Friday, June 18, 2010

USA vs Europe


This is absolutely not going to be a post about the world cup.

Just to warn you.

Yesterday I had lunch with a new friend that I met through my networking (making new friends who do the same stuff you do is a very welcome side effect of networking). She used to live in New York and has been in Chicago about as long as I have been here. She is originally from the mid-west though, so I expected her to have no problem to get used to the cultural differences.

To my surprise she told me that she experienced some of the same issues I have encountered living in Chicago. People are super nice - I mean really - ever since I have been living here, my standards for good behavior and friendliness have gone way up. So you meet somebody new and you feel like you have a connection and you'd like to hang out with that person more but they are just not interested. You get to know a lot of people but ... not really. People don't open up as much.

I was very surprised to hear that from an American who has lived in the US all her life and even is kind of from the area.

Funnily enough I heard the same thing from my friends in Holland (who are all expats) about Dutch people. And I heard the same thing from my friends who have lived in the US as expats - all over the US.

Which brings up the question - is it just harder to make friends the older you get? I was fortunate to get to experience the whole expat circle for seven years because now I realize that it was a very special community. I met new people almost every week and I stayed in contact with a lot of them.

The day we arrived back in the Netherlands for our trip abroad, we went to a bar to meet up with some of our old friends. We had invited everybody we know in South Holland and to our surprise - most of them showed up. There was a whole bar full of our friends, waiting for us. It was pretty overwhelming (thank you all for coming out, you guys!). I had tears in my eyes walking home that night and I couldn't walk past our old apartment without touching the front door and peeking through the window to see if the new inhabitants made it as homely as we once did.

The following two weeks were a whirlwind of social engagements. My phone rang more in these two weeks than it had in the 19 months I spent living in the US all together. I felt loved and missed and it really was everything I could have hoped for.

One highlight was seeing my old boss again who was now no longer my boss but a friend. She came out for dinner and a drink despite getting her wisdom teeth out that day.

Going out with my girls I felt like the 21 year old I once was, dancing and singing, uninhibited like I haven't been in years. I no longer was somebodies boss or even somebodies employee. I didn't have to behave. I could be myself and it felt so good.

The first week was pure bliss. We had nice weather - which shouldn't really make much of a difference - but it does, especially in Amsterdam. I was still high on happiness from seeing all my friends again.
The second week was still great. I am so thankful for any minute more I got to spend with these people that I love so much but slowly the things that annoyed me when I lived in the Netherlands started seeping through - the bad customer service, the rudeness, the people who cut in line, how stuff just doesn't work.

Part of me thinks I should not have waited a year and a half to go back to Europe, another part thinks that it might have been a good thing because things have been going ok for me recently and I have felt less homesick to Europe then I did in 2009. I am starting to meet people, I am starting to develop a business (by the way, I registered my photography business a few days ago - I am now a business owner!) - I am going were I am meant to go and I am doing things I like.

Since I have been back in America I have been feeling much, much better about living here. I think I am finally ready to settle down. Will we be living in Chicago for the rest of our lives, I don't know - maybe - maybe not. But right now I am ok here.

If you are in an stable financial position (meaning - you don't need any social help and you have a place to live/stable income) - life in the US is worlds easier than it is anywhere else (ok, I can really only speak for Europe here since I have only been to Europe and the US) because everything is catered to your needs. Stores are open all the time, customer service is wonderful, you can pretty much do all your shopping online, if you want to find a restaurant or a hair dresser or a dog groomer or whatever - you can go to any of the websites like Yelp and find the best. Everything seems easier here. And I have to say this is something I have come to value.

Of course it is also summer and even though we've had a lot of rain and scorchingly hot, humid weather here - summer in Chicago is a wonderful thing - festivals and the lake and BBQs and Cubs games and building sandcastles on the beach with the child I am watching instead of playing tea party for hours and farmers markets and ice cold Pabst Blue Ribbon and cycling and streets with canopies of trees and fresh tomatoes and Lollapalooza ...

Enjoy your summer - wherever you are!

1 comment:

contrarybear said...

I was thinking a similar thing, that just as we get older and the people we hang out with also tend to get older, it's harder to make long-lasting friends. People (myself included) get less adventurous, have less energy, have less time ...