Between Here and There

So for the past 3 weeks I’ve been hopscotching across America. From the midwest I skipped to San Francisco on the West Coast and then leapt back to the East Coast, into New York and Washington D.C. What did I learn? What grand epiphanies became vivid and apparent during my travels? Only the utter truth of what the great writer Thomas Wolfe once wrote: You can’t go home again. 

After living in Croatia for nearly 2.5 years I can never see the US in the same way I saw it before my migration. After you’ve made someplace else your new home for yourself and accepted a new place as your place, than it becomes impossible to return to your old home. It’s a bit like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Remember? Once the cave’s captives are able to free themselves and emerge into the daylight they become aware of a greater truth. If they were to go back into the cave they would of course see the same shadows thrown on the walls by the flickering fire light. The very ones the captives once took for the whole of their world. Only now, they would know that they are, but the shadows of reality.

Living some place else and adopting its customs is a bit like leaving the cave. The biggest problem is when you try to explain this to your friends and family. Rather than coming across as enlightened, you actually sound like a pretentious dick who is “all European” with his men’s capri pants, little bag or fanny-pack, new dislike of air conditioning, limited use of ice, desire to always sit outside, hour long coffees and fancy cigarettes. Not to mention he keeps talking about shit like Plato.

I imagine it is equally challenging for our Croatian compatriots who return from living in the US. They probably talk about things like bare feet, punctuality, the benign nature of air conditioning and “customer service.”

In the US people ask me one question in two ways: What’s living in Croatia like? The first way is when they expect me to say something disparaging about life in Croatia. In those cases I say, It’s great! In the second case they have usually seen a show about the coast, or know something about Dubrovnik. And so they anticipate an answer reflecting how wonderful life in Croatia can be. In the second case I usually say, Croatia is nice, but the economy is crappy, taxes are high and you have to stand in line a lot (San Francisco also has an abundance of lines)

I don’t know why I oscillate between truths. Part of it is because I don’t want the haters to win and I don’t want the people who like Croatia to think it’s all sun and fun. The thing is, both of my chosen responses are true. The problem is trying, in the space of a short chat, to express the essence of a place. How do you cram all the colors of Croatia into the shadow of a conversation? Or the diversity of America for that matter. In the end it sounds like I only like Croatia because there is low crime and universal, affordable health care. Or I just say something like: Life is easier there. Why? How? I don’t know. I hate not having the ability to express something in a clear and concise manner, but can you really express the whole concept of home. No, you can’t. Home is a feeling and I feel like Croatia is home. Back in the US, part of me felt like a stranger at home. Coming back to Zagreb, it felt stranger to feel at home.

I’m assimilating. But I’m still not scared of propuh.