Slowing Down Down South

My expat friends in Amsterdam told me “When you repatriate back to the US your old friends aren’t going to want to hear about your European adventures. They won’t want to hear about how much you miss living in Amsterdam or how much you loved that trip to Italy again and again. It’s good you’re moving to Charleston where you’ll be immersed in a new culture and making new friends. You’ll be distracted from missing your expat life.” Trying to prepare me for the culture shock that can sometimes accompany repatriating back home, and for me, a move to the South, my friends had all good intentions. Somehow, though, I secretly thought I’d be yammering on for months about my expat life – holding onto something I desperately didn’t want to let go of, like Linus with his beloved blanket.

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Two months in to repatriation and I can honestly say my friends were right. I can’t say I’m not thinking about missing the Corner Bakery or walking the dogs on the Museumplein, or just popping out my front door into the hubbub of the Dam at any given moment to meet a friend somewhere fun. I do think about it, just not as much as I thought I would. I’m too busy basking in the sunshine and friendliness of my new southern hometown. I may not be from the south, but I sure am appreciating the weather, the cuisine and that famous southern hospitality. Everyone says “Hello.” Everyone says “Welcome.” And….. they actually mean it. Perfect southern strangers in the grocery store or passing on a neighborhood dogwalk are more than happy to carry on talking past the general “Hello” and “Welcome.” After the questions, “Where ya from?” and “How long have you been here?” southerners are completely comfortable to share their entire life story, that I never asked about, in all of five minutes, sometimes shorter.  I thought it was just acceptable to say hi and move on. Those quick salutations may not go over down here in the lowcountry as easy as up north. I have to learn to slow down.

I’ve lived under the “grey blanket” my entire life, up until now, in upstate NY, way upstate NY, way way way upstate NY, the north shore of Boston, Washington DC, The Hague, Copenhagen and Amsterdam. For the first time in my life I’ve seen the sun, I mean bright sunshine with heat and everything, every single day….except for two, when Hurricane Florence hung over Charleston for two days. More on hurricane preparedness later in another post. My point is, even when it rains, you can count on sunshine at some point during the day. “Church has finally let out and we blew that popsicle stand!” Or in northern speak, we moved south to escape the freezing cold.

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We moved to Daniel Island, a coastal planned community in Charleston, SC. It’s technically an island outside of downtown. It’s like no other place we’ve ever lived. If it weren’t for people you sometimes see coming out of homes during the day here, or the golf carts slowing you down on your way to cross the Wando bridge (again I need to learn to slow down), one might think this is a movie set. Not one blade of grass is out of place on this quiet 4,000 acre island with almost 11,000 people, the average age being 34. There’s lots of young folk here and a large majority of them own pretty light blue bikes which they happily ride around the island without helmets on the extra wide sidewalks, nice and safe. If I hadn’t just arrived from Amsterdam, I might be alarmed at the lack of concern for safety (no helmets) and the use of the sidewalks as bike lanes. After two years in the lowlands, though, I’m comfortable with bikes and helmetless riders in all fashions and colors.

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Colorful bikes and very chatty southerners aside, this community and the greater Charleston area, has won me over. Being a northerner for the last 50 years you’d think I’d become annoyed at hearing the phrase “y’all” in most every sentence, or raise an eyebrow at the offering of sweet tea at every meal, be aghast at the number of fried foods and a side of grits listed on most menus, (what are grits anyway?) You would think I may ponder over the use of golf carts on major roads with kids, even babies strapped in on all sides instead of using a car, but my time in Amsterdam prepared me for thinking this, in particular, is no big deal. You’d think I’d balk at the idea of sharing my entire life’s story with total strangers with ease after I’ve known them two seconds. Yeah, that last one hasn’t happened yet. And probably never will.

I could and will most likely dedicate an entire blog post to wildlife in my neighborhood. I knew there’d be bugs down here, big ones. I just wasn’t prepared for the abundant prevalence of reptiles, amphibians, birds of prey, coyotes, armadillos and opossums. This yankee has been affronted by a herd or a gaggle or what’s the term for a bunch of bulldfrogs? literally hopping towards me as I hurried my dog past them on a leisurely evening walk. I’ve been alarmed and actually screamed out loud as a skinny green gecko ran across my bare foot on my screened-in back porch (yes, screened-in). Luckily, I’ve only seen an alligator wading (perhaps also waiting) in a pond close to shore near my house, like around the corner – from MY HOUSE! This all comes with living in the lowcountry. You’ve got killer weather, with killer creatures (and their big vibrant prey) to share it with.

If it weren’t for the constant flow of air conditioning in my house, or wherever I go down here, I’d probably be complaining more about how hot and humid it is. I’m actually dying to open my windows for fresh air, but I’m going to have to wait another month for that. It’s October 3rd and this week is forecasted to be in the 90s. The heat slows you down whether you want it to or not. So, I might as well get used to it. I’m not sure I’ll acclimate to slower driving though, since my car has AC, but, I can honestly say I’m slowing down in general, and appreciating this repatriation much more than I thought I would. I reckon I’m fixin’ to take off my coat, or just give it away, and stay awhile.

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