It is my first time back in the US since March of last year. I am not usually sentimental but this time I felt nostalgic, homesick, and bits of dread as the plane descended and I saw suburban sprawl, McD's signs, and the lack of bike lanes. Once I stepped out of the international arrival area, I teared up. I wasn't even trying to be dramatic, but when I stepped out of the customs area and there was no one to greet the realization that I still had another 7 hours depressed me.
Dramatic. I know. I've been back for a few weeks, and have been trying to remember what things caught my fancy. Being away from your home country after an extended period of time is, well, weird. You get used to adjusting to the differences that you forget what your "normal" was before you moved.
- Geographically, the US is huge. It can take 7 hours to travel coast to coast. That is nearly the same time as my international flight.
- When I landed state-side, I was not prepared, nor had I remembered correctly, the cultural drinking style of the US. This includes ID checks, the absence of alcoholic and gas water in food kiosks and other grab-and-go food and drink stations, and how expensive these items seem in contrast to other beverages. While the sheer number of restaurants and choices were remarkable, it was odd that food kiosks can sell a bevy of soft drinks in every caloric and sugar-free requirement, but there is not a single bottle of sparkling water, or chilled beer, or wine in the entire refrigerated section of drinks. How totally annoying.
- My Belgian residence permit is a controversial form of ID. Just so you know, passports are not an acceptable form of ID for verifying age.
- Urban and community gardening seems to be everywhere. Chicago O'hare has an urban vertical garden located upstairs in a semi-atrium at Terminal G.
- Flights heading west from Chicago provide stunning views of the American southwest.
- US tobacco laws have banned smoking from public spaces so effectively, that I noticed the first time I smelled smoke because I hadn't smelled it once since landing.
- Bathrooms! The stalls huge and clean, and free!
- Waitstaff that bring you water! It's free!
- Tar-jaaaay! I went to Target for a day trip. I just walked around and stared at stuff. I admired how cheap things were (yes, I did), and that everything seemed to be on sale.
- Veggie bacon; onions in the produce section are abnormally large; chips and salsa!
- Massive overabundance of every ethnic food a person could eat or want. I love.
- Vegetarian meals, splitting and/or sharing meals, complimentary water, and being able to take leftover food home are totally normal things. I never realized how much I absolutely hate this about Europe.
- Mexican food. Mexican food. Mexican food. How I have missed you.
- The Pacific Northwest has amazing coffee and so much good beer. There are small coffee/espresso huts everywhere. Every "local" brewery has some double IPA, or fresh hopped beer, or Belgian-style saison. It is blowing my mind.
- While I would have expected the portion sizes in restaurants to be huge, I didn't think they were exceptionally larger than the portions I have seen all over Europe.