Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

A Traveler’s Thought: On Repatriation & the Importance of “Firsts”

SculptureBySea

When you return home after a long travel abroad, everything feels new again. You start taking note of “firsts”: the first time you drive a car, you examine the street signs carefully, even though you’ve seen it before. You think about how you didn’t need a car to get around in Europe, at least in daily life to hop over to one of several supermarkets within walking distance.

Other “firsts” are much welcomed and anticipated, like our first plate of (real) sushi, served in a restaurant that only serves Japanese food.

Of course, it’s quickly followed by an unwanted “first”: the frustration that comes with calculating the tip, an archaic tradition we keep perpetuating despite the fact that research shows it’s discriminatory (apparently race matters in the amount of tip you get), unfair to the employees, and does not incentivize better customer service.

Other activities that you would have considered part of a daily routine surprise you as you acknowledge them as being a “first”: who would have thought a trip to Costco required the recognition of “oh, it’s our first trip to Costco since we got back”. Buying unnecessary amount of big things is uniquely American, after all.

Some “firsts” come much later, after you re-establish your normal routine. The weather gets colder and you are quickly reminded after a night of “duvet tug-o-war” with your significant other, that the Scandinavians had solved this problem long ago: they adorn each bed for couples with two separate duvets (they place a high value on individualism, and the duvet setup may be a reflection of that). You remember how odd it seemed at first, where even hotels in their images of their rooms would show two duvets per bed folded vertically in half resembling a cocoon: “Why do they put sleeping bags on the beds? It’s not a hostel, is it?”. You think nothing of it as the practice becomes the norm, only until you return to home to get a double-dose of “oh, right…one large duvet” and the memory of your first experience seeing two single duvets on a full-size bed is fresh again.

Somewhere along the line, you realize these experiences, of learning and unlearning, adapting and adapting back, have changed you in a way you are no longer the same person who used to frequent a sushi eatery, drive to Costco and sleep under one large duvet. You are now fundamentally different in a place where everything else, from your perspective, has stood still in time.

It feels odd at best, strange to feel like a stranger in familiar surroundings. Then your other first hits: first time you meet up with a friend you made abroad. In sharing their repatriation stories, you realize you are not alone and you embrace all the experiences that changed you for better or worse, and vow to keep your eyes out for more firsts long after the jet lag is gone.

Photo: Sculpture by the Sea festival in Aarhus, Denmark

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This entry was posted on November 17, 2015 by in Culture, Identity, Travel and tagged , , , .
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