It’s been a little more than two weeks since we arrived back in the USA. We have spent the time reconnecting with family and friends, relaxing in nature, and trying to readjust to all of the little things that make the United States unique. The reality that we aren’t simply on vacation, soon to return to our home in Latvia, is starting to set in… not necessarily in a bad way; rather, in a time-to-move-on kind of way. We’ve recovered from our jetlag, and hearing English spoken all around us has started to feel familiar once again.
Transitioning back to one’s home country after being away for such a long time is always a challenge, often more difficult than adjusting to the foreign culture ever was. I experienced the same thing when my family moved back to the United States from Germany after two and a half years when I was a child, and again after I returned home from the Peace Corps after living for two years in Bulgaria. It’s called reverse culture shock for a reason, and it’s impossible to prepare for it. Here are just a few observations I have made during the short time we’ve been back, which I had either become to used to living without, or had forgotten about completely:
- Air conditioning is alive and well, and set to full blast everywhere I go. Our first trip to the grocery store the day after we arrived in Seattle threatened to leave me with frostbite.
- Water (with ice) is served at every restaurant, whether you ask for it or not, and it’s free. I hadn’t realized that I missed this.
- Speaking of drinks, they are huge, and the refills are free.
- And speaking of huge, portion sizes at restaurants can feed a small village. Have they actually gotten larger since we left? It’s a good thing I like leftovers.
- In fact, everything feels so much bigger: the stores, the selections at the stores, the vast open spaces… everything!
- The roads are wide, and there are so. many. pick-up trucks. I think I’d seen approximately two during our time away, and one of them belonged to an embassy employee.
- The USA is a country of squirrels, while Latvia and Mexico are not. I have forgotten that each time we’ve been away, only to be reminded of it when Frieda notices a squirrel for the first time and I almost lose a limb as a result.
- Lawns are big and green, and there are plenty of sprinklers to water them.
- Shows like The View, The Talk, Ellen, and Phil are all still going strong, as is that Flo woman on the Progressive insurance commercials. It’s almost like we never left!
- On the subject of TV, there are new shows I’ve never heard of, as well as a lot of commercials, many of which are either for fast food or pharmaceuticals (perhaps a connection there?).
I could go on, as there are dozens of other, tiny things that have caught my eye, whether it’s the way the toilets flush, the light switches turn on and off, or the fact that there are rest stops with clean restrooms and beautiful parks on the side of the interstate highways. Some of these things have made me feel right at home again, while others have made me feel like a stranger. I suppose we will adjust in time.
Meanwhile, we are enjoying being able to see so many family members and friends whom we haven’t seen in a long time. Not seeing them is not something we ever get used to in this life, when and seeing them again is always the best part of coming back. So far, we have reunited with some good friends in Seattle, M.’s side of the family and friends on the Oregon coast and in his hometown in Washington State. Being on home leave (the required period of leave that all Foreign Service Officers must take in between assignments) can have it ups and downs, especially when we are on the move, trying to see as many people as we can in a month’s time. But, so far, ours has been a lot of fun, low stress, and filled with quality time with loved ones and the opportunity to see some really wonderful places in America the Beautiful.
We’ve also been able to experience some wonderful restaurants serving delicious plant-based foods during the short time we’ve been back, thanks to all of the research M. did before we left Riga.
With the first three legs of home leave already over, our next and final leg involves driving from Washington state to Washington, D.C., where we will settle for about a year before we leave the country again for our onward assignment in Russia. We will stop along the way to visit some sites, some of my family, and some friends. We made a similar journey in 2014 after leaving post in Mexico, taking the southern route across the USA. This time, we will travel through some of the northern states and the Midwest. And while living out of a suitcase is far from my favorite thing in the world (we are going on four weeks now), there is no better way to reconnect with our beloved country than with another Great American Road Trip.
Thank you for reading!