page contents

postcard from home

Now that I've had a few days for the reverse culture shock to set in, I thought I'd jot down some of my first impressions back home.  I realize that my tone might sound like I'm complaining, but it's more about the strong impression some of these thoughts have left on me, coming back from Europe after having lived there for a year and a half.  

Fast forward.  Everything feels like it's on speed here.  I don't know if it's a combination of efficiency  and capitalism at work, the Protestant influence of productivity is king, the lousy economy making people nervous or a combination of all three.  This life on speed brings with it the lack of presence.  I was sadly joking with a friend over brunch this weekend about this.  She was telling me that everytime she goes to dinner with friends everyone is texting on their blackberry's and iphones. She literally announces to the table that she is goign to the bar to get a drink and will return when people are ready to converse with her and not their phones.  Even when people are where they want to be, they're too busy doing something else. 

I felt this again when we took a walk on the Potomac river after brunch.  It was a Sunday, a day that historically should be one of rest and leisure.  I understand that for many this involves exercising.  But I really felt like everyone was on a mission to exercise.  My friend and I were walking at a leisurely place, catching up after not having seen each other for over a year and a half and we both laughed at each other at the commotion surrounding us.  Literally every two seconds someone would yell, "To your left" or "To your right" indicating that they were about to zoom by, and please please don't get in their way and ruin their triathlon timed pace.          

Choice.  The amount of choice is mind boggling.  I have been to the grocery store a handful of times already and the mall twice and my nervous system is still on overdrive.  There are at least 20 different brands of cereal in a milieu of rainbow colors expertly arranged.  I remember walking through the mall a few days ago and passing a candy store that literally had me standing there for a few seconds in amazement.  I should have taken a picture of it. All I saw in front of me were neon colors of the rainbow and all I could think of was  the mountains of sugar that one little store could make with all that candy and the little obese kids with ADHD running around high on all this stuff.  Well, nowadays they're just plopped in front of their Playstation playing Guitar Hero.  

Not to mention the overpowering effect of advertising that literally has all my senses on overdrive.  I'm in the car listening to the radio, and I can't get away from the loud garble of advertising that I hear every other song.  It used to annoy me and irritate me even sometimes, but now I just won't even stand for it.  It just turns me off completely.  All I can listen to now is NPR (the national public radio station) and WPFW (a non-commercial radio station).  That being said, NPR and WPFW do have some excellent programs and music.   I realize I run the risk of sounding like a grumpy old lady here , but I really much prefer the lack of commercials but literally the soothing voices of the radio broadcasters as well.  Of course, people nowadays listen to their iPods in the car or satellite radio and avoid commercials all together juI guess getting away from it all made me more in tune with just what an assault all this was to my body and the effect it has.    

Bone structure.  Everyone knows that the average American is fat. And each time I come back from Europe it always strikes me just how fat Americans are.  But this time around, what struck me not only the layers of extra fat everyone has but that the bone structure of teenagers here is proportionately larger than in Europe.  I know it's been said that it must be from all that hormone happy milk and hamburgers, but its still something that struck me.  The girls here either look unhealthily skinny (either from too much exercise) or seem to be in a body that's a few sizes to big for them.  I had a hilarious conversation with this Lithuanian woman at my Bikram yoga class the other day.  She was saying how all the woman here have thunder thighs and she and her friends think its from the birth control that every one is on here.  I seem to agree with her.  

Lack of personal style.  First day of spring! Bring out the flipflops and cargo shorts. Walking through Georgetown (the posh part of DC) the other day  I was surrounded by guys in flipflops and cargo shorts and girls in yoga pants and white sneakers.  If the girls were wearing normal clothes (which many of them were for their Sunday brunch outing), I could have just as easily have walked onto a JCrew or Gap photo shoot.  What struck me is the lack of personal style.  Clothes that weren't tailored, they just seemed to be a one size fits all.  And god forbid the gym clothes! I guess I really got used to the fact that in Europe gym clothes are well, for the gym! Of course, maybe's its also a bit the area of the country that I'm living in.  If I were to go to New york city for example, I'd see a bit more diversity and personal style.    

Wide open spaces.  Everything is so big. The roads are big (thankfully the cars are getting a bit smaller. I hardly see as many Hummers on the road), there's wide areas of green manicured grass everywhere.  It's kind of a peaceful feeling actually, and liberating.   

Accessible. For the most part, things are much more accessible here than in Europe. Of course, what you lose with that is the quaintness of European cities.  When I was in Lisbon I enjoyed just strolling in the city, discovering a new cafe or a new boutique shop that sold only perfumes that I never knew about before.     

Waste & consumption.    The American economy is driven by consumer spending, which is fueled by the incessant advertising messages that your brain and eyes are bombarded with daily.  It is seriously exhausting and my nervous system feels like it's been through a hurricane every time I come back home. And with this consumption culture, comes a tremendous amount of waste.  I really enjoy buying just what I need for the week instead of 200 rolls of toilet paper at Costco (the discount warehouse superstore in my neighborhood).  Of course, I'm single and don't lead a hectic life and I  have the luxury to leisurely stop by the grocery store every few days.  But why should this be considered a luxury?     
Automation. I understand why companies are going this route, I get it. It saves money.  The self check out lines, the automated operator everytime I call pretty much any company.  But, is it really saving money when all its doing is frusterating me the customer and wasting more of my time?  Not to mention how impersonal the whole experience is.  I just feel like my daily life is slowly becoming more robotic and less freestyle.  I know things are changing slowly in Europe too, but there is a certain authenticity to your daily life there, even if your life is hectic. 

Leave a Reply.


    Reflections on living a double life, one foot in America, and one foot in Europe.


    March 2010



    RSS Feed