Listen, people. Let me tell you something slightly ridiculous. If I had cowboy boots, I would be wearing them right now. Probably with cut-off jeans and a plaid shirt with pearl-snap buttons. And a cowboy hat. And I would be line dancing. That’s how much I’ve been enjoying America.
I’m visiting home and for the first time, I feel somehow not totally American. I mean, yes, I’m definitely American and I would never give that up or trade it, even for the joy of coming from a culturally neutral, globally inoffensive country. But somehow I am noticing the things that make America American… the qualities and characteristics that might take a little bit of an outsider’s perspective. I don’t know… maybe I’m completely off-base here… but there is this part of me that seems to have taken on a European perspective and is seeing the United States with a freshness that I have never had before.
Or maybe I’m just dreaming all these things up.
But these are the things that feel American to me–things I’ve noticed so far that feel different from what I’m used to but not unfamiliar, peculiarities that remind me of what it’s like here. Driving everywhere. Listening to the radio station that plays “80s, 90s, and Now.” Talking on a cell phone while driving. Country music. Strangers initiating conversation with you in the grocery store and while waiting in lines. Uninhibited friendliness. Slurpees. Free samples in the grocery store. People in my hometown (people I didn’t know that well but grew up around) actually caring what I’m doing with my life. Fake food. (Not what my mom cooks, of course. What you find in bags and boxes in the grocery store.) Extreme tanning. Exercising in public (especially women). Fat teenagers.
Here are things that are starting to feel like habits that might be strange, particular. Seeing people only once a year. Seeing people for the first and last time for years. Meeting up with friends for one hour and talking nonstop about everything as fast as possible to catch up, then hugging and saying goodbye again. Not knowing when you’ll be back. Being told, “I’m living vicariously through you,” by nurses and dental hygienists at the doctor and the dentist my family always goes to. Having all my doctors’ appointments and haircuts and financial documents taken care of in one week. Packing. Repacking. Basing purchasing decisions on whether the item in question is transportable.
My parents are moving from their house of 20+ years. Everything here has to be ready to go. Then I’m moving from Vienna to Lund. Everything there has to be ready to go. I was so excited in February when I thought I would be living in Vienna for a full year, and I thought I would finally be breaking the cycle of moving every six months. It looks like I’m at it again. I’m happy—life couldn’t be better on all fronts—but in this moment, surrounded by all the clutter I’ve collected and the clutter I’m choosing to box up and keep, I’m also a little sad.