Is it weird being back in America?
“Is it weird being back in America?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer that question. “Not…really.” Adjusting to Stateside norms was pretty easy; I did grow up here, after all. I can handle silverware and I never picked up the spitting thing anyway. But as the last month has passed I’ve noticed a couple ways in which I am still adjusting after all.
Number One: crossing the street. In 90% of the world, moving around on the street is based on the principle of not making any sudden moves or changes of direction. If you can estimate everyone else’s trajectory, you can move around them.
To cross the street overseas: start walking into traffic, not fast, not slow, no sharp directional adjustments. If possible, walk straight at the back of a passing car. It will continue moving, so when you reach it you will slide right into the space it just vacated. Continue this until you’ve Froggered your way across the street.
It’s similar to the way you don’t try to avoid the cockroaches, just trust that they’ll avoid you.
But in America, if you do this, all the cars on the street do something extremely unexpected in the global mind: they stop. Or if not, they slow down and wave you across. Now, instead of sliding unobtrusively through traffic, you are blocking it. Dangit, Americans, stop being so polite!
So I have had to go back to obeying formal traffic rules. It’s weird.
Number Two: I rarely planned anything more than a day or two in advance for the past few years. I would reach a town and stay there until I was done, during which time I’d hear about some other place within a six/seven hour bus ride. Go. I am not an itinerary sort of guy. But here, this means I don’t get out much, since everyone else has social calendars booked weeks in advance.
Me: “Hey, you wanna do something?”
Friend: “Sure! Let’s get sushi! When works for you?”
Me: “How about tonight?”
Friend: “I’m booked until January.”
I gotta get the hang of that. Anyone want to go get sushi…in January?
And finally, there’s Image. I’ve made a career out of trying to resist this, probably as a means of coping with my lack of fashion passion (as my closet of blank-ass clothes will attest), but my skills were honed overseas. In Nicaragua they described my sandals as “Jesus shoes” and I kept wearing them. In Sri Lanka I sewed up the entire left side of my shorts with the wrong color thread and thought no more about it. In Myanmar I could not have cared less when it was a woman’s style bicycle I rode.
I brought that all home with me. The friend moving out of my new room offered to loan me her woman’s style bike and I accepted, no worries, who cares if people think I look silly? It’s a bike. That ended up not working out, so I have my manly man ride after all, but whatever, it’s shruggalicious.
And I had to smile in the grocery store as I bought a big bag of toilet paper, thinking about how poop-phobic Americans are, and remembering confessions of people who were humiliated to buy the stuff. “I buy it at Cosco in gigantic packs so that I don’t have to do it very often.” Whatever! I’m not embarrassed by anything!
But on the walk home, toilet paper casually under my arm on the busy street, I saw a bag of clothes hangers on the sidewalk. I inherited four hangers with the closet, but I now had seven shirts, with premonitions of more to come. I needed hangers. And here was a bag full of them, free on the sidewalk. We’re also an intensely germaphobic nation, but the odds these hangers were actually infected and infested, scabies, hepatitis, bed bugs? Very slight.
But I walked right on past. What would people think if I was rummaging through the garbage on the street?
Damn. That’s disappointing.
It’s weird being back in America.