Coming back to America was a bigger culture shock than being in Italy. Being immersed in the Italian lives and culture for an entire semester had thrown me off with American ways. Even though I was away for only a semester, I felt as though I had come back from the moon. The sad thing was, I had changed and everything else here was just the same.
Little surprises abounded as I discovered America in this new light. For the first few days, switching channels on TV and squealing with delight upon understanding every one of them was my favorite past-time. They spoke in English! They were singing in English! However, my roommates didn’t think I was very amusing.
I can’t begin to tell you how glad I was that the buses and trains actually followed the schedules. When you are a college student, you need that kind of consistency in life!
Well, being back was good. At least for the first week. Slowly, I marched into that apprehensive phase where I’m still vacillating between two extremes. Is being back really that good?
My first shock came when I realized that my Italian fashion and style didn’t fit in with Philly’s sweat-shirt culture. So while it was perfectly normal to parade a Barbie-pink colored winter jacket on streets of Rome, at Temple, it raised eyebrows and got me strange looks.
Overdressed? But there was no such thing as overdressed in Italy! I reverted to my Abercrombie’s and Gap’s within the first week. This reverse culture shock was the worst when I went to Path Mark for my weekly groceries.
I walked in and stood at the vegetable aisle completely revolted. The freshly picked blood red tomatoes from Umbria were no comparison to these orange organic tomatoes. And who buys cheese in boxes? Was bread never baked fresh here?
It was disastrous when I realized that Hagen Daas had to suffice my cravings for a good scoop of gelato. These little things I could live with, but can you imagine what it is like to come back having to persuade your 21+ friend to buy you wine from drinking wine everyday for lunch, dinner and sometimes even breakfast? It was sheer agony.
Returning to the United States stole away all the sensual pleasures I had found in Italy. I couldn’t walk to school unless I fancied being run over on Route 1 by a bank analyst who was rushing to strike that million-dollar deal. I couldn’t cook to pleasure my senses because microwaves and frozen dinners made feeding myself to stay alive so convenient.
Most of all, I missed the Italian men (okay, so I was wrong in thinking that I wouldn’t miss those ultra-romantic sleaze balls). They would rank high on reliability. You could count on an Italian man to raise your self-esteem up ten notches on any given day, whether you were admiring the Vatican or just walking by the Spanish steps!
People have no time here. I have no time here! Time had lost its own moments in Italy. Italy does that to you-you learn to take stock and count your blessings. It taught me to appreciate beauty where it prevailed and to look for beauty where I couldn’t see it.
I won’t say being back is bad. I did drop the two customary coins at the Trevi fountain so I know I will go back to Italy again. But that still doesn’t stop me from looking out for the old man who’ll smile and say to me, “Boungiornio Senorina!”
Jinal Shah can be reached at email@example.com.