So we've been back in the land of our nativity for two and a half months now and living overseas has receded to that part of my life experience labeled recent past. I know that I lived in Baku for two years but it feels like a foggy memory. Now I live in the United States and of course strange people can come up to me in the grocery store and chat for five minutes (always brought on by my watermelon belly) and I completely understand everything they say. Isn't that's the way it's always supposed to work?
People ask me about how it is living overseas and then coming back and then going out again and coming back again and I have to confess that it's a lot less disorienting than it seems like it should be. It would probably be a lot worse if I lived overseas for several years solid, interacting daily with the local culture, but I come back and forth enough that I can switch pretty easily.
And it turns out that I don't interact with American culture that much either. My life is pretty similar to what I did in Baku: I school the children in the morning (but oh! the library books!!), take them out in the afternoon, cook dinner, eat it (but now Brandon is here for dinner every. single. night) and put the children to bed. I do go to the library once a week (library books!!) but I actually shop even less than I did in Baku.
Since shopping is such an amazing workout deserving of its own post... sometime... I've figured out how to just shop every other week. I didn't think I'd be able to fit two weeks' worth of food in our refrigerator, but we actually manage to fit in ten dozen eggs, eight gallons of milk, five pounds of cheese, and all of the various and sundry fruits, vegetables, and dairy products that our household runs through in two weeks. When we finally move to a three-bedroom apartment we will actually have two kitchens and thus two refrigerators so I will have a little more space to work with. If it weren't for milk expiring, I'd try and stretch my trips to every three weeks.
It's probably good that I go shopping only every two weeks because I've never realized how difficult shopping in America is. The physical shopping is actually easier than overseas - no cursed four-wheel mini shopping carts that slide sideways into the other person trying to navigate narrow aisles filled with products covered in incomprehensible labels - but the psychological aspect is twenty times harder.
Maybe it's because everything is new again or maybe it's the fact that I actually know what all of these things are and taste like, but never have I been bombarded with tasty food calling my name like I am when I go grocery shopping in America. Perhaps it's just that there's more food in general. But as I walk in the door, the strawberries wink at me alluringly (I can resist, knowing what they actually taste like), followed quickly by the mangoes (ditto), pineapple (not so bad), blackberries, raspberries, peaches, and nectarines. Those are just the fruits. After the asparagus, leeks, and baby spinach (it's washed!) comes the bakery section. Cupcakes! Doughnuts! Cookies! Bread! If you don't want a whole dozen doughnuts, it's okay because you can just buy one and not even have to talk to someone to get it.
After I've passed that temptation the meat comes next. In order to buy pork in Baku, Brandon had to go to a shop in a specific bazaar that came to be known in the embassy community as the pork palace. But in America, there's a whole section dedicated to pork products that not only have the prices marked, but have recognizable cuts! And I'm not going to even think about steaks. I haven't had a steak for almost two years. Then there are bratwursts and hamburgers and breakfast sausages and of course bacon. I'm really going to miss bacon come November.
By this time I'm starting to feel a little dazed by all of the food I've already said 'no' to and I haven't even made it past the snack food aisle. Thankfully the children have learned that asking for things only makes me irritable so I don't have their pleading added to my own inner ones shouting out the names of cookies as I hurry by. Oreos! E.L. Fudge! Star Crunch! Twinkies! Krispy Kreme (I know they're not fresh, but I still like doughnuts even a day or two old)! Thankfully the ice cream aisle is the last freezer aisle at my local grocery store and so I can usually skip it entirely. And I still have several stops to make before going home so I can remember that the drumsticks, York peppermint patty bars, Haagen Das, Ben and Jerry's and chocolate fudge bars would only end up a melted mess before I got home to enjoy them. And there are too many witnesses who would want their share if I just tried to eat the ice cream in the grocery store parking lot.
And that's just the regular grocery store. I'm not sure how they do it, but Costco has even more deliciously edible treats calling my name. Because if some guacamole is good then a five-pound tub of it is better. And don't forget the two-gallon bag of corn chips to go with it. And who doesn't need more crab dip in their life? And I have very fond memories of those yellow wheels of brie on assorted tasty crackers. I never knew how many different types of frozen appetizers and seafood entrees I could purchase until I got a Costco membership. And did you know that you can buy 32-oz jars of Nutella? The opening is large enough to dip your strawberries (or cookies or maybe just both) straight in without needing a knife.
I'm hoping that some of the siren song will be muted after I'm finished with this pregnancy because I'm not sure how much more I can handle tasty American food shouting my name every time I go to the store. It even calls to me as I'm driving down the road. "French friiiiiiiiiiies," the golden arches remind me as I sail past. "Iccccccccccccce creeeeeeeeam," Baskin Robbins sings to me as I rush to the library. "Coooooooookies!!" shout the bakery as I come home. All I have to do is pull the car over and all of these promised delights can be mine with just a wave of my credit card. I'm not sure how anyone permanently living here can handle it.
But of course when I go back to the lands of incomprehensible labels and dubious foodstuffs I'll miss it all. Because even if I don't indulge, sometimes it's just nice to know that I could. If I'm having a bad day I can always hop in my car, drive a few minutes and get something deliciously tasty to cheer myself up. Isn't America wonderful?