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!)
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.
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.