Strange as it may seem, people who live overseas often have less trouble adapting to the new culture than they have readjusting to the old. At least that’s the case with me. Here are a few of the more difficult transitions I have to make every time I return to the States:
• Changing time zones. Needless to say, reversing one’s days and nights is a trial either direction, but for some reason I always have more trouble on the American end. A fourteen-hour time change is nothing to sneeze at. It takes me a full three weeks to feel fully normal. The first week or two is almost like being sick.
• Drinking from the tap. This is something I don’t do at all in Russia, and this behavior has become so ingrained that I have to remind myself that in the States I can imbibe right from the spigot. It takes some time for this to sink in.
• Walking through grass. Because of the danger of picking up an encephalitis-bearing tick, in Siberia, I avoid as much as possible any contact with grass, branches, or leaves. I never fully overcome that aversion when I’m in beautiful American nature.
• Driving a car. I don’t drive in Russia, and it takes a little while in the States to persuade myself that I can do this. Still my tendency is to walk everywhere, as much as possible.
• Crossing a street. When you’re on foot in Novosibirsk, you quickly learn that cars rule. Although things are changing for the better, many drivers still won’t stop for pedestrians, even at crosswalks. So when I cross American streets, there’s often a waiting game between me and the polite driver, who is probably frustrated with this mistrustful man who won’t go first.
• Keeping a distance. Rules of personal space differ greatly between Russia and America. When you wait your turn in Russia, if you’re not bumping against the person ahead of you, others think you’re not in line. For some reason, if I stand in an American supermarket line Russian style, the woman in front of me suspects I’m up to no good.
• Shopping the stores. The variety of goods in Russian stores is vastly larger than it was 20 years ago, and it grows all the time, but a typical Russian shop or supermarket still falls behind the vast selection enjoyed in the States. I rather favor the relative simplicity of shopping in Russia. Now a large American mart or mall can leave me bewildered. So many choices!
• Getting into the loop. Every time I return to the U.S.A., I hear strange new words, or old words used in strange new ways. At first I have no idea what they’re talking about. I can’t understand half of the news; it’s like barging into the middle of a conversation.
• Coping with morals. Every time I return, the moral tone of TV and films has become worse. The boundaries are pushed further outward. When you see it every day, the change is almost unnoticeable. When you’re out of it for awhile and suddenly thrust back into it, the change is shocking.
Yes, it’s tough living in America …