Thursday, March 27, 2014

Teaching the Kids About the US States...

The More Things Change...

I took the kids to Bar da Silvia after school for their snack earlier this afternoon. While we were there, a bunch of Xavier's ex-classmates from the Italian school showed up. An impromptu calcio (soccer) match ensued on the piazza with Xavier (and Luca) joining in.

He looked so happy, in his element, shouting out directions in Italian like he'd never left the Italian school and his Caldogno-Rettorgole teammates. I hadn't intended to stay there but a few minutes but ended up staying over an hour just watching him enjoy himself with his Italian friends. Watching the X Man there playing with his Italian friends and having such a good time, it just hit me how lucky we have been that he has gotten so much out of his time here and at the same time it also occurred to me that we are really leaving soon.

A very, very bittersweet feeing to be sure. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Drivers License Conundrum

In 1998 I arrived in Germany and part of the in-processing for new arrivals was to attain your USAREUR (US Army Europe) drivers license. A USAREUR drivers license is basically a type of civilian drivers license that allows people who work for the military to drive in Germany but is pretty much accepted in most countries in Western Europe (at least in my experience). First you attend a class on driving in Germany and Europe in general and then you take a written test and if you pass you receive your USAREUR license. You cannot register a car or drive on base without it. I had no problem with it, passed the first time although there were some who failed a couple times (When I moved to Italy they replace your USAREUR license with the Italian version of a USAREUR license; you don't have to take a test, you just attend a two hour block of instruction to familiarize yourself with Italian driving rule and then they switch your license).

In 1999, my NH state license expired. Since I was deployed to Kosovo at the time, there wasn't much I could do about it so I figured I'd just renew it next time I went home. The next time I was in NH I called t oask about renewing it and was told that NH has a three year limit on renewing your license after it expires so I would have to take the written and road test all over again, which I did not have time for. My sister works for a local police department back home and I asked her to check and see if I was allowed to drive on my USAREUR license. She told me that as long as I was on leave status, I could drive on my USAREUR license. I actually got pulled over for speeding while I was home and had no problem with the policeman who pulled me over so obviously she was right. I always figured I'd just renew my license whenever I moved back to the US but I had no idea back then that I would end up being overseas so long.

So now I'm moving to South Carolina. I know that I'll have to get my drivers license which means I'll have to study the driving manual and take the written and road tests. This gives me a little bit of worry since the last time I did this was when I was 16 years old for cripes sake but it is not what worries me most. Nay, there is another potential problem that weighs heavy on my mind; getting a rental car. I just got our tickets reservations made and we will arrive in Columbia on the evening of April 21st. Upon arriving, I'll have a gaggle of children and several suitcases along with the baby's carseat and who knows what else. If I am not allowed to rent a car using my USAREUR drivers license, I'm going to be stuck at the airport with a small army of kids and luggage.

Now, I must point out that this could very well be much ado about nothing. On the driving page of the USAREUR website, they have a list of all 50 states and what the rules are for people who are moving back there - under South Carolina, it states that a USAREUR license is valid for 90 days after PCSing. If this is true, I have no problems however I emailed the DMV to confirm and got an email from some low level DMV employee saying that a military license is not valid in SC. Obviously my only recourse is to email the car rental places at the Columbia airport and inquire about whether they will allow me to rent a vehicle with my USAREUR license. One would assume that with South Carolina being a state laden with major military installations, this would be something that they deal with all the time but it's hard to get answers.

So there it is. If the rental car places will allow me to rent a car, problem solved. If not, I am up the proverbial creek. The one thing I remember full well about the US is that you can't do ANYTHING without a car. So this has me pretty stressed. Quite the conundrum...

Saturday, March 22, 2014


[This will be the first in a series of compositions about people, places or things I am going to miss most when I leave Italy next month. There are way too many to write about or even name so I've decided to focus on a few of the ones that have gained a special place in my heart or made an indelible mark on my life over the past 15 years or so.]

Venice. Bella Venezia. La Serenissima. What can I possibly say about her that has not been said by millions of others over the years? My love affair with Venice is well documented in my "other" blog but as we prepare to leave Italy in a month or so, I wanted to reflect on the little island that has captured my heart during my years here.

