Yesterday marked one month back in the US. I know I’m still processing, but I wanted to capture some of my initial observations – both humorous and serious. A former expat reminded me yesterday that throughout this process, I have to remember that it’s not good or bad, just different.
A friend sent me an email a month or so before leaving Switzerland with a lot of helpful information to help me assimilate:
We need to schedule a full on briefing on what it’s like to be back in the States. A few quick thoughts:
- Saying “how are you” in the office hallway to a random person you barely know is just one strange thing we do here
- Duke won the title last year. I have many of the games saved on DVR, a book recapping the season, and lots of thoughts, if you want to get caught up on college basketball.
- Beef here is amazing. So is BBQ. St. Louis in particular is a great spot for BBQ. They have Pappy’s, Capitalist Pig, Salt + Smoke, and Vernon’s BBQ. I’ve been to the first and want to try the next 3.
- People here don’t like vacations for some reason – maybe it’s because Des Moines isn’t as exciting as Paris. Still, it seems weird.
- You are coming back just in time for a presidential election – one that might make you want to head back across the pond, since there seem to be zero good candidates.
- The Rams moved to LA. Now you (and others in St. Louis) can go back to paying attention to the Cardinals.
- There are apparently a lot of good tv shows out there now. I mostly play with my daughter or watch sports, so I’m not a good person to ask on that.That’s all I can think about right now, but I will send any more along if you need help assimilating back into the American culture! Welcome back – your first hot dog is on me.
- A much wider range of fitness classes are available – many for free! I’ve tried Pure Barre, a couple of free yoga classes at Lululemon, and Zumba this month. And of course, some walks (which will hopefully turn into runs soon) in Forest Park.
- Patterned workout pants became popular while I was away. I don’t think I’m brave enough to embrace this trend.
- I’m back in a world where dogs are welcome in the office! I forgot how happy this makes me. Yesterday, there were so many playing in the dog park at the office during lunch. I’m trying not to be a creeper by photographing the owners with their dogs, but it’s taking everything in me to resist.
- After living in the land of cheese, the cheese sections in the grocery stores I’ve visited have been a major let down.
- Toilets with automatic flush (which means nearly every public toilet in the US) are startling me. That, or I’m reaching for a button on the wall that doesn’t exist here. I don’t think any of the public toilets I used in Switzerland had an automatic flush.
- It is special to be close to friends again to celebrate major life events with them. My former cubemate and dear friend had her first baby this week, and I was able to visit her in the hospital before she was even 24 hours old.
- I had loads of visitors in Switzerland, but now it’s so much easier for my American friends & family to reach me. I’ve already had three visitors, and another one is coming on Thursday!
- The food scene in St. Louis was good when I left, but seems like it’s even better now. I love that I can find a restaurant serving nearly any kind of food. Probably the best surprise so far is a restaurant serving lobster rolls!
- There are SO. MANY. STOP SIGNS!!! After becoming accustomed to roundabouts, I’m very aware of how many stop signs exist here. (And how annoying they are!)
- Outside of the World Cup, I don’t recall a whole lot of sports signage and communication in Switzerland. Here, there is always a lot for the Cardinals, but with the Blues in the playoffs, there’s a lot of signage supporting them, including on one of the Purina buildings!
- There is a thermostat in my apartment! I didn’t have one in Switzerland. With no air conditioning and some kind of central heating system, I had no control of the temperature except to open the windows or turn on the fans.
- Similarly, ALL of the appliances in my apartment are HUGE – the fridge, oven, microwave, washer & dryer!
- There’s also plenty of frozen food choices here. I wasn’t shy about trying ALL of the new Lean Cuisine varieties I could find.
- I’m back to check-writing. In Switzerland, there are no checks. Everything is done online through bank transfer. I’ve written 4-5 checks for various things just this week.
- But, I just learned about Venmo. It is eliminating the need for check-writing among friends.
- Parking spots are HUGE!
- Restaurant servers stress me. They come to the table almost immediately to take an order, they check on you repeatedly during the meal, they refill beverages that are barely even halfway consumed, and they bus the table before everyone is finished. I know this used to be normal, but after leisurely meals in Europe (often without any concern for customer service), I’m overwhelmed. I do appreciate the ability to get refills and to enjoy free water!
- I still reach to take the keys out of the ignition almost every time I want to turn the car off. Problem is, I have a start/stop button now, not a key. I’m curious to see how long it takes that muscle memory to correct itself. For those keeping score, it’s been three weeks without progress.
Some of the harder things I’m observing, include:
- Lack of safety. I am not exaggerating when I say that I didn’t worry about safety in Switzerland ONCE. Not once. Outside of some petty crime (think, pickpockets), it is virtually crime-free. I’m having to be very conscious about paying attention to my surroundings and my safety, because I’m aware of how much violent crime is happening in this area.
- Homelessness. While there were always homeless living in downtown St. Louis, I’ve never seen as many as I have this month. I think there are at least two dozen men living in the park next to my building and on the surrounding block or two. I just learned last night that one of the downtown shelters was recently closed, which might explain the increase.
- Hatefulness. The Swiss may keep to themselves and ignore you, but I would take that over someone hanging out the window of the car flipping me off and screaming “F*** You” because I didn’t stop in the middle of the street to allow him to make an illegal turn. (True story – this happened this morning.)
- Prejudice. I just came out of such a diverse, international environment – at work, at church, and in my social circle, and I’m so taken aback by the things I’ve heard people say in the past month.
I know some of the silly observances will become normal again soon, while others may take a little longer. Some of the harder things, I might be wrestling with forever, but I hope they don’t become normal to me.