I always go through some level of culture shock when I come back to the States. I never expect it, but it manages to get me every time.
I’m in San Francisco, the first time back “home” in a year. The curse of falling for a foreign country (France), and actually having the good fortune to live there, is you’re forever split between two places, two cultures. I haven’t yet decided if it’s a good curse or a bad one. There’s no denying that I feel foreign (American?) when I’m in France, and each time I come to America I seem to feel less American (dare I say more French?). What an awkward thing to feel in the country I grew up in.
My first days in San Francisco, I’ve actually kind of felt like I’m in a foreign country- observing the world around me as though I’ve never seen it before. Re-adjusting back to the way things are done here. Some first impressions: the blown-up size of everything (yep, that gets me every single time – from cars, to streets, to billboards, to houses, to the sky, to milk cartons); the elongated, high-pitched sirens of fire-trucks and police cars; the casual, friendly attire worn by just about everyone (from hand-knit bonnets to bicycler’s gloves without fingertips); and, since I’ve been learning all about French driving this year, the straightforward way people drive. I never thought signing up for French driving lessons would bring me to such deep reflections (which I think I’m going to end up writing an entire book about), but it is so true that French and Americans do not take the same approach to driving. And I, the walker, have to adjust according to where I am. In France, for example, you have to throw yourself into the crosswalk before anyone will stop for you. Until I learned that cars don’t have to stop unless you’re actually “engaged” in the crosswalk, I spend many a long moment waiting on the side of the road, waiting for someone to halt (not wanting to be killed by the rapidly approaching vehicles of course). Here, in San Francisco, I’m just standing on the corner of the street, showing no invested intention of crossing, and cars stop, blocking up a whole line of surprisingly patient traffic. Maybe it’s just the west coast, but it’s a nice representation of “my country.”
But that’s just the thing. Am I still “chez moi” when I’ve spent more of my adult life in France than in America? When so many aspects of American culture seem so strange to me? I’m still here for nearly another two weeks and wonder if this feeling will wear off. Wondering if I’ll soon start feeling like a natural-born “American” again. It’s an odd feeling, looking at two different countries, and thinking they’re both right – in their own ways.