08 May 2009

Reverse Culture Shock

After 3 days of being back, I'm finally just starting to realize that I truly am here. And it's a bit strange, particularly the little details. One of the first things that struck me when I got back, the first morning in fact was how luxurious everything here is. My parents' house (where I'll be living until I head out to Seattle on June 22nd - a story for another time) is a nice, but not ostentious place. But I easily had the best shower of the last 11 months there. There was so much hot water and it was so hot, as hot as I could possible want it. And consistently so, no points where the temperature fluctuated - in most of the places I've been, while the hot water lasted (which often wasn't long) I'd spend half of the shower fiddling with the knobs as the water kept moving back and forth from too cold to scalding. There was just hot water, perfect temperature, and seemingly endless. Then I dried off and the towel was so soft. Softer by a good measure even then the towels at the resort in India where we stayed for a weekend so long ago.

And then there was the bed. I've always put a lot of weight on having a good bed - I mean the average person spends something like between 1/5th and 1/3rd of his or her life in bed. So I've always felt it was worth making the investment in a really good bed (I bought my first Tempurpedic when I was in college), even though I always sleep well as long as the surface is flat and not entirely hard. On our trip, we've slept in a lot of different places, and some of them actually were really comfortable (some weren't ;-) but nothing matched the feeling of lying down in the bed at my folks place.

After two showers (one in the evening and one the following morning) and a night's sleep at my folks, I told me day "you do realize that you live in the lap of luxury?". And I like the creature comforts - honestly I probably need them at this point: my health is a bit shot (I've had a cold on and off for over the last half-year), I lost a bunch of weight (was only 145 lbs when I got back - even after copious feeding by our friends in London), and I'm just generally worn out. But I've got mixed feelings about how nice things are in the States.

I think it's great to have a creature comforts, but some of them really cost - socially, environmentally, etc. Thankfully for the first time in almost a decade, I'm really feeling like Americans are starting to think about what the right balance for our society is - Costco apparently had a sale on composters just this last week, my mom went to pick one up, but the entire batch had already sold out!

In any case, returning to more of my observations, it really was the little things that got me. The money in the US is like nowhere else. I use a really neat plastic wallet called the JimiX it's a great alternative to the traditional leather wallet, with a small sliding cardholder case and an external money clip. But everywhere else I travelled I couldn't use the money clip because the currency was so slippery - Rupees, Euros, Shekels, Dirham, Pounds. Only the US bills which are apparently made out of cotten and linen rag paper don't slide around.

I took a drive today to do a couple of local errands, and again it hit me - after driving small manual transmission vehicles in France and Austria, my mom's Impala (a smaller car by American standards) felt both ridiculously easy to operate. It was silent, smooth, powerful, you can't tell the gears are even changing - I felt like I was driving a mountain. And as I said it's not a big or expensive car. It was nice, but if this is the simple car, what are the fancy, big cars? Before I left, US-style vehicles had struck me as wasteful in my rational mind. But coming back I experienced this same feeling in a much more viceral way. Not so much regards my mom's car, which is perhaps more than necessary, but a pretty conservative vehicle (and safe on the US roadways which are filled with hulking monster cars), but more by the idea that this is what passes for a conservative vehicle here. I have to say, it was nice to drive something so comparitively luxurious, and super easy - but I also missed the fun of interacting with the manual transmission.

Yup I'm having reverse culture shock.

1 comment:

  1. I've lived in Asia, Africa and Europe. In fact I've been in France for nearly 20 years now. Each time I go back to the US I really feel that reverse shock.