Fresh Eyes on America
exotic melons

Fresh Eyes on America

Our house in Minnesota has a way of pulling me right back into my own culture. It does that by making demands we can’t ignore.

Sometimes, upon our return, the basement is wet. Other times a mouse, or a horde of box elder bugs has moved in. For our summer homecomings, weeds usually stand tall, saluting us. One winter, thanks to the combination of heated roof coils and an overwhelming amount of snow, we were met by six-inch-thick icicles stretching from the roof all the way to the ground.

This time, our water pressure was mysteriously low and our lawn was literally dying of thirst. And, despite the lack of rain, our house had a moldy smell from being closed up for six months.

Not terrible, but it left us little chance to reflect on where we’d been. Our  Turkey-to-America transition was quick: once water issues were under control, we got busy restocking the fridge, getting electronic devices up and running, and trying not to fall asleep during the 6:00 pm news.

Then, as if to truly recapture our American sensibilities, after only four days at home we flew off to a wedding in the Berkshires.

New England—I had forgotten all about New England—at its sparkling best! The town we stayed in, Great Barrington, was recently named by Smithsonian Magazine as one of the top ten small towns in America. Its staid, colonial architecture and perfectly scaled streets were a wonderful reminder of the beauty and tradition that exist right here in our own country.

The Wainwright Inn, ready for a pre-wedding party 

I’ve been away from the U.S. for six months. I depend on news reports—mostly Time, Newsweek and the evening news with Brian Williams—for information. And it seems like my impressions have become a little skewed.

First, despite all the municipal difficulties and even bankruptcies, roads in my part of America have not crumbled. Some are patched, but most are smooth and easy to drive on.

People do not seem to be spending their time engaged in political arguments, creating the “firestorms” described regularly by the news media. Actually, folks I encounter seem more polite than usual, salesclerks and customer service staff exceptionally helpful and organized.

Perhaps this is partly due to a change in me. I notice that when I’m in public, by habit I put on my “visitor” manners, behaving in an overly friendly, appreciative manner.

The Twin Cities looks small and puny compared to giant Istanbul. “Where are the big buildings?” I can hear our trusty driver, Umit asking, were he to visit. I am amazed and exhilarated by the sheer amount of open and forested land in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

I have become an ardent shopper in booming, youthful Istanbul, but here, I am also finding enticing shop displays. At the entrance to one of the concourses at the airport there is a floor to ceiling grid of attractive handbags. And our local Macy’s has loads of cute summer items artfully arranged in aisles and near escalators.

The economic news is improving. Yesterday’s headlines proclaimed that ultra-low mortgage rates are leading to an increase in home purchases. Business employment is picking up, and with that, municipal employment should rise as well.

Is it possible Americans are getting smarter about foreign countries? Since I have been back, I have only received one inane question about Turkey. (“Turkey. Are they still Muslim over there?”), and nobody has expressed surprise that I “dare” to live there.

Aside from two very overweight people on the flights to and from Massachusetts (note to travelers: if you’re going to spill over onto the next seat, please don’t also wear aggressive cologne), I am not noticing the epidemic of obesity I read so much about. Admittedly, that might change when I make my annual visit to the food-on-a-stick Minnesota State Fair.

Food products have been born and died in my absence. My fave breakfast cereal, Berry Burst Cheerios, is no longer available (all that longing from afar!) My beloved Havarti cheese has spawned a lower-fat sibling, something I mistakenly purchased. And this week’s People Magazine (perused at the dentist’s office) proclaims the arrival of something called  “Pizza Dipping Strips.”

I am learning not to have overinflated expectations of foods I’ve been missing. A recent walleye dinner was not the best I’d ever eaten, and a bagel the other day was dry and tasteless.

This common Turkish melon (left) is classified as exotic here.

Small experiences are an absolute treat. Going to the library and bringing home a stack of slipcovered books. Jumping in my car and getting somewhere in ten minutes, even when Highway 694 is down to one lane. Sipping a slim, single serving Diet Coke.  And most of all, speaking my own language and being understood instantly. A layer of stress is present in each of my interactions overseas, and I no longer even notice it—until it is removed.

Being home is soothing.

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