Coming Home and Learning How to America, Again
Perhaps the most difficult part of repatriating is finding a way to stitch myself back into the daily lives of friends and family.
I wasn’t at the BBQ. I wasn’t at the birthday party. I haven’t watched 99% of the shows that Americans enjoy, haven’t eaten the food, stayed up with the latest trends, and haven’t participated in their lives in any substantial way for a very long time.
I’ve been an outlier with occasional drop-ins.
When I spend time with friends or family, or just have a chat on the phone, all of my stories start with a variation of, “You know, in pick a random country or city…”. And that’s interesting for about 4.73 minutes. When someone is talking about a place you’ve never visited, might not have even heard of, and likely will never discover, the stories quickly become vague and dull.
Sure, I can tell a one-off story about, say, South Africa and that’s fine. But when every story begins and ends with references that are completely irrelevant, the conversations, and relationships, don’t flow very well. I’m not doing it because I like to wag my passport and travel adventures around. I’m not showing off. I’m telling a story that I think is interesting, funny, and hopefully somehow relevant.
I’m trying to find space in your lives that have been completely different from my own.
I’m trying to fit in.
My friends and family have lives. They have lived and loved and laughed as much as I have but our references are usually entirely different. There have been many times in the past when I was visiting America that I didn’t have anything to add to a conversation because I had no local reference and knew that if I tried to tell one of my stories it would fall flat.
There’s no magic solution to reverse culture shock and embedding myself back into American life. It’s going to take a lot of time for me to gather stories that are relevant to the people around me and that is a very difficult transition. It’s very lonely.
There are some glorious friends out there that will say that they enjoy all of my stories — God love them. Thank you.
Rediscovering the things that Americans like to chat about — quite a bit of which I have not discussed or considered overseas — feels overwhelming at times.
I was at a gathering in SoCal some time ago and the post-dinner conversation was about remote controls. How many remote controls everyone had, which boxes they had, which networks, etc. I didn’t say much and someone in the group asked me, “…do we sound ridiculous talking about remote controls?” “No”, I said, “it’s not that you sound ridiculous. It’s just that this is a first world conversation. I’ve never had this conversation in Kenya only because, if you have a remote control, it means you can afford some sort of cable TV and you have electricity. It’s not something we chat about.”
And the table went quiet. I think I must have sounded like an expat jerk reminding the table of how good life must be to have so many remote controls and I became irrelevant for the rest of the evening. And I get it. Worlds collided.
It’s a small insight into how difficult it can be for any expat who is repatriating to try and blend into an environment that is so dynamically different from the reality they have been living — particularly if they have been living in a developing country or region of the world.
Becoming relevant when every reference and story is largely irrelevant is the long journey to feeling home.
So, dear friends and family, please forgive my vague references and bizarre stories as I find my feet and gather new tales that make more sense.
I am a work in progress.
Learning how to America.