10 Jun The New Neighborhood (Part 1)
I moved with my little family (husband-big, housekeeper-medium, dog-tiny) into a new neighborhood in Washington, D.C. near Georgetown. It’s been a month and I’m full-blown back into culture shock.
While I still speak the same language, I’m in the same country, in the same town, having recently published a well-researched book about Americans and Washingtonians, my beliefs have yet, again, been completely shaken.
Is this real? Am I losing my mind?
Two months ago I was miserably nervous about leaving my home on Capitol Hill. I had lived there with my husband for 7 years. I had gotten used to lobbyists, secret service cars, FBI agents who were undercover as construction workers at midnight, countless black sedans, blocked streets due to fundraisers, John Boehner’s blue eyes and tan, neighbors who after all those years finally learned to pronounce my name — and we were all having dog hang-outs in Folger Park.
I had gotten used to telling people I lived two blocks from the Capitol Building and I was rubbing elbows and picking up dog poop with important people who worked on the Hill…for real. I even had enough guts to once say hello to two Capitol Hill police officers. I blushed all the way up my ears and it was probably only the third time I ever blushed. My husband told them I grew up in communist Romania and was used to seeing American police officers only in the movies and have always been smitten with them. I still am. And I admire American police officers more than any police in any other country, but I’m not writing about that now.
Then we finally found what we — actually I — have always wanted: A big American house but not in the suburbs. You, my international readers, know exactly what I mean. The TV-series-Hollywood-thing, but downtown, like in a European Capital. Ideally we would be speaking Japanese and borrowing sugar from neighbors — so I would finally find my multi-culturalism somewhere.
Well, I got what I wanted, but I was completely unprepared! How much more is there to life to still catch me unprepared? Will it ever stop?
12 years living in this country — meaning most of my adult life – I have lived here longer than anywhere else. I became a proud American citizen, learned to wear flip flops, hang-out with dog at the park and wear no makeup or jewelry. I don’t respond to “hellos”, don’t say “hello” to anyone, never approach a man or a woman, only dogs. If I finally talk to someone, I ask, “what do you do, do you work here, on the Hill?” I felt like 12 years of my life was completely wasted.
Now freshly moved, I get out of the house and the next door neighbors say “hello and welcome to the neighborhood.”
SERIAL KILLER ALERT for me as usual. No normal human being in this town, or downtown New York City for that matter, will say hello. That’s just the way it is on Capitol Hill.
Not so in this part of the city. Here, they properly introduced themselves. Giving their full names, how long they lived in the area, what they plant in their garden, the neighborhood rules, including the location of the nearest pharmacy and restaurant. My husband responds to them naturally as usual, while I’m dumbfounded.
Did we just move to England???
Are we still in the U.S.? I mean seriously, I don’t feel like talking to anyone, and I just want to exercise my freedom of being left alone.
The next day I leave the house for a walk. I had nicely dressed people saying hello to me and wishing me a good day all along the way. What? What’s wrong with my country? Where’s my independent and "mind your own business" Capitol Hill? What happened to my people? When did we move back to Europe and why?
Why is everyone dressed up? Why are women wearing jewelry and having their hair fixed? Why are men so polite and speaking such long sentences?
I went home and I changed into my glamorous self. I leave again to visit area art galleries. Why is everyone dressed Parisian? Why are so many women a size 2 and all men so European-like. I’m confused and agitated.
My husband explains that this is what a normal American neighborhood looks like.
Really? Then why have I never seen it on TV? Or lived in it so far?
My GPS tells me I’m in the American capital. My brain tells me I’m in a fight or flight mode; my cultural background tells me I’m in heaven; my instincts tell me not to believe this. It’s just a fairy tale.
Two weeks ago I received an email from my new next door neighbor who is throwing a welcome-to-the-neighborhood party for me and my husband. They want us to be properly introduced to all the neighbors.
I am freaking out because I don’t understand how moving from one part of the city to another can result in such a drastic change. In the past month I received more compliments for being European than I did since my birth.
I’m a rebel by nature. If someone tells me to do something I’ll do the opposite. I can’t help it. I no longer wear makeup or fancy clothes outside for no reason at all. I don’t say hello to people unless I have to. The other day I passed a sharply dressed gentleman while I was wearing my workout clothes and had sour face and diverted eyes. Then he said “I wish you a happy Sunday. You should smile more.”
It reminded me of many years ago when my rescued cat who was so used to being poorly treated cried every time we tried to pet her or even give her food.
I don’t know what’s going on.
(To Be Continued…)