Venice is a mere 40 minute drive from Vicenza and upon arriving here in the summer of 2000 I was extremely anxious to visit the city that had always existed for me as a picture in a storybook I'd had as a child. I made my first foray to the island in September of that year and I don't remember too much about that first trip except my first gondola ride. There were four of us that day and of course the one thing everyone just HAS to do in Venice is ride a gondola so we found a gondolier and he gave a us a price of 120,000 lire which was about $60.00. Splitting it four ways meant each of us only paid $15 so we happily agreed. The gondolier took us down a small canal into the Grand Canal and back, the entire ride took about 40 minutes and he even sang "O Solo Mio" during the ride however I was so completely underwhelmed by the experience that upon disembarking the gondola I distinctly remember looking at one of my friends and saying "I cannot believe I just paid fifteen bucks for THAT...". All these years and several dozens of trips to Venice later, it remains the one and only time I've ever taken a gondola ride. In each subsequent trip I have not once had the urge to ever do it again. Nowadays the average price of a gondola ride is around 80 euros (about $110) and tens of thousands of tourists happily pay it every week. For my part, I'm glad they do for despite my disdain of how the ancient tradition has been turned into a mere tourist trap, the ubiquitous gondolas have provided me with some fantastic photos over the years.

I quickly developed a fascination with the island and its history and since it was so close I would often go spend a day or a weekend there. I very seldom visited the usual "tourist" places like the museums and such, always preferring to just meander the back streets and little walkways that often lead to dead ends or quick drop offs into the laguna that has protected Venice all these years yet now threatens to destroy it through flooding and erosion. Eventually Virginia and I made friends with some locals who we remain close to even today. No trip to the island is ever complete without a visit with our friends Theresa and Michelangelo (who own a cute little glass shop near San Marco called Atmosfera Veneziana). Theresa is an American from Chicago who has lived in Venice for many years and has helped me tremendously over the years with recommendations and tips for enjoying the island. Another of our friends managed apartments around Venice and would occasionally allow us to stay in them on weekends when they weren't rented out. On these special occasions we would take full advantage of the opportunity to explore a side of Venice that some people never see; Venice at night and in the early morning. Venice has some surprisingly fun nightlife if you know where to look and for a few years I became a master of the impromptu Venice Pub Crawl. As I've written about, Venice pub crawls are unique in that they are not about the pubs or the drinks; it is the walk between pubs where the island itself takes center stage in all of it's late night glory. Venice at night and early morning is a completely different city than during the day. Gone are the hoards of tourists and day trippers. If you want to see Venice - the true Venice - you need to walk around the island in the wee hours of the morning, in the time between the sun coming up and the tourists starting their daily invasion. In that time Venice is transformed back into what she was in her heyday, back when she was "La Serenissima", the most powerful republic in the known world. There are no tourists, no day trippers, no Indian vendors trying to con your kids into badgering you to buy their cheap toys, no Africans pawning cheap knockoff Gucci and Prada bags....there is only the occasional scuffle of a native Venetian out buying their daily produce or enjoying their morning cappuccino and brioche. Venice is a special place when you have it all to yourself, even if it's only for an hour or two.

Over the years I visited many other places around Italy but I was always drawn back to Venice. It has always baffled me how so many Americans living here in Vicenza will never once venture out to see Venice. Living so close to one of the world's greatest treasures - a mere 5 euro train ticket away - yet not once bothering to even step foot on her. I've lost count of how many times I've visited Venice over the years and every single time has been like the first time. There is always something new to discover, some new corner of the island I've never seen, some little hole in the wall trattoria or unassuming wine bar to while away in. At some point I became so familiar with the island that I wouldn't even bother bringing a map or guide book. I knew my way around so well and had so many favorite little places that Venice started to feel like mine, at least in some small way. The many people I've met or known over the years who simply could not appreciate Venice have been completely lost on me. Venice is not for everyone. It cannot be discovered in a day, a weekend or even a week. When you fall in love with Venice, you accept her as she is despite her many faults. You cast a blind eye to the exorbitant prices of things and focus instead on the uniqueness, the character, the ambiance.

