That inevitable itch to leave…and other thoughts and observations on American life.

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I’m feeling a restlessness stirring within.

And then it dawns on me: it’s five months to the day since I returned to the States. This is the longest stretch of time that I’ve been back in the States in 10 years. In fact, this is the longest stretch of time (in recent years) that I’ve gone without hopping on an airplane whisking me away to some other country… Only 5 months! Gasp! How will I survive?

It’s long overdue for me to process some of my observations since returning to the ‘Homeland’. I’ve found myself making a mental list of the things that I do and don’t want to pick up as I acclimate to American life. I don’t know if this term exists, and if not, I’m coining the concept of being a Third Culture Adult. I left for Holland in my last year of college – I had only lived at home with my family and in student dorms before moving to another country. I’ve never fully known what adult life looks like in the States.

While children who grow up in a culture foreign to their parents, develop differently than if they had grown up in their own family’s culture, I find that I too have things that have developed differently because I learned how to be an adult in a foreign country. I became a woman in Holland. I learned most of my cooking from Dutch friends, I never had to deal with insurance, owning cars (or owning a home)… dealing with all these grown-up matters is one thing. But another aspect of adjusting is learning the way of engaging with people and the culture surrounding social life!

I often find myself lying in bed remembering moments and pining for my ‘settled life’ in Amsterdam. I knew all the secret bike routes that got me to places in the least amount of time, had frequent spontaneous encounters with people in the city – affirming the feeling of knowing and being known, hosted countless small groups, dinners and parties at our home on the Derde Helmers – and left with a seemingly insurmountable amount of dishes on the counter!… these are flashes of images that represent a life that took years of investment and building up… and now I find myself starting over again (while still not knowing where to plant these roots…)

However, this does not mean that I ever fully became a Dutch adult either! I’m from another, Third Culture kind: the culture of in-betweens – belonging everywhere and nowhere at the same time… It’s a culture full of paradox and longing. Where I can be deeply content, and still wanting more at the same time. Where I’m grieving loss and also happy for the now. Feeling ‘home’ where I’m at, but always longing for a home elsewhere… finding home most present in a deep relating to others who also find themselves belonging to the Third Culture.

So here’s my un-exhaustive list of ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’ – none of which I hope will be personally offending to anyone if you do happen to do one of these things… I just have some habits that I picked up while in Holland that I don’t want to let go of…

DO:
Be friendly! American’s have a way of friendliness and public niceness that feels so welcoming… I’m loving talking to people while standing in the check-out line…

Enjoy the space – I find myself in a bedroom double the size of any space I’ve slept in for the last decade… It was a little overwhelming at first – but I’m loving the SPACE, the large BATHTUB, the WALK-IN-CLOSET!!! (My first real closet in years!!!) I feel so spoiled.

Listen to NPR in the car – One benefit to lots of driving time is listening to great programs on NPR! Here and Now /BBC News/This American Life/Tedx RadioHour/ WorldCafe Music, etc., etc. NPR feels like my lifeline to the rest of the world.

Increase your English vocabulary! – While living among second-language speakers for years, I know that I intentionally changed the way I speak to be better understood. Now I can speak freely/without thinking and also without straining to understand… there is a certain freedom that comes with engaging with other native speakers. However, I know I’m also forever enriched because of learning the Dutch language and picking up bits-and-pieces of German, Swahili, and other random languages along the way.

Geek-out at the Library! – I’m LOVING the unlimited amount of resources available to me at the public library. I can rent every movie I’ve missed in the last years for free, borrow and renew books for weeks on end in every category imaginable. I discovering new things about myself: like how much I love reading about the Brain! I’m truly a nerd at heart.

Thrift every day of the year! – Ok, maybe not every day… but in Holland there were only certain days that allowed for mega-thrifting. Special weekends at Ijhallen in Amsterdam, for example, and of course the most amazing day of the year: Queen’s Day! But here I can find amazing thrifting always readily available at the local Salvation Army and hooray for Garage Sale season starting already! I should seriously find a way to make treasure hunting a part of my day job.

