01 September 2011

White Dove

When your three-week vacation in California scores a near-perfect 10 in all categories, it can be a bit disconcerting for life as you knew it to get back to "normal".

Imagine now the effects of a longer stay.

I've heard numerous stories of French businessmen and women who felt they had been unmercifully yanked back to France after working for two or three years in the U.S., only to find themselves in a deep state of confusion. Not only did they have to re-adapt to their native homeland, they weren't totally sure they wanted to be back.

For them, the casualness of the lifestyle had taken root. Everything was less compact, they found, more expansive, as if they'd just taken off a pair of shoes two sizes too small.

Never mind that the food doesn't taste the same — driving to your favorite fast-food restaurant in a large comfortable car (automatic transmission) on wide open avenues with automatic windows and finding free, easy parking is well worth it. And there's no need to worry about putting on weight. To help you make the healthy choice, all chain restaurants in California are now required by law to display the calorie count of each menu item.

Then there's the seductive convenience factor — stores and gyms open 24 hours a day, drive-through fast food and banking, Netflix (DVDs that come to your house by post, and now video streaming 24/7), electric clothes dryers, automatic ice cube makers. The list goes on. Bill Bryson puts his own spin on American convenience in this article.

For these expats, there were also welcome changes in clothing (more casual), convivial relations with neighbors, and perhaps most importantly, they felt less time was wasted on worrying about the company hierarchy and job titles than working together to get the job done.

The bug had bitten. Hard.

I understand completely. Perhaps too well. Three weeks might not seem long enough to "slip" back to the other side for good, but it does take a mental effort — not to mention a robust fight with jet lag — to come back. And then the surprise: Oh, yeah, this feels good too. Like riding a bike.

This dove "visited" me late one afternoon by the pool a few days
before we flew back to France.

Whereas one place resonates naturally by right of birth, the other feels comfortable out of habit, and repetition. Over time the two begin to blend, and though you may develop a preference for, say, crème brûlée over frozen yoghurt, pretty soon you're dreaming of a country that combines the best of both worlds. Something my wife and I often talk about but have yet to find.

Until then, perhaps the best strategy is to make peace with both.

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