The memories of Venice come flooding back to me now; my first Carnivale when it was so frigid that Kevin Kuss and I had to keep ducking into bars and cafes to get a drink and warm up...the first New Years Eve that Virginia and I spent there in the nameless wine bar with locals who welcomed us as one of their own...the New Years Eve two years later that I spent there alone atop the Ponte Rialto with a bottle of Chianti toasting Virginia and the X Man who were in the US visiting my mother...sitting at the edge of a dock with Virginia eating fresh cherries that we bought from a local vendor and spitting the pits into the Grand Canal...Me, Virginia and Steve-O carving our names into the table in the back of the Inishark...two years later, carving our names into the same table with my college roommate Ed and his wife first pub crawl where I met Ian and Allison who remain good friends to this day...The weekend where the guy jumped to his death from the campanile...taking our car on the ferry to Lido to spend time with our friend Hemingway Weekend after reading his brilliant novel "Over the River and Into the Trees" when I toured the Gritti Palace where suites start at 3000 euro per night and spent 18 euro on a Bellini at Harry's Bar just to say I did it...the day I spent showing Steve-O and his friends around the island after which they surprised me with a 1997 Poggio d'Oro Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, the most expensive bottle of vino I've ever owned...The day Virginia almost caused an international incident by taking a picture of one of the illegal African immigrants selling knockoff bags...getting stuck at an outdoor cafe in a two hour rainstorm and not even caring...the out-of-the-way mask shop Virginia and I discovered by accident selling homemade masks dirt cheap (still have them!) favorite little wine bar, since gone out of business...the time I saw a girl trying to beat the heat by dangling her legs into a canal and yelling "I hope you've had your tetanus shot!"...stepping outside of the Bacaro Jazz on a pub crawl and  running into a lost tourist who happened to be a fellow Red Sox fan...discovering La Zucca...watching Luca Toni score his first ever goal for Italy against Norway in a World Cup qualifier at the Inishark...cicchetti - tons and tons of cicchetti...shaking hands with Dino De Laurentis at the Venice Film Festival...Giustia Rossi (anyone who has gone to Venice with me should remember her but probably won't)...the BBQ at Denise and Mauri's house on Lido where Michelangelo got a little drunk and FINALLY let his hair down :)...every caffe we shared with Theresa on our many trips to the many memories, they could fill a book.

I haven't been able to spend much time in Venice lately with the third child arriving and other duties which have come to occupy too much of my time and maybe it's just as well; Venice, I've noticed, is starting to turn on itself. These days it survives wholly on the tourist dollar yet it is becoming more unfriendly to tourists every day. Gone are the pigeons in San Marco since the city suddenly and inexplicably decided to start enforcing the years old ordinance of not feeding them. Now they actually have security guards whose sole job is to patrol the Piazza San Marco and tell tourists that they are not allowed to sit down anywhere on the Piazza except on designated benches. Chinese entrepreneurs have slowly but surely taken over many of the shops and cafes. My favorite pub, the Devil's Forest, raised the price of a pint of Guinness almost overnight from 5 euros to a whopping 8 euros, the most I've paid for a pint anywhere in the world. Despite my love of Venice, it gets harder and harder to enjoy it as I once did as I see the things I loved about it disappear, little by little. And yet the tourists still arrive daily in droves, oblivious to the blight they are paradoxically helping to feed and blissfully unaware that the Venice of their imagination does not fully exist anymore. I've delighted in playing "ciccerone" (tour guide) to friends and family over the past several years, showing them parts of Venice that they won't find in guide books. Perhaps that's what I'll miss most of all, seeing the wonder in peoples' eyes as we make the last turn off Bocca di Piazza and they take in the magnificence of the Piazza San Marco for the first time. Or when they gaze up at the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo as it appears out of nowhere. No place in the world has been as big a part of my life during my 16 years in Europe as Venice.

It's still difficult to accept that soon Venice won't be a part of my life anymore except in memories and dreams. To think that when I wake up in the morning and feel like going to spend the day in one of my most treasured places, it won't be there. I will come to terms with it because I must but it won't be easy. As the one true ring was to Gollum, Venice has become "my precious". I will miss her greatly. I'll be forever grateful for all she has given me these past 15 years and for my part I've left a small piece of me with her every time I've tread upon her calle and campi so I consider it an even trade.

Bella Venezia, 2000-2014.


Friday, March 21, 2014

A New Englander in the South

Go Sox!

Though this blog is mostly about our adjustment to moving back to the US after living abroad so many years, there's another adjustment that I'll have to make; living in the south. For those who don't know me well, I'm originally from Nashua, NH which is sort of an extended suburb of Boston. People south of the Mason-Dixon Line would refer to me as a Yankee but as a diehard Red Sox fan, I bristle at the thought of being described as the Y-word (though admittedly I have used it to describe myself on occasion).

