Saturday, August 01, 2009

It's like living in a parallel universe, where the same laws of physics do not apply...

"So how's this year's culture shock?" you ask.

Recall from last year that the gigantism of everything here in the U.S. is no longer a shocker. And the fact that everyone is always speaking English, again, takes a little getting used to. (In particular, it took a few days to get over the urge to say "Greutzi" every time I approach a store clerk.) But the biggest surprise was that -- once I got back behind the wheel -- it was as though I'd never left.

Sort of.

One of the things you get used to when living downtown is not having big box stores. No Wall-Mart, no Super Target. When I first moved to downtown Bordeaux (France), all the time I'd be wondering "Where do I get X if there's no Target (or equivalent)?"

Over time, I discovered that if I really need X, I can find it. And I also discovered that a lot of the time I didn't need X very badly. Over time, you can actually train yourself to get used to not being able to purchase any conceivable object 24/7, 364 1/2 days a year.

Once I moved to Zürich, it was the same only double. The Swiss are all about quality over quantity, so it's even harder to find all that cheap crap from China (of any size, shape, color, shininess, sparklitude, and luminosity you can imagine!) than it is in France. Then -- since I live in a small apartment where it costs 2 francs (~= $2) to throw away one kitchen-sized bag of garbage -- the last thing I need is more junk!

That's why it surprised me how simple it was to just fall back into the mindset of "Oh, I'll just hop in the car and go pick some up at Target..." It is so alien to my normal life that it's like I'm living in some alternate universe where the normal laws of physics don't apply. Yet, it's a universe that I lived in for thirty years, so I know my way around...

I guess my real moment of culture shock came when buying some toys for my kids, and I was shocked by the enormity of the cardboard-and-plastic display case packaging the toys came in. And I was confusedly asking my parents "Do we just throw this away?"

And even though I can fit in here, this lifestyle still makes me nervous.


Mostly because of this:
(which I found here), and this:
(which I found here.)

And it's not just the cost of this lifestyle in (very, very finite) energy reserves. There's also the fact that if all this stuff came from China (and it's not clear what China is getting in return), one starts to suspect that the imbalance will at some point get equalized. Likely in a manner that won't be comfortable and convenient. Not to be a downer or anything...

But I guess that's another thing about coming back here: it makes me wax philosophical about human progress -- and how we need to make some, ASAP!


Anonymous said...

"Over time, you can actually train yourself to get used to not being able to purchase any conceivable object 24/7, 364 1/2 days a year."

TOTALLY. It happens so naturally, I didn't even notice it, but now I enjoy it very much.

Also, ITA with you about the needed changes and the urgency for doing so.

Have fun...

- wry

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Wry!!!


I actually notice it more when I'm here than in Europe: I catch myself mentally planning ahead so that I won't need to purchase things on a holiday, and then I remember "This is the U.S. -- of course I can purchase things on a holiday! duh."

Anonymous said...

i love this.... i find i am longing to be able to live where there is no boxstores...

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Julie!!!

I may be exaggerating a little to suggest there aren't any. It's just that they tend to be out in the suburbs -- and mostly only accessible by car. So when you live downtown and tend to go places on foot or in public transportation, the big box store district is no longer a convenient (or interesting) destination. ;^)

beatdad said...

We have Target, Wal-mart, Fredmeyer, two home improvement stores a Good will and a St. Vincent's thrift store all within a five minute drive of our house, and never manage to need anything that they sell, except groceries from Fred Meyer.