Monday, August 08, 2005

Life in America

Traveling to a foreign country is exhausting. In my case, the foreign country is not some sort of exotic location, but the United States of America.

It may be the country of my birth, but I feel, for the most part, like a foreigner here. After nearly seven years of living abroad, I feel out of touch with the American way of life. I don’t know the price of a stamp. I can’t name even one winner of “American Idol.” I’ve forgotten who won the Super Bowl last year. I can’t fathom the serving sizes at restaurants (How can anyone clear their plate with so much food on it?). I am utterly flabbergasted at the number of SUVs and minivans on the road (Doesn’t anyone own a regular-size car anymore?) I don’t know which college football team is favored to be the best this season.

I’m also amazed at the proliferation of American flags and “God Bless America” stickers. While I think the obvious display of patriotism is a good thing, I can’t help but wonder, “Why isn’t God blessing any other countries?”

For our two British-born sons, though, we really are visiting a foreign country. When we asked our five-year-old if he wanted to see a baseball game, he asked, “What’s baseball?” We had to respond, “It’s a lot like cricket,” and our red-white-and-blue hearts died a little death.

The five-year-old’s accent also is attracting a fair share of attention. His aunt said this weekend, “We think he sounds like Harry Potter.” To my ears, his accent sounds neither British nor American, but I suppose sounding like the boy wizard-hero is not a bad thing.

I asked the five-year-old what he thought was different about America, when compared to London, where we live. “The cars are bigger,” he said, interrupting his count of roadside McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts to make his observation. I suspect the boys also think there’s a McDonald’s restaurant on every corner, something perhaps not a million-miles-away from the truth.

The one thing I have truly loved since arriving on U.S. shores 12 days ago is being able to eat all of my favorite American food. I’ve realized, though, that all of my U.S. favorites aren’t doing my waistline any favors. Pizza, hoagies, stromboli, cheese fries, chicken wings, Philadelphia cheese steaks and Oreo cookies is a short list of some of things I’ve enjoyed in abundance the last few days. Why I can’t crave just a really nice salad with some American-grown produce is beyond me.

Exhaustion aside, the best thing about being back in the U.S. is being able to reconnect with family and friends after time away. I’ve found, much to my relief, that even if I haven’t seen some people in many years, we were still laughing at the same things and enjoying each other’s company. Good friends are always good friends, even if time and oceans prevent you from seeing them as often as you’d like.

My parents have a small needlepoint picture in their bathroom that says, “Home is where they love you.” After 4,793 miles flown from London to New York to Pittsburgh to Chicago to Philadelphia and sleeping in five different beds, I couldn’t agree more.