You Can’t Go Home Again

100_7877It’s dawned on me recently that living in Europe has changed me in a lot of ways. Oh, I am still somewhat American, I still love pizza and deli sandwiches. I still hate Florida football and New York baseball. And I still use condoms and deodorant (usually).

Moreover, I am not that pro-Europe expat you just want to headbutt in the nose. You know, the guy from your hometown who lives overseas for three months and then comes back with a bad mustache and preaches about superior European living.

But the fact is that I haven’t lived in the U.S for ten years, and we do live a bit differently on this side of the pond. As a result, I have changed. If I ever moved back, I’d have to get accustomed again to things ranging from personalities to bathroom equipment.

The first thing I would have to get used to are the wall mounted showerheads. We use the handheld showerheads over here and if you have ever been to Europe or watched a video on the Internet, then you know the kind I mean.

And frankly, they have changed my life.

Bear in mind that I am referring to nothing sexual, but there is nothing in the world like being able to attack every nook and cranny of your body with a continuous stream of boiling hot water. I have been lifted to such levels of physical euphoria that I have had religious visions. Handheld showerheads might be the main reason I am a permanent resident of the European Union.

It would also be hard to get used to doing all of my shopping in one place. In the Czech Republic, and most of Europe, it’s quite common to visit three or four shops to do your daily shopping. You might visit a butcher, a baker, and a pharmacy. Of course there are supermarkets, but they are not nearly as ubiquitous as in the U.S. and even there you can’t get aspirin.

In the U.S. there’s the convenience of walking into a Target or a Walmart and buying everything I need from cold medicine to a side of beef to pralines. But there’s a certain charm to walking around from shop to shop, complaining about the bread and fighting over the last foot of lamb sausage.

Yes, that’s right: walk. While there are more cars in Prague than ever before, I get from place to place walking and on public transport. Not having a car is one of the more liberating points of living in Europe. No car insurance, no parking, and no drink limit. There are also the health benefits of walking two or three miles every day. The downsides are that sometimes I really really just want to be at my house without dealing with a tram and a mile-long walk. Sometimes I wish I only had to contend with the rain for a ten-second dash to my car. And transporting shopping bags or boxes can be a vein-bursting pain.

Still, I’d have a lot of trouble getting used to walking less and driving more. When I visit my parents, I have to walk around the block in a NASCAR circuit, or drive to the mall or a park. There’s something altogether silly about driving somewhere to walk.

But perhaps the biggest change would be understanding everything around me. While I speak Czech OK and understand it, I can completely block it out if I want. That way it’s all just white noise while I sit in a pub and read or write or just stare at a wall and sip beer. In the U.S., I am condemned to understand everything.

Everything. Every bit of inane chatter. Every mind-numbingly dumb detail of some lady’s relationship, or a braggadocio relating his latest conquest to his Budweiser swilling chums. Everything. Every grammatically mangled sentence and narrow-minded opinion would climb down my shirt and stab me in the kidney. Don’t get me wrong, this is no indictment on Americans, as I am sure there are plenty of stupid conversations going on around me every day in Prague, it’s just that I can block them out.

Americans, though, are far more outgoing than Czechs, in both good and bad ways. Americans will eagerly help out a stranger, extend a smile and a good morning, or chit-chat with people next to them at a bar. Conversely, they will eavesdrop on your conversation and then offer their unwarranted two cents. They will also interrupt a person who’s reading or writing in order to ask them what they’re reading or writing. By the way, saying that you are writing a story about a guy who kills a woman while interrupting his writing doesn’t thwart further questioning.

When I was on the verge of moving to Prague ten years ago, I had no idea what to expect. I knew it would be different, and I was terrified about how to cope with this totally strange land. But times change, and so do we. And now that I’ve been adopted into this culture, I don’t know how I’d go back to doing things like wearing shoes in a house or driving to work listening to bad morning radio.

Oh well, guess I’ll walk to the pub and think about it in peace.

  1. #1 by greg galeone on February 9, 2015 - 3:49 am

    Nice post Damo.

  2. #2 by Scott B on February 10, 2015 - 5:03 am

    Move to Boston. No one will talk to you or help you then. I promise.

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