Tuesday, April 29, 2014

First Impressions of The States (Part 1)

Santa Cruz Boardwalk, California...an icon of the Northern California coast

I first stepped foot on US soil in the Los Angeles International airport where I had a short layover before heading to San Fransisco. As I headed for the baggage pick-up on my way to customs, an enormous billboard caught my attention.  It was a picture of downtown LA at night on fast forward and had different messages fade in and out.  I caught it just at the moment when it read “You Belong Here”.  It was one of those moments where I thought,…..“Are you talking to me?”   “Is there anyone else looking at this billboard right now?”  I went to take out my camera, but it was too late.  I felt like I was Kevin Costner in the movie, field of dreams where the corn field whispers to him, “If you build it,….he will come!”  There was a reason I was suppose to see that message on the billboard.  I went to get out my camera and take a picture of the it, but it had already changed.  I waited for about 5 minutes for the billboard to cycle through the messages, but it never reappeared. Funny.

The billboard message sent me into some deep thinking,….Do I really belong here? I haven’t felt like I’ve belonged in the States for ages, but perhaps, this is the time in my life when I finally will feel like I belong.  I’m just as anxious as everyone else who has asked me, “So Melissa, how does it feel to be back in the States?”  It’s been about a year and a half since I last visited, although I usually come back twice a year for about a month or 5 weeks total.  I haven’t lived here full time since my early twenties.

I set off for Spain shortly after I graduated from college and life ever after changed dramatically for me.  I received The Ambassadorial Scholarship from The Rotary Foundation for the 2003-04 school year and I left for Spain August 23, 2003.  My scholarship was suppose to be for a year, but I ended up staying ten!  I left for Barcelona at a crucial time in my life.  I was 22 years old and just started to discover who I was and what made me happy in this immense world.  In college, I had studied abroad for a semester in England and a summer in Spain. Life abroad had its appeal for me. In a foreign country everything was a novelty! Menial tasks like buying a croissant and coffee to taking the metro to the center of town turned into one big adventure! I always said that I would come home when the novelty wore off and/or I get bored…..but guess what?  Bored just isn’t a word in my vocabulary, and with such a positive outlook on life, the adventures and fascinating experiences were never ending and Barcelona ended up becoming home.  I loved speaking a different language, in fact, I picked up my third in Catalunya becoming fluent in Catalan after a few years.  I also fell in love, which was reason enough to extend my stay, but regardless of my relationship, I had created my life and settled in Barcelona.  I completed a second university degree in contemporary jewelry design, was giving private English classes, and started working at the Benjamin Franklin International School.

I guess you could say that I’m finally making my way home now, after living in Barcelona for 10 years, although I don’t have intentions on staying here for good. You know what happens though when I say “never”, so I hesitate to make that statement!  I come back frequently to visit my family, as it seems to continually grow with the addition of nieces and nephews every few years.  However, for those visits, I stay in my bubble- keeping to the places where my family lives and spending the majority of time with them.  I haven’t actually gone on vacation in the states for quite some time, and if I don’t intend on living here in the future, I want to make sure I see the places that have always interested me.  That is why I chose to do the massive tour of the West Coast and the National Parks on my bike trip. 

Therefore, The Loong Way Home, is the first time in a long time, when I will have the chance to explore and get to know the United States from a unique perspective.  I’m no longer living here, but I’m not from Spain,….which is why in my mind, the question “Where are you from?” is all relative.  I love asking my students this question at the start of the year because mom is usually from one country, dad, another, they were sometimes born in a different country and now living in Spain.  It was fascinating to see where they consider “home”.  I was born and raised in Oregon, surely my passion for the outdoors and my love of nature came from here, but really, my time in Barcelona impacted me, and the person I am today.  That is why it was so ironic to see the billboard in the Los Angeles airport.  I have always felt like I belong in Barcelona.  The billboard just confirmed my current philosophy in life, that is, to live in the moment, and enjoy my present surroundings, which are now in the United States. 
That is a half sandwich,...I don't want to see the size of a whole piece of bread!
A one person Creme Brulee,.....it could have fed a small family, except that the Pritchard's have a big appetite!

It is easy for me to be critical of the States living abroad.  Many times when I come back to visit my family, I feel completely “out of it”, like a foreigner in my native country! My first impressions are always very superficial. Everything is so big, spacious, fast!  A “small” drink in the States is a large in Europe or Australia.  Portions are so large at restaurants here that the phenomenon of a “doggie bag” exists, something I have completely forgotten about living abroad.  Stores and restaurants never seem to close in comparison to Spain.  There is everything and anything at the tip of your fingertips…..any time of day. Talking about fingertips, I find it fascinating that so much here is automatic.  I have a heart attack almost every time the toilet starts flushing automatically after me before I have a chance to pull up my pants! All you do is stick your hands under the faucet to start the water and get soap.  You wave your hand in front of the paper towel machine, and voila, out come the towels.  Car doors are all automatic too-you try to close them manually and they work against you!
Anything goes.....my brother driving with Penny sitting on his lap, what a laugh!

