I put up my Christmas tree tonight. I didn’t get around to it last year, but this year, I had time this weekend, and with the snowy weather today and not much else on my to-do list, I felt motivated to get the tree and decorations out of the storage unit downstairs and put them all up. 🙂
I normally enjoy decorating my Christmas tree, but partway through decorating it this evening, a wave of sadness passed over me. Many happy memories of decorating the tree with Mom and Dad, and of many Christmas road trips to visit family in other states flooded back. Normally, that would be happy, right? But, at that moment, all I could think about was how Dad wouldn’t be part of any future memories and that I was halfway around the world from Mom. Most days, I’m fine. Even though he often crosses my mind, most of the time, I don’t get too sad anymore when I think of Dad. And, modern technology is such that I can stay in close contact with Mom, and we’ve seen each other twice in the last six months. So, most days, that’s not that hard either. But, sometimes, it hits you like a ton of bricks. Or a Christmas tree.
Filed under Cancer, Christmas, Family, Frankfurt, FS Life, Funeral, Germany, Holidays, Home, Homesick, Observation of the Day, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, Snow, Technology, Texas, Texpat, Winter
Sometimes, I wonder what life in the Foreign Service was like before the internet.
I spent a year in Germany as an exchange student in the late 1990s. Only one of my four host families had internet connections set up at home and it was dial up. I only stayed with them for about a month, but I’d go back to their house after school once or twice a week to check e-mail. I’d log on, download my e-mails, type responses offline, then log back on to send them, since it cost per minute for both the internet and phone use. I talked with my parents on the phone every two weeks or so and mostly just sent letters or e-mails to friends.
When I was in Germany, I’d sometimes go to the train station in town to find English-language magazines. Since U.S. television and movies were dubbed into German on television and in movie theatres, it was a BIG DEAL when another exchange student got ahold of a movie in English. I had very few ways to get U.S.-specific products like Dr Pepper, (decent) salsa, etc. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was like gold.
Now, part of the reason my life was so different is because I was a 16 year old student then and I was living with German families who had to adapt to their lives and I’m a 30-something professional living on my own and can make more of my own decisions now, but a lot of it has to do with how technology has made so many things different. I have a laptop that I can take with me to post easily. I now have 24/7 internet access that’s fast enough that I can stream U.S. movies and TV shows online. I can chat online with friends around the world, keep up with them on Facebook, or call them over the internet. I can even video chat if I want to see their face! If I’m craving a U.S. product, I can often order it online instead of having to go on a wild goose chase around town and then having to pay 3x the normal price for a stale product.
So, I wonder what life was like in the Foreign Service before internet access became so common. Did people order a lot more things by catalog? Just make do with local products? Did people call home less frequently or did they use the IVG a lot? Did they also swap U.S. movies because they were hard to come by? It’d be interesting to know and one of these days I should really get around to asking one of my coworkers who experienced the Foreign Service before the internet came on to the scene.