It feels like a long time since I've set foot on US soil.
I have become used to stumbling through the little difficulties of living in a foreign country. Having to try three different ways of saying something before being understood has become second nature. I forgot how easy and comfortable it is to be able to express myself fluently.
I didn't notice how much I missed being able to talk to people in my native tongue until I was walking through the international arrivals area at San Francisco Airport.
That's when it all came flooding back. As I was standing there waiting for my suitcases stuffed full of Christmas gifts, I realized I could strike up a conversation with the guy next to me if I wanted to.
And if, for example, my bags never showed up on the carousel (one of my constant fears when traveling) I could just march over to the little office and explain what happened to the person behind the counter, and they would actually understand me!
I didn't start a conversation with the guy next to me and thankfully my bags arrived with me that afternoon. But it's exhilarating to know that for a while anyway, I won't have to rehearse each sentence in my head a million times before saying it out loud, and I'll be able to understand the reply!
It's nice to be able to speak freely and articulate my self again, and not to have to work around the (many, huge, gaping) holes in my French vocabulary.
I can order my coffee how I actually like it (a double espresso with a little milk on the side) instead of taking the easy route and asking for something simpler to explain (Café Crème).
But even better than being able to talk to people and be understood, is the fact that waiting for me outside the automatic doors by the baggage claim were some dear friends who had come to pick me up at the airport!
What I have really missed over these past few months are my friends and family, especially during the holidays.
My parents moved from the San Francisco Bay Area, where I grew up, to Portland Oregon a few years ago. So I decided to have a long layover in San Francisco to see some friends before settling in up in Portland for an extended holiday visit with my family.
It feels kind of funny being back in San Francisco. I never actually lived in the city -- we lived across the Golden Gate Bridge in a suburb -- but I spent a lot of time here growing up so it's a very familiar place.
I moved away for college and then over to the east coast, and never really came back for any substantial amount of time. So I always feel like I should know my way around the city better than I do.
But being back this time it feels easier to navigate somehow. After wrestling with the subways in Paris and the trains in Italy, and stopping countless times to ask for directions in Tel Aviv and Ramallah, getting lost in a place where I can speak the language (which I often do) is a luxury.
It's odd to be back in the places, and among the people, I've known my entire life, to be in the place I have always really thought of as home, as a visitor now.
But I am enjoying it immensely while I can. If any place in the world can rival the French Riviera in terms of natural beauty it's got to be Northern California.
I love the Victorian houses, and bay windows, and redwood trees in San Francisco. And few places compare to the gorgeous vineyards and natural hot springs in the Napa Valley.
Next it's onwards to Portland for some quality time with my family, and after spending his Christmas in Bethlehem, the Englishman is flying halfway across the world to spend some time with us too!
I'll be lucky if I can remember a word of French by the time I return, but for now It's amazing to be here with the people I love, soaking up the things I like most about the US, and to know I have Nice and the Mediterranean waiting for me back in France.
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