Thursday, April 1, 2010

Culture Shock/ Things That Make You Go Hmmmm

I just sat down to what seems like the World's Largest Medium Cappuccino. I'm back in my hometown of Media, PA, mooching off the wi-fi at the Coffee Club, and wondering, "was a medium always so large??" It's the largest cappuccino I've seen in a long time. Actually, it's the first time I've had to specify a size in a long time. And I'm enjoying it here in the café-- in a paper cup?? With a paper sleeve? What planet am I on?!

My hometown, Media, PA (whose motto is "Everbody's Hometown!") is a cute-as-a-button town just outside Philadelphia. I was born and raised here, then fled to boarding school at age 14, Oregon at age 18, and the rest of the world after that... I generally come back about once or twice a year for a visit to my dad and niece and the few friends and family members I have left here, and I always have the same conflicting feelings-- I'm from here, and it's my hometown (ahem, and everybody's) and I love it, but I'm also a stranger here in many ways. I run into people on the street that I haven't seen since middle school, and it's just, well, WEIRD!

Anyway, what a funny place to go through my culture shock. I arrived in Philly yesterday, after an uneventful and surprisingly pleasant 15 hour journey from Buenos Aires. Unlike the trip down to Argentina, when I sat next to an obese Texan who spent a solid 6 hours lopping over his seat into mine and dissing my political opinions (which I never told him but he assumed from my appearance), this time I was seated for the first leg next to a beautiful 65 year old tango dancer from Key West, a fellow aries and firey woman who treated me to a couple bottles of wine while we chatted, and then I had the whole row to myself on the second leg of the journey. I didn't sleep more than a couple hours total the whole time, but at least it was relatively pleasant. Seeing my dad waiting for me at the airport brought a genuine smile to my face, and my reunion with my beautiful, almost-12-year-old niece, Natalia, last night made me realize all over again just how lucky I am. Since that moment I've been happily surprised to feel totally comfortable with my return, totally ready for this change, and totally open to whatever happens next. I'm not, basically, suffering, homesick, or wishing things were different. I'm just happy to be here and enjoying the moment!

But let's go backward a second-- When I finally hit American soil in Miami yesterday at 4:30am, for the first time in 15 months, I ended up spending my first moments (aka my 4 hour layover) sitting at an airport cafe drinking coffee and eating Cuban-style homefries. First things I noticed: salt AND pepper on the table (the Argentines think black pepper is too spicy, because they have wimpy palettes, and you rarely if ever see the stuff on the table), napkins that are absorbent (no more wax-coated napkins! woo hoo!), and even more mind-blowing, the waiter brought me a free glass of iced water, without me even asking! I literally almost sent it back, thinking maybe he'd confused me with someone else. But then it hit me-- no, I'm in the US, a magical land in which tap water at a restaurant is free.

Of course it's always strange and wonderful and scary all at the same time, to come back to the United States after a long time away. The infinite varieties of everything at the average grocery store, for example, are nothing short of mesmerizing, and I keep saying "Hola, que tal?" when I enter a place, and "Chau" when I leave. But my culture shock is minimal this time, because this is the 4th time I have come back to the States after a long time away, and I'm starting to figure out how it works. Plus, I know that this was the right time to come back (I can just feel it) and I'm happy to be here, and that certainly helps.

Life is a-okay: I'm well-rested (slept 12 hours last night), well-loved (the look on Natalia's face when I walked into her house to surprise her almost brought me to my knees), and well-nourished (bagels with cream cheese, chicken noodle soup, soft pretzels with spicy mustard, and dad's cooking!).

On tonight's agenda: eating my dad's shrimp scampi for dinner, followed by a sleepover with Natalia. Tomorrow: gardening with dad, and maybe a night out on the town with old Media friends. My future: unkown. And what could be cooler than that?