I’ve recently returned from a 11-day trip back to the US, and it felt like an eternity. I hate being away fro my family and, with Toma not yet 3 weeks old, I felt like a total louse for leaving Sawa alone. But as an old commander told me, there’s no good time for a TDY. You just have to make the most of it. So I did.
Reverse Culture Shock
Actually, not so bad as expected. Except for a one-day trip for my best friend’s wedding, I hadn’t been to the mainland US in six years. I was expecting to be surprised by the changes.
Not so much.
Maybe I’d been gone so long that I’d forgotten what things were like before. Maybe spending nearly the whole time in meetings for work sucked the America right out of my experience. Maybe my habit of expecting the worst of people softened the blow.
Either way, aside from one encounter with the airport shuttle driver who shouted at me for taking too long to get off his bus (flashbacks of my first day at USAFA), nothing really caught me by surprise.
People always ask me what food I miss, and it’s a tough one to answer. I try (too hard) to not want what I can’t get, so I generally don’t think aout it, but once I was back there, ahhh, sweet deliciousness. What did I miss?
- Restaurant hamburgers: I must have had half a dozen.
- Filet Mignon: Didn’t intend to eat this, but ended up at a fancy restaurant and, oh boy…. Japan just doesn’t know how to cut beef. I’d forgotten how glorious a thick, juicy cut could be.
- Cheddar cheese
- Chocolate cream pie: homemade. My oven just doesn’t do pie rusts very well.
- Frito Pie: wonderful find at a restaurant in Richmond. How had I forgotten about chili?
- Pizza: anyone who’s been to Japan knows that they just don’t get it here. I should have had more!
- Beer! Don’t get me wrong, Japan’s Yebisu is good, but there’s really no variety here. Sam Adams (three varieties), Guinness on tap, Corona with lime, and a few local brews from weiss to stout, and one Arrogant Bastard Ale.
- Eeven days with nothing fishy in my food. That’s right, I went to Boston and avoided chowder and lobster. Not having to go out of my way to decline ocean-based foods was wonderful.
Or, more accurately, not having to deal with emails in Japanese. Aside from a few short conversations and some translation (some difficult English words, such as hariots verts, and the aforementioned filet mignon), I didn’t have to handle any work in Japanese. I’d forgotten how much more effective, efficient, confident, and happy I could be when working in my native language. It was enough to make me consider a move.
But then I remembered, I don’t want a career working for somebody else.
English speakers are easier to talk to, too. Everyone was friendly (except that bus driver) and made small talk and banter. Heck, almost every non-native speaker I talked to was open and friendly, too. It was easy to slip back into, too.
To my surprise, I was a lot better at networking than expected, too. My colleagues would go into a reception and grab a table. I wandered around, met people, brought them back to the table and pretty much single-handedly networked for four. Not trying to brag- I was legitimately surprised. I’m the shy, introverted, taciturn, grump.
Unless I’m on duty, it seems. Make the most of it.
It was nice to realize that I can be Networking Guy when I have to. Some day, I hope to do that on my own behalf.
Friends and Family
The best art of the trip was spending time with friends and family. Dinner, drinks, and morning coffee with friends in Boston and Richmod, plus two nights at the parents’ place on Martha’s Vineyard was what kept the trip from feeling like all work.
Making time for myself, not just work, was a critical part of making the most of it. My thanks to everyone who made the effort o get out to see me!
It’s great to be home! I missed my family too much to stay any longer.
This entire blog written one-handed whilst holding baby Toma asleep in the other.