The Re-Entry

We’re prepping to be back in the States for a bit.  This is always a big deal for us – buying tickets is expensive and I always feel like I’m playing the lottery.  Sure, plop down this huge amount of money and just hope that nothing happens to prevent us from getting on that plane (like a traffic jam or worse).  Yikes.  It’s a big deal for us because our kids love love love to travel.  My son was ready to pull out the suitcases two months ago.  It’s a big deal for us because we get to see family again after months (or never, in the case of my two new nephew/nieces.  How do you make that plural when they aren’t the same?  My five new nephces.  My kids’ five new cousins.  Agh, English.) of not seeing them.

So we think and plan and dream and worry, all at the same time.  You would think, being Americans, that it would be all one big high.  We’re coming HOME!  But what does home mean?  I mean, for a traveller.  (Not where the heart is.  I mean really, specifically, what does home mean?)  We have our house and friends and school and work here.  We also have some residue of culture shock and language barrier here.  Less and less, but it’s always going to be there, that we don’t quite fit in.

The first few years of living here, returning to America meant that this culture shock, language barrier and “alienness” would dissolve and we would be among our own kind, our own people (is this sounding like we’re Martians?) who understood and we understood back.  About everything.  How to make a line behind the cash register.  How to order a sandwich.  What to do with your shopping cart.  Where to park your car.  It was a huge relief.  Familiar food.  Directions on the cleaning bottle that I could understand.  Medicine I knew was safe to give my kids.  Relief, relief, relief.  And joy.  I could make jokes.  I could understand jokes.  I could catch up on people’s lives.  Real chocolate chips.

The last time we were back, though, I found that certain things were a little bit of a culture shock for me in America.  I’ve heard of “reverse culture shock” and finally it hit me.  Tortillas (which I grew up on) are too sweet.  (Actually, everything was.  I suddenly could taste the added sugar in everything.  Why do tortillas need sugar??) Shopping carts were littered all over the parking lot (you get your “deposit coin” back when you lock it back into the cart area here, so there’s never ever been a stray shopping cart.)  Grocery bags were not filled to the brim until they started ripping (a pet peeve of mine here) but wastefully filled with about two items.

So great, I’m not at home anywhere.  It has begun- life as a nomad.  I might as well buy myself a tent.

I’m a little nervous about what is going to be a shock to me this time around.  Is even more of my “home” going to feel strange and alien to me this time around?  Will more and more chunks of my previous life fall off with each visit?

I’ve talked to my husband about this.  He’s reminded me over and over that our citizenship is in heaven, and the less we feel at home here on earth, the more we yearn for our real, lasting home.  Heaven is solid, God is unchanging, and when I get there, I will stay there.  Forever.  Suitcase and culture shock free.

In the meantime, at least you still speak English, right?

 

 

Malta: What’s Not to Love?

Aside

After the last pine needle is vacuumed up, we’re faced with cold, sunless days and no Christmas to look forward to.  That’s when my husband and I start looking around for vacation spots in warm places.

A few years ago, we researched all winter long and realized that nothing in February near us in Europe will ever be warm.  But the next best thing was Malta in March.  So we booked tickets to fly from Prague and started making lists of things to see.

Malta, a small country within ferry distance from Sicily (the ball island that Italy the boot is kicking).  It’s really three small islands – one main one (Malta), one tiny mostly uninhabited one (not even big enough for me to remember its name), and one medium one (Gozo, as in GO there!)

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We landed into another world.  There was a dry wind at the quaint airport and we just waltzed past the palm trees to our car rental.  (Actually, we don’t waltz.  But it felt like dancing compared to some other airports.)  Customs was quick and we had our first experience with the Maltese people.  I’m going on record saying that I have never been in a more laid-back culture.  All smiles, affability, and “everything will be just fine” mentality.  Maybe I haven’t spent much time in Mediterranean cultures but since Malta was my first chance seeing this, Malta gets credit for being the most amazing place ever.

