November 2009 Issue: Going Home. Coming Home.

Moving between cultures is fascinating, isn’t it? It challenges your encrusted 2009-52-nov-coverassumptions 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.

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