There are a lot of really interesting parts of living abroad. The first is in realizing what you took for granted. Doesn’t everyone have milk and cookies as a childhood treat? Or ice cream? Who doesn’t like pasta and pesto or a good pizza? Walking into a room and flipping the light switch is autopilot for most of us, we only notice when we have to grope along the wall for it. Even things like playing a couple games of solitaire on the computer to unwind or drinking a glass of juice are so second nature that their removal causes a sense of disorientation.
I am surprised by how much I miss cheese and how little I miss ice cream. Not that I don’t miss ice cream, but I just don’t crave sweets the way I crave savory on the island. I don’t know if it is an availability thing or that I sweat so much I never feel like I have enough salt in my body. But I do often wish for things like pesto, crackers or garlic mashed potatoes.
Those are all surface things. My identity isn’t wrapped up in how much juice I drink or how much ice cream I eat. I’m learning that my identity isn’t really wrapped up in whether or not I put on a skirt, too. The skirt doesn’t change who I am, it doesn’t negate my ability to climb a tree or suddenly give me feminine wiles. It just means I occasionally trip over the extra fabric while I romp through the bush or have a little extra towel available to wipe my hands on. The me doing the romping and the wiping is fundamentally the same, just in a skirt now instead of pants. I do miss pants.
There are other cultural assumptions that have been part of “me” in the US that I am learning are not “me” but rather what the culture around me has imposed as part of my identity. Now that I am in a totally different culture, I can see more and more of these cultural expectations and how they fit with me. I notice them most strongly when they contrast with the culture here.
For instance, I don’t consider myself an affectionate person. I’m not a big fan of kissing in public, holding hands only really happens when I’m intentionally being affectionate, like on a date. Even with children, I limit my physical contact and affection. Here, I am considered incredibly demonstrative. Jason and I talk to each other in public. We intentionally spend time together during the day. Sometimes, we touch each other outside of a handshake. We laugh together. I pick up puppies and kittens and play with them. I go out of my way to make faces at children and make them laugh. None of these things are done here, they are all much too affectionate. Here, I am a very affectionate person. Go figure.