1. There’s ice in everything. EVERYTHING.
Your taste buds haven’t been this freezing for years. Is it refreshing? You’re not sure. It’s actually kind of annoying, your drink being watered down before you even get to the bottom and all. But, hey — at least there are free refills! You bet your bottom dollar you’re going to take advantage of it. Only three cubes of ice this time, please.
2. Two words: free bathrooms.
Nope, the Louvre doesn’t cost €16 and it won’t take six hours to wander through. It’s actually €17 if you include the price for the bathroom and another 30 minutes spent waiting in line for the toilet, at least if you’re female. In your travels, you needed at least 20 to 50 cents wherever you went, whether you were gazing at a masterpiece or at a bucket next to a hole in the ground. But not anymore, suckers! You’re back stateside wandering into every restroom you can for free. You’re using wads of the supplied in-stall toilet paper, you’re using the toilet seat covers because there are toilet seats, you’re sometimes washing your hands with conveniently placed plush towels, and it’s great. Ah, America. 239 years and you’ve finally gotten something right.
3. The cereal aisles are endless.
Before you venture into the cereal aisle, you’d better prepare yourself. A lot has changed since you’ve been gone. They now have cereals in any shape you desire and in any color or nuance of flavor you can imagine. There’s gluten-free, low-carb, high-protein, high-fiber, and high-everything to consider. There’s even “smor’z” and “toast” in cereal form, too (both of which are totally necessary and an improvement upon the real thing). The options are there whether you want them or not, and it’ll make you feel strangely powerful.
And if you find yourself asking, “Why?” the answer is simple. In the words of the ever-patriotic John Green, “The essence of democracy is the freedom to choose among hundreds of brightly colored breakfast cereals.” You’re welcome, founding fathers. We’ve truly put your ideas into action and created a more prosperous union.
4. Fast food is at your fingertips.
McDonald’s. Burger King. Wendy’s. Taco Bell. Hardee’s. Arby’s. KFC. Long John Silver’s. Pizza Hut. Jack in the Box. Sonic. Chick-Fil-A. If you’re lucky, you may find all of these in one place like some sort of commercialized utopia for American pride and accomplishment. The ultimate back-home challenge: How many Starbucks can you manage to get in one picture?
5. All of a sudden you can understand everything going on around you.
Sensory overload, man. You spent the past weeks, months, or maybe even years tuning everything out because it was gibberish anyway. It was kind of nice being able to be in a semi-meditative state at all times. You traipsed about in your own little world, drawing your attention to whatever you decided deserved your focus. And then BAM. You’re back home, and the world has opened up again. There are conversations everywhere, there’s music that has actual words, there are signs begging to be read on every street corner, every building, and even on the road distracting you while you’re driving. Hell, menus take days to read. How do you choose which signs to grace with your stare, which conversations to accidentally overhear, and which music to sing along with?! You didn’t understand First World problems until now.
6. For once, nobody’s staring at you.
Ahh, bliss. You blend right in. What a relief! But you can’t really blame your not-American friends for treating us like zoo animals — you’ve been gone so long you find yourself staring at white people yourself. You stare at people who are shades of tan, too. You just stare at everyone. Huh. Weird. That’s not okay in America, is it? You might want to drop that habit. People might get offended or think you’re up to something. Are you?
7. Everyone just got a little fatter.
Depending on where you are, they’re either slightly fatter or much, much fatter. And yes, that’s the only scale you have to work with.
8. Your waitress is upset you’re at her table for an hour and a half.
All you wanted was a Coca-Cola and some freedom fries, geez. She’s been over there huffing in the corner sending you the evil eye for a solid 15 minutes. How does anyone drink 44 oz of soda in less than two hours? keeps wandering through your mind.
9. …And you even have to tip her.
Why? Because it’s your moral duty as a good American. Even though that waitress is huffing and puffing, you’ve still got to make sure she gets a livable wage. It’s a good thing you remembered, too, or next time you might’ve gotten a “special” milkshake. Man, it was so much simpler before when less math was involved. Move the decimal, divide in half…
10. The portion sizes are bigger than your head.
The fries are the size of baseball bats, and the milkshake comes in two containers: a glass one and a tin one, because by “one chocolate shake,” Americans know you actually meant two. In fact, everything is bigger, come to think of it. Your table is bigger. The chair is bigger. The parking spot your oversized car is in is bigger. Your butt feels a little bigger, too.
11. There are gyms on every corner.
And yet you still can’t find an open treadmill.
12. People don’t like Obama anymore.
It made you feel kinda sorry for the guy. And global warming? That’s now not a thing. Unless you count the heat emitted from the muzzle of our rifles, of course.
13. Kids are belligerent with their parents again.
Your Polish grandmother slapped you with a pierogi every time you stepped out of line. It got to the point where you cringed a little whenever you saw a plate of cabbage rolls. But it was nice to see that not much had changed when you went overseas. Kids were respectful and didn’t need to be begged and bribed and told three times to get their act together. Maybe you’ll take your future kids overseas from ages 2 – 8 to get them in line.
14. Senior citizens are NOT outside being active and healthy.
Your grandpa’s doppelgänger biked to the market every day or could be seen doing tai chi every morning at 6 AM in the local park. Here, grandpa and all his friends can be found eating waffles and playing poker. Not that you don’t love waffles and playing poker, too, you just wonder if grandpa would be better off and feel younger if he got moving despite his trick knee. It makes you wonder, what kind of grandparent am I going to be?
15. History just got wayyy shorter.
Your apartment building is 50 years old? Yowzah. Alert the presses! In terms of history, your stomping grounds have, like, seen almost a quarter of all “American” history. That’s insane. Remember that feeling you got when you walked into that 2,000-year-old castle? It’s like that, but reversed now that you’re back, right? It makes you want to take your age and figure out what percent of “American” history you’ve lived. Big fish, reacquaint yourself with your small pond.
16. People are lined up in beautiful, straight, sensical queues.
Watching certain cultures “line up” to board a plane, a train, or obtain something is like being in a world full of nothing but YouTube comments — it’s just plain hard to fathom. The balloonman got trampled again? Not in America. You can’t get off of the elevator because of the crowd clamoring to get on? Not in America. And what’s more, you’ve got your bubble back. When you leave two feet between you and the person in front of you in line, everyone knows that’s not an invitation to cut in. You’re just respecting the art of personal space.
And it’s a beautiful thing.