Today we ran into an old friend while we were out and about, a guy we haven’t seen in several years. We chatted for a few minutes and then he asked, “What’s it like to be back?”

That is a really, really hard question to answer. When you live in a different culture you are constantly aware of how much you don’t fit. Don’t get me wrong – there are/were many aspects of French culture that I identified with, that felt natural to me. I love the way they respect privacy. I love the way they take friendship seriously. I love the way they linger over meals and conversations. I love the way they spend they whole day in the park, doing nothing, just enjoying life. I love the way that, as far as I can tell, very few French women ever fix their hair. (Seriously! There are a ton of people there with uber-curly hair and they sort of just let it fro out, huge and poofy. Our French teacher looked very, very similar to Professor Trelawney.) I love that there are so many stores devoted entirely to bread and pastries. I love they way they’re unhurried, un-busy, not over-scheduled. But even among all those things that just felt right, I was always an outsider. And I thought when I came “home” that everything would be fixed.

At first I thought it was. I told Jake that coming back was like coming home from work and changing from your business casual into your favorite jeans. But after a little time passed I realized that wasn’t the case. It was more like trying on some jeans and thinking, “Hey! These make my butt look good” and buying them only to realize later that you can’t sit down in them. “Home” doesn’t feel like it fits anymore, either. The familiar is nice but at the same time it’s not really comforting…and sometimes, it isn’t even nice at all. Maybe that is the sentence you serve for living cross-culturally – you can never truly fit anywhere again.

It’s a funny thing about comin’ home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button