“Are you happy to be back?”
It’s a simple enough question.
The best I can do is: meh.
I don’t really know how to answer. Just to say there’s a reason we never once flew back to the states. A reason we only went to Ramstein three times in four years.
Side note: When we moved to Germany, we were told, “Oh you’ll probably go to Ramstein once a month to do all your shopping. That’s what most people do.”
WTF. Sure Ramstein IS a ginormous American base with a HUGE commissary and shiny, new BX. It’s also a four-hour drive. Now I’m not one of those “What’s your carbon footprint?” kind of gals, but good lord.
Think for a moment about all the waste in shipping all that crap halfway around the world when you can buy the same thing down the street at your local German grocery store. Fresher, cheaper and GMO-free to boot. How much money is wasted shipping Coca-Cola from the U.S. to military commissaries worldwide every year? It’s not like they don’t make Coke EVERYWHERE. And the local stuff tastes better because it’s made with real sugar. Explain to me why we’re choosing to furlough employees instead of cutting freight costs?
So I read this article the other day about the stress of reintegration after a period abroad. Not the first. I read similar stories while we were in Germany and honestly thought we’d experience similar reverse culture shock.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Being back in the states is, a without a doubt, weird. When we first arrived, the kids weren’t flushing the toilet because they didn’t know how. They were (and still are) enamored with free refills, the choice of fast-food restaurants and other things they’ve missed in their inadvertently sheltered lives. Once while house hunting, we heard a “click, click.” It was Nicholas trying to open a door in an adjacent room. Round door knob. He couldn’t figure it out.
For me, it still hasn’t fully set in that I can make a call without calculating time zones or dialing a million numbers. I catch myself smiling and nodding because it doesn’t register that I can understand all the words being spoken. It is so weird paying sales tax. I don’t understand distance measured in miles. Sometimes I freak out a little that I didn’t eat enough chocolate or brötchen or drink enough Cantillon or Riesling. Can you ever really have enough? Or I forget where I am and think that I’ll run to the store for some speculaas or hop across the border to grab a beer in Belgium. Although going to the beer store here is a lot like going to Belgium for the first time—a bunch of breweries I’ve never heard of, only I can read all the words on the labels.
Coming back is not at all like I expected.
I thought it would be harder. It feels like we could have been gone four weeks, not four years. Familiar. Predictable. Boring almost. Like the only thing that changed is Wendy’s French fries. What happened there?
In a lot of ways, it’s a lot like when we first arrived in Germany. We’re trapped inside in a rental with no furniture trying not kill each other. Don’t let these pictures fool you. There are not so many nice, huggy moments.
I do desperately miss the thrill of buying something at Rewe without really knowing what it is, the adventure of hopping in the car without a destination, the detours, the history, the architecture, the churches, 1€ Ikea breakfasts, 1€ a kilo fruits and veggies, pedestrian zones, street art, the pride people take in their homes and yards, Luc’s nuts, döner kebap, the stink of licorice, separating trash into recycling bins, running up and down a marble staircase, roundabouts, marzipan, old people on bikes, old men on bikes without shirts in summertime, the dogs, the drivers, beer, thrift shops, public transportation, flowers from the market, eggs on sandwiches, eiscafes, and everything strange, beautiful and fascinating about the country that was for four years my home.
But there’s no big culture shock, no need to be repatriated.
And that’s the biggest shock of all.