Sunday, July 21, 2013

They say you can never go home again.

Gee so it's been over two months since I posted. In that time, I visited my family in the US! Originally, I hadn't planned to visit because, well, first off, it's really frickin' expensive. Secondly, I knew I had a bit of other travel scheduled throughout the year, and wasn't really sure it was financially responsible to do all that plus a big US trip. But as the spring turned into summer (Irish summer, that is) I started to wonder if I wouldn't regret not making at least one visit home this year. Since July, August, and September travel plans were already made, I started to look for June deals. I thought, if I can find a flight for less than €500 round-trip, I'll do it! And as luck would have it, I found such a deal and our plans were hatched!

I thought while I was at it, I'd have a little fun, so I managed to keep our trip a secret and surprised everyone in my entire family by showing up unannounced! That part of the trip was fun and exciting, and it was so wonderful to see the looks on their faces when they realised they were looking at me and Mark in the flesh.

Unfortunately, a week before we left for the US, we received the terrible news that my Uncle Joe had passed away. It was obviously a huge blow to the entire family. However I felt blessed to be able to attend Joe's wake and funeral and pay my respects in person. That's the one thing that's most difficult when you move far away: you can't always physically be there during important moments. Joe had a nice send-off, and one of the most heartfelt eulogies I've ever heard by my cousin Joey, and I have to admit that it was nice to see my father's side of the family, many of whom I wouldn't have gotten to see.

Despite the fact that I was in New Hampshire for two weeks, of course I didn't get to see everyone that I wanted to see, especially my 92 year-old Aunt Mary, who lives in Cape Cod. We didn't spend any time in Boston, so there wasn't much carousing with Boston friends either. But I did get to spend some time with a few people who very kindly made the trip north!

It's strange, though. I have been wanting to write about my visit ever since I got back, but I'm not sure how to put it. I've been living in Ireland since the last few days of 2008. That's four and a half years. A lot happens in that time. Some of my 7 nieces and nephews, who were kids when I left, are now adults. People I saw all the time in my life back home only know about my new life through Facebook. When I think about it, I feel as though I've become rather obsolete! And the thing about Facebook is that it doesn't really paint a complete picture. Sure, you can post three times in a day, and people think they're keeping up with your life when it actuality you've just posted about waiting for the bus, the weather, and what you ate for lunch. And it works both ways.

When email was invented, I mourned the loss of real letters. Then it took the place of phone calls. But now I actually mourn the loss of emails! Because of Facebook, I hardly ever keep in touch with people by giving or receiving personalised messages. Sure, there's Skype. But I've got friends I've been saying, "Let's Skype soon!" to for literally years.

But here's where it gets difficult to explain. All of that is to be expected, and while it bums me out a little, I understand that it's a natural result of living far away from where I grew up. But what's a little more nuanced is how I feel about interacting with people in America who don't understand the culture where I have been living for the past four and a half years. To put it briefly: it's weird. I relate to life in America in a completely different way than before I left, for a multitude of reasons.

When I embarked on my move to Ireland, I naively thought it would kind of be like moving to a different part of North America -- that people would talk in a funny accent, the food would be a little different, and the big chain stores would be called something else. It's funny to think of it now, but I actually hadn't considered that Ireland has a completely different culture (and language, actually) which I am still learning more about every single day. It's not just the way people speak, or what time the shops close, or the practicalities of the weather, or the way people dress. It's so many things that I can't actually even describe it properly. Just like in America, Ireland's particular history, one filled with a lot of conflict, calamity, and colonialism, has informed the way people think and act. But the differences in those histories mean that there are huge differences in the culture. And I don't mean superficial differences, but deep ones that I've grown to appreciate. I've gotten used to the way things are done here. While I still get caught out and can feel like a foreigner, I also feel very comfortable here in the ways that matter most.

But going back to the US brings a bit of a culture shock. I don't really want to criticise or America-bash, or be all like, "I'm so cultured since I moved to Europe," because that's not it. It's that I'm not entirely comfortable there anymore. When I visit, it's not a comforting, "Ahhh...home!" feeling that I wish it were. Part of that stems from the fact that my childhood home is no longer in the family, and no one in my family lives in the town where I grew up, so the places I visit are literally not my home, and therefore I am slightly displaced. However, it's more than that. During my more recent visits to the US, I feel unsure of myself and how to relate to people, especially when they do things that I find culturally different to what I am used to here in Ireland.

So in a way, it feels a little like being caught between two worlds. I feel nearly as foreign in America as I do in Ireland. That's the ex-pat's lot, I suppose! The problem is describing how it feels, and what's more, describing it in specific scenarios to someone who has never been to Ireland, let alone lived here, and may not understand what I'm even talking about. Some things you actually have to see with your own eyes to believe or comprehend, whether that's in Ireland or in America. But at least my Irish friends have seen enough American television, movies, and news to have some inkling of cultural references, which makes it a little easier.

I'm happy I went, and Mark and I particularly loved being able to stay with my mother for the first time ever. She lives in a gorgeous part of the country, and we appreciated her hospitality, especially at the last minute! But next year, I hope friends and family visit Ireland and understand when I visit Norway instead of spending thousands of euros visiting "home".