The Two Crabs and Habibi the Cat are now back in America, watching the Olympics, spending time with friends and family whilst we enjoy one of the great benefits of the Foreign Service: Home Leave.
Home Leave between overseas assignments is a Congressionally mandated requirement, dating back to the days when diplomats would spend many years overseas with limited communication to America; the U.S. government worried that these folks would forget their roots (and loyalties) and thus required that diplomats must return to the United States regularly to reaquaint themselves with their home country. Of course, that was before telephones, radio, TV, Internet, Skype and Facebook made it easy to stay in touch with Washington and friends & family back home.
So far, the Two Crabs are experiencing something of a "reverse culture shock." It's been SEVEN years since the Two Crabs have lived in the United States (we lived in London for five years prior to our two-year tour in Bahrain). During those seven years, we only returned to the states about once a year, and only for one or two weeks during each visit.
For us, the U.S. had become an almost foreign country! Home Leave has really opened our eyes to how much we have missed during our absence. Despite the readily-available resources on the Internet, it's nothing like being physically in the United States to realize how much we've missed! Friends and family make pop culture references that leave us with blank stares. Folks use slang words and phrases that we have never heard before.
A few culture shock observations we've witnessed during our first two weeks of Home Leave:
--My fellow Americans speak English with an American accent! Overseas, our ears perk up when we hear an American accent. It seems so strange to hear so many American accents all around us! Silly, but true.
--My fellow Americans eat dinner really really early! The Two Crabs have definately adopted the European lifestyle, as we rarely eat dinner before 8pm.
--My fellow Americans are punctual people. In many parts of Europe and the Middle East, being one hour or more late to an appointment is considered totally appropriate. Full disclosure: the Two Crabs would be late to their own funeral.
--My fellow Americans, specifically my fellow Washingtonians, are very physically active. I can't remember the last time we lived somewhere with so many joggers, walkers and bikers. We love living in a place where we can walk everywhere to shops, restaurants, pubs, metro.
--Traffic laws in the U.S. are NOT optional! That said, Washington drivers are only slightly better than Bahraini drivers. At least most people here actually stop at red lights (due to real fear of red light camers). But too many people are still driving way too fast on the highways, zipping in and out of traffic with no turn signals. Idiots.
--Washington D.C. has a pretty damn good public transport network! We can get pretty much anywhere on bus or train. Yes the Metro bashers -- especially New Yorkers and Europeans -- love to bash DC Metro. But you might think differently if you lived in a country with ZERO public transport. And compared to London's Underground, the DC Metro is clean, mostly rat-free, and closes at 3am on weekends (by comparison, the London Tube is filthy because people can eat and drink anywhere, and the trains stop running at midnight even on weekends).
--Everything seems a LOT more expensive since we left in 2005, especially gasoline and groceries. Of course, we just came from Bahrain where gas was only 80 cents a gallon and food was subsidized, and London where fresh fruit & veg were cheap and plentiful from the ubiquitous farmers markets.
--Many of our favorite shops have vanished (Maggie Moos, Borders, etc) But thankfully our old neighborhood pub is still here!
--Did customer service rep IQs suddenly drop while we were gone? Confidential to Verizon: it should NOT take one month and a dozen phone calls to surly reps to get our landline connected, repaired and re-connected (not once but twice connected to a wrong number). My favorite part was when Verizon could not find any record of our house in their database, despite the fact that we have owned this house fo rmore than 10 years and previously had Verizon service! Ok that's enough of my ranting. But I do have to give mad props to the helpful folks at AT&T Mobile for re-activating my cell phone from Bahrian, so it was working the moment I landed in the States.
--Everyone seems to have a cell phone permanently attached to their head, even moreso than just a few years ago. Hang up and hang out!
--America seems more divided than ever before by politics, religion, social issues, etc. We also noticed that U.S. "news" channels are now filled 24/7 with shouting matches instead of real hard news stories or documentaries. International channels such as BBC World and CNN International are so much better than their domestic counterparts. At the end of the day, we are all Americans and pledge allegiance to the same flag; it's too bad that fact has been lost to so many.
Anyway, that's my rant for day. We have a few more weeks of Home Leave, during which time we will be traveling around the country, exploring new parts of America!
Images from our first two weeks in America: