For almost nine years, I have reveled in the cultural comparison that follows me between the Netherlands and the US. I like to think that countless trips back and forth have strengthened my powers of observation, though now the changes are more predictable once I step off the plane. Quick example: generally speaking, the Dutch smile less, chat less, and don't apologize for bumping into you on the street. Midwesterners, on the other hand, often over-share in the most impersonal of situations, and go out of their way to apologize for the slightest brush of shoulders.
It's about to get more interesting. Due to my current state, I'm entering a whole new realm of comparison: reactions to a pregnant woman. On my upcoming trip to Minnesota and Wisconsin I will finally get to see whether there are differences in how strangers react to my growing belly.
Case in point: many of my previously pregnant friends complain that perfect strangers feel at ease touching their bellies. This has not happened to me once in the Netherlands. The only reaction I've gotten so far is for people to simply stare - but they don't comment. No one - not even friends and close colleagues - have made the move to lay their hands on my baby bump. Anecdotal evidence tells me to expect the opposite upon my return to Minnesota.
The joy of comparison doesn't end after this trip, of course. There will be plenty to say about the perception of and reaction to children. Not to mention that inevitable first transatlantic flight with the little guy.