Photo from Mount Royal, Frisco, Colorado.

"That is happiness; to be disolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep." - Willa Cather

Sunday, 23 January 2011

i-phone message sent from Target

Like so many other things, it drips into your heart - through a pinhole. I didn’t truly realize it until I got an email from my mom’s new i-phone. She was shopping at Target and wrote she was so relieved about the ultrasound.

I was suddenly transported to this happy, safe place: Target with my mom. I don’t even like Target, or shopping for that matter (I do like my mom). That is why it is so strange. It has taken me over two years to realize how much I miss the US. Not only this, but I have allowed myself to admit it.

I think when you move by choice to a new country, you inevitably go through a honeymoon phase where things in general are just better and more exciting than in your native land. But lately I have been overcome with nostalgia and an almost childlike excitement when I read about races in the US, places I would like to travel or … shopping trips to Target.

Maybe, as I said to SR earlier today, adults are not evolutionarily made to live in a country where life doesn’t intuitively make sense. No, there is nothing rotten in Denmark. There are just so many things that I can't understand about life here that Danes take for granted. I, for example, will never dress correctly. And I will never be able to say the right things at the right times. In fact, I am the same way in the US. But, in the US, somehow this is ever-so-slightly cool and part of my individuality. But there is nothing cool about it here. There are just certain things one has to do to show that one “gets it” here and if you don’t do them, you are simply a little less respected. Or people just think you’re odd.

Then there is this issue of food. I am partially defined by the fact that I am a vegetarian and in Denmark, it is a lifestyle that doesn’t make sense. Meat is viewed by most Danes as the healthiest thing one can eat. And they really care for their livestock, raise them properly and prepare them properly. This is something Danes are really proud of. And it makes me feel like turd for being a vegetarian. But, when all is said and done, I will go to the expensive, organic store to buy bagels and hummus rather than putting liver paté on rye bread like everyone else. Am I just too old to change? Maybe I've simply realized I don't have to keep suppressing it.

Why is it I'm not suppressing it anymore? Well, because we're going to be spending most of my year of maternity leave in the US. And I'm looking forward to it so much more than I expected.

Since we've moved here, I've wanted to appear as Danish as possible, just to avoid people's xenophobic stares, but I find myself becoming fanatic about things that make me more American: my cheap, ugly running clothing, my ultra running obsession, my desire to gain as little weight as possible while pregnant, veggie burgers, barefoot running, yoga, vegetarianism. I have even signed up for piano lessons to make me feel more like I'm back "home". I know that not all of these things are obviously American, but they feel American to me and that is what matters. I NEVER would have guessed I would write that last sentence a year ago. Last year, I would have felt like a failure writing it.

On my run today, I posed some questions: Denmark, what is it you want from me? What am I actually doing here? (we are, after all, going to be moving back here for at least two years after my maternity leave). More than three hours and no answer. I guess I didn't want an answer anyway.

Running Song of the Day: Empire by Jukebox the Ghost

Piano performace of the Day: Schubert's Impromptu in G flat major D899 No.3 peformed by Horowitz in Vienna (


mmmonyka said...

Interesting, people are so different about this.
I have never had such feeling, at least yet. I wonder whether they will ever come. I have spend 3 years in the US, then 2 in France and now 1 in the US.
My sister on the other hand, she has been in the US for almost 4 years now but she always brings food from home and goes over pictures from home and stuff like that. She even has some Slovak/Czech friends. I never do that.
I thought that maybe first 3 years in the US were easy because my back then Slovak boyfriend was there with me. And my parents were saying that I liked it so much because I was not alone. But no. I was alone in France and am alone in the US now and I love it. I do not miss home, not at all. I might be different (crazy European girl biking to work in Michigan winter. Yeah I will be in 1 week exactly) and I do not care.

SteveQ said...

The stuff that makes you think "American" makes me think "Californian." One doesn't have to travel far for the feeling of otherness to appear; I remember Julie Berg in South Dakota amazed that there a salad meant iceberg lettuce and a slice of tomato, which is about what it meant in Minneapolis 30 years ago.

Part of the Danish food traditions makes sense in your worldview, however. They eat the foods that are easy to grow right there, so they're fresh, local and generally high quality - though there's a local cooking show that airs here and the Danish guy has had cod, potatoes and cabbage to the point one would scream (this I know from experience; it sounds like dinners from my childhood).

I'm currently liking the name Anna for a girl. Old-fashioned, but not unattractive, works in most languages, hasn't become popular lately and is due a resurgence.

It's funny what can make one homesick. I once walked between two laboratories and was overwhelmed with nostalgia. One lab was growing yeast and another blue-green algae. Growing up between a lake and a bakery, it just smelled like home!

sea legs girl said...

It is interesting, mmmonyka. I lived in France for two years and never reached the point of getting "home sick". Maybe it is different when one has kids. I don't know. It is very, very hard to explain or understand.

sea legs girl said...


