Am I becoming European, or not? Top 10 signs

By: Celeste Bennekers

  My college roommate and best friend squints her eyes and leans towards the refrigerated rows of plastic, cardboard, and glass containers.  Happy oranges, green fonts, and sunshiny citrus groves smile and wave back to her – begging for attention. I cock my head, observing this carefully calculated marketing exchange with amusement.  She stands upright and faces me with disbelief marked on her face.  “They are out of the Minute Maid medium pulp orange juice with the plastic handle in family size!” The thousands of orange juice jugs sigh with disappointment behind her.  I raise an eyebrow. She turns and grabs a jug off the middle shelf and throws it into the pick-up truck sized grocery cart.  She steers the 4-wheeled monster towards the impossibly long canned goods aisle.  I suppress a giggle. But not well enough.  With a friendship of fifteen years between us, nothing slips past. 

   “What?  What are you laughing at?” she pointedly asks me, a tug of a smile on her lips.

    “Do you know what kind of orange juice I’ve been drinking for two years?” I reflect her stance, hands on hips, as a playful challenge is dancing a jig on the shiny tiled floor between us.  Pop music is bouncing off the walls of this arena-sized store.  

     “Orange juice.  Just orange juice,” I say with a smile. 

     She shakes her head and returns to the task at hand. “There they are. We have dark red kidney beans at home.  I needed light red ones.  This will be perfect.”  She nods her head.  I roll my eyes. We both laugh.

     My family’s first trip back to the States, ten months after our move, we were crazy with happiness.  My husband, children, and I immersed ourselves in the American culture like a warm bath after being locked out during a freezing winter rainstorm. We indulged ourselves on fast food, shopped as if we were out of style, and glued ourselves to the TV, connecting with our old pals – Kirk Herbstreit, Robin Roberts, and David Letterman. 

   Our second trip back, almost two years after we made the Netherlands our home, was quite different.  With the confidence I gained throughout the additional year – making friends, finding a job, establishing myself in the community, and finding my identity as an expat – I felt a little uneasy in America. I looked at old things with a curious perspective.  The familiar became unfamiliar. Was I losing my American identity? Was I losing touch with my roots? Did I prefer Europe to the good ol’ USA?  Perhaps, but then, after dipping a toe in the water, I’d find my subconscious take over.  I’d fall in and redeem myself.

Top 10 Signs You’ve Embraced Your Expat Life (and then 10 ways, you fall back to old habits)

1.      All five of your senses are violently assaulted the moment you enter a Bath and Body Works.  Your eyes are blinded by sparkle and color. Your ears aren’t tuned to receive cheerful Christmas music. In November.  Like a mouse, you hide from the chipper store attendant who tactically approaches you with three different hand lotion samples. And a bag.  (Redemption:  After a deep breath and shooing the shop attendant away, you fall victim to the buy two get one free sale. You return back to Europe with enough body lotion, shower gel, and aromatherapy bubble bath to last a year.)

2.      You marvel at the size of American cars, the roads, the parking lots.  You are amazed parking lots even exist for free. (Redemption: You fly down the highway, at 80 MPH belting out the lyrics to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” because you’re in your private bubble of transport instead of sitting in the silent car on the NS train.)

3.      You absent-mindedly chirp a happy “Dank u wel!” to the Chick-Fil-A teenage employee as he hands you your number 1 combo meal.  His eyebrows furrow, you catch your mistake, but not before he’s already helping the next customer with conveyer-belt efficiency. (Redemption: You eat your Chick-Fil-A sandwich (with pickles!), fries and coke at a dawdling consumption rate, matching the painstakingly slow service pace set by most Dutch restaurant employees.)   

4.      You double-check with your hostess to make sure you can both take a shower at the same time in two separate bathrooms without the hot water running out.  (Redemption: You take the longest, hottest, most exquisitely fabulous shower of your adult life.  Complete with shower gel from Bath and Body Works.)

5.      You become increasingly confused by new kids’ culture icons: Elf on the Shelf, Doc McStuffins, or Wreck-It Ralph?  (Redemption: You get excited when your three-year-old daughter finds and watches Aristocats, one of your childhood favorites, on the transatlantic flight.  You get really excited when she watches three times in a row so you can watch The Great Gatsby uninterrupted). 

6.      Your brain becomes confused at the bacon options at Kroger. You have trouble finding a loaf of bread that challenges the freshness you’re used to. Your jaw drops at the price of a golf-ball sized piece of Gouda cheese. (Redemption: You kiss the ground upon entering Target.)

7.      You step off the plane after your transatlantic flight sporting a jacket, boots, and jeans.  Everyone else around you is wearing shorts and sandals.  You sweat as you enter the rental car bus and make friends with the Hungarian driver.  (Redemption: You run to Old Navy, buy a cheap pair of flip flops, and head to the local (clean, licensed!) salon to get a mani-pedi.)

8.      Your primary news sources for your college football team are Facebook posts from your friends and e-mails from your Dad. (Redemption: You dress your kids in American-imported college t-shirts and stay up until the wee hours of the morning cheering your alma mater to its first conference championship).    

9.      You find yourself subconsciously listening to every strangers’ conversation around you because it’s in English. (Redemption: You drive to Half Price Books and stock up on children’s stories in English, and a few for yourself.)

10.   You determinedly walk across the parking lot because you think it’s ridiculous to drive to a store you can see.  No matter if the parking is free.  (Redemption: You nearly get run over by an unsuspecting Ford F150 truck, sweat through your jeans in the Texas October heat, but you’ve got the bath and body works sweet pea splash to refresh yourself after your trip to Half Price Books.)

About the author

Expat Blog ListingCeleste Bennekers is an American expat living in Netherlands. Blog description: Celeste is an American Expat currently living in Leiden, The Netherlands with her husband, two small children, and two large dogs.
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Contest Comments » There are 6 comments

Olga@The EuropeanMama wrote 10 years ago:

Hm, interesting perspective! I would argue that Europe is rather diverse, but then I am from there and can't compare!

Nikki Johnson wrote 10 years ago:

Glad I am such great inspiration! Its true spoiled we are in the states. Personally I think there is more to value the European way. Although I appreciate all my juice options!

Vincent wrote 10 years ago:

This made me laugh, especially the part about speaking Dutch to the chik fil a worker, I totally did that on my trip home.

Ute wrote 10 years ago:

Lovely piece! One thing that always tripped me up when we transitioned back to Europe from a visit in the US were the doors of department stores. I would stand stupidly in front of them, waiting for them to open automatically because - hey! - aren't they supposed to?!

Michael Combs wrote 10 years ago:

What a fun read!!! You do have a way with words Celeste. Texas and Ford F150s, what more can you want?

Robert Wheeler wrote 10 years ago:

I can totally relate to this all. After a 24 year career with the US Navy, after deployments would be just like this. Celeste painted an exacting description of the things most of us take for granted. Hell, just the simple things like a new commercial on TV, the latest big hit song or just the blasting down the road in your own bubble of a vehicle can be the best ever. Excellent job Celeste, you wrote an article that speaks directly to me.

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