First trip to America

Trip Start Apr 15, 2003
Trip End Sep 01, 2011

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Flag of United States  , Illinois
Monday, June 30, 2003

Melanie had her first visit back to Chicago this week. Here are her impressions:

I arrived on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Blue skies with a few wispy white clouds, perfect temperature of high 60s/low 70s, and minimal humidity. Gorgeous. On the cab ride from the airport, all I could think about was how nice it would be to go for a bike ride along the lake. However, there was no time for that - there was shopping to be done and friends to visit first!

First order of business -- hit the local drugstore for all of the toiletries, Ziploc bags, and other items that I'm running low on and have not yet found in Amsterdam. Although I am sure many of these things exist in Amsterdam (except for good Ziploc's), it's just easier to buy it in America. Whereas it takes hours to locate what I need in Amsterdam (because I don't know what things are called yet and am not familiar with the stores), I can easily spend $300 in 30 minutes at Walgreen's.

Next stop: Off to a friend's house for an afternoon and evening of wine, food, and friendship. These particular friends have an apartment with the same view as our Chicago apartment had, only on a different floor. As I mentioned, it was a beautiful day and when I walked in the first thing I saw was the lake dotted with lots of white sailboats. I had truly forgotten how beautiful the view was. We went down to the sundeck where we saw more former neighbors and watched the boats go by. It felt completely comfortable to be back home - as if I had never left. Everything was completely familiar. I could get places quickly, and the discussions flowed smoothly and easily.

Sunday afternoon: SHOPPING!!! I met my friends Jill and Randy for breakfast at a favorite old restaurant and then we hit Michigan Avenue to look for clothes. It was interesting to see that some of the styles that I had thought of as European from seeing them in Amsterdam are now popular in the U.S. as well. It was great to have access to petite sizes again and to be able to quickly decide which stores to go into and which to skip. Again, everything was familiar and therefore just easier. However, I had forgotten just HOW crowded Michigan Avenue can be on a weekend afternoon. When living in Chicago we had always avoided it on the weekends, and now I remember why! SO MANY PEOPLE!!

The rest of the week was spent in many, many meetings at work and a few evenings with friends. Everybody was incredibly welcoming. It was great to see everybody and was really nice to know that I am not yet considered an "outsider". Going away for a few months has not lessened the friendships that have been so important to us and it was wonderful to feel that in person. People were naturally curious about how things are going in Amsterdam and by the end of the week I was pretty well talked out. It was the most productive week I've had in 3 months, again, mostly because everything is familiar.

Some surprises:
After 2 days I really missed my bike. I was truly annoyed to have to walk anywhere - it takes so much longer than riding. Since I had walked everywhere when living in Chicago, this was not at all expected.
The Dutch habit of drinking milk with meals is thoroughly engrained. One evening I went to a favorite Italian restaurant and was not in the mood for wine or beer, but really wanted a big glass of milk. The waitress thought it was odd, but brought me a pint glass of milk nonetheless.
American food portions are even larger than I remembered. I knew Dutch portions were smaller - about the size of an American appetizer - but I had forgotten just how large the difference was. For the first 2 days, I only ate about of what was presented. Unfortunately, it didn't take too long to get back into the habit of eating much more.
People, in general, seem much more stressed, tired, and angry in America than in the Netherlands. I'm not talking here about people that I personally interacted with. Everybody I was with was wonderful. But when walking down the street in Chicago, many people are scowling, have dark circles under their eyes, and generally look stressed and tired. When walking around Amsterdam, people seem much more content and happy. Of course there are people in Amsterdam who are just as stressed, tired and angry as the American's I saw, but as a gross generalization, the population as whole seems more content in the Netherlands.
Selling our apartment was not as traumatic as I thought it might be. I went back to look at the place one last time, turned the keys over to the lawyer, and a few days later picked up the check. I thought it would be quite difficult, but in fact it wasn't too hard at all. Although it is strange to think of not having a place to go back to at the end of my assignment abroad.

I went to my favorite restaurants, drank my favorite American micro-brewed beers, had good Mexican for the first time since leaving Chicago, saw lots of good friends, and generally had a great time. When somebody asked when I was going "home" -- and meant back to Amsterdam - it took me by surprise. But, at the end of the week I was ready to come back to our apartment on the Singel, my family, and my new life.
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