As American troops over the years returned to the States following lengthy tours overseas, the culture shock that many of them experienced has become the subject of widely circulated humorous letters. One recent e-mail offered advice to the spouses of troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan on helping their loved ones acclimate to a more comfortable—although potentially disorienting—life back home:
“While your returnee is sleeping, it is imperative you make as much noise as possible…. For instance run the lawn mower just outside the bedroom door. Hold conversations with people within 2 feet of the sleeping person. Play recordings of jet engines taking off at the highest volume your home stereo will allow. Your soldier/airman/sailor/Marine is not used to sleeping in complete silence and could possibly suffer from severe insomnia if extreme noise is not maintained during the hours they try to sleep.”
A “coming home” letter from the Vietnam War advised: “[S]how no alarm if he insists on carrying a weapon to the dinner table…. If it should start raining, pay no attention to his joyous scream as he strips naked, grabs a bar of soap, and runs outdoors for a shower….” The mock instructions of this particular chain letter end on a poignant note: “Above all, keep in mind that beneath that tanned and rugged exterior there is a heart of gold (the only thing of value he has left). Treat him with kindness, tolerance, and an occasional fifth of good liquor, and you will be able to rehabilitate that hollow shell which was once the happy-go-lucky guy you once knew and loved.”
The World War II generation had its own version, of course. Their lighthearted chain letter, however, was for the troops themselves, many of whom were returning in the mid-1940s after being abroad for up to four years. The following letter has been reprinted with its original spelling and punctuation:
In view of the fact that some of the personnel now overseas have been forced to accept an assignment in the United States; we are printing this short and practical guide to the foreign country.
The United States is composed of land. Bisecting the center is the Mississippi River. Everything east of the river is known as New York, while everything west is simply called Texas. There are a couple of other states, but they are not important.
Do not be inviegled into sleeping on one of the big soft mattress covered beds so common in the states. Many cases of curvature of the spine have resulted from such practices. In order to get a comfortable nights rest, it is best to carry a blanket and sleep on the floor. Most hotel rooms are equipped with fancy latrines. Careful inspection will show you what to do with each object. Americans have the disgusting habit of bathing twice a week. Care must be taken when stepping into the shower, as hot water is fairly common and cases of scalding are often reported. Stay away from hot water as much as possible. People have been known to turn white as a result of using too much of it.
Food is generally plentiful, but in some localities powdered eggs are almost unobtainable. You will probly be forced to eat the shell covered kind on most occasions. Remember, do not eat the shell, simply crack the egg and toss away the outer covering. By the same token, dehydrated vegetables are almost extinct in the United States. Stores feature potatoes, carrots, spinach, and turnips in their natural status. You will notice pieces of soil still clinging to these items. Wash before eating. In many restaurants you will see an item called “steak” on the menu. This dish is to be eaten with a knife and fork. Steak has a meaty taste and isn’t too revolting after one gets used to it. Of course it doesn’t come up to the luscious delectability of our own Bully Beef…….. Water comes out of faucets, unchlorinated. Remember, it is wise to carry a small packet of chlorine tablets with you to make doubly sure of the safety of the drinking water. Place it in a lister bag before using.
One must be very cautious when ordering drinks in bars and saloons. Bartenders try to sell old, aged stocks of Scotch and Bourbon. Don’t be taken in by such practices. Some of the whiskey is twenty or even thirty years old, and obviously spoiled. If Dago Red or Blonk wine isn’t available, it is wise to carry a small flask of grain alcohol and 100% octane gas with you. In that way you will be safe. Old whiskey such as Old Taylor, Lord Calverts or Seagrams will probably ruin the lining of ones stomach. The best rule is, “if it’s old, it’s no good.”
The country is run by Republicans, Democrats and Frank Sinatra. It’s a big place because it stretches all the way across the country. Keep your toes and you will get along alright.