I’ve been back in the U.S. for a day. Here are some things that often strike me, a two-decade expatriate living in South America, when I return to American soil.
* The beauties of the changing seasons. In tropical Brazil, you notice two: bright green and dull green.
* The price of gasoline. Much cheaper here than where I live, where it’s over $5 per gallon.
* The absence of buses in the cities and on the highways. When I go to São Paulo from my town, I’d much rather catch a bus and grab the subway.
* The smooth streets and highways and well-behaved traffic. And how hard it is to get lost in the U.S., with street and road signs everywhere.
* How wired Americans are to their electronic toys and techo-gadgets.
* How much I’m tied to my email. And to my wife and family.
* How most television commercials deal with the human body: medicines, treatments, comfort, symptoms, appearance. And what that says about American society.
* How much the news channels repeat themselves, and each other, especially when they fawn over the rich and famous and stupid.
* The options available: the multiplicity of automobile brands, makes, and models; the number of television stations to watch; the impossible choices of breakfast cereals, aisles and aisles of them.
* How many obese and extremely overweight people there are. From gluttony. People with extended stomachs in most of the world are hungry.
* The movement through the airports of soldiers in pixelated desert camo – and why they have to remove their shoes to pass security.
* The applause requested by the flight attendant and given by the passengers to the soldiers on the flight from Atlanta to Memphis. I wished it had been more enthusiastic. I wondered if we know what our freedoms cost.
* How Americans are passionate weather watchers. In Brazil we have, aside from a limited range of temperatures, two types of weather: sun and rain. Often in the same day.
* How houses are sealed up tight. I feel claustrophobic. Windows at home are open to the outside all year round, while air conditioning here keeps out the weather that everybody watches.
* The lack of bugs and miscellaneous critters inside the houses, a direct result of the former point. I miss the lagartixa, a small bug-eating lizard seen often on walls and ceilings and less seldom in beds and under couch cushions. (Our kids have ours named.) But I don’t miss the mosquitoes. And I almost miss my grandfather yelling at us kids to keep the screen door closed.
* How warm and welcoming the country drawl I grew up with sounds to my ears. After learning to speak educated English and to master a second language.
* How language has changed. Doctors are now health care providers. Hospitals are medical centers. Stewardesses are flight attendants. Euphemisms now mask more than cuss words.
* How much the U.S. has changed in the 20-plus years I’ve been gone. Maybe age is to blame for thinking that the change hasn’t been for the better.
However that may be, it’s true that you can’t go home again.
That may be the most striking thing of all.
See also the editor’s follow-up article, More Striking, and Joe Betts’ reply, What Strikes Me After 50 Years in Japan.
What strikes a long-term missionary when he returns to his home country?