They do drive on the left side of the road.  (Thanks, England.)  The good thing is that nearly every intersection is a roundabout (traffic circle) so you can just go around and around until you figure out where you want to go.  But since nothing is labeled, that could be several hundred times.  And you still won’t be right.

Asking directions is like asking a 4-year old to explain how electricity works.  “You just turn the light on.”  Oh, thanks.  Here are the three responses we got three different times when asking directions.

“Mdina.  Mdina.  Just follow the signs.”  (Let me remind you again, NOTHING is labeled, so this is pretty much a family joke now.)

“I don’t know.”  (Seriously, in a country that’s 122 square miles total, how can you not know where the three main cities are?)

“Just go straight.  Straight and straight.”  (This is now another family joke.  There wasn’t a straight stretch of road in the whole country, not to mention the impossibility of going straight through a traffic circle.)

So plan to be lost most of the time you’re there.  We stumbled on nearly everything we did and it was awesome.  After we let go of trying to follow our plan and our map.

I wax cheesy when I try to rave about things. So I’m trying to avoid that, but know that we really loved our family vacation on Malta. Plenty to do and see, totally different culture, geography, and architecture, and sunny, dry, windy weather. And they speak English.  And there’s a Pizza Hut. (We have little kids.  We can’t help it that sometimes we just want something familiar, easy, and kid-friendly.) Speaking of little kids, we’ve even been to the emergency room and the doctors were super friendly and competent.  Just go if you ever get the chance.  (To Malta, I mean.  Not the emergency room.)

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Surprise, You’re (kind of) Home!

Up until this year, I hadn’t set foot in Germany, even though it borders Czech Republic.  We travelled to Austria several times, giggling about the town names as we drove.  (Yes, people.  We’re that immature.)  Drasenhofen, Poysdorf, Bad Pirawarth.  Salzburg, Austria is where we fell in love.  Vienna is where we got our Czech visas.  And somewhere between Durnkrut and Hohenau, my dad nearly lost his head leaning out the train window.

But Germany just wasn’t on my hit list.  (That would be Italy, dear readers.)  My husband had to go to Berlin for graduate school and he returned raving about the city.  I admit, I was surprised.  My color for Berlin was gritty gray.  I had absolutely no basis for this, but that’s what was in my head.  (Never have I claimed that what is in my head makes much sense.)

Then we all trooped up to Berlin for his graduation and I was blown out of the water.  (Figuratively, of course.)  I know you’ll think me shallow (rightfully so?  I’m not saying.), but the fact that every street name was labeled with consistent font on every corner delighted me to no end.  The map perfectly matched the streets so that I finally gained “competent navigator status” in our car. (A title previously elusive to me.)

More than that, there was a certain familiarity that soothed me.  Some cities I travel to make me feel nervous, some make me feel awe, some make me feel dirty, and some make me feel cultured.  Berlin’s gift to me was acceptance.  We didn’t stick out of place.  Our clothes were similar to theirs.  Our face shapes were similar to theirs.  You could half-listen to strangers behind you and imagine they were speaking in English.  We almost fit in (except for the maps, travel brochures, and the ten minutes we spent trying to buy tickets at the S-Bahn machine.)  Image

Then on the way home we stopped for a night in Dresden.  It is now highest on my list of European cities to visit, a shining gem of class, sophistication, and architecture.  Even the McDonalds was discreetly hidden, dressed in Renaissance finery.  (Actually, I have no idea what kind of architecture that building was, but doesn’t it sound grand that way?)  (The kids found the McDonalds anyway.)

We were smitten tourists the entire trip.  Camera snapping, exploring, souvenir-trapped tourists.  Yet it was more like visiting a new city in my home country.  I’m not saying Germany is like America.  But there is a cultural and linguistic bond that countries further east lack.

I love where I live and I wouldn’t change that for the world.  Life has become normal for me in Czech.  But to step away for the weekend and feel almost home, to almost belong, was like a hug from a dear friend. Thank you, Germany.  I’m sorry I ever doubted you.