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?

3 thoughts on “Striking

  1. Today was my first email from Forthright. I enjoyed your article. But I do have to take exception to your phrase about overweight people, due to gluttony. That is not the only reason why people are overweight, most are from genetics. I have to admit there are some people who eat more than they should, but alot of them are skinny people, but nobody says anything about their gluttony since they can eat whatever they want and not have a weight problem.
    I guess this just hit me wrong. Being I use to be a heavy person, and have now lost over 126 lbs from Weight Loss Surgery. It gave me my life back, because no matter how much I starved or dieted the weight came back. Not everybody is lucky maybe like you and don’t have to worry about it.
    Just remember “Judge not, lest you be judged”

  2. When we returned from Brazil, we felt ‘way behind in almost everything. We found TV to be gross in so many ways, as were many of the movies. We noted that churches were often only mildly interested in missions and in our reports. Christian men’s main interest seemed to be in hunting, golf and football.

  3. From Jim Mettenbrink
    When he returned from Russia in 2001.
    1. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly at customs in Atlanta.
    2. If I need a part, I phone the stores to find the cheapest price. In Russia I went to all the stores to see if they had any at all , food, parts, anything. Availability, not price, was the purpose of the search.
    3. Young female drivers are agressive and oblivious to other drivers.“
    4. No waiting at bus stops in -40 degree temps.
    5. Now we have a lawn to mow.
    6. No drunks in the street at any hour.
    7. No one stealing mail from our mailbox.
    8. No plate steel doors (not yet) on our abode.
    9. The windows seal tight.
    10. The meat is cut into steaks, roasts, etc, not just loped into pieces.
    11. Americans are PC, not speaking their mind and definitely avoid talking about religion, especially the God of heaven and the Bible.
    12. No one steals our vegetables out of the garden.
    13. American order is a sharp contrast to Russian chaos. Only two notaries public in a town of 60,000 and they can’t agree on what is correct. Heaven forbid you need to have notarized documents for officials in different towns. They rarely agree and you are caught in the middle. No standards!
    14. No broken heat pipes for a week in the dead of winter at -30 degrees.
    15. The water runs clear, not like weak coffee.
    16. We do not need to walk a mile for clean water from a well.
    17. No tomatoes with the bad spots cut out in the market.
    18. No taxis whose job is to scare the wits out of you.
    19. No prominent religious figures standing next to powerful political figures in the evening news.

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