Diary of an Ex-Expat, Part 1
Planes, tranes, automobiles: returning to the United States a...
When I left for Germany, it was with the understanding that I did not know when I might be back in the United States. Technically, the position I was hired into is billed at "25% travel," but I didn't have a good way of judging that, so it was easy enough for me to view leaving the US as more or less permanent.

As it happens, I have spent the last week Stateside, working out of my company's California office. This is located in Sunnyvale, although my first encounter with the United States was at customs in LAX.

I had thought, on landing at Tegel, that I might long to return to the United States; then, when it became apparent that I would indeed have the opportunity to do so, I thought that the US might seem particularly alien and foreboding. So I wasn't certain whether to feel overjoyed or apprehensive.

I'm still not exactly certain what I think, and I probably won't know until I'm back home again. But for starters, the things that you first notice, coming back from abroad:

The weather in California! There's sun! That was how I first discovered that I was no longer in Berlin: it was still light enough to see at 4:30. And I could get around with only a light jacket, or even no jacket at all. And it wasn't drizzling incessantly. Jesus Christ, but that was lovely. And I took advantage of this liberally; I walked all over the place in Sunnyvale, even though it's not a terribly walkable city. Besides, I had things to do, and

You can go shopping on Sunday. And not just for food and at train stations, either! I landed Saturday evening, and Sunday morning I discovered that I was missing several necessities — phone charger, shampoo, that kind of stuff. I could go to a "Target"! And then — when they didn't have what I needed — I could go somewhere else. That's actually very liberating, as much as (objectively) I can understand why it is nice to not be an always-on consumer, particularly since

Everything is ridiculously expensive. I've been consistently finding that things that would cost me less than two euro cost $5 or more in the United States. Frequently this is foodstuffs or consumable goods: I bought a razor with three cartridges in Berlin for €3.40; that same razor here cost $10 at Target. It's true outside of staples, though, too; RadioShack and Target wanted $20+ for a €3 microUSB cable (setting aside online retailing, I'm talking brick-and-mortar prices here); I wound up getting one for $10 at Office Depot, but... still. On the other hand, though,

The food is a lot better. It's also more expensive, even at restaurants, but for your money you wind up with something much more palatable. Then you eat it and GTFO, because man, they rush you here. Actually that's probably a truism: Americans rush with brisk alacrity, whether they're shopping, dining, working, or whatever. This has its ups and its downs, particularly when they nearly run you over. Which might happen, because — and this was the most striking thing —

The cars. My god, the cars. I wandered about back streets and residential neighborhoods, as it pleased me, but for my first couple of days I walked to work up El Camino Real and then down Mathilda Avenue. That turn marks the intersection of an 8 lane and a 9 lane street, I believe — in either case massive, sprawling roads. Americans live and die by the car in a way that I hadn't really appreciated until I left and came back. And this is in an area of California with decent mass transit and rail service!

As to the larger question: am I happy to be back? Will I miss it when I leave? Do I prefer Berlin? I'm not sure, and I want to take a little bit more time to think on that particular puzzle. For now, though, I'm afraid I have to wrap this up, as I've better things to do — it's Christmas Eve, a lovely winter evening with a crisp night outside, and I'm going to enjoy it a bit before bed.

So take care, all you crazy, wonderful people; take care, and have a Merry Christmas!
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