"hey little American girl!"

It was so thick with American-ness, that moment, and it startled me with how long it had been since I'd encountered something like it, and how good it would be to go back to the States.

It was early June right before graduation. I was headed out in Lund, mid-evening, to meet some friends at a restaurant. One of the girls, another American, had her parents along, as they were in town for our graduation. Before we sat down, the dad stood up and stepped over to greet us.

"Hey there! So nice to meet you! Yeah, we're the parents, haha! Really nice to be here in Sweden. Here, what kind of drink do you want? It's on me, don't worry!"

He came back with our drinks. Set them down. And then proceeded to tell us girls right away how grateful he was that we seemed to have such a close and supportive group that had been hanging out through our masters program that year, that he's just so happy that his daughter had such good friends, that he's proud of her and us, and that he's so glad we all met. Just dove right into a tender and verbally affirming moment with us, after getting us drinks after having barely met us. When they left to go back to their hotel, they left money with their daughter so that as we all continued the night, he could take care of our drinks for us. It's not that every American dad is like this, of course not. But it felt SO American to me. It felt like so many dads of my high school and college friends. It felt like so many people I know, this instant ability to be sentimental and be a bit profuse. The positive and self-assured way that he discussed his impressions of Sweden. Wow. I'd been away from my country for a long time.

As the summer went on and I hung out all around Sweden, I felt increasingly excited about certain things that would greet me back in California. Like, hearing English all the time and being able to understand everything around me. And all the great restaurants I missed. And driving my car. And just being in my own country. I was actually very sad to fly away from Sweden, but so excited for so many things.

And so here are the resulting impressions from those things: In the first 36 or so hours I was back, I hardly heard any English when in public. My mom and stepdad picked me up in San Francisco and we went straight to get Mexican food. The tv in the restaurant was on the Spanish news station, and all the people standing around outside were speaking Korean. The next morning we went to the mall to get a massage and the people running the place spoke Chinese and almost no English. Et cetera. It reminded me that in many places in the States, especially where I grew up, that the diversity is abundant, and that I don't always understand everything everywhere. And it's okay.

And the restaurants, and food. Once I got there, and started eating, it all just tasted so rich, and sometimes left an oily taste in my mouth. I can't explain it without sounding picky, but I lost my appetite. I'd been eating so simply for a year, hardly eating out, and my body did not miss what only my mind did, apparently.

Driving my car was amazing. It was so convenient, so enclosed, I could sing in the car, which I missed, get anywhere whenever I wanted. I remembered how one of the times I feel most myself is when I'm driving alone, along the ocean on the freeway, and blasting my music. It's glorious. But then I was reminded of how expensive and a hassle cars can be. How much they can make me want to tear my hair out. In Sweden, when I would ride in one it felt like a special luxury, and not one that I necessarily wanted to have the responsibility for myself.

What I am getting at, and only able to touch the surface of, is how I was gone for so long and forgot how things were in a way, and also, I felt very different being back. I did many of the same things I did last summer, with the same friends. But I felt really different. Not personality-wise, and not my relationships, but in many other ways. My year away changed me. It took being back in California for a couple weeks to really get that.

I relished the moments that I knew likely wouldn't happen in Sweden... like when my mom and sister and I were crossing the street in Santa Cruz and saw a young dad bike by with a little kid in this very adorable and unique little attached kiddie seat. "How cute!" We exclaimed as we waited to cross the street. The guy looked back with a smirk, pointed to his kid and called, "But he's cute too right?" We died laughing at his spontaneous, friendly, loud and sorta flirty interaction with us strangers. It felt so American too.

The good thing, the wonderful, wonderful thing, is that as my plane touched down back at Arlanda in Stockholm a week ago, it felt so good. I was so happy to see the landscape. I walked through the airport and everything felt so familiar, so welcoming, where a year before, it hit me so hard in that same airport that I was in a foreign country. Not this time. I felt like I left one home and arrived at another. Hearing Swedish was delightful. I was so excited.

In coming back to Sweden, I know that I will often be, to many, the American. My friend's sister called me 'little American girl' in a sing-song voice one day as she said goodbye, and now my friend always calls me that, very affectionately. I love it. Yet it's strange understanding that I will always be a foreigner here, no matter how at home I feel.

I met an American guy out at a bar on Friday in Stockholm. He is in Sweden for a few months, playing ice hockey. He said something to me as our groups parted ways, each of us heading off with our respective Swedish friends. "It's so nice to talk to you, to talk to someone who knows exactly what I mean when I say anything." Because we are both American. And he's from New Hampshire, which means that he grew up over 3000 miles away from me, further than my Swedish friends grew up from people growing up in Kazakhstan. Yet, we are from the same country, a country of 312 million people, and speak the same cultural language. I love that. I love being an American.

But hello, Sweden. I'm back for more.


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