I've only been yelled at once so far in America.
No matter what country I'm in (first unavoidable "toolbaggy traveler" thing I'm going to say in this post) only getting barked at once in a three day period is an accomplishment for me. I'm obediently polite most of the time, but my awkward grasp of how most adult humans prefer to interact (when in doubt do NOT try to emphasize your sorriness by clutching the other person's elbow flesh) usually leaves me spinning through my mental rolodex of ways to say "I'm sorry."
Not a shocker, I get yelled at at the airport, on the way to Virginia with my family for a wedding.
"KEEP ON WALKING! NO PAUSING! WALK THROUGH THE METAL DETECTOR! WALK! WALK! YOU! YES YOU, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!"
Sir, I don't make it a practice to walk TOWARD the angry mustached Texan throwing rage-spittle at me and my elderly father. But I appreciate that your job sucks, so now I will walk.
I did NOT say sorry this time.
Now that I've been living in Asia for so long (toolbaggy thing #2), my grasp of how America works is surprisingly shaky. Having not been on American soil for almost two years, I'm truly shocked at how I'm having to blow the dust off of my "Americanness."
The moment I stepped off the plane at LAX, glowing (greasy) from a 10 hour flight from Tokyo, America licked me in the face with this overheard exchange. I'm not really sure why I'm telling you this, but I thought it was funny. It was the kind of thing I feel like the rest of the world thinks America says (ok, Californians) say all the time (and yeah, fine, that might have been toolbaggy thing #3).
Following a flannel wearing, skinny jeans-clad couple off the plane and down a hallway to go through customs, the woman turned to her traveling companion and said, "Oh-my-GOD, I haven't seen a real vegetable in like, 10 days!"
To which her bearded man-friend responded, "Yeah, I need to detox. We really need to get to Whole Foods."
This made the woman so happy, her messy top knot jiggled enthusiastically. "Oh-my-gaaaaaah! I miss their salads!"
I really don't mean to sound like such an asshole. To each their own, I mean that. But having been away from this level of "LA-ness" for so long, I all but teared up.
I was home. Sort of.
But I will admit, rather reluctantly, and at the risk of saying more toolbaggy traveler stuff, that I'm surprised at how my Americanness feels different. Don't get me wrong, I am AMERICAN (there's nothing like living abroad to solidify that fact — and that's toolbaggy thing #4) and I have no desire to present myself as anything other than that. However, I find that I'm seeing my home country differently.
Truth be told, I'm kind of enchanted with America right now (toolbaggy thing #5).
The largeness of everything from nachos to handshakes, the loud friendliness of chain restaurant servers, all the "thank you's" — I think I finally understand why Asia is vaguely horrified with my overly familiar chattiness. I get it from America (well, my America of Weirdo LA and Smile-Through-Your-Fury Dallas).
I didn't expect this. It genuinely surprises me that I find novelty in American life. I thought everything would just be normal. But what is my normal now?
In my thoughtful moments (3am, sipping cheap whiskey, staring at the moon like a buzzed, lonesome werewolf), I've wondered, "Could it be? Has Asia really started to put down some roots in my Louise-ness? AM I A CITIZEN OF THE WORLD?"
Ew. Toolbaggy thing #6.
In the almost two years I've been away from the US, I've had to consciously tone down my Americanness in order to build a life in Japan and Hong Kong. My life in Asia is actually apparent in who I am. I've been rewritten a little bit.
And while I'll always be culturally fluent in America, it's an odd thing to feel a bit foreign while being culturally fluent. I wonder if this how my parents feel when they go back to Hong Kong?
This sort of "outdated cultural fluency" was apparent when I was at that glowing symbol of Americana, Starbucks.
Having briefly stopped in California to smother my friends with gooey proclamations of "I love you, I miss you, I'd gladly give you a few feet of my intestine if you needed it," (I am notoriously sentimental with my best good friends), my Best Good Friend Beth and I spent a day in Laguna Beach.
It was a perfect day. Sunny, warm but with a slight seaside chill in the air, Beth and I wandered around touristy little shops and tried to all but absorb each other directly into our persons. I miss her so much.
Needing caffeine refreshment, and because Beth wanted to use her rewards card thing, we stopped by a Starbucks. She ordered her coffee, paid, then moved aside, and I stepped up with the intention to do the same.
Nothing is ever simple with me.
I ordered my tall, black coffee and when the friendly associate chirped my total, I pulled out my credit card.
Slide. The card reading machine honked at me and said something about me being a garbage human.
"Oh oops," I said and slid it again. HONK. The card reading machine told me I was a waste of opposable thumbs.
"Let me see your card," the Starbucks associate said sweetly to me. I braced myself for an impatient eye roll or sigh, but it did not come. "I think you have a tapper," she said.
What the crap is a tapper?
"Oh..." I said pretending to understand. I basically threw my card at what I thought was the "tapping place." Nothing. Not even a judgement from the card reading machine on my personal hygiene.
"You gotta tap here," the Starbucks angel showed me the tapping spot. I tapped. Nothing. The line behind me started to look impatient. The "I'm sorry" rolodex started spinning.
"Hmmm," the kind and patient Starbucks angel grimaced at my card. "Oh! Try inserting it into the machine at the bottom. You have the chip," and she pointed at a slot on the machine.
I inserted. VICTORY! $2.36 had been successfully charged to my credit card.
Thanking the Starbucks angel, I then proceeded to say the most toolbaggy thing I've yet to say on this trip. "I'm so sorry! It's just been so long since I've been in the US!"
She just laughed and business went on as usual.
It was such a fascinating few minutes to me. I was a beat behind with America. In that moment when NOTHING WAS WORKING with my credit card, I caught myself longing for my "Hong Kong normalcy." At least I was used to muddling through things there — in America I was caught off guard. I've encountered loads of unexpected kindness in Japan and Hong Kong, but the Starbucks angel was just so breezy. It was no big thing.
Wasn't someone going to "tsk" and "Ai-yah!" at me?
Maybe it was California or Laguna Beach (I know not every place in the US is like this, I'll be going on a road trip soon, so I'm sure I'll encounter some prime assholery), but in that moment I felt such affection for my home country and my home state of so many years.
I know I'm looking at America through rose-colored glasses right now. But how often does one get to experience that with their home? There's a lot that worries me about my country, a lot that frightens me, but for this short time of rediscovery I'm drawn to the good things — my friends, my family, and the ease with which I get to move through life here.
There is such a pleasure to this, I feel so much gratitude. Of all the gifts living abroad has offered me, seeing my home country with fresh eyes and an open heart may be one of the most precious gifts I've been given.
It's good to be home.