A mildly successful, slightly silent, re-entry
Expats warned us that it is harder to go back home than it is to move abroad. I suppose that’s because moving somewhere new is usually exciting, even more so when it’s a foreign country. Adjusting to new languages, sights and sounds is time-consuming and (hopefully) interesting. Moving back to a known city, however, can seem like a bit of a letdown. Oh, there’s my old apartment building. Yep, that’s the coffee shop I went to for five years. Here’s the shoe repair store that ripped me off one time. And so on.
Yet so far, I don’t feel let down. Everything is familiar, but a find myself being confused or tongue tied at the simplest things. It’s almost like my first weeks in Belgrade all over again.
Here’s an example. I went to Starbucks yesterday and when it was my turn to order, I was unable to speak for twenty seconds. I wanted to order a grande green tea. Simple, right? But there were two or three kinds of green tea, and I couldn’t figure out the difference. Then I tried to remember how to say “medium” in Serbian but (1) I was not in Serbia and (2) if we had a Starbucks in Serbia it would still be called a grande. (Also, they don’t really have “medium” portions of things in Serbia. Go big or go home.) I stood there, mute, for about 20 seconds while I tried to figure this all out. Finally, I just sputtered “Tea. Green. Medium,” like a robot that barely spoke English (or Serbian, for that matter.)
Green tea in hand, I walked to my dentist’s office. I went into the restroom before my appointment and hit the light switch just outside the door. The hallway went dark. I thought the power went out for about five seconds before I remembered that U.S. light switches are inside the restroom, not outside. Someone poked their head out into the hallway but I managed to flip the light and dash into the restroom before anyone could see me. Probably.
My dentist, a man of Iranian heritage, asked what I was doing these days. I said I had just returned from a year in Serbia. I wondered if he’d respond: “Where’s Serbia?” I figured at best he’d say “sounds interesting” and at worst he’d say, “How bad was it?” What he said made me, once again, completely dumbfounded: “Govorite li Srpski?”
That’s right, readers. My Iranian-born dentist lived in Belgrade and Nis for two years. He went to University there before coming to America. I had no idea. We chatted and laughed, until he told me I had a cavity. (Thanks, krempite.) Then I was silent again, but for entirely different and more painful reasons.