Our Third Foreign Country (part 1)
We are in the throes of our third move across international borders, moving back to the United States. My wife is calling it “our third foreign country”. We have arrived and surprisingly what has struck us most strongly isn’t what has changed, but what has remained the same and unappreciated before our European adventure began almost 13 years ago.
I have read in several guide books about the key characteristics of pioneer societies like the US that differ from Europe. The biggest one is how new comers are treated. In Europe, with its history of invasions by neighbors, newcomers were historically greeted with suspicion and left alone. The walled cities of the past and the heavy security shutters on most houses in Europe are the architectural expression of this sentiment. In stark contrast, the next immigrant coming into a frontier society on the edge of existence is a boon and needs help to survive. This historical artifact is why Americans are so friendly, helpful and for Europeans, annoyingly too interested in other people’s business. Since arriving in Plattsburgh, we have been greeted and offered extensive assistance and advice from everyone from the university, to total strangers we have encounter while getting set up. The level of aid is beyond anything imaginable that one would get in a European nation. This has left us sometimes surprised and feeling a bit uncomfortable at times until we remember that we were like that too before we left. Indeed, I think we went out of our way to make new arrivals feel welcome and offered aid to several new comers in Lausanne and Southampton. It is simply something Americans tend to do, particularly those from the west and from small town rural areas. There were one or two locals who helped us out with our moves to Switzerland and to England, but we never experienced the grand welcome and genuine aid from so many that we are getting here from nearly everyone we interact with on and off campus. There are always exceptions, and oddly they tend to occur in certain organizations across all countries. I will save that for part 2 and just give a big thank you to everyone in Plattsburgh who has been so helpful.