Impressions from 23 Days Stateside

Home is a place where my brother makes us all die laughing, my sister is always baking or cooking something special and I borrow her clothes, where I go to the lake for a walk most days, and where my night owl tendencies run parallel to those of my stepdad, where I have a million little talks with my mom, often over Starbucks, and my dad will always visit, come hell or high water. And then there's all my cherished friends, which I can't even begin to go into.
My Stateside home, that is.

Besides those magnificent things, I had some very strong impressions being back in the U.S. for just over three weeks. Here are a few:
   

1. Stranger friendliness
I've said before that I don’t mind that talking to strangers isn’t as commonplace in Sweden as it is in the States. I’ve never been a huge fan of strangers, so I don’t crave congenial interactions with the grocery store workers or hair stylists here, like I read that some foreigners do in Sweden (“Oh I just wish the postman would smile at me, Swedes are so cold!” blah blah blah. No.). Everyone is usually friendly enough for me. But when I went back to the States last month, as I saw people all around be more jovial and open with each other in general… it brought it out of me as well.
Like when I saw the people working in the airport at JFK when I arrived to New York just laughing and chatting with each other, something in me opened up too and I became even more friendly than I was on an average day when I lived in the States. The security guy complimented me on my shirt, I said a joke back to him, and we bantered back and forth a bit. The girl who rang up my salad just outside my terminal was smiling so I asked her if she’d ever tried that salad and liked it. I never do that. And this continued for much of my three weeks in the U.S. I think that the longer I live in Sweden (1 year and almost 10 months!) the more that American culture stands out to me when I encounter or go back to it. And on my trip, I was just temporarily soaking up the stranger friendliness and dishing it back. The great thing is, it’s not something that felt was suddenly lacking once I got back to Sweden.  The reserve here is just fine. Especially because it’s usually a polite and kind reserve, which you can’t say for a lot of countries.


2. Grocery stores
I remember when I was a child and my aunt came back from living in Africa and told us that in the grocery stores where she was, there were only maybe two options for breakfast cereal. I was astounded. How could that be? She explained to me that America was a country where we had a lot of choices for everything, including groceries. I don’t think that has become very real to me until I’ve lived abroad for awhile, despite all my previous travel. I am almost 100% satisfied with the type of foods I can get at the grocery store in Sweden, especially now that I’m used to things here. And certainly there are way more than just two cereal options of course! But every once in a rare while I want a few more options. Like for deli selections, chips, or… cereal. And then I visit the States. During my couple different visits to the grocery stores there, I walked around completely dazed and overwhelmed, losing track of what I was supposed to do. I was just paralyzed by the sheer amount of choices and the sizes of these places. How many random vegetables there were available, a cereal aisle where you can’t even see all the options standing in one place, various types of garden burgers, all the ready-to-bake cookie dough types (which are not found in Sweden) and on and on… We really have everything you can think of in the States and an excess of choices. That is not the way every developed country is, and I’m not saying it’s the way they should be. It’s just very definitely the way the States is. It was overwhelming on this last trip.






3. Coffee
Oh I'm annoyed at this, but I have to eat my words here... I've been hearing from Swedes for years how weak the coffee is in the States. I honestly believed they were exaggerating, and must just be getting this impression from the nasty restaurant coffee they must be occasionally encountering. I was never a coffee fiend, and only started having a cup a day once I was a student in Lund. But I touched down in NYC on my way to California, and went with my friend Jodie to "one of the best coffee places in the whole City." We got a spot at the window that looked out towards a grand apartment building and a glimpse of the Empire State building and when the drink came, I eagerly took a sip. Hmmm... I took another. "Jodie, I think there's something wrong with this latte! It taste like water. Try it!" She took a sip, and said, "It tastes fine to me!" I took another sip and the confusion on my face only grew. She started to laugh, and shook her head and said knowingly, "I think you've become too used to that jet fueled coffee they serve up in Sweden!" She's been there and she knows. I was in disbelief. Was it really true? I paid close attention to the taste of coffee at a few more places... independent chains, Starbucks, people's houses... and often ended up with the same reaction. Wow. It really is jet fueled in Sweden. And, this girl who could barely stand the smell of coffee until she was about 20, has really become used to it.


4. Buildings
What I miss the most about Europe when I'm in the States are the glorious old buildings. I walk around Stockholm and am charmed at every turn. Already after just a few days back Stateside, I missed that, even as much as I lovingly greeted the beaches of the Pacific, which are what I miss the most in Sweden.
The other interesting thing about buildings was that skyscrapers now start to seem exotic to me. I stare at them, a bit mesmerized... I've forgotten what it's like for them to be commonplace, living in Sweden.



      5. California. California. California
      The place is intoxicating. Among many other things, I spent an afternoon in Santa Cruz, watching people surf some of the biggest waves I’ve ever seen. I went to Woodstocks by UCSB for dessert pizza. I went out in LA with my college girlfriends for dinner to the kind of creative and hip place that is so easily found in that city. I danced around in the desert to music for four days. And on the last day I rode on the back of a motorcycle all day and into the night over the rolling hills and through wide open fields from the golden and arid part of the state to the green and watery San Francisco Bay Area. After that I only was just able to hug my family briefly before I was on a plane back to Sweden, with an overnight stop at my friends' place in NYC. I arrived to the airport a little bit bitter. I was not ready to leave, it didn't feel good to fly away. I was still under the influence of California intoxication, and did not want to sober up. 







But in relation to this last point, I had to acknowledge something else. When I was out in San Francisco with a couple Swedish and California friends, we were heading towards a bar and ran into some Swedes. A group of them, with some that we knew. And seeing them and hearing all this Swedish and the way the interactions happened... it felt like home. All of me felt like, "ah, there you are... ". And despite my reluctance in arriving at the airport in New York to finally leave, I had a similar experience once I made it to the airline counter for SAS. There were Swedes all around, those burgundy EU passports labeled "Sverige" in hand, the calm demeanors, clean and nice looking outfits... and again my instinct went, "ah, there you are. I've missed you. I feel more like you than ever before." I was sobering up from California, and though that didn't fully happen until a couple days into being back in Stockholm, as I sat on that plane around all the Swedes, and happily spoke only Swedish on the entire flight, I was reassured that the California girl has also almost equally become a Swedish girl at heart.

Comments

  1. :) Love these reflections. Love that you bring some of CA to Sweden, and vice versa.

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