Most expats will agree that the best time to tell people about another country is during the first few months you've moved there, when your capacity to see the new and different is the greatest and the freshness hasn't worn off. It's no different when you're moving back home. If not exactly new, everything still registers as different from before.
It was early days after our move to Tennessee. My car ran out of gas and I needed to get more. I dropped the kids off at school, consulted my GPS for the closest gas station, and a few minutes later pulled up at the pump in the pouring rain. And then I sat there, checking emails on my phone, and waiting for something to happen. Except nothing did happen.
Calling myself a “Respect for others and nature, golden-rule driven, don’t think I have all the answers and always curious about other people’s beliefs, suspicious of all religious dogma but love some rituals nonetheless, a heavy dose of doubt about the so-called word of god, all with a sprinkling of Buddhism” person just won’t do. Not in "Christian" Middle Tennessee.
If you're arriving on America's shores in a place like New York City, you might be forgiven for not noticing. But if your destination is a place like Tennessee, you will know at once: The USA is Christian country. There are more churches here per square foot than any other institution. You cannot drive for more than a few hundred yards before rounding on a church.
What bugs me about Valentine's Day in American schools is the forced nature of it. You are supposed to express your affection to someone by giving them a card or a gift, right? And that will make them happy? And what better way to make sure everyone is happy than to force everyone to give a card to everyone else, so that the affection gets spread equally. Like socialism.
Americans are incredibly welcoming towards newcomers, whether from within the country or from abroad. If you've listened to the political news coverage, you might not believe it, but what the people in Washington or in some state capitols say has usually nothing to do with the average person on the street. The average person invariably will be super nice.
"What the hell," I had said in our Brentwood house at 2:30 a.m. when I sat up in bed, having been roused by the most horrible wailing noise rising to a deafening crescendo every few seconds and then receding again. It took me a while to realize that it was not, in fact, an ambulance driving around in circles. "Yeah I know," said my husband, "what is this?" It was a tornado warning siren.
On our way to the U.S. from South Africa, we stopped over in Dubai. Some people will say Dubai is a shopper's paradise. But I totally disagree. Unless you enjoy rubbing elbows with a bazillion other people all trying to get ahead of you in a race to amass bagfuls of vastly overpriced items and then stand in line for hours to catch a taxi back home. No, the true shopper's paradise is the America.
America is BIG: Yes, everyone knows it's a big country, but that's not quite what I mean. There is just so much space here. Lots and lots of personal space for everyone. Wide roads, very neat and tidy. Huge parking lots. Supermarket aisles so wide you can barely see the other side. And all of it mostly empty. The only crowded places I could find so far were the Starbucks cafes.
I just thought I’d drop a few lines to tell you I haven’t vanished from the face of the Earth, but my family and I are on home leave in the U.S., enjoying a hot and humid summer and the company of good old friends. South Africa seems far, far away. But I do miss it. I miss the cool crisp ...