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More Like a Stranger Each Time I Come Home

by Rease Kirchner

I have spent a lot of time away from “home” and a lot of time outside the United States. I have literally never been homesick. I have missed my friends and family, of course. I have even longed for certain foods or places, but never have I thought to myself, “I wish I was home instead of here right now.”

Well, it had to happen eventually, right?

It’s official. I had my first homesick day after a few months of living in Buenos Aires, and I am not even exactly sure why.

Here’s the thing, I don’t really have a “home” in the sense that most people do. The house I grew up in was sold, repainted and stripped of all my memories long ago. I moved out of my mother’s home at the age of 18 and never moved back. I no longer have a bedroom at my mother’s house either, so I really have no physical attachment to the house at all. My family is small, I have basically no extended family at all, at least none that I can/want to talk to and we never get together for any sort of celebration. I’m not saying this so everyone will feel bad for me, I’m just trying to show you that I’m not trying to be tough when I say that I don’t get homesick, I just have never had much to feel truly connected to.

Moving here semi-permanently has made me realize that you can be homesick just for your country and, for me at least, the things you miss are never what you would have expected.

Silly things I miss include but are not limited to:

  • Peanut butter
  • Reese’s
  • Pepper shakers on tables
  • Really good pizza
  • Cereal
  • Coins being readily available
  • ATMs that give bills smaller than $100
  • Central AC
  • $1 beer specials
  • Movies without terrible dubbing

These little things are worth mentioning, but they are trite and certainly wouldn’t cause me to wish I was in the US instead of here. The following things, on the other hand, have a little more depth.

  • Clean streets
    • Littering is out of control here. I am shocked and appalled every time I see someone purchase gum, candy, cigarettes, etc and simply toss the packaging right onto the ground as they stroll past a perfectly acceptable trash receptacle.
  • Common courtesy
    • I have come to realize that the rest of the world has made me feel guilty for being American. I was never conscious of this before, but before traveling I never really thought of Americans as being a particularly polite group of people, mostly due to how other countries view us. However, we really are very polite. Think about how many times you hear the words “please”, “thank you” “excuse me” and even “bless you” from complete strangers in the United States. Our government may bully other countries and we may have a lot of racists, but we will hold doors, say bless you when you sneeze and say excuse me as we bump past you.
    • Along the same lines, Americans have a lot more tact. When someone looks like hell we ask “Are you tired today?”. If someone looks fat, we say nothing. If someone makes a less than tasty dish we smile, swallow and commend them for trying. We focus on the positive. Not too long ago my landlord decided to tell me I was looking especially fat, as if I really enjoyed Argentine food. First of all, I don’t enjoy Argentine food. Second of all, I work out 6 days a week and buy expensive health food. Lastly, you’re an insensitive bitch.
  • Proper work ethic
    • I explained to a student who works for IBM that in the US we are technically allowed a 15 minute break for every 4 hours we work in but no one really takes it in fear of looking unproductive and lazy. He responded by laughing and saying in Argentina it is not uncommon to take a short break every hour simply to walk around outside, smoke, chat, or do whatever you want. I wasn’t even surprised, because I have stood in line at a grocery store, waited for a check at a restaurant, and endured countless other seemingly endless and unpleasant waiting games here. Employees often decide their personal conversation is far more important than your business and simply cannot be bothered with you.
  • Well behaved children
    • I have a lot of experience with kids of all ages, but early childhood development has been a serious interest of mine for a while. I believe I have a great connection with small children and really know how to get to them. For this reason, it is especially painful for me to watch a child throw a massive fit and get what they want, or tell their mother to “shut up”. Are you serious? I know some people believe kids are babies until they cannot be carried anymore, but I will tell you right now I can make a 3 year old speak respectfully and take “no” for an answer, there is no reason any parent cannot do the same.
  • Men who don’t believe in Machismo
    • Machismo is basically the traditional Latin American belief that men are the caretakers, the decision makers, and have the overall control over women. It is not always so extreme, it may be as simple as being overly flirty and throwing compliments and love around so much that it ceases to mean anything at all. I am not impressed by your money, nor your ability to tell me how beautiful I am in 10 different ways in 20 minutes. Give me something worth taking about. Give me depth in your conversation skills and don’t you dare call me princess.
  • Good music
    • What the hell was Argentina thinking when they came up with Reggaton and Cumbia? I used to think “Wow that song is really popular, I hear it everywhere” until I came to the terrible realization that it is not the same song, but in fact several songs that sound exactly the same. Also, the common courtesy of using headphones is not often observed by the young douchebags who love to blast this so-called music from their crappy cell phones.
  • American business practices
    • As much as I hate the compensation culture of the United States that makes it so everyone solves every problem with a lawsuit, I do enjoy that the laws protect me from being screwed over or taken advantage of. In the US, I would never have to deal with shady business practices like last minute raises in rent or not getting what I expect when I purchase something. However, in Argentina, you don’t get the same protection.
  • Hearing my name as it is meant to be said
    • My name is Rease. Not Grease. Not Riiks. Not Tere. Not Re-ah-say. REASE. I know I could go by Teresa and my life would be easier, but you know what? No one calls me that and I don’t want them to. When someone named Jose comes to the States, does he have to go by Joe? No. I’ve even learned to semi-roll my R’s just to better say my name, but no one wants to accept it.

