I still owe you the MN State Fair photos, and I’m sure they’ll be coming at some point soon. But for now, I have a few observations to make about my time in Minneapolis thus far. In contrast to the last two times I’ve visited, in August of 2008 and 2009, I’m not feeling bittersweet at all. I’m just feeling sweet, and strangely at peace. I’m staying on my own this year, in a rented and serviced studio flat in my old neighborhood–not far from where I lived when I was a PhD student here. There is a very good reason for this: in the last few years, I’ve always stayed with my best friend in order to stay close to the center of town (i.e. downtown Minneapolis). But she’s otherwise occupied this week: I spent nearly three hours today at the hospital visiting her and her newborn son, who arrived late last night. This was, of course, the reason for this year’s timing (September instead of August) in that I was hoping to catch the opportunity to meet the baby, and that worked out well. I’ll get to see him again tomorrow when I visit her again, and perhaps even Friday morning before I have to go.
What else have I been up to? (Aside from the obvious–Minnesota State Fair–that is?) Two dinners with my parents. Two pairs of new glasses at the place that I continue to frequent for such things, even though I have lived overseas for nearly four years. This purchase includes the first time I’ve had to buy two pairs with different corrections, one for general use and one optimized for computing and reading, since I am starting to have just the smallest need for reading glasses. No bifocals yet, thank goodness, but two pairs of specs with slightly different prescriptions for slightly different purposes. I’m surprisingly at ease with this little aging-related development. I’m not sure why.
In addition to spending time with my friend and the new baby, I got to have dinner with another good friend and her sweet four and a half year old daughter. I spent all afternoon yesterday with my nonagenarian grandmother, who at 93 was content to spend the afternoon hanging out but also debating US immigration policy, border fences, legal versus illegal immigration, motherhood when working or staying at home, and the relative interestingness of the things made by a variety of Food Network chefs. (We watched Giada De Laurentiis mostly, and my grandmother does not think that her husband is good enough for her.)
I shopped at Target (it’s so fall-like here I needed long-sleeved tees and socks), Eddie Bauer and bought some new Clinique stuff at Macy’s. At which point the Macy’s sales clerk — in the shopping mall in which I bought my back-to-school clothes in junior high and high school — asked me where I was from, because she could not decipher my accent. I was aghast. I thought my friends had been teasing me about the whole “starting to sound British” thing. But the salesgirl thought it was quite sensible when I said I was from MN but had been living in England. My mother later confirmed that she’s been catching little things that sounded a bit different, both when she visited me in the UK in July and now on this trip. I’ve been desperately hoping that I was not sounding (or acting) like the hilarious character played by Jennifer Coolidge in Friends, who supposedly moved back from London with a fake accent and lots of implanted British vocabulary. I know, that having remembered this clip on this trip, that I’ve been overcompensating and defensive.
I also had my nails done today, when I was waiting for my glasses to be done and after I had already spent plenty of money at Bauer and Macy’s. It was an okay manicure for a walk-in mall job on a random Wednesday afternoon, but to my mortification I managed to forget where I was and tipped $2 for a $16 manicure, which would be generous in the UK but not probably sufficient in the US (especially in these “tough economic times”).
All of this is fine, it just shows the typical expat confusion after more than a couple of years abroad. But it gets worse. I’ve got a rental car here, as you would expect. I’ve been driving around my own neighborhood, and having trouble recalling exactly where I’m going. I’ve had to stick to main routes instead of the insider back-roads routes that I took when I lived here and really knew where I was going. But it gets worse. I have, on more than one occasion — and startling because I do NOT drive in the UK — gotten confused over which side of the road I was supposed to be driving on.
pause for effect
I blame the Americans. They seem to be adding (AmE) traffic circles/(BrE) roundabouts at an alarming rate. And I arrive at these things and can’t remember which way I’m supposed to go around. And when on a quiet side-street in a residential neighborhood with no other cars, I can’t seem to always remember where I’m supposed to be driving, and I end up crawling along the center. This is the re-wiring of my brain, from American to British, that I find most disturbing. Just observing people driving on the “wrong” side of the road has changed me, even though I spend a great deal of time in the US and only ever drive in the US and similar right-side-of-the-road places such as Germany. (I did once drive in Australia, but I doubt that one experience can be blamed for this current lapse.)
Overall, my summary is as follows. I’m happier in Minneapolis than I have been on my last few visits. I also seem to be a bit more converted to my life in England than I had realized. I’m defensive and awkward about this when it comes to dealing with my MN peeps. I also have been railing against it by doing things like buying a pair of proper cowboy boots and some new boot cut jeans. And listening to American country radio ad nauseum in my poor, confused car.