The sky is the limit to meet people’s wants and needs here in the United States. For instance, you walk into a grocery store in Spain and you have your choice of white bread or wheat.  Here, you walk into a grocery store and there are 10 different varieties of white bread, 10 different loaves of wheat, and 20 other types of bread from enriched flour, to low carb, to gluten free and low “G.I”…..the choices are endless.  The cereal aisle is the most fascinating for me!   It’s unbelievable how many different types of cereal there are, do you really need so many choices?!?  For someone like me who gets easily overwhelmed with decision-making, well, you can imagine what happens. 
I was delighted to see the huge selection of potatoes,....reminded me of Cambodia!
The selection of tropical fruit in the non-organic section......incredible!

My first day in the back here, my friend took me to a famous grocery store in Berkeley, called the Berkeley Bowl, known for it’s vast selection of fresh produce and organic goods.  I couldn’t believe my eyes as I meandered through the organic fruit and vegetable aisles.  I was completely in awe with all the produce.  In fact, I thought that was the entire store selection of fruits and vegetables,….little did I know that the non-organic fruits and vegetables, which was even larger, was right around the corner!  I had flashbacks of when I took my ex-boyfriend to the supermarket for the first times in Oregon when he visited, it became an all day event, no joke!  In fact one time, I just left him to peruse, and he walked home at his own leisure.  Now it all makes sense! 

Who would have thought I would find Jack Fruit in the States,....it comes from Mexico, but they have it!
I’m also really out of it with the pop culture here.  I guess that is my own fault, since I don’t watch TV or the news.  I don’t even download TV series on my computer or keep up with the new release movies.  Call me crazy, but I find other ways to entertain myself.    My music tastes are about 5 years behind, and I don’t pick up on the local lingo.  Walking out of a restaurant the other night after having dinner with some high school friends, a guy made a comment referring to us as “cornbread” since we were white.  I actually had to have them explain the term to me.  It’s like I need a translator here at times.  That night I also told my parents I would walk home from the restaurant to the hotel through town.  They would have nothing of it.  They thought the neighborhood was unsafe.  Interesting right?  But I haven’t thought about my safety being in jeopardy for a long time; it hasn’t really been an issue for me anywhere on my trip.  I give people the benefit of the doubt and trust them.  I hope the same rule applies here in the States…..
I'm confident that people also value trust here.......

There are a ton of fruit stands along the road, lots run by Latinos so I can speak plenty of Spanish with them

The biggest shocker upon arriving this time is the amount of Spanish speakers I have encountered.  I love it! My life on a bike revolves around the service industry- I’m constantly visiting cafes, restaurants, and fruit stands, and so far, here, that industry is dominated by the Latino culture.  It is wonderful for me because after 8 months of being on the road and not encountering more than a handful of Spanish speakers, I get to use my Spanish throughout a good majority of my day.  I must say when I first start up a conversation they are pretty shocked to hear Spanish coming out of the mouth of a blonde-hair, blue-eyed girl.  After asking of course, how it is that I speak Spanish, they don’t hesitate to continue the conversation in their language.  I love it! Needless to say, my head is a complete discombobulation of Spanish, English, and Catalan….there is a total language chaos jostling around up there! Socorro!!!!

Like I said, it is easy for me to be critical of the United States, but what fun would it be to spend the next 6 months of my trip constantly comparing and criticizing this country?  To tell you the truth, I’m excited to be back to the United States and have the opportunity to spend more than 4 or 5 weeks visiting.  Now, I will actually have time to just be, live, and experience this country again, after being gone for so many years.  I’m much more confident and mature than I was 12 years ago when I left the States to live abroad.  I know who I am, what I like, and what I need to make me happy.  I’m curious to see if I will settle into a way of life and routine that fulfills my needs and makes me happy.  So far I’m still in the a bit of shock, sorting out how things work.  This US Standard measurement system is going to fry my brain with all the converting to kilometers and kilograms…. But hey, that is all part of the fun of traveling and getting used to life here is no different than the way I start out in every other country I’ve been to so far on my trip!  Here we go again, country number 25!  
PS. I say part 1 because at some point, when the moment presents itself, I will disclose more information about the history to how and why I chose to live in Spain for so long!

No comments:

Post a Comment