fruteria

78_fruteria

One of the things I miss about Europe is the small shops, the fruterias and the bakeries. The photo above is a fruteria somewhere in Italy, but when I lived in Spain, I would often step inside one to buy a couple of nectarines to eat as a snack while I walked around the city.  Going to the fruteria inserts you firmly into the community, disallowing you from taking refuge in the anonymity of the supermarket chains. The owners or shopkeepers are less likely to speak English, which forces you to practice your language skills. There aren’t any automated check-out lanes, and so you must interact with others in the store. Not only that, but the fruit and veg seem more colourful and fresh when bought from one of these shops than from one of the larger, chain supermarkets.

And the bakeries! How I miss popping into one to buy a baguette to eat with cheese and fruit for lunch, or soft wheaten roll to eat with my soup, or the miniature chocolate croissants to treat myself after work. You can be guaranteed that the bread and pastries are baked fresh, from scratch. You needn’t worry about what preservatives or other strange chemicals you might be putting in your body than you would if you got pre-made pastries at the supermarket.

The U.S. might have more amenities and convenience with its 24-hr supermarkets, with large selections and variety of prices, but I prefer the microcosm, the local community, that the European fruterias and bakeries offer. These small shops grant access to a community that values not convenience, but good food, good people, and a good life.

Photo: A fruteria in Italy.

Re-entry shock (9 months later)

Some would say, “Chera, you’ve been back in the U.S. for nine months now. Get over yourself and this reverse-culture shock thing.” Or at least, I think some people might say that.

Reverse culture shock, or re-entry, is simply a common reaction to returning home from [being] abroad. It is an emotional and psychological stage of re-adjustment, similar to your initial adjustment to living abroad. Symptoms can range from feeling like no one understands you or how you’ve changed to feeling panicked that you will lose part of your identity if you don’t have an outlet to pursue new interests that were sparked abroad.

(definition provided by Marquette University.)

I left the UK at the end of February of this year. I travelled a little bit, then returned to the U.S. in March. Between May and July I travelled again, visiting five countries in a two-month period (six if you include the U.S.). I wasn’t in “one place” until September, when I finally was able to move into my flat in North Texas, where I have lived for the last three or so months.

I still get really confused in a supermarket. I still have to call one of my best friends and ask, “Where would I find ___?” and have her answer be a section where I wouldn’t have even thought to look. Sometimes I just leave the supermarket without getting some of the items on my list because I was overwhelmed by choice. I still automatically veer to the left side of the road when I first get on my bike. (Thank heaven I never drove a car in the UK.) In the kitchen, I still automatically reach for the right-hand tap for hot water, because the house I lived in for three and a half years in the UK had the taps switched around.

And other problems add to the confusion, the frustration. Long-time readers of this blog will remember my Recipe Tuesdays; I used to be a good cook, but now I burn, over- or under-spice, over- or under-cook, drop on the floor, spill over the stove, you name it, pretty much anything I try to cook that is beyond boiling an egg or making porridge in the microwave (and I still don’t get the egg right two-thirds of the time). I’m clumsy. I forget what I was doing. I’m not used to an electric stove. I can’t handle a recipe that has more than two or three steps to it — and those have to be simple steps.

When typing, I find myself making strange typos. Not misspellings of words or simply hitting the wrong keys, but different words altogether. Typing “was” when I meant to type “what”, or “prophetic” for “option”. I have to proofread what I write more carefully than I have had to do before. It feels, a bit, like my brain is short-circuiting. Things I used to be good at, that I could do with ease, now spin sideways when I touch them. I have to take more care with what I do; everything takes more time than usual.

A lot of this confusion and disorientation, I was relieved to find, is still reverse culture shock. I have the other symptoms: I miss the UK desperately, especially Scotland. I hate that my main form of transportation here is driving; that I live in a town of concrete and hanging wires, in a land that is so flat and featureless that I partly feel agoraphobic when driving on the state highway. I hate that I haven’t found a park or somewhere that has trees and dirt and wildlife. I hate the consumerism, the materialistic mindset, the polarized politics, and the sense of entitlement the society I am in seems to have. I hate that my accent is changing. I could go on.

