Monday, November 2, 2009

Back in the land of big cars, frozen foods and green money

So I'm back. I've been here for nearly three weeks now.

After being away for almost two and a half years, I was a bit worried that coming back to the US would be a shocking experience. I wondered what sort of things I'd have to readjust to upon 'reentry.' I wondered if I'd feel out of place. Just as I'd had to adapt to Romanian culture, I thought perhaps my return to the States would require a similar period of adjustment.

My conjectures turned out to be partly true, partly exaggerated. My first day back felt very strange, surreal even. I couldn't believe that after all this time I was back on my native soil. However, as those initial feelings of weirdness dissipated, I wasn't confronted with the sort of sweeping cultural shock that I had vaguely imagined. On the whole, things seem fairly normal. And, there are certainly many things about life in the States that I appreciate more after being away for so long.

Nevertheless, I keep noticing lots of little things here and there that strike me as odd. For example, on the highway from New York to Connecticut, I couldn't help but notice the sheer number of big cars. I mean, it seemed like every other vehicle was a truck or SUV. They say things are big in America, but only now do I see how true this is. When I got home, I was astonished at the size of our kitchen refrigerator. 'Good God,' I thought, 'I could probably fit four medium-sized adults in there and still have room for a casserole!' Things here are just big. Period. Even tubes of toothpaste are huge! Although, there is at least one item that's decidedly smaller around these parts: the common beer bottle.

I've also had issues with the money. First off, the bills just look plain weird. After not seeing greenbacks for such a long time, their shape seems odd to me now, as does their green color. Secondly, I've been struggling with the idea that 4 quarters equal one dollar (despite the fact that they're called 'quarters,' which should be an immediate tip-off). Their size and weight remind me of Romanian 50 Bani pieces, or 50 Euro-cent pieces. Thus, I automatically assume that 2 quarters equal 100 cents. At the JFK airport I wanted to use a payphone to call my parents and let them know I'd landed (cost: $1.00, clearly marked on the front of the payphone). I put in two quarters and attempted to make the call. Of course, the machine wouldn't put the call through, but I sat there for a good ten minutes trying and trying again, scratching my head after each failed attempt.

Another thing is transportation. In Europe I got quite used to being able to ride my bike or walk just about anywhere in town. However, here the towns tend to be much more spread out and walking/biking is not always easy, safe or practical. I'm finding this point a bit difficult to adjust to. I've promised myself to ride a bicycle as much as possible (and one of my first activities upon coming home was to get my old bike back into working order). Although, having said this, I have to admit that being able to drive again is pretty liberating.

Other things of note:
--I've returned to find the country in the throes of controversy over a public health care system, a controversy that seems silly to me.
--For many Americans, the DMV is a source of dread. The long lines and disgruntled employees are to be avoided at all costs. However, I have to say that my most recent trip to the DMV to register my truck was a walk in the park compared to many of my service experiences in Romania.
--Everyone has an iPhone and they're all twittling and tweeting about websites, movies, tv shows, music and all sorts of other stuff that I've been missing out on.
--It's strange to have access to dishwashers and microwaves. At one point my mother walked into the kitchen to find me washing some dishes by hand. She said to me, 'Michael we have a dishwasher, you know.' The thought hadn't even crossed my mind.
--A few things have changed here and there, but most everything seems to have stayed the same. Even still my perception has changed, and I'm looking at everything with new eyes. There are many familiar old places or things that seem somehow unfamiliar to me now, and even my home doesn't completely feel like my home anymore.

All in all, it's good to be back. I'm living with mom and dad for the time being. I'm currently pretty busy helping them finish a new addition off the back of the house. I've also been spending a lot of time reconnecting with family and friends. My first meal after the return flight was good ol' Pepe's pizza, but I still have a long list of specialty foods that I'm craving. I'm looking forward to this Thanksgiving moreso than ever before. Mmmm, pumkin cheesecake!

So, what's my next step? The simple answer is I have no idea whatsoever. I'm hoping to find a job somewhere, doing something. But as far as specific plans go, I haven't got any ideas yet. However, I'm sure it'll all come together. In fact, this stage is pretty exciting. I'm not really tied down anywhere, and nearly anything is possible. It's like a new beginning!

So my journey has ended; my time as a Peace Corps volunteer is now behind me. As such, I bring this blog to a close. Time to start the next chapter...