Coming home, for a person who has been away for a while carries with it all kinds of assumptions about how things will be, what people will say when they see you, how you will feel in various situations. These ideas are nice, and for me they helped me not to worry too much about what life would be like when I got home. The problem is that they are essentially bullshit. Much like when you decide to come to a new country, it’s always the things that you don’t expect that are the weirdest.
Figuring out where I fit was easy. I grew up in this town; when I ride my Vespa down the street, it feels like nothing has changed. I can still time my ride to my favorite coffee shop within a few minutes, and the cars that line a street that I used to live on are pretty much the same. Sometimes, if I let my mind wander a little, I feel like I never left, that my time in Lithuania was only a dream. My third day here I actually had to call someone and have them verify that I had, in fact, been gone.
When I saw my best friend for the first time, I walked into her office and she just looked at me, smiled, and went back to the computer to finish what she was working on. It was a little shocking, because I am used to the effusive, European way of greeting, where even a weekend away is justification for hugging and a kiss (or three) on the cheek. For me, it was infinitely more comfortable to be greeted like it was just a normal day than to be forced into hugging and kissing just to prove our affection. The reactions since I tried to slip into town without people noticing have ranged from stunned silence to yelling, but I have yet to be hugged by anyone outside of my family and very, very close friends. I am sure it seems like I was raised by wolves, but I appreciate a nice punch in the shoulder so much more than a hug.
The strangest thing, so far, has been going to shops. People here are friendly. They want to talk, about your purchases, the weather, or the vehicle you drive. The entire time I was in Vilnius, I missed people talking to each other and generally showing that they recognize you as a fellow human being. It was impossible for me to understand why a person wouldn’t smile back at you on the street. I can’t tell you the number of times that we exchange students commiserated about the lack of friendliness in official settings in Vilnius. Upon arriving home, I discovered that not only had I gotten used to the way it was done in Vilnius, I actually like the Lithuanian way better. I just want to buy my pack of cigarettes or my coat hangers and go on my way. I don’t want to chat, to discuss my clothes, to talk about the weather. It certainly shocked the hell out of me the first time that someone tried to strike up a conversation in line and I found myself trying to make an excuse to get out of talking to them because it felt like he was intruding on my life.
It’s been a week since I arrived home. I have seen all the friends I wanted to see, every ex boyfriend I have had in ten years, and I have begun to adjust to the fact that people want to talk to you all the time, no matter what. I’ve only had two minor meltdowns, and neither of them have been public. All in all, I think I am adjusting well. The differences are subtle: listening to people discuss a person that I haven’t met while drinking a beer on the porch, finding out my favorite jewelry shop is a grocery store. My reactions are different, marked by my time in Vilnius in a way that maybe no one but me notices. Well, me and my hippie friend who told me that I smell like a different place.