It makes sense that the longer you were out of the country, the longer it will take to readjust to being in your “home” country (especially if it hadn’t been “home” in a long while). Coming back from my seven-month study abroad in 2006 was hard enough, made more difficult with the onset of rheumatoid arthritis; it took me, what, almost a year to adjust to being back? Two years? Now I have come back from five-and-a-half years of having lived overseas. I came back reluctantly, not in the best of emotional circumstances, and entered a situation of uncertain employment and financial instability. I have a job now, yes, but despite having the equivalent to a full-time teaching load, I’m not being paid enough to live on. I’m applying for, and being rejected from, job after job after job and I have no idea where I am going to be living come July 2015. Sorry folks, my reverse culture shock is going to last longer than nine months. According to some accounts, it might even last years. After all, it wasn’t until my third year in St Andrews that I really started to feel at home there.

So yes, I am frustrated with life. Yes, I am probably irritable and withdrawn. Yes, I am tired and exhausted, confused and disorientated, clumsy and absentminded. To those, if any, who would expect me to be “over it” by now: I’m not. Be patient with me, as I try to be patient with myself, too.

Additional reading about reverse counter shock, or re-entry shock:

On patriotism, travel

Today, as many will be aware, is the 4th of July and it is the seventh I have spent in Europe. Being overseas during this very patriotic, American holiday brings to focus how living outside of the USA has given me a different perspective on American patriotism.

I’m not one for patriotism, really. You probably wouldn’t find me at a “Freedom Fest”, even if I do enjoy fireworks. I don’t buy into the concept of “American exceptionalism”. The United States of America is one of many great countries on this planet, and like all countries and cultures it has its own faults and virtues. I do think that American culture — though this in itself is a tricky subject — is unique, but unique does not necessarily equate with “best”. British culture is unique. Austrian culture is unique. Thai culture is unique. No one system has the perfect government, perfect social system, perfect education, perfect anything. Some countries might provide better quality of life than others, but even that is a sliding scale. To be honest, the USA does not always rank highly in these lists, not when it comes to health care, maternity leave, or work/life balance.

At the same time, American culture is fascinating because it is simultaneously diverse and homogenous. Put a group of Americans in one room — some from southern California, some from northern California, from Florida, Texas, Main, Massachusetts, Kansas, Colorado, Alaska, Hawaii, and Ohio, for instance — and some will instantly hate each other…while also bonding over shared music, favourite television shows, how they all love Mexican food (and then the Californians and the Texans will argue over whose Mexican food is better). In a country as large as the United States, it can’t help but be a mosaic of diversity, and yet a shared language and shared media acts as the mortar linking these different groups together.

As I was discussing this with my friends in Vienna, a German and Icelandic couple, I thought also about how it is the 4th of July and here I am attempting explain “America” to two people who have never been there. I do think it is a shame that many Americans don’t own a passport and have never travelled abroad. Even so, I am often embarrassed by the Americans I do see travelling abroad. Why? Not only because travel is educational, fun, mind- and eye-opening, not just because American tourists come across as brash, loud, ignorant, and rude, but because Americans themselves can be America’s best ambassadors. What better way to counter the international reputation that Americans are stupid than to provide an example of an intelligent American traveling abroad?

In this way, perhaps, I am patriotic, and I would encourage other Americans to participate in this form of patriotism, too.

Transitory

transitory, adj.
/’transɪt(ə)ri,’trɑːns-,-nz-/

1. lasting only for a short time; not permanent
2. of brief duration


As I was in transit from Praha to Wien, I thought about how unsettled I have felt this year. I was just leaving a weekend in Prague with Lola, a long-time friend and fellow academic and ex-pat. I have just finished my doctoral degree, she is just starting. Many of our conversations dealt with the Academy, our roles within it, our critiques, what needs to be done to pursue our respective academic careers.

One of the things I had planned for myself for this year after my PhD, and that I have been chiding myself for not doing, was to resume my study of French. I need it for my career. But, sitting on the train, reviewing my travels this year and for next month, I realized that this summer I have only been home in Texas for two-week snatches. The longest I have been in one place in 2014 was the six weeks I was in St Andrews for the latter part of January and February. Six weeks during which I was sorting, packing, throwing my life in boxes and stripping my house bare of my presence in it. Hardly a stable time.

Not only am I in transition – from student to unemployed, from living in Europe to living in the U.S., from living on my own to living with my parents – I have also been transitory. It is no wonder that I have not sat down to incorporate French study into my routine. I have not had a routine.

Come mid-August I might, I hope, will be in one place for a while. No plans for international travel in the near future. And yet I am overdue a visit to South Carolina, to Oklahoma; I have promised to be in Massachusetts in October. 2014 may yet continue to be transitory.

May 2014

photo-8Today is my birthday. I am twenty-nine (29) now, a prime number. I prefer prime numbers and prime numbers tend to be years of transition for me. For instance,  when I was twenty-three, I moved across an ocean to start my postgraduate degrees. Six years later with a PhD in hand, I’ve moved back across that ocean, wondering ‘What now? What next?’

