(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program blog; the views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Back Home: What I Notice

The Caravansary in JFK Airport
One of the advantages of international travel is that you notice things that you took for granted in your home culture.  Experiencing another culture's ways of doing things makes you aware of things they do differently that is outside your experience.  When you return to your home culture, things stand out that are different from the outside culture.  The trick is to pay attention and write them down before they become common and part of the background of your life.

So, here are the things I noticed the first few days back:

Guns prohibited signs
Everywhere. The first sign I noticed as we walked the gangway at the JFK airport was "no guns."  (Like, what are you going to do with your piece between the airplane and customs?) I got used to seeing "Horsecarts prohibited," but haven't seen that sign in 9 months.  No wonder Europeans think we are gun obsessed culture.

A plethora of entertainment
We flew Jet Blue to SFO for a family wedding as soon as we arrived in the states.  Jet Blue offers satellite radio and TV at each seat. Nice.  But I'm thinking, "this is what the average cable subscriber in the US gets," as I scroll through 99 TV channels and about 150 radion stations.  And you know, I couldn't find one channel that I was interested enough in to stay for more than 15 minutes.

Traffic moves slower, but no better
After enduring Romanian cabdrivers for nine months, an experience worthy of a live action Crazy Taxi amusement park ride, the traffic flow was downright slow.  But drivers still run stop signs, cut you off, turn across lanes, stop in the middle of the road, and other irritating actions.

A Melting Pot
Walking the streets of San Francisco, we encountered Chinese, Korean, Japanese, El Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Mexican, African-American, African immigrants, Indian.  Most of these consider themselves [        ]-American, and maintain their cultural traditions while acculturating to the majority culture.

At a globalization conference, I learned about a blogger in London who decided to see how many immigrants from the 195 countries in the world he could meet on the London Underground.  The speaker said he lacked three countries (I can't find the blog or I would give a link).  A reminder that the world is a small place.

In Romania, there are fewer global citizens, except in the universities with exchange students from all over Africa, Asia, Middle East, Europe and America.  And in Romania there is much greater attention to "who is Romanian," and people with a Romanian passport will not identify themselves as Romanian, "I'm not Romanian, I'm Hungarian."  That's a big one in Transylvania, where the region passed back and forth between Hungary and Romania over the past 900 years.  Hungarian ethnic nationalism is a big deal.  And some Romanians will say other people with Romanian birth certificates are "not Romanian," as in the Roma, an ethnic minority who have lived in the region for about 1000 years, the Jews, who came with the Roman empire, and the Germans, who immigrated and established fortified cities starting in 1141.  During the Ceausescu era, Romania took payments from GDR to deport people of German ancestry (residents for 900 years) and from newly created Israel to deport Jews, which reinforced that "Us-Them" way of looking at the world.

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