We’re back in the States and I’ve found my kitty, an iced coffee, and the world of American sandwiches. All is well with the world.
It’s been interesting adjusting to life in the States. We experienced a lot of our culture shock in Hong Kong, but there have been some things unique to the US that have been particularly striking.
- The first thing I noticed when we stepped out of the airport door was the smell of pine! I’ve lived in North Carolina for a few years now but I’ve never noticed how overwhelming the smell of pine is in the air. Compared to the plasticky smog we’ve been inhaling all year in Baoding, it was a refreshing change, to say the least.
- On the drive home, we were in the car (on the highway) for about ten minutes before we realized we didn’t have our seatbelts on! I was surprised by this since I’d complained about the disuse of seatbelts in China so much when I first got there, but I guess I got used to it in the end and habit didn’t kick in once I was back home (note: that was the only time we’ve forgotten since being back).
- Maybe it’s because there’s no mold on the walls and all the holes in the plaster have been patched and we’re a little obsessive about cleaning, but everything here seems so luxurious – McDonalds, the bathroom, even the floor (I am thrilled to have carpet in my house once again). It must be mind-blowing for first-time visitors when they arrive in the US and see how luxurious and fancy everything looks (I guess the conspicuous consumption thing is working…)
- People seem SO friendly! When Duncan and I were in the airport, we were just beaming (we probably looked ridiculous) because everyone seemed so happy and friendly. I had a nice chat with the customs police about my minion Baby Johnson and when we went to order Zaxby’s (our first American meal) the people behind the counter smiled, welcomed us, and said you’re welcome. It really is the little things that count. (And after having put up with rude people for a year, I’m making an extra effort to be friendly and polite to everyone I meet.)
- 4G seems really unnecessary. After getting used to not having Internet access on my phone 24/7, returning here and having it feels really excessive to me. Do I really need to be able to access Facebook when I’m in my car or at the grocery store? Surely, I can wait to look at Instagram until when I’m at home. I’m trying to keep this perspective in mind so that I don’t take it for granted and so that I can be more in the present (and it’ll save money).
- We’re wary of other drivers. Since it was pretty common for people to run red lights in Baoding and break all other traffic laws on a whim, I’m wary of other drivers on the road doing the same thing here. It became even scarier when I realized how much faster everyone moves around. Whereas Chinese drivers almost expect people to be in the road and therefore (most of the time) drive slower, here we definitely don’t expect people to be in the road and we drive a lot faster. It’s interesting to see how my driving style has evolved over time (especially compared to 16-year old me).
- Everyone speaking English was really weird at first – I constantly felt like I was eavesdropping. Even though we were surrounded by more people more frequently in China (and they definitely didn’t care about you hearing their conversations), since Mandarin isn’t my first language, I tuned other people out most of the time. Now though, hearing what other people are talking about requires pretty much no conscious brain activity and I feel like I’m being rude by understanding what those around me are talking about. (Sorry to the lady on the plane behind me, I wasn’t trying to hear about all your kids and their life choices.)
- Americans have an arrogant air about them. I can understand what some people from other countries think about us – God, guns, and glory!
- Hanging out with American kids took a bit of adjustment. As I started talking to a group of 2nd and 3rd grade kids I ran into at a summer camp, it was surprising to realize that they understood everything I said. I’ve been so used to adjusting my speech and working hard to communicate effectively, that it was startling to remember that I was interacting with kids that are fluent in English and American culture and therefore I can communicate with them at a much higher level than I’m used to. It was weird but really fun at the same time. I left the situation thinking, “Wow! Those kids are so smart!” until I realized they’re probably average kids and it was my expectations that determined my evaluation (hmm… life lesson in there somewhere…)
Little things that are so commonplace that I’ve never thought about there before are astounding to me and I’m having so much fun just interacting with the world. One of my favorite things is people not touching me all the time and the fact that I can put my arms out and spin and not come close to hitting anything or anyone. I’ve been really fascinated by the amount of space there is here, especially looking at peoples’ front and back yards. It’s funny (for me now) to remember that some Americans complain of being overcrowded because their house is eight feet from their neighbor’s house – that would be an enormous luxury where I’ve been living for the past year.
But I do miss it (already) and I know I’m going to miss the little things from China even more as time goes on. I miss being outside (despite the smog) and I miss walking everywhere. People really are less communal here (at least in the use of the tremendous amounts of space we have) and I have yet to see a park (which makes me sad). I’m definitely goes to miss all the exploring we were able to do in China, but I’ve made a goal to explore all of my city to compensate for that travel bug itch.
It’s interesting to note that I’ve done more cleaning and been on technology less since I’ve been back in the States than when I was in China. Cooking in my own kitchen and being in my own house have been absolutely amazing experiences. Seeing friends has been more fulfilling than it ever was before and I definitely have a newfound appreciation for being an American citizen.
I spent a year off the grid and on the map and I absolutely would (and hope to) do it again!
Thank you so much for following along on my adventure (300 days!) and I hope you’ll join me on the next one (whenever that turns out to be)!