I’ve become a firm believer that the world won’t end with a bang, nor a whimper. It will simply stop.
Applying that axiom to my past four months, my adventure in Strasbourg simply stopped. I spent the past month in particular spending every last moment trying to “profitez bien” as my French colleagues would say to me. “Profitez bien” is a peculiar phrase to an anglophone. It literally means to profit well from something, but idiomatically it means to enjoy yourself.
So I did. I went out with friends, met new French people and experienced more in the past month than I did in the prior three combined (which is part of why my blog has been so sparse. I’ve been a tad busy). I trawled strange, Dutch coffeeshops, attended underground, pirate-themed rap concerts and watched old movies in indie movie theaters late into the night, to name just a few of my adventures. The month became a blur of awesome and enlightening experience, that seemed to never end.
And then it did. I found myself on the morning of the 26th of December at Frankfurt airport, in the midst of making a sardonic quip at a particularly handsy security guy. I was late for my flight and therefore thoroughly salty after a harrowing morning at Frankfurt airport (which I’m convinced has had it out for me since day one). But, the moment I caught my plane, just as it was boarding, I realized that it was ‘over’. There wasn’t a huge crescendo of emotion for climax, nor a sad realization or diatribe. I just boarded a plane and left my life in Europe behind. Simple as that.
Twenty or so hours of travel and layovers later, I was back in Portland. And I still am. I’m home. And the culture shock is as intense as it was expected. People are louder, busier, and somehow more friendly here. Commercials are everywhere, and every last one of them are Star Wars themed. Hell, I had to drive my car yesterday and it was a harrowing experience. Not to mention how much it sucks waking up at four every morning, no matter how hard I try to get back on a normal sleep cycle.
I could go on for ages about all the differences (which I may indeed do in future posts). With that being said, what has to be weirdest is how surreal everything is. I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime, and veritably a different life in Europe. I had only four months in the godforsaken first-world country of France, but it was enough to separate my life into two very distinct portions. It’s absolutely eery.
I find myself missing my friends from France and Michigan at every moment, even as I say hello to close friends from home. I think it may be in part because the former group ‘gets it’. We had a formative experience together that is hard to share with anyone else. While here on the other hand, I feel like that annoying guy that won’t shut up about Europe. Our points of reference are simply different.
A close friend of mine, Ryan, spent several years in Europe while in the Navy. He told me that when he came back to the states, he found himself saying on repeat the phrase, “have you been?” Have you been to Europe? To France? To Alsace? To Strasbourg? And so on. The problem is, to our friends in the States, most of them haven’t. We end up coming off smug, or at the very least, irritating. Which is disheartening to people like Ryan and I, because our whole world was our travels…and now it’s over and we have nothing else to talk about.
It’s totally understandable for the annoyed, native party to feel annoyed by us. After all, who the hell wants to listen to some prick go on all day about how much fun they had in Amsterdam? But it does making being back home difficult. I went from a whole, independent network of contacts from across the world, with things to do every evening, to being back to Portland, Oregon during the calm holidays. Although it’s wonderful to see my family and friends again, it’s without a doubt a profoundly different experience.
Of course, I’m sure that in a few weeks, things will return to normal. I’ll be reintegrated and back into the swing of things at Lewis & Clark College. But, for the moment, the surreal limbo of being back persists. Imagine the feeling you have when you’re listening to music, and all of a sudden, your earphones are ripped out and you’re brought back to reality. It’s jarring to the extreme. You’re not afforded the sweeping end of the song, nor a gentle fade out. It simply stops.