I WISH THE BEATLES had written a song Back in the US of A instead of Back in the USSR because now I can be singing that. These were my thoughts as I was shuffling in the customs line with 200 other Americans radiating their Red, White and Blue glow (not bleu, blanc, et rouge).
I listened to the customs agent yelling out into the crowd, "No phone use, no texting, no headphones, earplugs, iPhones, Blackberrys, iPods, i-whatevers. Your thumbs will not be used on a keypad or touchscreen while you are in this line. Welcome to the United States."
And at that last, curt, sentence, the realization washed over me with a soothing warmth I hadn't felt in too long: I was finally back home in the United States.
Not that I didn't like France, quite the contrary. France is a beautiful place full of beautiful countryside, beautiful works of art, and of course, beautiful women. They have great, fine food, and even better cheap wine (so I've heard). But, they don't have the thing that I now know is the most important thing. More important than the food, the people, or the land - it's the language. While I can butcher my way through most French novels (with the help of Le Petit Robert Dictionnaire and an enormous grant of patience), French is not English and so I'm not at ease.
Until you have lived - truly lived - in a foreign country, you will never know two things: 1) You won't know how big of a part language plays in everyday life until it's gone, and 2) You won't know how many every day things you take for granted until you're stuck without them.
When I stayed in Marsielle for ten days with a French family, I became French. I ate French, I drank French, I spoke French, I thought French, and I even dreamt French. In short - I was French. And during this Frenchification, I realized just how big of a part language plays in day-to-day life. Want to go to the beach? Go in French. Want to make a snack? Make it in French. Want to know what this weird green stuff on your plate is? Find out in French. It's amazing to me that anyone in the U.S. can live here and not speak English (unless they live incredibly sheltered lives) because at every turn they'll be confronted by something that they cannot even begin to understand.
When I originally boarded Condor Airlines' flight bound for Europe, I guess I didn't know how good I had it up to this point in my life. I live in a nice house, have my own room, eat food I like, and have a spacious bathroom at my disposal. When I flew over the Atlantic Ocean, all of that changed. I was thrust into a country with different language, food, living style, and personality. I felt like the Fresh Prince when he says "my life got flipped turned upside down." Except I wasn't a prince. It was great to see how another culture lives, but even better to realize everyday, that there's something that you would have at home, but not here. It's interesting and humbing at the same time.
This trip was one of a lifetime. As I thought to myself throughout, 'When else will I be in France?' and so I tried to sieze every opportunity I had to do something new. I cliffdove into the Med, ate all types of baffling food, and tried to get as much culture as I could. All the while, though, I was thinking about what sort of stuff I was missing back home in Alaska. I missed the mountains, the all-day sun, and even the inescapable damp that was our summer last year. Of all the new things that I learned or realized while abroad, one thing towers above all the rest: There's no place like home.