Last Tuesday, I was stepping off a flight from Tokyo and being welcomed back into America by the oh-so-cheery Dallas airport.
I’m kidding. Dallas was a weird first sample of America after two and a half years abroad. It was just a little too AMERICA for me to handle after a 12-hour flight in which I intelligently took Benadryl to help me sleep, and then watched 10-hours worth of movies instead of sleeping. I wasn’t in the mood to understand everyone’s conversations, and was a bit of a zombie as I wandered around the airport ogling junk food options and trying to make sense of the fact that I am once again considered a small person (5’3″, if you were wondering…). A man sat down a seat away from me at one point and, as Americans sometimes do, said something about how terrible the weather was at no one in particular, but loud enough for me to understand I was meant to respond. I didn’t respond, I just lapsed into thought about how odd this habit was.
Since last Tuesday, I’d say I’ve become a bit more socially apt than that (being well rested helps), but bits and pieces of life back in America continue to distract and boggle me. Reverse culture shock, I suppose. (Although I don’t really feel shocked, just boggled. Should we perhaps change the term to reverse culture bogglement? Reverse culture confusion?) Anyways, here are a few of the things about America that have stood out:
We really, really love our troops
This is mostly thanks to a bunch of overhead announcements at the Dallas airport. On one hand, it seemed normal to me that, once again on American soil, I’d start to be bombarded with “support our troops” propaganda and that super cheery demeanor airport staff gets around military personnel (mention Peace Corps, however, and you get none of that excited and gushy “we so appreciate what you’re doing for our country!” Whomp, whomp, whomp). On the other hand, it was one of those things that felt distinctly American. We really f*ing love our military, but I didn’t see so much of that abroad.
Christmas and consumerism
Some of the travelers I met in the past couple of months shook their heads a bit when I said I’d be returning home at Christmas.
“All of that consumerism is going to be shocking!” They’d say.
Those who didn’t, were probably fearing their own Christmastime return.
It has been a little shocking, but Tokyo helped lessen this blow a little. At least in Japan, where Christians account for a minuscule part of the population, Christmas is a blatantly consumerist holiday. It seemed to be nothing more than a nice excuse to buy a small gift for a friend, and I kind of liked the simplicity of this notion. In America, however, there’s so much pressure to buy for everyone you know, and wrap it in pretty boxes and paper that will quickly go into the garbage. Furthermore, with all the options of things to buy in America, and so many options of each specific item (color, price, best deal, sales, etc.) I find this attempt to acquire gifts a bit daunting and time consuming. Perhaps, this is a good time to implement my friend Chacha, of The Rich Life’s December challenge: The Gift of Giving No. I’m not sure my 3-year-old niece would appreciate this though.
We create and sell some pretty useless crap
Today, I saw a commercial for a cut in half birdhouse you can suction cup to your windows so you can watch what birds do inside birdhouses. Enough said.
Washing machines are fantastic
And why are they fantastic? They shrink your jeans back to a fitted size, you can have your clothes washed while you sleep, and do I really have to explain the simple joy of pulling a towel straight out of the dryer? Yeah, washing machines are fantastic.
So many choices!
Like I already expressed, the seemingly endless array of choices can be a bit overwhelming — but in the case of food, it’s also very exciting. Menus take me about 10-15 minutes of processing, and grocery stores are a whole afternoon’s worth of entertainment. I’m really trying hard not to every delicious thing at once, especially after going a little crazy with the 7-layer dip and pigs in a blanket at a recent Christmas party…
Americans love friendly banter
I was still in Tokyo when this one hit me. I made a joke to one of the stewardesses using grammatically complicated English and slang — and not only did she understand, she laughed. I had two epiphanies getting on that plane: I could stop speaking like an ESL teacher with strangers, and Americans really do love to make friendly small talk with just about everyone and anyone. The conversation with my waitresses aren’t just “one coke and a pizza, please,” but also an opportunity to announce that so far, today’s been a good day, and by the way, how are you? Americans really are friendly — and I’m glad that my experiences this week have been living up to this awesome stereotype.
Now, please excuse me. I have an afternoon excursion at the supermarket planned…