November 2009 Issue: Going Home. Coming Home.
Moving between cultures is fascinating, isn’t it? It challenges your encrusted assumptions and sharpens your inner anthropologist. If this visit to Xela is your first opportunity to spend significant time in a vastly different culture, you’ll see what I mean when you get home.
I recently visited my home in the U.S. for the first time in 9 months. On one level, I enjoyed the comforts of home, the abundance of trees and green and the delectable balmy summer nights. I was turned off by the ubiquity of advertising and people with no time to chat.
On a deeper level, this inner anthropologist I mentioned made me experience sensations of not so much culture shock but rather mystification. I recall walking into a café in my hometown in Wisconsin, everything seeming so familiar yet foreign at the same time. I felt the urge to stop myself, take a breath and think through every action before taking it. I absorbed the scene around me through outsider’s eyes and felt like I was observing myself in the 3rd person. In my head I slowly placed a virtual order, anticipating the forthcoming conversation with the barista. I finally walked forward to place the real order, feeling a bit insecure yet giddy doing so.
After ordering, my first thought was “Hey, I can do this! Look at you!” Then I closely observed the barista’s latte-making process and felt pleased when the hot, foamy coffee drink was presented before me. “Look, it worked!” I thought. “I can return to my hometown and function.” I never thought I’d say that.
Spending extended time in Xela has made me feel a bit askew in other situations. For example, when I travel to Mexico, I feel like I am leaving ‘home’ for a surprisingly foreign place. Sure, many aspects are shared, such as a chunk of the Spanish language and the tortillas. Yet I get thrown off-kilter by the absence of vos, the less-friendly social interactions, the abundance of tacos (on paper-thin tortillas!) and the more polished and big-business-dominated atmosphere.
There was also a time when I could actually speak the German language. But Xela encroachment has colonized the brain sector for foreign-language like kudzu. I recently bumped into a gringa friend having a conversation in German and managed to blurt out “Sprichst Du Deutsch tambien?” Oh, brother. Home is where the head is, I suppose.
Anyway, I hope that your stay in Xela messes with your head as much as it has mine. May this lovely city grow on you and become your other home, sweet home.