I actually do have a little experience with the south and southerners in general and I have always been fond of both. I attended basic training with the Army back in 1990 at Ft. Dix, NJ and it seemed like 90% of the people in my company were from the south. They talked different, they acted different, they were just...different. The following summer I attended my job skill school for the Army at Ft. Gordon in Augusta, Georgia. We were allowed to go off base there and I went downtown to the mall a few times and it was a different world to me. People would just come up to you and say hi and start talking to you which is not something that happens where I'm from so I was suspicious of everyone until eventually it dawned on me that people in the south are just really friendly. The only time I can remember someone doing that back home was when my buddy Mike and I were having a pre-game beer at the Cask n Flagon outside Fenway Park and a couple guys approached us and struck up a conversation...turned out they were gay and were trying to pick us up.  

In 1995 some friends and I drove cross country to Las Vegas, traveling right through the south. There, I got my first real taste of how seriously southerners take their college football (recounted here: The Day I Almost Got Lynched in Tennessee ). My near-lynching notwithstanding, I thoroughly enjoyed driving through the south and experiencing a little of the culture. I definitely enjoyed experiencing the food. 

In 1996 a couple buddies and I drove down to Florida to catch a few Red Sox spring training games and on the way down we stopped and spent a day in Charleston, SC. I loved the city and the surroundings, it was very charming and surprisingly modern. I am definitely looking forward to exploring it some more. 

To be honest, I am really looking forward to living in South Carolina. Everything I've heard about it makes it sound like a good place to live and raise a family and the best part is that I will very, very rarely ever have to worry about snow. I have had a few people tell me that we may face some racism since my wife is Asian and our kids are mixed and it makes me wonder - is this really a problem in the US these days? I know I've been gone a long time but it just blows my mind to hear that there are still people who have a problem with couples of different ethnicities in this day and age. I personally have a hard time believing it and am not very worried about it but I have honestly had multiple people tell me to expect it. 

Before even stepping foot in our new home, here's my impression/expectation: it's 2014 and as much as people move around these days, someone from New England living in the south is probably no big deal to anyone. If I was moving to, say, rural Mississippi perhaps I might be worried. But South Carolina? There will be some culture shock to be sure but overall I think it will be an enjoyable adventure for me and the family. Besides, what is life without a little adventure, right?

So...anyone from the south or living in the south have any advice, suggestions or observations for us? If so, feel free to sound off!


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The X Man...well...he's not handling the move very well so far.

Xavier (affectionately known as the X Man) is my first born, my big guy, my shining star. As our first born, he has sort of become the child that we, as parents, learn from. He has always made me proud.

[Ok, full disclosure...he hasn't ALWAYS made me proud. As you may or may not know, he attended the Italian school until this past year when he went the American school for the 5th grade. In the Italian school, the kids have something called a "diario" into which they write everything from their homework to announcements to letters home to their parents. Once, when he was in third grade in the Italian school, I got called in to see his teacher. She showed me a page in his diario that contained a message to us about him not bringing all of his school materials to class despite being warned several times about it. Now, the fact that neither his mother nor I speak fluent Italian was a constant source of frustration for us as we could not fully help him with his homework (I am probably the only parent outside of China who paid over $15 and hour for a tutor for a third grader). Anyway, the teacher showed me the diario entry, pointed to my wife's signature at the bottom of the page and kept saying something about us having to sign the page. Though my Italian is admittedly limited, I could tell she was talking about us signing his diario but it wasn't making sense because I could clearly see Virginia's signature on the page. Eventually it became clear; Xavier had actually forged Virginia's signature on the page. It was such a good copy that he had actually fooled me! I was absolutely floored that a third grader could copy my wife's signature so amazingly close but there it was. It took me a while but I eventually got over it. I assure you, it was not easy. Sometime during his 4th grade year he started asking is he could go to the American school. I couldn't understand it at first but eventually it dawned on me that he was under the impression that the American school would be easier than the Italian school.]

When the LQA nightmare started last year, it was clear that one way or the other, we would be headed back to the States before the year was up. With this in mind we decided to honor his wishes and place him in the American school on base. He adapted immediately and after one week announced that he much preferred the American school to the Italian. Because he'd only attended Italian schools previously, they recommended he attend ESL (English as a Second Language) classes once a day to ensure that he kept up with his classmates who'd spent their entire scholastic career (such as it was) in American schools. I'd spoken with his teacher and with the guidance counselor about his situation and both assured me that he was having no problem adjusting, and both even said that they'd never have known that this was his first year attending American school if I hadn't told them. Several times during the year his teacher reported to me that he was doing very well, that he was one of her best students, one of the most curious and inquisitive and always fully engaged in class discussions and such. For my part, I have worked with him a lot over the past year to ensure that his grades were kept up and that he understood his assignments and got them done on time and correctly. He even won the "Good Citizenship" award which is awarded to students who display exceptional behavior, participation and achievement in class. I was so damned proud of him.

