This will be the first in a series of posts that illustrates PashbyMaul’s musings about reverse culture shock as we reintegrate into American life for the next 6 weeks. Keep in mind that we’re comparing our experience of life in the Veneto, Italy to small/mid-size-town America. This is not done to criticize one culture or the other, but to help us process our adjustment.
We’re having a great time hanging out with Mama and Papa Maul in Wake Forest, NC, which is in the Research Triangle area of Raleigh and Durham. We also spent a couple of full days with Naomi (sister and sister-in-love) and her husband Craig and children David (3.5) and Beks (2) in Richmond, VA this week. It is perplexing to us that even though we are spending quality time with family whom we love, we are still shocked by American cultural norms that we are no longer used to, in the midst of good times.
Shocker #1: Overabundance
Everywhere we look, we see an abundance of everything. As the week continues, this idea of abundance has turned into an understanding that the proper word is overabundance as we’ve witnessed entire grocery store aisles devoted to every type of cracker you could possibly imagine. Part of our shock of this overabundance stems from our recent growth as a couple: we’ve pledged to make lower impact on the environment despite flying thousands of miles each year, we’ve purged at least half of our personal belongings from our life, and we’re committed to living with the attitude that less really is more. Much to our dismay, these are not overtly American ideals and we find our choice to live a life with “less yet enough” bombarded by the concept of “more”, “bigger”, “better” wherever we turn.
We have glimpsed overabundance in the following ways this week:
Grocery Stores: There are many within a tiny-mile-radius of each other in any given American city. An average grocery store in our old neighborhood in Italy is 1/8 the size of the standard American store. Once inside the American store, there are so many choices that if you didn’t go in with a game plan in mind, you won’t come out for hours!
Roads: We have driven on roads that span 6-8 lanes across after having a 1-lane road be part of our commuting norm. Getting our mind around the fact that there is actually enough space in a given area to take up 6-8 lanes is a challenge.
Cars: Most of the cars are larger than European cars. In fact, most of the cars wouldn’t fit in a European parking spot! Similarly, a lot of those cars are not fuel efficient, as opposed to Golf, which gets 40 miles to every gallon.
Restaurants: The choice is endless and many restaurants are right next to each other, making us wonder how they all stay in business in the same location. Even the restaurants exist on the notion that they are going to flip tables with the “get them in, get them out” mentality.
Menus: Once you get inside the restaurants, the menus are quite vast and difficult to navigate. Don’t know what you want? Here’s 200 choices to help you decide… The problem with that scenario is, how do you decide after you’ve read all 200 choices?
Portions: Once you’ve finally ordered and received your meal, there is enough food on the plate for at least 2 full portions, maybe even 3 small ones if you went to a Mexican restaurant and ate several rounds of chips and salsa before you got your meal. Of course it’s not our area of expertise, but this may also be part of the reason that so many Americans are struggling with obesity.
Waste: For us during this past week, the most disturbing part of America’s overabundance is the amount of waste that gets produced seemingly everywhere without so much as a batted eye. There was one day where we went out to lunch and dinner in the same day. Both places that we went to were in the up-and-coming “fast casual” dining category (definitely a few notches above your average McDonalds, but certainly not nor will ever be at the Michelin level). Both establishments used paper plates, plastic silverware, plastic cups, and paper napkins instead of actual dishes and flatware. Unfortunately, none of these places have separate wastebaskets for paper, plastic, food scraps and dry waste. This made me feel like just eating at one of these establishments caused me to deposit waste into a landfill, because that’s where those items are going.
Of course, the American habit of overabundance is just that: a habit. Habits can change if enough people encourage and embody that change. As for the PashbyMauls, all we can control is our own attitude, philosophy of the world, and actions. So although we are bothered by the habit of overabundance in our country, we choose not to engage in it and make it our own. Instead, we choose to live with enough and be grateful that we have been blessed with more than enough in our lives.