The Mixed Bag: Returning to the US…Two Years Later

The slow retreat of Covid 19 and its Omicron variant have allowed me to safely plan a trip back to the United States this month. My last visit was in November of 2019.

It’s been an eventful time in between, to say the least: a once-in-a-century pandemic, subsequent global travel bans, local and national lockdowns, unprecedented vaccine research, development, approval, and distribution, protests against same said vaccine (and masks), lots of hand washing and hand ringing, a worldwide healthcare crisis, millions of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, and lots and lots of Netflix.

Insert numerous opportunities to overdose on isolation, self reflection, Zoom calls, and TikTok videos, and you’ve got a hot mess of things to recover from…and only some of them medical.

Like many of us, I’ll still be in Recovery Mode as I board the Air France flight back to the land of my birth. I was never considered someone who ‘played well with others’. Now, I must reenter society and behave after a two plus year hiatus from traveling, socializing, or being in a group larger than the six people in front of me at the grocery store checkout.

Nerves have frayed and anxious questions have popped up since making travel plans: what will the airport be like? How many people will be on the airplane? Will I have to sit next to any of them? Will we have a ‘coo-koo for cocoa-puffs’ passenger who refuses to wear a mask? Is complimentary champagne still being served?

Other issues loom large: what will America be like when I return? Will it really be different? Or will I just see it differently? Will I slip into that psychological gap that snags so many other expats: not being fully at home in your native country…or in your adopted one? Will I want to distance myself from America? Or embrace it’s free-wheeling culture like an old friend? (Realistically, I’m thinking distance.)

Will I remember how to drive a car? I’ve walked or taken the metro in Paris since living here. Los Angeles traffic requires not just a drivers license, but a certain Mad Max Mindset to successfully maneuver…or simply survive. (Note to self: download Uber app.)

How will I react when a waiter tells me his name, half his life story, and asks me how I’m doing and where I’m from? (French waiters simply say Bonjour and take your order.)

Will I notice price increases? Everyone I speak to in the states is positively shocked at the inflation rate. I’ve been living in euros. What will I actually sense and find?

And what is the actual political atmosphere? Is it as angry and divisive as I’ve heard? Are things really about to erupt like some overdue volcano? Or are most people just too busy to fight right now?

Is this my last visit to the United States for the foreseeable future? Will I see the need or have the desire to return? How do I feel about being American?

Oh, it’s a mixed bag, indeed.

I recall that Washington Irving wrote his legendary short story “Rip Van Winkle” after returning to the US after an extended stay in Europe. Will my time away and sudden return prove inspirational? (Realistically, I’m thinking not.)

Of course, seeing Mommy Dearest will be a pleasure. I’ll have lunches or dinners with a few close friends and a few remaining family members. Will they notice a change in me? Has there really been a change in me? For someone who doesn’t really think about himself that much, these thoughts are a little disturbing.

Best to just get on with it, putting one piece of luggage in front of the other. So many of our worries run into a ditch before getting to us. So many things remain familiar, even after an extended absence.

Still, just as one never steps into the same river twice, I must acknowledge that time–especially this extraordinary time–has changed me. Just how and how much…well, I’ll probably be the last one to know.

  • BGT



9 thoughts on “The Mixed Bag: Returning to the US…Two Years Later

  1. Oh, how wonderful! Travel is always some stress, this will just be a bit different. I believe people are more cautious about not crowding, so that could be a nice change. Americans in real life get along with one another much better than is recently portrayed in media. Except on the roadways….
    I can’t wait to hear how your adventure progresses, and your observations. Have you adopted French mannerisms, such as the facial expressions? Will your friends see you as changed, I wonder?

  2. Byron:
    First off, that’s a great photo of you.

    Second, Mrs Expat Yank and I just visited the US for the Christmas holidays for the first time since Jan 2020, and we had the exact same pre-trip anxieties as you. You may find as we did that the worst of it was only in our heads. When we arrived though, we were mostly pleasantly surprised at how not-insane everything was, relative to our expectations. I chalk it up to having only read about America in the news since we left. It really is true that the news gives one a very distorted view of what’s happening in any given country.

    Some things were indeed different of course. Sadly, our West Coast city has transformed in 2.5 short years from a very livable, friendly city to a dysfunctional, dangerous garbage dump. Flashbacks of the 1970s were common. That said, our neighborhood well outside city central was the same warm and neighborly place we remembered.

    Seeing friends and family was great, essential even to our well-being. Though it appears these days that seemingly innocuous topics such as masks, vaccines, Covid variants, etc. are very touchy subjects that most people want to steer clear of. It was … odd.

    All in all though, I’d suggest – worry less, enjoy the moment (meditate if that’s what you do), and I think you’ll find your trip worthwhile. Safe travels // E.Y.

  3. I wish you safe and happy travels. I could not help but feel just a bit defensive of the USA. As an American living stateside I bristle a bit when I see how often we are characterized in an unflattering fashion. I don’t think it’s quite fair. Of course if someone expects the USA to be just like France they will be disappointed. (Please, whatever you do, don’t judge the USA by what you see in LA. It tends toward the vapid and frivolous.) There’s lots of good here in the land and in the people. Lots of amazing craftsmen/craftswomen as well. If you are in need of a nice leather piece may I suggest Go Forth Goods. The most beautiful quality of full grain leather. Everything handmade to order and I’d put it up against anything in Italy any day. Enjoy your time!

  4. How exciting! Like the others, I’ll be very keen to read your observations in the weeks ahead. Safe travels! (I’m also picturing your readers trying to crowd around the gate–or wherever permitted–yelling at you excitedly: “What’d ya bring me??”)

  5. Hi Sir,

    I’m new to your blog I came across some of your rather intriguing titles on Amazon when searching Mr. Fussell’s book on class.

    Really glad I found this blog, I can’t wait to delve in, and welcome back to the US.

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