I’m still really happy here, and overall, this city is still really interesting to me. My every day Spanish is really improving and almost every day I am challenged and I love that. Do I get tired of Spanish and relish the solace of my English music, books and television? Yes. However, I still enjoy learning how to properly ask for a ripe eggplant, casually ask if people are up to do something, or formally ask if health insurance covers pre-existing conditions. Living here is like having a really weird internship; ever-changing tasks that are a mix of fun and mundane with a pretty sad but mostly livable salary. I don’t plan to go back to the US anytime soon, but I can promise you that is where I will end up. I may not really have a hometown, but I definitely have a home country.

Now that I have pointed out all the things it took moving away to miss, I want to know, what do you think you would miss?

Rease is a US citizen currently living the ex-pat life in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is bilingual and an experienced traveler. She loves gaining and sharing knowledge of local cultures, customs and adventure.

9 Responses to More Like a Stranger Each Time I Come Home

  • katherina says:

    Haha loved what you just wrote about reggaeton. I don’t like it either… And its all over Spain too (even more in the Canary Islands). However, i think its actually coming from the dominican republic or so! Argentinian music is amazing!! Well, I love it and have my ipod full of it. You should listen to los autenticos decadentes, andres calamaro, fito paez, los pericos, soda stereo….
    Then, I doubt they’ll put that music in clubs…. Probably only in alternative bars!

  • Elise says:

    I totally get where you are coming from. It is funny the silly, simple things we miss from our own home.

    There are times when I catch myself thinking the same thoughts and feeling really homesick. seeing misbehaved children, looking at people litter etc…I have to constantly remind myself-you are not in Australia anymore, so why should you expect it to be like home?

    • Rease K says:

      No matter how many times you tell yourself you are in a new place, you will always default to the culture you know. It is really hard to stop yourself from comparing.

  • Björn says:

    just wondering – how long exactly are you away from “home” now?
    If I may share a bit of my experience (we’ve swapped our german home for an irish one about eight years ago) – for the first year or so after we came to Ireland everything was great and shiny and lovely. That tipped over completely in the second year when I started comparing Ireland to Germany – and especially looked at where Ireland couldn’t compete and failed miserably. There was a small phase of indifference before I moved into a stage where I am at home in Ireland now and a tourist/visitor in Germany.
    As we’re completing our move to Buenos Aires in a few weeks I’m very curious to see if this cycle will be the same of if there will be a new cycle. Or something very different.
    From your little rant I’m guessing you’re in the comparing-stage now – it will pass :-))

    • Rease K says:

      Haha, at the time that I wrote this post I believe it had only been around 6 months, so I was definitely in the comparing stage. I have now been here 1 year and I am have just decided to stay longer.

      When is your move to Buenos Aires? Let´s be friends!

      • Björn says:

        I’ll arrive on the 2nd of July.
        As it turns out we’re already half connected – maybe have a closer look at the blog I’ve added when replying here and you’ll figure it out, otherwise I might just say hi on facebook 🙂

        • Rease K says:

          Oh you are Nicole’s husband! Excellent, then I will see you when you arrive, we will all get together for dinner or something!

  • Well, I can answer this from the perspective what I DO miss. On the trivial side, you know I miss peanut butter and moist brownies.

    But I also miss the feeling of safety and not having to constantly be aware of my surroundings and protecting the few important possessions I have with me. I miss breathing clean air. I miss walking down the streets without starting at the ground to avoid stepping in dog shit.

    But like you, I also enjoy the experiences and challenges that come from living away from home.

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