Tuesday, July 31, 2012


So here's the thing. I've now been back in the USA for more than two months, and have just completely and utterly failed at writing absolutely any of my backlog of blog posts. (Side note: "backlog of blog" is kind of hard to say.) I could blame a lot of things for this (readjustment period, zillions of job applications, getting stuff done at my parents' soon-to-be-sold house, not wanting to think about France and travelling once I was stuck back at my parents' house cleaning and applying for jobs, simple laziness...), but rather than getting into all that, I'm just going to get right to the blogging.

But before I start trying to go back and remember all the things I had to say while I was abroad, here are some things about coming back:

1. The jet-lag was murder. My goodness. I've always said that it's worse when flying west than when flying east, but now I'm starting to wonder if there's also some kind of correlation between the severity of jet-lag and the length of time you were somewhere else. Because my trips to Europe have lengthened over time, and my jet-lag has gotten exponentially worse right along with them. Maybe I'm just getting old, I don't know. But I don't remember my short trips in high school creating much of a time zone problem. Then when I came home back from Ireland, there were several days where I was kind of dragging myself around and never quite sure what time it was. Then there was coming back from France this year. I got home late on a Wednesday night (or, according to my body at the time, in the wee hours of Thursday morning), and it took until Sunday for me to feel like I was operating by the right clock again. And in between, I bordered on being non-functional at times. It wasn't just that I was hungry at the wrong times, or sleepy at the wrong times, or NOT sleepy at the wrong times; it was that plus wandering around in a haze, constantly tired, never really knowing even what time I thought it was, let alone what time it actually was, and unable to think straight half the time.

The morning after getting back, after going to bed around 11 pm EDT (5 am France time), I slept until 11 am, was dragging all day, and somehow managed to stay up until something like 10 or 11 that night, only to wake up again in the wee hours of the morning, unable to go back to sleep until I finally gave up around 5 am and started my day. That evening I went out with friends and was half asleep at the table by 8 or 9 pm. I then had to be woken up at 10 the next morning lest I sleep half the day away, and continued to be slow and sleepy all that day, too. At some point in all that it's like I stopped being on France time without being back on Eastern time and there just wasn't anything consistent about it. It was ridiculous.

2. Speaking of ridiculous, I totally forgot how to use my American phone (which, by the way, is a basic old, super-simple flip phone like nobody cool uses anymore). I was pushing wrong buttons and not knowing where to find things for a good week after I came back.

3. It was super weird not to need plug adaptors for any of my electronics. I kept picking up something to plug in and looking around for the nearest adaptor before realizing I didn't have one handy, and didn't need to. Derp. Everything just fits, and it's beautiful.

4. Driving was interesting. Not that I'd forgotten how, exactly, but I definitely had to get used to it again. And I dove right in, too, taking off to visit friends in Oberlin less than 48 hours after getting back. I felt super awkward backing out of the garage and was weirdly nervous and uncertain once I got on the road. I kept being afraid I was going to mess something up or forget something important. By the time I made it to the interstate, I was feeling more comfortable about it, but then I had to re-learn how to use the cruise control and the air conditioner settings, and I stayed more or less worried about my driving ability for the next couple of days. I've done a lot of driving since, because my current lifestyle is one I've been calling migratory, but I admit I'm still working on getting my parallel parking skills back, because I haven't been called upon to do that all that often in the last couple of months.

5. Where are all of the bakeries? And sandwicheries? And crêpes? We need those things here. Desperately. Also, America apparently doesn't know what quality bread is supposed to be like. However, pizza and Dr. Pepper and donuts and pie and peanut butter and American breakfast foods and iced coffee/assorted elaborate coffee-based drinks and most especially any and all Mexican/Mexican-influenced food are all amazing and I cannot stop being in love with them. Especially the last two. In short: There are food things I miss every day and there are also food things I can't believe I went eight months without, or almost without. I want there to be a magical place where I can have it all, all the time.

6. On a related note, my first trip to an average American grocery store* was kind of overwhelming. First of all, they are typically bigger and with more variety than the average French grocery store. Second of all, they're just so different. All the different kinds of things that are available here and not there or vice versa, or that are available in assorted varieties here and not there or vice versa. The way things are grouped and packaged is different, too, in addition to the products themselves. And of course my shopping lists are dramatically different because of the way food is different. I can't even really articulate it all properly. It's just such a different experience. And don't even get me started on places like Target...

7. Alcohol is so outrageously expensive here. Like, the first time I went to buy a bottle of wine from an American grocery store, I couldn't believe my eyes. I was also taken aback when the cashier asked me for an I.D. What? You mean everyone doesn't drink? And that's enforced?** Anyway, I think I spent more on alcohol my first weekend back in the States than I did in some entire months while I was abroad. And I didn't even do that much drinking that weekend, honest! (See previous comments about jet-lag if you don't believe me!) Especially not comparatively.

8. I was pretty excited about having access to all of my stuff again, and particularly to all of my clothes, because you can bet that after eight months I was pretty tired of the things I had with me. But it turns out the simpler you keep your life--the less stuff you're used to having or needing or wanting--the weirder it is to be faced with more stuff. I got to my parents' new house the day after returning to the States, and I opened the door to the closet where I'd left all my clothes... and I just stood there and stared for a minute before closing it and putting on something I'd brought home with me. I didn't know where to start. I had no idea how much stuff I owned, or why I had it. I still don't, I guess; I've just gotten used to it again. I've never been all that inclined to acquire a lot of stuff I don't need, but living and traveling abroad has wittled that lack of interest down even further, and I came back with a lot of perspective about what is and isn't "necessary", to boot. I've gotten rid of a lot since coming back, and I have a lot more to go through. And I still have too much, but it's getting better.

9. Everything is just different. I'm not going to dwell on this, because I can't explain it any better than I could the supermarket thing, but it's like... The vegetation is different. The animals are different. The buildings and houses are different. The cars are different. The way towns are laid out is different. The people and their clothes are different. The street signs and road signs and highway signs and license plates and billboards are different. It's all very subtle, but it's all very real, and taken all together it packs kind of a punch when you've been gone a long time.

So that's that, for now. I'm sure I will think of some more things to add later, and I'm probably not entirely done discovering things that are weird or surprising about my re-American life, even though I'm pretty well readjusted at this point. In any case, my homecoming was bittersweet, as I guess they usually are. I was, as I told many people at the time, ready to come home but not ready to leave Europe. I don't think the transition is ever simple, emotion-wise. But here I am, and hopefully in the coming weeks I will find the time and motivation to write some more about my adventures abroad and thoughts on France and expats and culture and so forth. Until then.

* My actual first trip to an American grocery store was to Trader Joe's, which was weird and exotic but not on quite the same level as subsequent trips to Giant and Weis.
** Increasingly not well, though, judging by the proportion of times I've gotten carded subsequently.

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