Sunday, September 12, 2010


Two weeks ago I made my first visit back to North America since I fled that continent fourteen months ago.

I made the trip with several of my fellow Aussie PhD students. As the sole American in the group, it was expected that I would play tour guide. At the start, I thought I'd make a proper job of it. So when we arrived at the University of Washington campus late Saturday night, in a state of extreme post-fourteen-hour-flight hunger my friend and I trooped down to the nearest supermarket and, at my direction, purchased between us $44 worth of Cheez-its, chewy Chips Ahoy, Reeses pieces, candy corn and other American culinary delights.

The next morning, we dragged our profoundly jetlagged and sugar-crashed selves out of bed and to a nearby cafe, where we had eggs and bacon and I delivered an impromptu lesson on American currency.

Then the conference started. And we met real Americans. The kind who live there and were educated there, who speak with the right accents and know which bands are topping the charts. All the things that don't apply to someone who's spent most of the past eight years in other countries and all of the past fourteen months in the furthest corner of the globe. To my great amusement, I found myself being grouped with the Australians. Being called Australian, even. I think I had entire conversations with people who never even realised that I was North American. A few, learning that I was actually born and raised in Western New York, said in tones of surprise, "Really? But you sound Australian."

One of these people was from Brisbane.

I've done the reverse culture shock bit before. I've come home and been surprised by things that were once overly-familiar. This time, perhaps, keeping company with Aussies encouraged the tendency to look right instead of left when crossing the street and ask for directions to the toilet instead of the bathroom. Maybe, given a couple more weeks and complete immersion among the locals, I'd have stopped being appalled by the obscenely large portions of food and excited about the stops staying open till 9. Maybe I'd have stopped being confused about why there was so much water in the toilet bowls. Or maybe not. Why is there so much water in the toilet bowls?

I guess there are bits of me all over the globe. To the Buffalo bit, Seattle was kind of like home. There were maple trees and pine trees and they smelled as maples and pines should. I could look up at the stars at night and there was Cassiopeia and the Pleiades. The pizza was greasy. Cars didn't stop at crosswalks.

In the end, I guess my de-Americanization is not yet complete. Hope remains for my inner American, and the quantity of Cheez-it and Reeses-type goods I brought back with me should keep it warm and happy and semi-sedated until the day comes that I return to the land of my birth. In which case I hope it wakes up and wakes up fast, because that looking right when crossing the street thing made for a couple awkward moments.

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