DON’T:

Don’t stop practicing proper table manners! Using both my fork and knife at the same time has become a learned European manner of eating that I find not only extremely effective but also more efficient, clean and proper. I don’t know why we as Americans learned to eat the way that we do (i.e. Fork in right hand, set down fork, pick up knife, switch fork to left hand, cut meat, set down knife, switch fork back to right hand…) but I don’t want to go back to it.

Don’t stop walking! If an opportunity comes to go for a walk (or bike for that matter) – take it. If I’m within 10-20 minutes walking from where I need to be: DON’T DRIVE. Be counter-cultural: don’t drive everywhere and anywhere and ALL the time!

Don’t use paper plates/plastic cups if you don’t have to… There is a funny cultural phenomenon that I’ve noticed when groups gather together for eating. Out come the paper plates and plastic cups (not that this never happened in Holland, however…) but it doesn’t make any ecological sense to me to make more trash just because you don’t want to do more dishes (even though you have a dishwasher to do them for you and you have more than enough dishes sitting in the cupboards to accommodate all the guests!)… rant over.

Don’t accumulate too much stuff – this is in direct correlation/contradiction to some of the ‘Do’s’ on my list. I think because American’s have so much space and abundance of access to cheap goods, stuff is acquired in great heaps very quickly (not to mention that America’s economy thrives on people buying things – thus the vast number of tantalizing SALES!) I’ve also noticed a trend since returning that people buy bigger houses just because they don’t have space to fit all their stuff! I know I will have to be really intentional about this (and I confess I have already failed to some extent) but the Dutch showed me a way of simple and resourceful living that I want to emulate here in the States.

Don’t stop traveling! I’m beginning to understand why living in America creates a great gap between other countries. The threshold to visit foreign lands is greater to overcome purely because of how ginormous this country is, in and of itself. It generally takes me minimum 30 minutes to drive and meet up with good friends in Denver (in comparison to a 15 minute bike ride in Amsterdam)… let alone fly 2 – 3 hours to get to another State. Traveling in America alone takes TIME. And MONEY. It’s way more expensive to fly in the States than in Europe. But I don’t want this to stop me from getting out and experiencing more of the world…

Don’t stop being honest about what you think and feel – While I’ve had my share of Dutch bluntness that has left me feeling hurt and in tears, I’ve come to greatly appreciate the value of honesty and speaking directly about what you’re actually thinking. There is a certain tiptoeing-beat-around-the-bush way of communicating in America that leaves me wanting for more REALNESS. I also get quickly impatient because relationships don’t go deep enough, quickly enough… this kind of surface-friendliness can drive me nuts! However, this might also be unrelated to Dutch culture, but more relating to the depth of community which I experienced at Amsterdam50! Miss you all dearly!

In the meantime, as I continue to repatriate to the States (while still and always longing for that other home elsewhere) I’m thankful for (somewhat) smaller and greener grocery stores like Sprouts and having random encounters with people that I know there! 🙂

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6 comments

  1. Hi Naomi! I’ve enjoyed reading your blog posts the last few months and was surprised to read this most recent one. Why did you come back to the states? Chuck and I are still working towards getting to Amsterdam and have prayed for you and others we met while there often.

    1. Hi Ginger – thanks for your comment! There are multiple reasons for why I came back that I won’t get into here… but it came down to needing rest, not getting my visa renewed, and feeling a shift into a new phase of life… Hope you guys will still make it out there one day! I do hope to return overseas one day again…

  2. Naomi, well said. You’ve always been so gifted with words. Having lived life with you on “this side of the pond” I completely understand your points and even how when I’m home on furlough I experience what you’ve described. Miss you and praying for you, dear friend. With love,

  3. I love you Naomi! We are such kindred spirits! I recognize everything you mentioned here! You are very missed here in Amsterdam!

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