I saw out the end of my twenty-eighth year by travelling to Asia and the Southern Hemisphere and I have celebrated my birthday with my dear friends, the Williamses, who I am so thankful to have in my life. We went to two museums today to see the space shuttle Endeavour and dinosaurs (among other things). Isaac was an enthusiastic guide.

My travels over the last month featured lots of time spent in airports and on planes; naturally, I read quite a few books. It became soon apparent that the three big books I brought with me would barely carry me through our sojourn in Thailand, let alone the rest of our journey, so I had to buy a couple along the way. Since I was in an Australian airport and then in New Zealand when I did so, I bought books by Australian and New Zealand authors respectively.

Books read in May:

  1. Dragon Slippers. Jessica Day George.
  2. Kraken. China Miéville.
  3. Flight Behavior. Barbara Kingsolver.
  4. The Golem and the Jinni. Helene Wecker.
  5. The Light Between Oceans. M. L. Stedman.
  6. The Whale Rider. Witi Ihimaera.

I would be hard pressed to choose a favourite book out of the books read this month, as I enjoyed all of them. They were all new books to me, and all but two were new authors to me as well. Now I am reading The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, in a beautiful illustrated edition, which I must finish before I leave Los Angeles for San Antonio…

WIP: Fluffy Brioche Blanket

2Photo on 2014-05-07 at 17.46

This is the second time I’ve started this blanket. I had started it a month or so ago, but set it aside to work on another knitting project. Unfortunately, that other project needs more yarn, which didn’t arrive in time for me to take it with me to work on during my trip to Thailand and New Zealand. (Oh yes, I’m traveling right now! Hadn’t mentioned that yet.)

So, I picked up this project again, saw that it had gone wonky in one section, and subsequently unraveled and restarted it. What you see in the photo here is what I knit during the four films I watched on our flight from Denver to Tokyo.

The pattern is Fluffy Brioche Baby Blanket from The Purl Bee. I’m using Queensland Collection Pima Fresca, which I got for a steal from Tuesday Morning. It doesn’t have an intended recipient yet — I just love knitting with cotton and this was a pattern I had been wanting to try, so I am. Isn’t it lovely? I’m curious to see how the colours play out over the whole blanket.

On accents

After an afternoon exploring part of Vienna, eating apple strudel and sampling schnapps after dinner, Elena, her partner Thor, and I stayed up talking late into the night. Thor, from Iceland, was fascinated by my accent. I ended up explaining that both of my parents moved around a bit, especially my mom; I have lived in four states; the city I grew up in had five active military bases and most of my friends were somehow affiliated with the military, and thus from all over the country. Not to mention the fact that I have lived the last five and a half years in a corner of Scotland, though my housemates and colleagues were mostly English, American, and German.

I have written before about how my accent confuses people. I have had strangers insist that I am Canadian (or if I wasn’t, my parents were), ask if I am Dutch, and comment that I had excellent English for being German (!). Usually people would guess accurately that I was from North America, though they couldn’t pinpoint from where. When learning that I am (mostly) from Texas, the inevitable response is: “Texas?! But you don’t sound like you’re from Texas!” At these moments, I feel frustrated, flabbergasted, flustered: my accent proved that I was not from here even though I had lived in the UK for years and was making it my home.

Inversely, I have had family members and friends claim that I “sound British”. I have had strangers stop me in bookstores in Texas and ask me where I am from. “From here…” I would say, to their surprise, and then explain that I lived overseas. At these times my accent was a source of pride as it so clearly demonstrated that I have travelled, that indicated that I am not quite as from here as I claimed.

But at the same time, it can leave me with a sense of homelessness. I don’t sound like my parents. I don’t sound like my friends. I don’t even hear my own accent — I just sound like myself. Even though I unconsciously mirror some of the pronunciation of whomever I am speaking with, I still don’t sound like them. Probably the only other people I sound like are North American ex-pats in the UK. My accent is a conglomeration of all the places I have been and the people I have talked to; it is, as I commented to Thor, lost somewhere over the Atlantic.

One good thing has come out of this confusion of accents, however. While losing a sense of my own accent, I have also become somewhat deaf to accents in general. As a result, I’m fairly good at understanding English regardless of the speaker’s native tongue. (Well, to be fair, the Fife accent still throws me for a loop from time to time.)

I know that some of my readers are also widely travelled, both within their home countries and without. Have you noticed your own accent changing? What do you make of it?