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Something about my life in America

(I started writing this post 10 days before the move and only finished it now. I struggled through it because the more time passed the more I felt I had to say and the less I felt I could make one good point. I've decided to post it because lots of it tells exactly how I feel, although on the whole it's a mess. It needs total rewriting, but I don't have that kind of time.)

Sadly my departure from the States coincides with my 10-year-anniversary of living here. I'd planned to write about it months ago. I was going to have a series of posts about all the things I've come to love and include some witty observations that would rival Bill Bryson's famous travel writing. It was going to be about all the places I've lived in and also some sweeping - yet moving - generalizations, it was going to be extensive and my vast readership would have been anxiously awaiting the next installment. It looked brilliant in my head, as it always does. There is no limit to my delusions.

Yet - I also knew from the start it was not going to happen. My choice was to just let it all go or sit down and write something, anything. I'm going with the latter. I promise nothing.

The advantage as a non-native is that you can make your mind up about everything in the new country because you have something to compare it to. The places you're from cling to you whether you want it or not, they are you. Some things you might not like, but you cannot separate from them. As a foreigner, they are not part of you until you let them. Coming here I was prepared for a lot of unhappiness, simply because I had changed countries before and knew that it's human nature to dislike newness - it's simple law of inertia. Despite any excitement you might feel about the new place, at the end of the day you will be disgruntled because it's just not what you're used to. I knew this was a phase, but still unavoidable. Most things I loathed I have now overcome through assimilation which led me to either understanding or acceptance.

Americans used to strike me as incredibly fake with their GREAT! AWESOME! I LOVE IT! HOW CAN I HELP YOU!? I reacted like any respectable European would: "Goodness, these people are so childish. Stop harrassing me, you're embarassing yourself." A true European (=sweeping, inaccurate generalization) does not let his - most likely always unfounded - enthusiasm run free in front of stranger. A cool, restrained and sceptical view of life is always recommended there. Unlike in America, where enthusiasm and positivity are everywhere. It's a lot to handle in the beginning. Constant bright sunshine can be sickening.

If you look at me now, I'm probably that sickeningly positive person. It's not like I wasn't before moving here, it's just that showing it would have seemed too banal. Culture is a language and I didn't speak that language. I appreciate it now as I do a million other things. Not because I would say it's the better way to communicate - in fact I don't believe there is a "best" way to communicate - but because it's part of who people are and I've come to love the people. I think it's impossible not to love the people. I consider it a special privilege I received from being multi-cultural, the opportunity to come to love people across cultural differences.

So I learned how to eat corn on the cob, not as an occasional fall treat, but as part of a meal, as a side dish. I found that most curious - and most delicious. I ate hamburgers a lot, not as a McDonalds specialty but a staple at every party and get-together, - and I liked it. And now, corn on the cob will conjure up a mesmerizing mix of images of lawns and paper plates and dear friends and sunsets and air smelling just so. It's a totally different world from anything I knew growing up but it is still familiar in its essence. It might sound cliche, but in the end whatever is strange and new and unacceptable at first eventually becomes clear through the prism of relationships. Everything I've come to know and learn about America was through people and regardless of whether I adopted it myself (... like calling everyone by their first name and pouring syrup on my food) or continued to find it unacceptable (...like the absolute rule of having to own and drive a car unless you live in a major City. What kind of freedom is this?) it could not be dismissed.

***

The one place that stands out for me is Connecticut, because we didn't choose it but it ended up being our home during some very significant times (two babies, several forever friends...). I'm surprised myself how much I came to love it, because I've practiced detachment from places all my life and this one snuck up on me. Actually the whole Northeast charmed me with its ocean and old houses and an incredible mix of people. Some people in Danbury lamented the rapid increase in immigrants. I loved it. As a homeland-challenged person I felt we had so much in common even if our cultures were worlds apart. I understood every Brazilian restaurant and Indian store as someone's bittersweet pain for the place they left and the need to recreate a piece of home in the new world. Immigrants carry themselves differently when they walk in those places and I was grateful they brought their country here. Who knows if I'll ever get to go to Ecuador, but I feel like I've been there a little already. Everyone who's from somewhere else has a whole other identity they have to set aside in the new place, but that doesn't mean it's gone. I like to look for it when I meet someone. I have it myself, I know what it's like to have to put a part of you on hold. America is full of new and old immigrants. It's probably one of my favorite things about it.

Like I said above, I was going to dedicate lots of blog space to each and every place I've lived in or visited, but I find it impossible to do. I can't really put it into words without slipping into sentimentalities. I've rewritten a few paragraphs and then scrapped it all. I can't. Too many feelings, that kind of stuff. Maybe it'll all come out down the road.

***

Once you know someone, every memory with this person turns the anonymous place into your life. I am so grateful for every person that made the US my life. People like to talk about what this country has to offer. And it does have a lot to offer, but for me this was never on top of the list. Lots of places have great things to offer. But just like in a friendship, a friend is a friend not because of the gifts they give you, but simply for being who they are.

Posted at 02:32 PM on July 26, 2010