As I write this I am sitting on a plane watching the expansive deserts of Mexico pass below me. I am on my way home, and in another way I am flying away from home. I have become a woman of two bases, two homes and two countries. When I left California a year ago, I raced to get on the plane. Since then I have put down roots and lulled myself into a daily routine. I have my own home, dog and social life. I am passionate about my work and no longer find cultural acclimation a burden. Even the language barrier no longer intimidates me. However, the past week in California with my friends and family has felt equally comfortable. I sat at my seat at the dinner table, drove from the 101 to the 405 to the 5, and partied with old friends like no time had passed. Minus a brief drunken break down I did not experience culture shock. For the first time in my life I feel in perfect harmony with my current life situation…split between two countries… perhaps for once I am exactly where I need to be.
As humans we search for a place to belong, an identity, but perhaps we can find harmony in the limbo. In the journey. In the distance between two points. Perhaps we belong in the “not-belonging.” In celebration of this new-found malleable identity I have put together the top six things I never appreciated about my US home until I took a year-long leave. Six things because I had more than five but couldn’t come up with ten without boring you all to death. I hope it leads to a bit of meditation regarding the simple pleasures so many of us often take for granted in life- or at the very least I hope you feel compelled to phone home and tell your mom, dad, siblings, dog or fish that you love them.
- US Customer Service: The United States truly has some of the best customer service in the world. Servers seemed genuinely interested in serving me. I was greeted every time I entered a store. YOU CAN RETURN EVERYTHING. Food is served promptly. I have grown accustomed to waiting an hour for my food to be hurled at me, so you can imagine my delight in rediscovering the American mentality of “service with a smile.” Why yes, I would like my dressing on the side.
- Clothes Dryers: This may be because I live in a very cold, wet place, but I seriously considered moving into the dryer at my childhood home. To be honest it’s probably the only rent I can currently afford in California. The concept of having perfectly dry warm clothes at the push of a button is truly incredibly. If the outfit you want to wear is dirty, in approximately and hour and a half it can be ready to go. I know I sound crazy but until you have experienced your clothes molding because it takes so long for them to dry, you can’t really appreciate dryers. Trust me, they are worth shrinking your clothes for. Yes, I am aware they are energy-eating, environment-killing monsters – just let me bask in the luxury for a moment.
- Product Variety: Where I live in Ecuador, if I want anything beyond rice, cleaning materials and tourist trinkets, I have to travel 45 minutes down the mountain in the back of the truck. In fact, the majority of the world’s population has to travel a substantial distance to purchase common goods. In the United States pretty much anything your heart desires can be purchased relatively easily. For those living in populated areas, goods can be DELIVERED TO YOUR DOOR. Literally anything you want (food, booze, taxis, a dog collar, strippers), can be yours within an hour, without leaving the comfort of your footsie pajamas (please keep those on for the stripper.)
- My Childhood Bed: There is something very magical about waking up in your childhood bed. I for one am instantly transported back to my adolescent days. I wait anxiously for my obese basset mix to sense me stirring and cuddle up with me. Then I wait for my mother’s uniquely pitched accusatory English voice to gently announce it’s time to start the day as it bounces off the hallway walls outside my door. Finally, I open my eyes and greet the California sun… because let’s be real there is usually sun. In my current grown-up life I am usually pounced on by a 60 lb., 7 month old Pyrenees mix, listening for the sound of rain, and opening my eyes to the visual of my breath drifting towards the rain-painted window. Don’t get me wrong, ten months of rain a year is awesome because nature, crops and so on… but man do I appreciate that warm fat basset hound once in a while.
- Restrooms: The United States has free public restrooms. They can be accessed everywhere. *Usually* they are clean or at least passable. We can flush our toilet paper down with our waste and don’t have to dispose of it in an open trash can. During my trip home my uncle informed me that there is even an app for your phone that informs you of the cleanest, nearest, public restroom. The existence of this app means that there is such a variety of public restrooms we can pick and choose where we want to relieve ourselves. Please appreciate that next time you poop in a public restroom. Appreciate it for me.
- Hugging Your Family and Friends: Without getting all creepy, it is a scientific fact that humans need physical touch to survive. During my darkest days away from home when I am sitting alone with nothing but my twelve alpaca blankets and an $8 over-priced imported jar of Nutella to keep me company, I often break down in tears because I miss hugging those I love. I miss the ability to reach out and touch those that mean the most to me. That comfort is something you can never explain nor appreciate until you need it and can’t have it. Skype is great but you can’t touch the person through the screen or feel their loving warm energy. When I came home this trip I hugged everyone HARD. Like I really made them feel my presence. Also, for the first time in my life without feeling like a cheesy Lifetime movie, I felt compelled to tell people how much they mean to me and allowed myself to experience happy tears. The physical presence of my friends and family filled me with newfound life and I realized I can never go another full year without that. Ultimately this is why California will forever be my home. No matter how much I fall in love with another country, it will always have to share the “home” title with a small suburb north of LA. It’s not the place, it’s the hugs. It’s not the warm clothes, fat dogs, smiling waiter, delivery pizza at 2am or flushing toilets- it’s the people. Hug your home.