I agree with the way Danes view food. I just can't get into eating what they like. I used to like meat. But I have been a vegetarian for 13 years now and just can't get myself to look at meat as a thing I can eat.

I love the story of the algae and the yeast. Smells are just so classic for nostalgia. I remember moving into an apartment when I was 22 in Milwaukee and suddenly smelling the same plant that had been in my grandmother's yard growing up and suddenly become so overwhelmed with emotion that I nearly cried on my run.

cherelli said...

Hmm, I get this. Often it'll be weeks which pass when suddenly I am encountered by either a reminder of Australia or forced to remember I am Australian by somebody...I love Canada's beautiful terrain, and the people are friendly, but there are lots of things that could be done better - and at this time of year I crave the Aussie beaches (despite enjoying skiing..) It's great you'll be able to spend time in the US on maternity leave...I often wonder how things will change for me with kids....and both of our parents back in Oz...

GG said...

I am a long time reader, first time commenter. As someone who lived in England for 6 years I can really related what you wrote. There are so many 'phases' of living abroad. Excitement, loneliness, resentment... I don't know if it ever changes, and even though I overall liked living there, I never felt fully accepted and confident in myself. I never really felt I had the 'right' to feel what I felt and to do what I wanted (if it was different from the Brits). I wouldn't say I lived in fear of messing up or not doing something the 'right way' but I was definitely always on edge.
Now that we have been back in the US for 2 years, I wonder if I somehow wasted my time/potential while living there because of my fear/discomfort of not fitting in completely. I also wonder whether if it was 100% my problem or if it really was the reactions of other people. I am still not sure.
The other strange thing is that once you move back, some Americans assume that everything/body abroad do things better than we do in America. Then you are left to explain (or keep quiet) about how things/people can be just as annoying abroad as at home!
Not sure what the answer is, but as part of a transatlantic marriage, I am sure I am going to have the opportunity to work on it again!
Whatever the case, enjoy your pregnancy!

Kirsten said...

Oh do I understand you.....Usually living in a country that I don't like very much (but Hubby is from there...), moving around the world because of his work, missing Denmark and also feeling not only Danish anymore. Suddenly getting these longings for something - not always remembering from which country. Of course there are things that you don't manage with in Denmark, the Danes don't manage with them!! It's really hard to live in a different country - I just try to take the best from each place....

Olga said...

Welcome to my world. And I've been "abroad", or in my new home, for almost 18 years. It does get harder, yet easier, if it makes sense. Since last visit home I've been talking about it, thinking about it, and even wrote a little bit about it a couple of posts ago.
I like Anna for a girl too. That was my choice all along if I ever happen to have one.

Stefanie Schocke said... don't like Target?! Not sure I can read your blog anymore ;)

:) :) :)

sea legs girl said...

Alas, Stefanie. Why must my feelings about Target be so complicated? Perhaps I love it, but just hate admitting it!

sea legs girl said...


I thought about you actually quite a bit as I wrote this and what it must be like for you to have now lived in the US for so long. I guess the feeling of missing our native country doesn't go away. But of course everyone situation is different.

And re: Anna, to Olga and Steve. The name we have now 100% decided on is pretty close (one I've mentioned before - Annika).

But do you guys have any favorite boy names?? :)

sea legs girl said...

Thanks so much for commenting, GG. It is cool to hear your perspective on it looking back.

You are so right about Americans putting other cultures on pedestals and having difficulty understanding that Europeans, for example, don't have it all figured out.

sea legs girl said...

Yeah - I bet your feeling about being in Canada will change a lot with both sets of grand parents being in Australia - for both practical and sentimental reasons. It will be interesting to see what you guys do!


You are exactly right that it is so hard when, as you said, you don't feel totally Danish anymore and I don't feel totally American anymore. But I can't get this feeling of "I just want everything to feel right" to go away. I know I would be nearly just as discombobulated in the US at this point!

Alicia Hudelson said...

I'm American but lived in England for 5 years and the Target part of your story made me laugh. For part of the first year I was abroad, I had an American roommate, and we were both a little homesick. One day she was looking out the window and suddenly yelled "TARGET!! THEY HAVE TARGET AFTER ALL!!" It turned out she had seen a van from a parcel courier company called Target which had a similar logo to U.S. Target:) Maybe there's just something about Target which says "home" if you're American!

I felt that nagging not-fitting-in feeling for about 2 years, but then I took up climbing and that really helped--I think it was that it was something I hadn't done in the US so I was a blank slate in the sport and could feel completely at home with my new climbing friends there. Maybe there's something like that you can start, just any activity you didn't do in the U.S.?
-Alicia (I'm a friend of Helen's from Minneapolis)

Karen said...

I think that everyone goes through that phase no matter where they move to, it doesn't have to be a different country.

It's funny, because I seem to have gone through those stages in a different order :
1. It is so exciting!
2. What the hell have I done?
3. I guess this isn't so bad.
4. I don't think I could ever leave here.

I think I'm firmly in stage 2 right now. Stupid Alaska, why did you have to be so awesome.