Well, today I received the email I'd dreaded all year:

"Mr. Thibodeau, Mrs. B is most upset lately w/ Xavier's behavior in
her class. He seems to have mentally 'moved' on....not wanting to be
cooperative much anymore."

Mrs. B is Xavier's ESL teacher. Her email to Xavier's teacher was thus:

"Xavier is being disrespectful to me, won't complete his work, will not
do what I ask him to do and talking while the other students are trying
to finish their work.  He was trying to pull a paper out of my hand as I
was going over his work."

I was completely livid when I read this. I've always raised the X Man to be respectful of his elders, particularly his parents and teachers. I could not understand what was going on. Just two weeks ago he was very disrespectful to his mother which resulted in him being sent to his room and a serious heart to heart talk with me whereby he promptly apologized to Virginia and promised he would never talk to her like that again. Fortunately I received the email before he arrived home because my first instinct was to fly off the handle and yell and scream at the top of my lungs; unfortunately I have inherited my father's infamous temper which I have been working hard to not let get the best of me because I don't want my kids growing up terrified of me the way I was of my father. Upon picking him and Luca up at the bus stop we went to get a snack at Bar da Silvia as is our custom. Once there I asked Xavier if he had something to tell me and to his credit he was very forthcoming. It was very difficult for me but I remained completely calm, told him that as soon as we got home he would write a letter to his ESL teacher apologizing for his behavior and informed him of his further punishments. Surprisingly he was very contrite and agreed that he needed to apologize to his teacher. On the way home he actually thanked me for not losing my temper and yelling at him even though he knew how angry I was. It was a very humbling moment for me.

So anyway, my fears seem to be coming true - that Xavier is sort of "checking out" because he knows we're leaving soon and doesn't feel like he needs to put forth the effort in school. And in the bigger picture, we have noticed that his attitude and effort have been declining since he started hanging out with the American kids at school and in the neighborhood. We are seriously considering looking at private schools when we get to the US. He's a bright kid and has a great future but he is impressionable and I don't want him to waste what God has given him. This parenting stuff is not easy...


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Things in the US I am looking forward to (Part I)

1. Watching sports at a normal hour. This can not be overstated.

2. Trying foods/restaurants I've only ever heard about. Authentic southern BBQ and Chick-fil-A are at the top of the list.

3. Stores that are opened on Sunday.

4. Mega bookstores like Barnes and Noble.

5. Commercials.

6. Batting cages.

7. Watching a movie in a comfortable theater. And not having the video or audio screw up two or three times during the movie.

8. Taking my kids to Fenway Park.

9. Cheap(er) gas.

10. Not paying for condiments at restaurants (That's for you Steve-O!)

11. Subs.

12. Not carrying two types of currency at all times. And not having to keep up with the exchange rate.

13. Watching something online without getting that annoying "Sorry, this video is not available in your country" error message.

14. Being able to do normal everyday things without having to deal with overly restrictive foreign laws and regulations in foreign languages.

15. Getting my personal space back.

16. Lower cost of living.

17. Walmart. That's right, I said it. Deal with it.

18. Good Chinese food.

19. Ice.

20. Knowing that if I have to go to the bathroom at a restaurant or public place, there will be an actual toilet bowl....WITH a seat and toilet paper and not just a hole in the floor.

21. TV shows in English.

22. Good health care.


24. No more metric system. 14 years in Italy, I still don't know what the hell an "etto" is.

25. Not having to figure out the kilometers-to-miles conversion.


Friday, March 14, 2014

So...How Do You Rent Movies in the US?

