Driving home on a Sunday afternoon, I sighed with annoyance knowing that I needed to go to the grocery store to get some bananas, but of course it would be closed because……wait, I’m not in Spain, where Sundays are a day of rest, anymore!! I’m in America, where mental health and relaxation takes a back seat to our one and only God: Capitalism. Yay, bananas anytime, any day!!
I’ve been back in California for a week now and it didn’t take very long to assimilate back into the American (or should I say Californian) culture. I’ve been getting up early, eating organic food from our garden, getting drinks at 7pm and getting home by midnight, and driving my car everywhere. I’ve spent most of my life here so it’s no problem to ease back into it, but there are always a few reverse culture shocks of coming back home from living abroad. The first and most uncomfortable was getting my seat on the plane from Seattle to Sacramento next to an obese woman and being totally unable to put my arms down. I honestly hadn’t seen any overly obese people in my Spanish town. I was most definitely the smallest person on that plane and everyone seemed to know each other, since they were engaging in loud and friendly conversation throughout the short flight. This brings me to my first observation of how American culture is so very different than the Spanish culture I grew accustomed to…
“HELLO, HOW ARE YOU TODAY?!?!”: Or The Friendly Americans
Swedes have a saying that if you smile at a stranger in the street, you’re either crazy or drunk. Obviously, Spaniards are much more outgoing and raucous than Swedes, but it is very rare for people in Spain to chat to a stranger or a customer with as much gusto and smiling as an American. Americans love to talk, complain, joke around, etc with anyone in hearing distance. As soon as I made it to an American airport, I was no longer able to stay in my isolated cocoon. I had people talking to me about the long line, asking where I was going, and giving me their opinion on the weather. I felt a bit bombarded. It’s even more frightening when you walk into a restaurant, where you will be greeted with a massive smile , shrill greeting, and about fifteen questions to make sure that you are having a good day. In America, friendliness is seen as good business and an important charactersitic for a person to have. I’m sure people traveling from Europe find it somewhat grating or forced, as I do right now, but it can be charming and it’s nice having people acknowledge and interact with each other. In Spain, people are very friendly, but only when they want to be. That’s the major difference. Americans will be as sweet as pie, even if they hate your guts. In Spain, you will damn well know if someone doesn’t like you.
“Wait, how much is fifteen percent of this? or is it 20 percent?”: Or Get Out Your Calculators, It’s Tipping Time.
Tipping is a normal part of life in America, you will do it at least once a day. Many employees get most of their pay from tips so it’s important to tip well, especially at a restaurant or bar. It’s been mostly an annoyance when I come back from living abroad (and not needing to tip) and realize that all my meals and beauty services are going to cost more than what is stated, but now, coming from small town Spain where a drink or a coffee was less than two dollars, getting waxed was less than ten, and a haircut was fifteen, it’s overly upsetting to me to have to pay five dollars for a beer and on top of that exorbitant price is the TIP. I hate tipping just because someone is doing their job. If they paid us a lot of attention or helped me out a lot, then hell yeah I will tip you well. I’ve been a waitress and worked in customer service so I understand NEEDING tips and I’ve been tipped really badly before and it makes you incredibly angry. So yes, I will tip while I am here because it is our culture and it’s how people make their money, but damn, is it stealing all of mine.
“It’s so magical!!!”: Or The Grocery Store is like visiting Willy Wonka.
This may not apply to other people because I am not like other people. I LOVE grocery stores. One of my favorite parts of going to a new country is checking out the grocery store. When I lived in Korea, I think I was in the grocery store every day. I may have not even needed anything, I was just checking out what was going on. Going grocery shopping with a guy? How romantic. You and your friends stocking up for a camping trip at the grocery store? Best time ever! My mom went grocery shopping yesterday and I was so excited to come along and help pick out our groceries for the week. So as you can see, I am over-zealous about grocery stores.
American grocery stores are NEXT LEVEL. There is usually about ten or fifteen aisles. Say what?? Korean grocery stores had about three. In Spain, my nearest grocery store was pretty big (and you can bet I was always in there, spinning in circles like I was in Sound of Music) but it is unbelievable the options that are available here. Jello has maybe 20 different flavors, there are watermelon oreos (why!!!), a whole aisle dedicated to ice cream and frozen waffles, you can drink beers from all over the world, and MAKE your own peanut butter. In the grocery store. I wanted to buy maple syrup and it took me about 10 minutes to decide which brand and type to get. Sugar free, fat free, lite, pure syrup, classic syrup, syrup with the taste of butter, syrup that still had bits of tree in it. It was out of control and stressful. I wanted to buy everything. No bake lemon bars! I might need that when I leave America again, you never know!! America is most definitely all about excess and it is possible that it is making us all a little bit crazy. Let’s be real, we don’t need twenty different kinds of milk, people. Stop being greedy.
The Weather: Or I am a “Gafe”.
Oh wait, it’s cloudy and rainy today in Northern California. Just like Spain. It’s true what they told me at my school, I am a gafe or jinx. The bad weather follows me everywhere 😦 Even to California, where dry summers are our game! I will say though, today has been pretty lovely. Not too hot, not too cold. T-shirt and leggings weather. We took the dog on a hike to our view of the river and it smelled like autumn. Life in California aint bad. Now I’m off to meet the boys for a drink (I will have a choice of fifty different flavors) that will probably cost too much and be served by a Stepford wife, but hey, Welcome to America.