the absolute variety of products.  Dozens and dozens of options for shampoo, deodorant, even 5 types of nail scissors.  In Italy, you got the few items (or item) that the store chose.  And I saw Opi nail polish for $9.  It’s 17 euros in Genoa!  I just walked up and down, and left without anything. I have trained myself that I don’t need that much stuff, and ultimately can’t afford it.  But I was just mesmerized by the variety.
  • Walking through the streets of Manhattan, I heard English everywhere and felt comfortable.  And the streets were wide, big.  Manhattan is cramped and overbuilt, but there was space.  Genoa consists of tiny streets, alleys, roads where you have to squish up against a wall to avoid being slammed by a passing car’s mirror.
  • Lying in the sand at the beach. It was powdery, soft, take it home with you type sand.  So different from my pebbles or the trucked-in “tiny pebbles” that some beaches have.
  • Lawns and trees.  I’m staying at my parents’ house in the leafy suburbs in NJ, 25 minutes from Manhattan.  There are green, landscaped lawns everywhere.  Tall trees, pine trees, so many different types of vegetation.  I was worried how I’d react after leaving so much sublime and stunning beauty, but I have come to realize that it’s still beautiful here, just a different type of beauty. And I’m enjoying it.
  • Tipping.  As I purchased my Starbucks Iced Coffee from a drive through — how American!– I saw the tip jar and remembered to throw in a buck before grabbing my marshmallow dream bar.  I have to remind myself I’m back in a tipping culture.  In Genoa, you don’t really tip at all, except maybe a euro or two at the hair salon.  When I went out to eat, I had to remind myself that the bill was more than I thought.  I’m afraid I’ve turned so European that I’d accidentally leave without tipping — but luckily, I’ve been with others so far.  I did have that mistake in Ireland after a haircut when I walked out without tipping more than a couple of euros, then went back to be sure they got their 10 percent.  oops!  And as we know, the US is a 20 percent culture.  It’s so weird to me after so much time in Europe where it’s included.  But I know all too well that servers don’t get paid much.  When I worked at Chili’s after college before my Australian jaunt and then eventually grad school, I only made 2 bucks an hour on the clock!  Then I had to report my tips.  I needed those tips, and what I actually made wasn’t mine because I had to tip out to the bartender, the expeditor, the food runners, etc.  Whew.  Anyways, differences.

This is all that’s on my mind for now.  I’ll continue to post as they come to me.  It’s fun to drive the same roads and bridges, sit in the same diners and cafes, and visit the beaches and city streets that I missed so dearly during my time away almost as much as the faces of those I love.  But I’m not the me of Summer 2012 . . . I’m slightly European and it’s all slightly foreign.  Very interesting.

bryson

I can’t even imagine how comedy author Bill Bryson felt after moving back to the USA after living in England with his wife and children for 20 years.  Upon his return, he published the book I’m A Stranger Here Myself, which I have chosen as the title of this post.

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