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5.30.2010

5/30/10 Cross-Cultural Moments

Some RPCVs have told me that re-entry to America is the hardest (or at least *one* of the hardest) part(s) of their service.

So far, my return has been smooth, but maybe it'll get harder as I get more settled in a routine so different from anything I've lived for two years. For now, I still feel like I'm on vacation. I've lived out of two backpacks for the past three weeks, and have traveled at least once every 2-3 days.

A few things surprise me - these plastic flat things y'all call phones (dude, what happened to the buttons!), the speed of cars on the roads, the willingness of folks to drink alcohol *in*public* - but I know those will seem normal soon enough.

But I do keep having moments of cross-cultural ... surprise? disorientation? confusion?

Little things, only lasting a split second.

Like when I hear a voice 5-10 feet away, speaking in American-accented English, and my head snaps up in excitement. ("Ooh, somebody I can talk to! From **America**!") And then I remember that oh, yeah, that's not extraordinary anymore. I'm *in* America.

Or when I see some long-inaccessible treat, like root beer, and get all excited, and feel that I have to buy it immediately. The other day, I wasn't hungry or thirsty, but I felt like I didn't buy the a can and stash it in my bag, I might not see another can of root beer for months or years. And once I'd convinced myself that yes, I can buy root beer *whenever*I*want*to*, I felt a little overwhelmed by the sheer availability of everything.

Or when I was halfway to the coffee shop where I'd said I'd meet a friend, and thought, "Oh, no, I didn't bring any tissues with me!" ...and then realized, Oh, wait, they'll *have* toilet paper in their bathrooms.

Or when I talk about the Moroccan city you know as "Marrakesh", and it takes me three tries to come up with the American-accented version of the name. (My Peace Corps buddies and I call it Kesh, which is how I think of it, but if I'm talking to a non-PCV, it's MarrrROKsh, and here I have to remember that it's MARE-uh-kesh.)

Let alone all the times I drop Arabic and Tam words into conversation, and then can't figure out how to translate them. For two years, everyone I've spoken English to can understand these handy little words, and now I get blank stares. Safi. Baraka. Inshallah. Marhaba. These words are *useful*, precisely because they don't have a direct translation. Their idiomatic connotation is the thing I mean to express...and I end up communicating nothing. Sigh.

So, yeah, there are a few bumps upon re-entry. But so far, I'm mostly just thrilled to get to see so many friends and loved ones again. :)

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