There's a lot of complex stuff that goes on with cultural transition when it comes to emotions and relationships and psychological processing, and it can get kind of heavy. But it is also a kind of neat time of seeing your own country and life as an outsider, and that's not an opportunity that everyone gets. Having been home for two months now, things are gradually feeling more normal, but I am still often reminded that I am in a transition phase. Some days it feels like I am having to relearn America, which often makes me feel like a dork. So for my amusement, and hopefully yours, I thought I'd share my struggles with America that I jotted down in the early days of repatriation:
1. Toilet paper: Yes, I've been going to the bathroom regularly in the US for many weeks now, but it has taken a long time to erase a two-year habit of having to think every time whether I could flush the toilet paper or have to throw it away. There's a little bell in the back of my head that goes off that makes me stop and consider where I am, what I've been told about that particular facility (or what the signs say) and how I esteem the plumbing. Also, the mere existence of toilet paper in public restrooms is, in and of itself, shocking!
2: Water: Another self-preservational brain alarm goes off every time I turn on tap water. It makes me consider whether I need to turn on the filter for that particular task or not. Except here, there's no filter to turn on! I filled up a glass right out of the tap the other day and felt like I was cheating death when I drank it. You don't mess around with drinking water in developing nations, so the concept of not worrying about using your tap water to drink, make ice, wash vegetables, cook, brush your teeth, or getting it in your nose and mouth when you shower, well that's pretty exciting. To be fair, in Lima we were acclimated so I didn't filter water to brush my teeth, and tap water was fine for washing dishes unlike some places I've been. But every time I traveled to a different city or country I had to inquire of the local Ms what the water situation was, so my brain, being away from my Lima apartment, is still going through that process.
Also, I have water pressure! It's awesome! Aaaaand, a BATH TUB! I can take a long hot shower, or a nice hot soak in the tub. I've had about 20 bubble baths since I've been home to make up for lost time. :-) I can count on my hand the number of times I'd taken a bath in the last two years because they are a rarer feature in most places down south.
Also, I am really missing the option of cheap carbonated water (seltzer/club soda) at all points in time. It's delightfully refreshing and America needs to embrace it more! Water is way better carbonated. (Note: I just discovered weeks after writing this that Zephyrhills- my favorite FL spring water- now makes a sparkling variety! Now I just need to convince them to carry it everywhere...)
3. Laundry: It took me a while to remember how to work our fancy washer and dryer here. There are so many choices and knobs! But the strangest thing is how FAST it is! I mean, seriously. I can wash and dry a load of clothes in what seems like the blink of an eye. Due to the low water pressure in our apartment, the washer took forever to fill, so one load of laundry was a few hour process. I am used to putting in a load before I get ready to go to the store or run an errand, because it'll probably be done when I get back and then be ready to take a couple hours to dry in the dryer. So now that I am back in speedy America, I keep forgetting to check on my clothes for hours and thus they sit in the washer or dryer for a really long time. Oops!
4. Food: What is it with America and processed foods?! I mean, I love the occasional bag of chips, or a candy bar, or a convenient meal out of a box once in a while, but after being gone, it seems like that is the ONLY thing that is readily available in the US. Between the constant eating out at restaurants who use all sorts of preserved and processed foods, to the enormous selection of frozen, boxed, canned junk, my system has been in shock. In Peru I purchased and ate more imported and processed things than probably the average Peruvian, but since there were so many fewer pre-made options and so much inexpensive delicious produce, I had really gotten used to cooking almost everything from scratch. And you know what? It's not that hard once you get used to it. And my stomach was used to it too, so the first week on a US diet was...let's just say rough!
Also, I'm pretty sure America has invented like 100 new candies and fattening products in the last 2 years. Maybe one day I'll make it out of the store without saying, "What in the world is THAT?!" but it hasn't happened yet.
5. Prices: Peru is cheap. (Well, it was cheap, but the sol keeps climbing against the dollar so it's quickly getting less cheap, so you should get down there ASAP!) Even compared to other South American countries, we had it pretty good in Peru. Thankfully for the conversion rate, the price in numbers in the US looks smaller at first so I don't gasp in horror, but when I do the math in my head, it's pretty shocking just how much anything costs. I'm going to go bankrupt just on the food!
6. Stuff: We have sooooooo muuuuuuch stuuuuuuuuff! Believe me when I say I'm talking about myself first and foremost. Granted, almost everything I own is piled into one room...and down the hall...and in some closets. That's everything from my childhood room, my college apartment, my time in Paris, and now my time in South America, so in those terms its not so bad. But it really is. I have so much more than I need! I've been in major purge mode since I got home, I guess since I had just been doing the same thing to my stuff in Peru to be able to empty my apartment and fit my belongings into my suitcases, that I was already in that mindset. But it's also easier to get rid of things when you've been living without them for two years. It helps you realize more easily what is worth keeping and what isn't.
I remember seeing a tip on TV once about decluttering, and they suggested putting stuff into storage bins and tucking them away for a year. Anything that you had to go looking for and dig out could stay, and anything else you could give away. And now I know exactly where they were coming from. I've been taking big bags of clothes, shoes, purses, books, etc. to the thrift store while it's still easy and before I get attached to my "stuff" again. But just walking through malls and stores, America in general just has so much stuff! Some of it is pretty awesome, some of it is extremely useful, but so much of it is just ridiculous and we don't need it! I've been doing pretty good so far at making myself really justify everything I purchase, and hopefully I can create some new habits that will keep me from getting so cluttered in the future. The longer I am back in the US though, the easier it is to feel the pull of "needing" new things.
7. Driving: Driving in Peru is pretty crazy. Having not driven in Peru I didn't imagine that my time around Latin traffic would affect me much but I can see now I was wrong. I'm much more of an impatient crazed limeña driver now than I was before. I mean, I'm one for efficiency so I've always gotten annoyed with irrational traffic patterns and drivers that waste my time by sitting through green lights, or going slow on left arrows. Seriously, life is too short for that nonsense! Lima traffic stressed me so much at times that I never in a million years would have imagined that I'd get back to the US and actually wish that people would drive a bit more crazily. You don't need 50 yards of open space to make a turn! In Peru, 20 cars could have turned in that amount of time! ;-) Also, horns are very much under-utilized in Daytona, so I'm making up the difference. ;-)
8. Ease: Life is easy here. I don't mean that in the grand meaning-of-life angst-of-human-condition way, but just in the everyday task way. We drive to everything, and there are so many options for everything, and any item you need is easy to find. If not in a local store, it's just a quick internet search and a couple days wait away. Being resourceful is more of a discipline than a necessity for most people here. Everything is instant, and online, and you have choices. So many choices! I don't have to plan out conversations in a foreign language in my head just to call a business or buy medicine. I don't have to rework every recipe I find online because I can't get half the ingredients. Easy peasy!
There's a hundred more little things that catch me off guard or make me stop and think, "Well that's not what we do in Peru!" But after two months I see them less and less. It won't be long until I am just looking back and laughing at how I was scared of the Keurig and didn't have a clue how to operate one. America feels pretty normal now, although I am still piecing together what normal is going to be like for me in this next phase of life. I appreciate your prayers as I begin the search for a job and make decisions about my future!