My chin rested comfortably in the palm of my hand. Slouched at my gate with five minutes to board my plane from Milan to America, I don’t remember falling asleep. I will, however, never forget waking up and realizing I’d missed my flight. I ran to the gate in a dreamy daze of tears and curse words. How could I let this happen? Why did no one wake me? I demanded an easy solution from the Lufthansa counter. They didn’t have one. (How an airline could know a passenger was missing from the flight and not tap the only sleeping girl sitting facing the gate is still beyond me.) I would have to go recollect my two over-sized suitcases and re-lug them through security and baggage check, while also finding another way to reach America. Two extremely hectic hours later, I managed to talk my way on to another flight. It was the most expensive, pain-in-the-ass nap I have ever taken.
The security line in Charlotte, North Carolina is long and slow. After a brutal thirty five hours of traveling, heat fumes underneath my hefty back pack. I stumble through the line, trying not to hold up the people behind me with my multiple bags of liquid and three electronics. I frantically apologize to the line behind me. A hair-sprayed woman wearing a “Baptized in muddy waters” t-shirt touches my shoulder and says, “Oh, it’s alright honey! Take your time!” Her words are so twangy they sound like they’ve been run through a curling iron. This accent touches the softest part of my heart. I’m back in the South.
I’ve talked about the realness of culture shock. Well, reverse-culture shock is equally as real. It all began with the cups: boat-sized, refillable cups of ice and soda. No wonder America is obese, we’re drinking unlimited buckets of calories. And these stores…Target, Costco, Walmart. Enormous stores with ev-er-y-thing you could ever want. Some of them are even open 24 hours! So, I can get anything I want, at anytime of day? What a fantastic idea! And what’s with these bathrooms? They are so big. And wait, they play music in here? At Bread and Company, I order a sandwich the size of my foot stacked with condiments and goodies. Dear honey mustard, I missed you.
Next up were the people. Everyone talking to everyone all the time…in ENGLISH. I kept hearing the language everywhere, and had to stop my reflexes from approaching the person speaking and asking them where they were from. (In Bergamo, when I rarely do hear English, this is the first question I ask.) I also forgot how much Americans talk. When you walk into a store “Who are you shopping for? Oh, this would look great on you!” When I’m walking my dog, everyone stops to pet her, and then tells me all about their pet….. or their friend’s pet, or their mother’s dentist’s pet. One guy carried a conversation about his old teacher’s dog for so long, he began telling me how this particular teacher used to carry around a vegetarian sloppy joe in his pocket. Isn’t that weird? Seriously, could you ever imagine eating a vegetarian sloppy joe?
When I returned to Bergamo, I found myself at an Italian ACDC cover band concert. The concert ended late, and we were wondering what to do next. “Let’s go pick up a 12 pack and drink somewhere!” I suggest. Then I realize it’s Italy, and we can’t get a 12 pack of PBR at this hour (or PBR ever). So I head home, walking underneath the stars to my comfortable house on the hill. My street is secluded, it’s skinny and dark and quiet. I think if I screamed, no one would hear me. I could dance, no one would see me. The church bells go off in the distance. I laugh thinking of the ACDC cover band singing in English, and then screaming “GRAZIEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!” like rockstars after Highway to Hell. No, this isn’t America, and I can’t have a PBR or free refills, but there is something about this place that totally makes up for it.
It’s crazy how normal traveling feels now. How a trip to France feels like a trip to Chattanooga, and a trip to the Walmart feels like a totally foreign experience. My mind has warped into a nomad’s, and I see America in a way only visible once you leave.