Back in the USA: Some Observations on Being A Freak in Your Place of Birth

Helloooo from America, land of the free and home of the lightning fast internet speeds that have pretty much turned me into a potato chip eating, Netflix-binging shadow of my former self.  It’s been almost 8 years since I’ve spent a summer back in the motherland, and while my vacation has been a blissful combination of visiting with family and friends and enjoying some creature comforts like obscenely large jars of peanut butter and to-go boxes of food, I have noticed that in my absence a few things have changed.

Behold the ever-changing and constantly growing list of things that are now super weird to me:

  1. American toilet paper.  It’s like wiping your ass with kittens! How do they get it so soft and where can I buy some of this magical mystery fabric in Florence?
  2. The outrageously large size of the stores. They’re growing wider every day, much like my waistline.
  3. Potato chip flavors. Southern biscuits and gravy? I can almost hear my arteries clogging, but in the name of sacrifice and this blog I tried them. And by try I mean ate a whole bag and then hated myself for about 30 minutes afterwards. DAMN YOU, LAYS!!
  4. Space on the roads. Have we always had this much room in between lanes? The first time I got behind the wheel I had to fight the urge to swerve like a Mario Kart driver between lanes while shouting WEEEEEEE!!!!
  5. Strangers being nice and chatty with no ulterior motive like getting you to give them a discount or stealing your spot in line while you’re distracted.

Is it possible that I’ve turned into an Italian without even realizing it?  A few days ago I was walking around the city with my sister, looking for a place to buy a coffee and exchange some one dollar bills for coins to feed our parking meter when we passed a very unassuming shop window filled with stainless steel countertops and an empty deli window. I was about to follow her next door to an actual coffee shop when I spotted an espresso machine out of the corner of my eye, lurking behind a couple of bearded gentlemen who were chatting behind the counter.  “Hang on a minute, let’s just get a coffee in here,” I said as my sister looked at me a little strangely. I asked the guy behind the counter for a coffee and almost cried with joy when I realized THEY WERE ITALIANS!! AND THEY HAD ESPRESSO!! Turns out these two dudes were actually from Rimini and Lucca, respectively, and had literally just opened the shop a few hours ago for a prova (trial).  They were super sweet and gave me a free coffee which made me so happy I had to restrain myself from jumping across the counter and kissing their awesome Italian beardy faces.  Instead, I will thank them by shamelessly telling everyone who visits San Francisco to go to The Italian Homemade Company on Union Street.

It’s strange how out of place I’ve felt since coming back to America.  I never really considered Florence my home until people started asking me where I was visiting from and I realized that although I may have been born in California, I have spent the better part of my twenties in Italy, struggling to adapt to the habits and customs of a foreign country while simultaneously trying to navigate my post-college adulthood.  For better or worse, Italy has been with me during these defining years and has turned me into a weird half-breed of human that doesn’t quite belong in either place.  I will never be Italian, just like I’ll never identify with being just American anymore– it’s too late for that.  Anyone who has ever made a home outside of their birthplace can relate to this strange place in which I now find myself–dancing along the line that connects continents and cultures, learning to be content with existing in the space between.  Because like any good foreigner will tell you, at the end of the day it’s not really about where you come from, but where you are now that really matters.  Bonus points awarded if where you are now has extra-soft toilet paper…#AMERICA!

 

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Author: The Florence Diaries

Living in Florence means always looking out for mystery poo on the sidewalk.

5 thoughts

  1. Aww Gina I LOVED this post, what you feel is exactly how it is for me when I visit home. The big ass stores, the crazy potato chip flavors and that almost ‘hunger-games’ type need for a decent coffee. I think we will always feel that weird half-breed of person but then it gets so much easier with time. You are essentially able to see the positives and negatives in both cultures. In the meantime, enjoy the Netflix and I can’t wait to see you when you get back so you can fill me in on what I should expect in December.

  2. Gina Baxter….the young student I introduced to Italy. Enjoyed your story here and look forward to seeing you in Florence this week where I will spend the rest of the year working with you and 19 Cal State Fullerton students and two other wonderful faculty members. I can’t wait.

  3. Ah, Gina, loved this post. I’m just back home from my month at home (only an expat can relate to the oddity of this sentence) and am mulling over these very same things. The majority of my 20s and 30s have been spent in the boot and indeed it is always SO WEIRD going back to the States–even though in Italy we are really still (and always will be) total foreigners. Can’t wait to see you and compare notes. xoxo Alex

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