After writing a post about what I will (and won’t) miss about Buenos Aires, it is only appropriate that I write about what it’s like to be in the States again.
In the past 20 years, we have lived most of the time outside the United States, the long exception being two years in Washington, DC (which is not exactly representative of the US) in 2007 and 08. We came to Washington from Berlin, so there wasn’t much reverse culture shock. This time we came from Argentina, and there is plenty of shock.
What we find fantastic and lovely about America can, by a little skewing, also be seen as pathetic and sad. But right now we’re on the USA honeymoon, and it all seems just so wonderful, so grand and glorious.
America is flagrant abundance — and for the moment, this is not a complaint. You can get anything here, absolutely anything, at just about any time you’re in the mood. The first time we went into the local Safeway supermarket, we stood for almost half an hour in one aisle just marveling over the selection of cheese and bread — sourdough bread, it’s orgasmic.
It’s true that we aren’t in Podunk, Iowa, we are in Boulder. But that’s another point: Safeway is Safeway, even in Podunk.
After 3 1/2 years living in a culture with one of the most unimaginative and essentially bland cuisines in the Americas, we make daily excursions trying different restaurants — sushi (fresh and varied, no farmed salmon or cream cheese), Mexican (Tex-Mex, border-Mex, and the real thing), Happy Hour at the fresh oyster bar (fresh flown in daily from the East Coast), FISH (fresh and various), incomparable burgers (with wild choices for toppings — like guacamole, real onion rings), Italian (the real thing, fresh and creative), French (the real thing), various Asian … .
But it’s not just about food, in spite of the fact that Safeway is a temple.
The sidewalks are not cracked and pot-holed, disguising puddles of dog poop water that splashes over your shoes and socks when you stop on one of the floating tiles.
Most people take a good deal of pride in how their homes look, how beautiful their gardens are.
The trash is hidden away and picked up regularly; it is clean and doesn’t smell like a mix of rotting garbage, exhaust, chemical debris, and bad hygiene. Recycling is a religion.
Buses are clean, on schedule, and QUIET.
If you hear a car horn honk, it means there’s an emergency, not just the furious expression of a frustrated, hate-filled, angry driver.
It is safe to walk and cross streets. Buses are not trying to run you over, traffic flows smoothly and efficiently because cars aren’t driving madcap down the center of lanes and weaving insanely in and around other cars. Drivers stop for you crossing the street, whether in a crosswalk or not, and don’t honk their horns madly because you want to just share a bit of the street for a few seconds. Cars avoid bicycles and watch for them before making turns. Drivers are polite! What a concept.
The employees of businesses, shops, restaurants, cafés (whether honest or not) appear to be genuinely pleased that you have decided to spend money with them. Customers receive friendly smiles and greetings. Servers and clerks want to help you to the point that is almost becomes intrusive (after we get used to the overt friendly helpfulness, it will probably seem over the top, but for now it is still a bit shocking).
Clothes fit. The size in the label makes sense, and things don’t shrink out of shape and size with the first washing.
Oddly but happily, most things are much cheaper than they are in developing countries like Argentina, and in the case of Argentina, most things are much, much cheaper, while salaries are double, triple, quadruple what they are there.
People greet one another politely when finding themselves in the same place at the same time; they don’t stare glumly at their shoes or the sky hoping you will disappear before they have to acknowledge your presence in the world.
Have I mentioned the food yet?
Okay, it’s the honeymoon. Reality will intrude, as it always does. In just a week we are already nauseous from the politics, TV is an even vaster wasteland, with the exception of some original HBO programming, and the holier than thou attitudes, the ensuing pretensions, are a bit much to deal with. Americans seem fully aware of their abundance and good fortune, and maybe it would be nicer if they didn’t wear that knowledge on their sleeves.
I’ll return with a refresher post after the honeymoon is over.