We greeted friends in Europe with kisses and had to remind ourselves to hug our American friends.
One of my American kids didn't know what a nickel was, and they might call an eraser a "rubber."
When they were taken to get ice cream, they had no idea what the flavors were.
Returning to my own country was so much harder than I could have predicted.
From how we greeted people to how we got places
After depending on my trusty Dutch bike for transportation, I assumed the biggest adjustment would be getting used to driving a car again. I also had to readjust to the American rules of the road. For example, in Europe, it's illegal to turn right at red lights. It's also illegal to pass on the right, which I see all the time on the interstate here, even though it's technically illegal.
We greeted friends in Europe with three kisses on the cheek but had to remind ourselves to hug our American friends instead.
I would cringe as American cashiers made long-winded small talk or someone waved me through a four-way stop out of turn. I'd get furious if they didn't stop for pedestrians in crosswalks or watch for cyclists — an absolute must in the Netherlands.
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My children had to adjust, too
My kids had the biggest learning curve since they were only 4 and 7 when we moved overseas. We discovered knowledge gaps everywhere. On their first morning in an American school, everyone rose to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, a curious ritual unheard of in their school abroad.
In class, my son was embarrassed he didn't know what a nickel was — or that he knew only the metric system of measurement.
My boys would give blank stares when offered American junk food like Hostess CupCakes or Nutter Butters. As a school reward, one of my sons went to Dairy Queen and was given a choice of ice cream flavors he had never heard of. It was like a foreign language. He just picked one at random.
My boys still use some British expressions, such as "the bin" instead of the trash can or "holiday" instead of vacation. But they quickly stopped calling the bathroom "the loo" and were careful not to mistake "rubber" for an eraser.
It was startling to view my country with fresh eyes and, even more, to experience it through my sons.
My youngest was especially puzzled at the American grocery store. I noticed him getting red-faced and anxious as the store employee bagged our goodies. In Europe, everyone bags their own groceries, and we almost always brought our own — you had to pay for store bags. So this felt strange to me, too, as the worker loaded nearly a dozen gray plastic bags into our oversize cart.
"You OK?" I asked my little man.
He gritted his teeth and motioned for me to crouch down so only I could hear him.
"Why is that man touching our food?" he asked incredulously. "Did we buy so much stuff they had to send a store worker to help us?"
Reflecting on these daily nuances, I realized how hard it was for me, someone who's lived in the US most of my life, to reacclimate. Luckily, my kids had parents nearby to help them. Living abroad must be so much harder for those without that support.
A new language and culture are hard enough to decipher without the trouble of getting through the grocery store or the school day.
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