I honestly don't know. Last time I lived in the US, there was no such thing as DVDs. The movies we rented looked like this:

And we rented them at Blockbuster or your local neighborhood video store. As far as I know, Blockbuster has gone out of business (Hasn't it?). I don't know much about Netflix except that you pay a monthly fee and get the movies mailed to you or something. I know they have an online thing where you can stream movies as well actual "video stores" exist anymore in the US or is everything online now? I'm not averse to downloading and watching things online if I must but in this I am decidedly old school; I much prefer to rent a Blu-Ray disc and pop it in my player at my leisure. It's just so much easier. Here, we have a shoppette (like a convenient store) that has one wall dedicated to video rentals. One section DVDs, the other section Blu-Rays. The selection is tiny which sucks for a film junkie like me but these are things I've learned to live with being overseas. Occasionally I rent movies through iTunes but I do not enjoy doing it as I can't figure out how to get the volume through the TV and the speakers on my Mac make it impossible to hear unless there is 100% complete silence, something we have not experienced since sometime in 2003.

I assure you, I am not being glib or acting dumb; I am honestly wondering how one rents movies in the US these days?


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Columbia or Sumter; The Great Debate...

In case you weren't aware, we are headed to Shaw AFB in Sumter, SC. As soon as I got notified that I'd gotten the job I started my online research about the area and, most importantly, where we might want to live. Admittedly I'm not familiar with the area and I know I can't really make a completely informed decision until we get on ground and look upon each area with our own eyes but I would be remiss if I didn't take full advantage of this new fangled invention called "the internet" that the kids are raving about these days in order to do as much leg work as possible before we arrive back in the good ole US of A.

At the moment we have two main contenders in the battle of "where will we live?"; Columbia and Sumter. Both places seem to have their positives and negatives and I find myself vacillating between the two. Let's go to the tale of the tape...


The main advantage to living in Sumter of course would be that the base is there which means an easy commute - no small thing for me as I abhor commuting. A quick online search shows that Sumter seems to be a nice little city/big town with some old world charm, good restaurants, decent shopping (yes, they have a Walmart Superstore), close to Route 95 (for easier road trips to Myrtle Beach, Charleston, DC, etc.) and some other stuff that make it attractive. On the negative side, it is smaller than we would like and the public transportation options seem to be limited which is important because Virginia doesn't drive and it may be a couple years before she gets her license. On one hand it seems like a great place to live and raise a family, full of southern charm and all that stuff but on the other hand I wonder if we would find ourselves a bit bored there. Columbia is only a 45 minute drive away which helps. Speaking of Columbia...


Columbia is the state capital of course and as such offers many advantages. It's a somewhat sizable city which would offer far more amenities than Sumter such as shopping, restaurants, public transportation, sporting events and the like. Were all things equal, I would choose to live in Columbia in a heartbeat. However, I am having trouble getting past the daily commute it would require. Several people have told me that you can live in the east part of Columbia and the commute to Shaw would only be about 30 minutes but just looking on Google maps makes me skeptical about that. The University of South Carolina (Their nickname is "The Gamecocks". Seriously.) is in Columbia which usually means more cultural opportunities as well as better medical facilities. Still, even living in Sumter, Columbia isn't a far drive. The public transportation would probably be much better which means Virginia can get around easier and not be stuck home bored. All things considered, I think we would enjoy Columbia much more than Sumter but I still have trouble getting past the commuting issue. A 30-40 minute commute may not seem like a big deal to some people but when you do it every day, twice a day, it starts wearing on you. I also consider the fact that I may be working late some nights and will probably be going to the gym or running errands after work at least a couple nights a week which means I could be getting home after 7pm and, to put it in South Carolina parlance, that dog just won't hunt.

As you can see, we've got a big decision to make. If you ask me today, I'd tell you that I'm leaning towards living in Sumter, assuming we can find a place close to downtown. But, if you were to ask me again tomorrow I would most assuredly tell you I've changed my mind and would prefer to live in Columbia, commute be damned. That's really how torn I am. I've been told that our household goods will take two months to arrive there once they're picked up here so I probably have until sometime around late May/early June before we can move in anywhere anyway.

If anyone has any thoughts, advice, knowledge of the area(s) or anything else to contribute please feel free...


