Reflections on 'Home'

September 01, 2011

Ahh... CA

I am conflicted about what to say - and even how to feel - about our trip back to California. Was it great to see our family, friends and be there for someone's wedding day? Of course. Did we enjoy eating all our favorite American foods? Our waistlines are giving a big thumbs up. Does visiting make us 'homesick' to be back there? Um, not so much.

The time we spent in traffic - on a daily basis - 
meant we could be in another country if we were at home :(

Our first trip back to the states was a mere six months after we'd moved, so things were still so new - our excitement about Germany being the place we were living was still so fresh in our minds. Missing people - and the food - was still a new concept. I have to say that more than a year later, I sometimes miss the food even more (German options are comparatively minimal) and get cravings like a pregnant lady for pickles and ice cream. Admittedly though, I felt awful 90% of the time after indulging in whatever it was I felt I couldn't leave California without eating. Either we've gotten too used to Germany's food or US food quality has taken a serious dive.

In the months leading up to our trip, I became almost voracious for all the choices we had in America - places to eat, places to shop (in reality, just more things to buy). Sure, it gets boring sometimes going to the same two or three places when we go out to dinner here, but I found myself actually getting overwhelmed at the amount of choices everywhere we went in America - the menu at a restaurant, the size of shops, the amount of processed crap available in the grocery store. Even the elaborately-designed storefronts I missed so much started to feel forced. The effort that goes into getting people to buy things in America was exhausting, and it was exhausting to be around. 

The clothes, the displays - everything is beautiful 
and so well-designed

Not that the polar-opposite in Germany is that much better: most of the time you're made to feel as if you're doing them a favor by purchasing something in their shop. Those overly-friendly salespeople in America (Germans consider such conversation 'fake') are people here you have to practically beg to help you and those abundant choices (especially in my area of weakness - fashion) might be there, but aren't worth what you have to pay for them. Clothes are mostly polyester, shoes are overpriced and horribly uncomfortable (not to mention don't come in my size), but because that's the way it is, Germans don't question it. Germans seem to be creatures of habit; they stick with what's worked just fine for them (and their parents, and their grandparents..). I couldn't imagine an American sitting back and just 'dealing' with only the choices in front of him - it's all about pushing for something more, something different, something better (Which is really just: More! More!)! I suppose this is how supermarkets got filled with entire aisles of different kinds of tortilla chips and breakfast cereals. 

Choices abound in America - but who really needs this many varieties of mac-n-cheese?!

In addition to some of our perceptions about America that were further cemented this trip, our feelings about where we felt most at home also came more into focus. This trip resulted in lots of questions about when we were coming 'home' - aka, California. Perhaps after nearly two years, friends and family thought our little adventure must be coming to a close and we'd head back to the familiar. It's funny to me because I finally feel like the more we're settling into our lives here in Germany, the more culture, language and politics we understand, the less desire we have to go back. Even though we've got a long way to get to what I'd consider 'integrated,' there's something so much more appealing to us about the lifestyle over here - less stress, more vacation, the ease of travel... Though, I do miss the ease of communicating - with anyone and everyone - that we enjoyed while we were back. But that too, I suppose, will come in time.

The most 'vacation' we got - 
a little coffee and breakfast at the beach one morning

Perhaps the oddest part about going back is how conflicted I felt - about how to feel. While getting all the way back to California eats up gobs of holiday time and money, it doesn't quite feel like a vacation. There's too much on the 'to-do list' for it to be a real holiday. And although we stay with my parents and spend so much time with the people and places we used to be with on a daily basis, it feels almost nothing like home. 

As a perfectionist who must unpack and hang up all my things upon arrival on any holiday (including just a weekend), I have a deep-seated need to feel settled. So this idea of feeling out of place in both California and Germany has been a tough pill to swallow (friend and fellow expat blogger Jen over at Resident on Earth has written two lovely posts on this - here and here - that articulate the feelings around this more eloquently than I can). So my love for our new home drives me forward, into an uncertain place where my Type-A-ness is often pushed to it's limits and I can't appease my sometimes frantic bouts of worry about where we'll be in five years and if, my god, will we ever become fluent in German? The in-between is trying and sometimes scary, but I know that the challenge is good for me. 

Home again, home again...

Back home, there are still projects to be done, not the least of which is the re-doing of much of our kitchen (new appliances, new, unmold-y countertops, minor face-lift updates). I foresee the months following the update to our kitchen - most notably the working appliances - to be filled with even more baking and general cookery than usual for this Hausfrau. Stay tuned for new kitchen excitement and the inevitably resulting frenzy of baking!   

*Drop cap by Linzie Hunter for Daily Drop Cap