Expat Life · In Omaha

Top 5 Surprises of Living in the U.S. After Italy

We’ve been stateside about three and a half weeks, which means we’re each about 10 pounds heavier from all the delicious junk food we’ve indulged in as we wait for our household goods to arrive. We can’t know how much for sure, though. Our scale is on a moving truck somewhere.

There are the things we knew we’d miss about Italy (i.e. gorgeous mountains, cathedral bells marking the time, and cheap prosecco), and there are differences that have surprised us since we’ve been back to the U.S. Ready? Allora.

Light switches

I know, weird. I didn’t know I was very used to turning on an overhead light from just outside a room as I entered it. In the U.S., our switches are only inside a room. I find myself searching for switches even though we lived in this house for six years!

Plastic bags and packaging

The U.S. has a serious single-use plastic problem. Where we were in Italy, we had to pay for each sack we used. And they were biodegradable! Here, they’re happy to shove a box of cereal into a tiny plastic bag, shredding it to un-reusable bits in the process. I feel physically ill when I forget my reusable shopping bags. The recycling drop bins inside the stores don’t make me feel much better.

And the Take-Out. All the coffee drinks (so guilty), drive-thru meals (guilty), quick serve meals (guilty), and regular restaurant take out (guilty) come with an abundance of plastic packaging. Straws, forks and wrappers, napkins, sauce packets. There’s so much waste. I missed the convenience, but I’m glad to have taken a break from contributing so much to the landfill. Maybe the extra effort we had to make to separate everything for recycling made me more aware?

The food

We mentally prepared ourselves for the enormous portion sizes. What caught us by surprise is the astounding variety. We were looking forward to branching out beyond Italian and burgers, and have been thoroughly delighted (and in some ways appalled) by the actual variety. We’ve eaten well since being stateside. (That lamb kebab with grilled Carolina peaches and blueberry barbecue sauce, OMG.) We’ve also taken wide berths around the stacks of candy commingled with produce at the grocery store and gawked at the absurd line extensions of some products. Why are there peanut butter fudge Twinkies? And why are they next to the eggs?

Also? There are TWO places in the neighborhood that serve bresaola and cheese from Lombardia when we start to miss the Italian flavors. Definitely a surprise.

How nice it is to have things thoroughly explained

The boys have been enjoying a day camp while we get things settled. The camp provided a 19-page manual detailing everything we need to know, from what’s acceptable to pack in lunches to the exact procedures for drop-off and pickup. They left no question unanswered. They also have a text alert system for the parents.

We received mailed letters from the boys’ school with their teacher and room assignments, with important dates to anticipate, and a text message to opt-in for notifications from the school, less than a week after registering.

These things probably seem normal and obvious to my American peers. It was shocking how a simple confirmation message, or detailed information well in advance of needing it, was difficult to come by in Italy (if you even had the chops to Google Translate it correctly). So often it felt like we were just supposed to know how things worked.

Small talk

I chat with cashiers and strangers now. It’s so easy. Effortless. I can be understood! My vocabulary allows me to communicate thoughts beyond the weather and how nice something is! It’s embarrassing that small talk has ever felt challenging, though I wonder if being new to a place makes it easier, too.

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We’ve been busy trying to make our house feel like home, without our furniture and with the marks of seven years of renters. I wonder what else will seem strange once the dust settles and life veers toward normal?

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