Thursday, July 24, 2008


I've received so many nice e-mails congratulating me on our impending return to the USA. "Congratulations and welcome home!" they say, and it's a reminder of one of the reasons we're moving back, the embrace of those who know us and like us and want to have us around. When I am feeling generous and self-confident, I imagine these people are saying, "Congratulations on a new phase of life, on Jeff's new job, on making a big decision!"

But if I'm honest, my initial reaction to these messages is horror that all these people think the past three years have been nothing but a long slow trudge and toil toward the ultimate goal of getting the hell out of here. That they believe I call Jeff at work twice a day and say, "Have you checked It looks like they need a greeter at The Gap in Los Angeles?" (If you know Jeff, you see that this is a funny joke because he would hate nothing more than a job where he must stand in a mall and talk cheerfully with tanned strangers all day long.) I can't imagine why anyone might believe that leaving Germany is a triumph for me, unless they read my blog, and posts like this one, or heard me whining about how the Germans are cranky and don't believe in air conditioning or elevators, or somehow got the vibe that it's going to take a vat of authentic Baja Fresh salsa to make me happy. Well, maybe it's not such a mystery.

In fact, moving back doesn't seem so much a victory as a wobbly step toward a place where we know we should be. Germany is definitely not home, but even after just three years away, our old hometown seems like our OLD hometown. It has all the stuff I've been craving since I left - books I can read, movies I can see, shampoo that doesn't wreak havoc with my scalp, and above all a support system and language I can understand. But when I think about having all that stuff and more, lit up and blinking and declaring its presence all around me, all the time, I get a little panicky. All those Sundays I spent complaining about how there was NOTHING TO DO and NO ONE TO DO IT WITH around here are coming back to haunt me, because now I'm concerned that I will never relax since something delightful will always, perpetually be around the corner - farmers' markets! family birthday parties! that new Kashmiri restaurant that opened last week! the X-Files movie! - and I will never ever have a moment to just sit down and eat the burrito that currently lives only in my dreams.

I hope I'll remember the lessons I've learned from this culture and from the reserved yet kind Germans who have taught me that a long walk in the park is sometimes better than a drive to the mall for an Orange Julius, and that sometimes it's nice only to have a nodding acquaintance with the scruffy bearded guy who lives next door instead of knowing every detail of his life story. I am even calmed a bit when I try to imagine those congratulatory messages through a different lens, and wonder how a German might respond to his friend who has announced she is moving back home after a stint abroad. It is unlikely that he would use any exclamation marks (in fact I think the exclamation mark takes finger gymnastics on a German keyboard, not surprising). He would probably say something along these lines: "I hope your husband's new job is with a stable company and don't forget, the taxes here are high. Your mother will be lucky to have you nearby to help with her health problems. Please call us at Christmas and we will make an appointment for coffee." Translation: Welcome home!


Maria said...

Um. Welcome home? ;-)

Anne said...

Oh boy do I empathise/sympathise. I know exactly how you feel. I keep telling myself, it will be great when I get there. And we've learnt a lot, haven't we? Haven't we?

Nicole said...

May I gently recommend that your first few days home do not include (1) a meal at Perkins or similar or (2) a prolonged trip to Costco/Albertsons/BuyMore? I almost went into some kind of shock when we were greeted like long-lost friends by the waitress at Perkins, even though we'd never been there before. I mean, why the hell was she smiling so much? What was with all the small talk and the friendly chatter? I knew the restaurant script in Prague and had totally forgotten it here.

Even now I still feel sometimes like I am "faking" the way I fit into my home culture. I know exactly how I'm *supposed* to act, but it doesn't feel real somehow.

You can never go home again, not in the same way. It's not bad, it's just different.

geoff said...

How do you feel when you find out that some people are indifferent about whether you are coming back? Or, for that matter, didn't realize you were even gone until 8 months after you'd left?