Part of the reason I decided to start a blog right now (aside from the fact that “everyone else does it”), is that I have more to write about than usual. I am visiting the United States of America for the first time of my life. To make sure I did it properly, I’m here for three months (one having already flown away), spending most of my time in (or just outside of) the Capital of the Free World – Washington, D.C.
I’ve always wanted to go to the US. It’s one of those things you just have to do, you know? To experience the land that for many non-Americans consists of big cars, road-side motels, neon-lighted diners, pies and cowboy boots. The glimpses Hollywood provides us with have formed a country that in many ways seems more like myth than reality to me. I wanted to see for myself which of my prejudices were just that; and which were based on facts (I find that surprisingly many are based on – but not directly derived from – facts, and thus they only partly correspond with reality). Yes, everything is “bigger”. Yes, some things are “better”. And a lot is just very, very different (for better and for worse).
The one thing I probably appreciate the most on a daily basis is that people are so friendly and polite. I’m not saying that Norwegians aren’t, but it is a different set of rules for how you should and shouldn’t behave at home. In Norway, total strangers will not ask you how you are doing. They will not greet you on the street (but they will if you meet them in the forest or while hiking in the mountains). Naturally there are rude people in the US too, but I feel that in 90% of the cases, if you smile and are polite towards someone, they will do so back. If you do so at home, they will suspect you’ve had a drink or two.
Obviously the Norwegian reservedness (the British might have a stiff upper lip – Norwegians are more “stiff all over”-people) is not what I miss the most. But there are things I do miss. Some of them are ridiculous: I miss my time zone. It’s not just because I seem to have adjusted into the wrong time zone when I first got here (I just cannot get up in the morning…). It’s not just because I went from “the eternal day of the Norwegian summer” (rephrasing Knut Hamsun) to “pitch-dark at 8:30-land”. It’s because this time zone is after the one I’m used to. It’s like I’m suddenly behind… (Upon complaining about this to my Norwegian friends, I was advised not to mention this to any Americans… Well, here goes…)
Some things I miss just because I can’t have them – friends and family, certain types of food (or any kind of food that doesn’t taste sugar…). Air that is not so packed with humidity that it feels like I’m in a sauna. Being able to take a walk without a) melting, or b) being honked at, or c) knowing it’s against my better judgment to be outside since it’s dark (is the US really so dangerous after dark, or are people just more scared?).
And then some things are just more complicated because I’m not used to them. I remember that feeling from when I lived in Japan – at least here I know the language and thus I am usually able to communicate with people. However, even if I know my English fairly well, I sometimes run into things that I don't know – who knows what dobbeltsidig limbånd is in English anyway (and who can think of why I needed some) – plus there are occasions when you’re just not feeling up to communicating in a foreign language.
All in all, though, life here is good. I have a great place to live (with a great host family); I have a great office (that I so far haven’t used much); I’ve come to like the archives (especially the staff); and D.C. is a great city. Also, even though I do have some work I need to do, I will definitely take this opportunity to do more of the things I want to do. Like travel around to meet friends and see more of this country. Like sitting at a Starbucks all day. Like buying and reading lots of books, just because there are bookshops like Barnes & Noble and Borders here.
After all, I only have three months, and that isn’t nearly long enough time to spend missing things I can have in abundance when I get back home!