A few weeks before we moved to Budapest, Richie and I attended a day-long class about culture shock, designed to give us a heads-up about some things we might find unusual or unexpected in Hungary. I mostly found it unusual and unexpected that our “how to be Hungarian” class was taught by a Russian guy. On our way out, he mentioned that we would have a similar class when we moved back, except this time it would be about re-adjusting to American life. I laughed about that in the car on our drive home. We’re Americans! How hard can it be to act like ourselves?
Well, I’ve been in the USA on my annual home leave for 33 days now, and I’ve gotta say it. Things are weird. All of our previous trips over the past 3 years have been around 10 days or less, and most of that time was occupied with family activities. Now that I’ve had some time to meet up with friends, go shopping, drive a car, do laundry… I’m noticing the little things that are going to be a little disconcerting when we officially move back in May.
I can understand everyone around me. All of the time. Can I tell you a secret? In Budapest, I am *constantly* eavesdropping on the people around me. If they’re speaking Hungarian, I’m testing how much of their conversation I can understand with my limited language skills (answer: very, very little unless they’re talking about their dogs). If it’s French, I’m doing the same (answer: very, very little unless they’re talking about food). If I hear a glimpse of English, I’m trying to figure out why they’re here (tourist/student/expat) and where they’re from. And when I’m not actively listening, the voices fade easily into the background, like a TV that’s on the golf channel or a radio that’s tuned to the news. It’s almost soothing.
Here in America, though, I’m not used to tuning out people out. I can understand everyone and it’s maddening. In grocery stores, in malls, in restaurants, it’s like a thousand televisions are grouped around me, each on a different channel and each blasting at full volume.
People are overly friendly. I am no longer used to having conversations with cashiers, strangers in checkout lines, random people next to me at the clothing rack… you get the picture. It’s not just the language barrier – because I can usually pass for a Hungarian at the grocery store, and the most a cashier will say as you’re checking out is “[Store] card?” and “[Amount of forints you owe]”. And no one has ever asked me a question about the items I’m looking at or purchasing.
But here in Texas, you are downright strange if you don’t engage in a friendly and in-depth conversation with your cashier, or with the person in line behind you, or any number of people you encounter along the way. At HEB, the girl bagging our groceries commented on the amount of junk food Richie was buying, asked me if I ever cooked for him, and said “You’d better watch out, he’s going to get fat!” At Petsmart, the woman behind me in line noticed I was buying flea medicine for my dogs and asked me why I was buying one brand instead of the other. At Target, as the cashier scanned my socks, the random girl behind me started waxing poetic about how awesome the socks were and how she really should go back and get some. At a steakhouse, our waiter asked us what our plans for the holidays were and told us about how his family was coming to town to visit him and blah blah blah blah. I feel like Reese Witherspoon when she first gets plopped into Pleasantville.
Driving is scary. I miss the Metro desperately.
Sales tax gets me every time. I’m used to the VAT being included in the displayed price of items. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by a cashier, “Okay, your total is $X” and I’ve started to say, “Wait, I thought it was Y?” because I completely forgot about sales tax. Also, pennies are the worst.
On the positive side:
Laundry is amazing again. Laundry in Budapest is a drag. We do *have* a dryer, which is lucky – of the 15+ apartments we checked out in person, as well as the 50 or so I looked at online, ours is the only apartment that had one. But if I were to put a single pair of jeans in the dryer, it would take approximately 10 hours to dry fully. Seriously. I tried it. So instead I use a drying rack, meaning that one load of clothes takes all day. And one load of clothes, in a European washing machine, is about 3 pairs of jeans. I cannot tell you how baffled I was when I first did laundry at my parents’ house and my 6 pairs of jeans and 2 corduroy trousers were all washed and perfectly dried within 75 minutes. It’s a little sad how happy I am to do laundry!