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The X Man Cometh

Of my three kids, the X Man is the only one who has actually been to the US. Of course he was only about a year old and he was only there a couple weeks but at least he's been there. I think of all of us, he is the one that I am most interested in observing during the transition. For one thing, he is 10 years old and he is very, very curious. He was born in Italy (in a beautiful little walled town with a castle overlooking it named Soave, famous for it's crisp white wines which pair perfectly with seafood) and had gone to the Italian school his whole life until this year. Sometime about two or three years ago he started asking a lot of questions about the American school and about the US in general. Eventually he started asking if he could go to the American school on base which kind of surprised me because he knew nobody there. All of his friends were in the Italian school, he played on the local town soccer (calcio) team and his request came out of the blue. But, realizing that this would be our last year here one way or the other, we decided to start him in the American school this year. He had just finished fourth grade in the Italian school and I worried that they would hold him back a year but they left it up to me and I cautiously decided on the 5th grade. To my surprise he adjusted quickly. I had talked to his teacher near the beginning of the year to make sure she knew that he was coming from the Italian school so to please let me know if she thought he was having trouble. I was pleased when she told me she never would have known that he had never been to an American school before, that he was one of her best students. For his part, he LOVED the American school immediately. After the first week he declared that he liked it much, much better than the Italian school so I guess that's a good sign.

The thing about the X Man that has occurred to me is that his entire scope of understanding about the US is limited to the little base we have here. He has no concept of how big and unending everything in the US is. For example, in the past couple weeks he has asked me questions like "Will there be a PX in the US where I can still buy my toys?" and "Is there going to be a Burger King in the US so I can still get my burgers?". When I tell him there will be 100 places wherever we go to get a burger even better than Burger King, his eyes get really wide and he goes quiet...then he says he doesn't believe me because there could never be a burger better than Burger King.


He has so much to learn.

I have to say though, one thing I have worried about for a few years now is that he will lose his "Italian-ness". He is completely fluent in Italian and if/when he loses it, it will break my heart. I'm guessing there won't be a lot of people in South Carolina who speak Italian. His best friend next door is Italian and we're hoping maybe we can do Skype with him and his family occasionally but I'm not very hopeful that Xavier will retain the language as well as he speaks it now. I'll speak it with him as much as I can but my Italian is very far from perfect (I often say that I speak it just well enough to cause an international incident).  I have actually noticed over the past couple years that his attention and interests have slowly but surely drifted away from the stuff he grew up with and more towards all things Americana so I shouldn't be surprised that he's looking forward to living in the US. About a year ago he told me that he actually prefers the American-style fast food pizza joint on base (Anthony's Pizza) to Italian pizza. I probably should have realized at that point that we'd already lost him...

Monday, March 3, 2014


I enlisted in the US Army in 1998 at 26 years old and came to Europe. It's now 2014, I'll turn 43 this year and I'm preparing to move back to the US. 16 years. 16 looooooooooong years. That's how long I've been living outside the US of A. It's very, very strange to think of how the US has changed since I've last lived there. To put things in perspective and to get things started, here are some interesting facts from 1998:


Saving Private Ryan
There's Something About Mary
A Bug's Life
Deep Impact
Dr. Doolittle
Shakespeare in Love
Lethal Weapon 4


Too Close ~ Next
The Boy is Mine ~ Brandy and Monica
You're Still the One ~ Shania Twain
Truly Madly Deeply ~ Savage Garden
How Do I  Live ~ LeAnn Rimes
Together Again ~ Janet Jackson
All My Life ~ KC and JoJo
Candle in the Wind (Princess Diana Tribute) ~ Elton John
Nice and Slow ~ Usher
I Don't Want to Wait ~ Paula Cole


Europeans agree on single currency, called "the Euro".
US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania bombed.
President Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal erupts.
FDA approves viagra
Indonesian dictator Suharto steps down after 32 years.
German chancellor Helmut Kohl defeated by Gerhard Schroder
Good Friday Peace Agreement in Ireland
Autopsy on Chris Farley showed of overdose (duh)
Red Sox slugger Mo Vaughn pleads no contest to drunk driving
Denver Broncos defeat Green Bay Packers in Superbowl XXXII
Philippine DC-9 crash kills all 104 aboard
"Titanic" wins big at Oscars
Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks play their first ever games as expansion teams
"Seinfeld"'s last episode
Hong Kong opens brand new Chek Lap Kok airport
France beats Brazil 3-0 for their first World Cup victory
Google is founded


US population is 268,921,733
Dow Jones closed at 9181
Average cost of a new house was $129,300
US Postage stamp cost .32 cents

Anyway, the next few months are bound to be very strange as I readjust to life back in the US. Since I've always enjoyed writing I thought it might be interesting to keep a blog/journal about how the transition is going for us. I've been back to the US a handful of times for work and such and each time I noticed that I feel more and more like a foreigner in my own country so I've decided to call this blog "An American Foreigner in America". I'll update it as I feel like it and welcome comments from anyone who feels like commenting.