We're back in Oregon this morning after the nicest 2+ weeks in Idaho I can ever remember having. There were some obvious reasons why this would be so - the weather was beautiful, we went to Reed's Dairy a lot, we spent two days in lovely Salmon, the girls took sewing lessons and got to hang out with cousins every day, etc.
But I also think I've experienced a paradigm shift since we were last there. I've done more research on culture thanks to my thesis, and spent two more years becoming even more settled in our home abroad. When we used to go to Idaho, I felt compelled to identify with my fellow Americans there, to own them as my people. I saw our similarities - my birthplace, my motherland culture, often my religion - and it made me quail at our differences - their hairstyles, their accents, their sentimentality at church, their strange baby names.
This trip, I think I've applied the ethnorelativism I wrote so much about for my thesis to my own country's culture. I see a stereotypical SE Idaho Mormon woman and instead of assuming I'm looking in some kind of cultural mirror and then bristling at the sight, I consider myself an outsider looking in. They're a product of their home and culture and surroundings as much as I'm a product of mine in the UAE. Therefore, their quirks and eccentricities (as viewed by me) become as interesting as any quirks and eccentricities I'd see in Sri Lanka, or Oman: "How interesting that they do things this way!" instead of "Seriously, fellow American? Seriously??"
This is symptomatic of the larger break I seem to have had with American culture. We must have passed some invisible cultural bridge and then had it burn down behind us without us noticing. On no previous trip here have I ever felt like such an outsider - an outsider with no chance of return. I will never catch up on all the pop culture I've missed in my eight years away. I will never go to the yogurt aisle at Albertson's and NOT be so hopelessly confused that I walk away without buying anything. Even if we unexpectedly return to the US within the next few years, it's simply too late - we can never go back to not having lived overseas.
It's changed me, and maybe this trip is the first time I've truly been at ease with that. I'm still American, but it's me who is Other, not those women in SE Idaho.