Categorized | Daily Life

The visit home – Part II

Posted on 25 June 2013 by American expat!

I visit the US twice a year. Part I was the winter visit, now here is Part II – Summer.

It is amazing how fast you adapt to the environment, especially if it is one you’re already familiar with. When I first arrived in California, I desperately missed not being able to walk out the door, grab a city bike or jump on the metro and just be out and moving. (It’s no huge mystery why Americans are so fat when we drive everywhere.) But cities have been designed, especially in the West, in a way that necessitates driving across the street or to the other side of the large parking lot instead of walking. Opting to walk is a strangely awkward experience. There is nowhere to walk through a parking lot. Sidewalks end abruptly, and the noise and proximity to so many moving cars is sometimes overwhelming, even in an older city that is considered foot traffic friendly like Little Italy in downtown San Diego.

But after a month in the US, what bothered me at first is now routine and comfortable. I find myself appreciating the quiet and privacy of being enveloped in a car everywhere I go. I am surprised and relieved that over the span of 4 weeks I have heard only one screaming child, whereas in Spain I can’t get through one day without bearing witness to literally dozens of fit throwing ankle biters. I really don’t hear a lot of yelling, which is also a daily experience in Spain.

I also start to notice things that a car culture manifests, things you don’t see elsewhere. For example, driving around, even on the freeways, people look at each other in their cars–I mean they make eye contact and gesture.  I’ve noticed a lot of flirting and smiling going on between drivers just as frequently as any frustration driven gestures and steely stares at other drivers. Friendly waves, mutual eye rolls at traffic, exchanges of bewildered glances at the crazy person dancing across the street. It is strange to notice that this goes on, but I see that it has to, because we are enclosed in our cars for so much of the day. We are social animals–we have to interact through the windows of our cars because otherwise perhaps it would be too lonesome and boring. 

A surprise for me was that for the first week of being here, and indeed for the first time in my life, I experienced restaurant service that was too fast. I had dinner the second day here with my father and it felt like the meal was over before it even started. I was enjoying the conversation with him and enjoying his company, during which the meal was served, done and the check presented before I could even finish one glass of wine. And then it happened again with a friend I was visiting the next week – suddenly the meal was over and the check presented, and I was only halfway into the conversation. Funny coming from me who complains about the slow service in Spain all the time. But after that I didn’t notice, and in fact the final week in the US I found myself wondering where the waiter was at dinner.

Upon arrival, I was giddy with how cheap everything is (thank you free trade and a complete absence of VAT). I also gushed at how big all my friends living spaces are, looking at the giant kitchens and endless storage spaces. But those feeling subsided too, and by the end of my trip, I returned with just a few key purchases and the realization that more living space for me would just mean more junk stored and forgotten.

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