Experiences of an American woman who was married to a Serb.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

To a Serbian Expat, America is Much Bigger Than Expected

My husband spent his first three years in America cooped up in New England, except for quick visits to New York City to say he'd been there.

His initial experience of the US was disappointment geographically. If you drive for an entire day from our US house, you'd still be in a part of a country that's fairly identical. If you drive for an entire day from our Sombor Serbia house, you can go from the snowy flat northern plains, through rolling central hills, over the peaks of Montenegrin mountains, and down to the Adriatic sea where people have lemon trees growing in their yards.

"What, were you expecting to hop in the car in Boston and drive out to see cowboys and the Grand Canyon by nightfall?" I asked him. Well, yes....

My theory is that no matter what country you grow up in, printed maps of your country are about the same size when you unfold them on your lap in the car. So, although intellectually you know the distances and ratios of mile-to-inch are quite different, emotionally you're expecting every country to be about the same size.

When I had to give a business speech out West a few years back, I wheedled another ticket for "my assistant" and took my husband along for the ride. It was his first US trip out of New England. About 90 minutes into the flight, he grew restive. "Are we going to be there soon?" I stared at him. "Are you kidding? We haven't even gotten to Chicago. We've got another six hours until we hit Utah." He was completely flabbergasted. "You mean going to western America is like flying from Boston to Frankfurt?"

I pulled out the airline magazine from the seatback in front of me and turned to the map in the back pages. "Take a look. This is America. This dinky corner is where Serbia would fit in."

When we returned home, my husband's sister asked him, "How was it?" His reply, "Big, really big. It was so big. Did you know how big America is? Big! " Then he smiled joyously, "And I saw a real cowboy."

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