Monday, October 5, 2009

Les Etats-Unis Part I: Reverse Culture Shock

The school year officially starts this week at Nanterre University, so of course I'm thinking about our vacation instead of planning lessons. In true French fashion, Gaby and I took our vacation in August and went to the U.S. to visit family and friends.

After being away for an entire year, I was anxious to see everyone and to enjoy my home country for a month. I just wasn't expecting to notice all the differences so much. Here are my top five (not very surprising?) observations:

1. The U.S. is BIG. The first thing I noticed after getting off the plane was how much space there was, even at the airport. Big restaurants, big chairs, big tables, LOTS of room between chairs and tables, humongous portions. Roomy (and very clean) restrooms. The highways are so wide, as are the parking spots, probably because the cars are so large too. Relatively large houses, enormous backyards, lots of open land. I spent a lot of time out on my parents' back porch just enjoying the open space and feeling like I could really breathe. Ahhh.....The downside of all this? Well, Americans are big too. I'm not trying to be mean, but I feel like I could stand to lose more than a few pounds compared to the girls in France. Feeling relatively svelte in the U.S., I didn't think twice about reaching for that extra helping of Doritoes.

2. AMERICAN FOOD IS SO GOOD. If we Americans are ahem...a little heavier than Europeans, I think it's because our food is so incredibly awesome (and awesomely fatty). Having been deprived of some of our favorite American dishes and snacks, Gaby and I went to town. In Madison we helped ourselves to our favorite Glass Nickel Pizza, wings, burgers, hot cheese curds and Great Dane beer. In Chicago we chowed down on Marissa's amazing pork chops, sushi and the best hot gooey cinnamon rolls from Ann Sathers. And of course when we got back to Kansas, we went to a Royals game where we pigged out on stadium foot-longs, nachos and Philly cheese steak sandwiches. And I haven't even mentioned all the Cheetos, popcorn, Doritoes and Pepperidge farm cookies we made evening trips out to Wal-mart for. (TUMS anyone?)

3. STORES like Wal-mart ARE OPEN SO LATE!! I'm used to getting all my shopping of any kind done before 8:00 pm on weekdays & Saturday. Yes, it is hard to fit in grocery shopping when Gaby and I don't get home until 7:00 sometimes, but we manage. We also know that most stores are closed on Sunday and the ones that are open on Sunday are closed on Monday. By contrast, the Wal-mart in Atchison is open 24/7 except on Christmas day. Wow. I don't know how many times we drove out there after 10:00 to pick up some trivial item. (Usually cookies.)

4. I LOVE HAVING A CAR. Sometimes. I love public transportation in Paris, but I do miss miss driving in small towns and in the country. City driving and I have never ever gotten along very well, although Chicago was relatively kind to Gaby and me. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a car here; then I see all the traffic jams as I'm walking to the store and change my mind.

5. ENGLISH IS EASIER THAN FRENCH. Well, duh. But no, seriously, this was a big thing for me. I tend to be an extremely shy person. I have had to psych myself up to even order takeout over the phone (yes, in the U.S.) Yes, yes, it's almost an illness. Ridiculous, really. France has cured me of it to some degree. Now when I have to talk to a stranger, all I have to remember is that it's not as if I have to speak to them in French, which of course is infinitely worse. I was almost overjoyed to ask for information or directions from my fellow Americans.

There you have it. I'm sure I made other little observations which will probably come to me in the middle of the night sometime when I can't sleep, but for now that's all I can think of. Next post...sight-seeing in the Midwest.