Like many American expats, June is the month our family boarded a plane back to the U.S. It’s always surreal to arrive back in the Land of the Free and Home of the Big Gulp. And there’s nothing like the first few hours, when your brain is in an economy-class-induced stupor from the flight.
Here are some observations from stumbling through our first evening back in the U.S. after living overseas for multiple years.
1. Americans are super chatty
This started even before we hit the ground. Somewhere 30,000 feet above Alaska, a nice young lady wanted to have an in-depth conversation with me as we both stood pressed up to the edge of the galley waiting for a turn in the lavatory. She asked me all kinds of questions: why was I flying to L.A., why had I been in China, etc. etc. Then, since my answers were short and I was not asking her questions back, she volunteered all her own answers to keep the conversation going. I wasn’t trying to be rude. I was honestly confused why she was so interested in talking to me. This “small talk” – what is, please?
2. Americans are super smiley
Why are they all smiling??? You are truly that stoked to ring up my purchases? If that’s the case, I think I chose the wrong profession.
3. LAX baggage claim is a good transitional space for global nomads
It’s a world between worlds where we are surrounded by people who have just stepped off flights from nearly every continent. Announcements are all made in two languages: first the language of whatever country the airline was from (I counted at least German, Korean, Chinese, and Russian), then in thickly accented English. To an expat, that feels amazingly comfortable, and it’s a good baby step before having to face the next item…
4. Americans are loud and use a lot of profanity
Getting fast food is like being forced to listen in on everyone’s conversations about all the incredibly mundane (yet drama filled) things that are happening with their exes. And man, do they get salty when they talk about their exes.
5. I am still in China mode
I search the stall for the wastebasket to throw my toilet paper in. Wrong country. My son didn’t pack a toothbrush because he knew we’d get them at the hotel. Wrong country. I’m irritated when we check in to our hotel that they didn’t provide four bottles of drinking water because now we’re going to have to go find a xiaomaibu to buy more for our family. Wrong country. (Pro tip: You can drink the tap water here!)
Read: A Story Only China Expats Will Mingbai
6. I am terribly behind the times
I didn’t know about the no-bag rule in Los Angeles (100% used to it in China, but it didn’t cross my mind to cram reusable bags in my carry-on.) I don’t know how to insert my payment card into the chip reader. (“Chip reader” – what is, please?) I thought “cold brew” was a chilled beer. There are push buttons to start the car’s engine, close the rear door, and fold down the seats, all of which our cheerful rental car lady demonstrates for us because we look astounded. Fresh off the boat, my dear.
Read: Flipping Switches (or, How Hard it is to Switch Back to the “Right” Country)
7. I am so stinkin’ happy to be back
They have socks that fit my teenage son’s feet. He has outgrown all the shoe and sock sizes available in China off-the-rack. Nobody pays any attention to me, and this is a good thing. Cars stop for pedestrians. They have root beer and unlimited napkins. And, finally…
8. We can eat tacos!!!
In fact, that is my husband’s one request for our arrival to the States: to get proper tacos as our first meal. The place is packed and seating is limited, so we end up sharing a table with a small family who are speaking Spanish to each other in relatively quiet tones. Love it. They nod and smile to us as we sit but don’t seem to be too interested in making small talk with us. I love them more. We do say we’ve just arrived on an international flight. They grin, say “welcome back” and explain that this taco shop is where they always get their first meal after getting back to the U.S. We laugh at the similarity, feel warm fuzzies from the camaraderie, then we go back to speaking to our own families in our own languages. I love them SO MUCH.
Somehow, it’s the perfect way to kick off our time back in the United States.
Americans Drive on the Left and Other Truths I’ve Learned
The Top 5 Questions I Get Asked on Both Sides of the Pacific
Flipping Switches (or, How Hard it is to Switch Back to the “Right” Country)
June 29, 2017 at 11:37 pm
I had to laugh, you know I did, as walked though the exact same things 2 years ago! The chip reader, the profanity (even among us gentle Canadians 🙂 ), baggage claim, smiley people, push button starters (that only caught us a month ago!)…Fresh Off the Boat indeed. Praying for you all from the same experience. Jia you for the long haul Jackson clan.
June 30, 2017 at 2:53 am
Bad words up there, too? What is the world coming to? 😉 Yeah, I think we are just a few steps behind you guys. Thanks for the prayers!
June 30, 2017 at 6:08 am
And I’m so thrilled to have you back in the land of the free and the home of the loud and smiling voluble! Now I can toss all the Taco Bell salsa packs I’ve been collecting to mail to you!
June 30, 2017 at 7:21 am
No lack of salsa here, that is for sure!
June 30, 2017 at 10:28 am
Great post. They still call them xiaomaibu where you are? I haven’t heard that one in years. Where’s the bianlidian?
June 30, 2017 at 1:06 pm
I think a lot of them even have bianlidian on the sign, but they still get called xiaomaibu. Maybe it’s a regional thing? Or maybe the nice, new chain ones are bianlidian. The old mom & pop ones are xiaomaibu?
July 1, 2017 at 4:45 am
Love reading your musings. Always so relatable and entertaining. Welcome home!!
July 1, 2017 at 6:00 am
Thank you very much! I’m always happy to have you as a reader. 🙂
July 3, 2017 at 4:21 pm
When we were back last summer, the chip reader issue drove us mad. After a few fumbles in major stores, we roll up to the gas station like, “We got this.” Nope, not all gas stations and small stores can do it. Also, when ordering our first off-the-plane meal, I dissolved into a fit of laughter because the cashier asked me 4 different questions about how to personalize my order, and I could understand everything she said. Done.
July 4, 2017 at 11:40 am
Those are great, Cari! I have had several times now when I am interacting with someone like a cashier and I subconsciously think, “wow, their English is really good.” Eventually my brain will figure it out. 😉
July 4, 2017 at 5:36 am
Oh Emily. Welcome “home”. Home is…please?
July 4, 2017 at 11:36 am
Ha ha! Thank you!
July 28, 2017 at 2:52 am
The toilet paper is so soft (softer than the bed pads in China) and you don’t need to bring any with you. I’m happy because I won’t need to clean my pockets out from the washer with accidentally left behind small tissues for a few months!
No VPN. I can use the internet freely and it is weird.
My feet hurt from NOT walking everywhere. Driving is tiring. Bleh
July 29, 2017 at 1:48 am
Great additions, Matt! So true.
August 30, 2017 at 11:26 pm
Well said as always Emily. Chatty, smiley and profane just about sums it up.
August 31, 2017 at 10:00 am
Thanks, Jerry, glad you liked it! (And honored to have you as a reader. :))