Saturday, October 26, 2013

Common Curiosities

As I immerse myself into life here in Costa Rica once again, I have been thinking a lot about my time in the States and life there. And how different it is from life in most of the rest of the world. I am not one of those guilt tripping missionaries who want you Americans to feel bad about what you have. I just want you to appreciate how strange our lives may look to someone coming in from the outside. The longer I live outside the States, the more I find myself having to mentally coach myself through the process by saying, "Pretend that this is normal. Pretend that you do this all the time. Pretend that you are perfectly calm and okay with this." Because the American lifestyle? It's a little overwhelming. And I think most of you have moments where you would admit the same. I feel a bit more like Alice in Wonderland every time I go back with things that were once common to me becoming curioser and curioser. So, here are my top three (just so you know, I started with five, but was flush and breaking out in hives by three, so I am revising) common curiosities I encountered in the States:

1. Pavement: The sheer expanse of concrete in the U.S. is amazing, you guys. Highways with five lanes going in each direction. Parking lots the size of a small town. Sidewalks! Everywhere! The sheer expanse of paved, flat roads on which one can traverse the United States is a wonder to behold. Does it never strike you as curious that you can get from one end of the States to the other, changing altitude and topography drastically on mostly flat, straight roads? That we blow up mountains to keep the road going straight through in the middle of it rather than create a curve in our road? That we really never walk anywhere but we have sidewalks everywhere? That we would rather circle around for an hour and half before using the back half of one of our monstrous parking lots, but we keep building them to house twice as many cars as are ever parked in one place anyway? Look, you guys, I have no big moral feelings on pavement one way or the other. I just want you to appreciate the wonder of being able to get from one place to the other on a paved, wide, flat, straight line. This is truly a marvelous curiosity and unheard of in most other parts of the world. Also, I encourage at least once to seek the adventure of careening through curvy mountain gravel roads while an 18-wheeler careens back at you with no space for either of you to let the other pass. Your adrenaline will get the thrill of its life and you will never take your highways for granted again.

2. Wegmanns: Feel free to insert your nearest boutique grocery shopping experience's name here. Grocery stores in America have in general begun to be anxiety provoking experience for me. The bright lights, the hoards of people, the rows and rows of stuff begging you, "choose me! choose me! choose me!" But add in a man rolling sushi, an antipasto bar, an Italian pastry shop, a wine cellar and a place to sip coffee and WATCH OTHER PEOPLE GROCERY SHOP and you have a recipe for a panic attack. Seriously, Wegmanns in Northern Virginia on a Saturday afternoon about did me in. I think my sweet friend Mary may have feared for my sanity and physical safety. You guys, we have turned to procurement of food into entertainment and recreation.The jury is still out on the moral implications of this in my mind, and I said this blog post was not about the great American guilt trip, but can we. just for a moment, agree on how odd this is? The next time you step into one of these stores, try to imagine it through the eyes of a person who has only ever gone to a small neighborhood shop to grab the basics needed for survival for the next couple of days...rice, 1/2 a kilo of meat, dish soap, bread, oil. And who is one of the well off for the ability to do so. We seem a curious bunch through those eyes. no? I just am not even sure what to say about that. And the pet food selection? I cannot even discuss it without getting all self-righteous preachy...

3. American Football: Look, I am a Southern girl and a mom of boys. If I was in charge, I would declare football morally excellent in a heart beat. And Sunday family football gatherings. And Saturday tail gates. And Fantasy leagues. All of it. Yum-malicious goodness where I am concerned. But I do think we tend to forget that almost the entire rest of the world has absolutely no clue what we are doing in our football madness. And that it must seem just a little odd to them. I mean look, they get all crazy like just like us when it comes to soccer. Faces painted. Wild hates. Madness in the streets. Too much beer. It's not that. It's the actual sport of American football. And that none of us feel the need to describe it as AMERICAN football because we call the sport that the entire rest of the world calls football by a random name we made up for it because we have OUR OWN FOOTBALL...a sport in which man wrap themselves in protective padding and tight pants, crush each other with curious vigor to gain possession of small ball and carry it across a field to a painted rectangle and then do a self-glorifying victory dance. Try to fathom making mental sense of that with no frame of reference whatsoever. Curioser and curioser for sure. But like I said, I'm all for proclaiming the moral good of football (except for player salaries...which again ignite my pop up soapbox so we won't go there) so we're going to go with Alice on this one. Is football mad? I'm afraid so. It's entirely bonkers. But I'll tell you a secret. All the best sports are.

So there. For what it's worth, these are the things that made me feel like I just stepped into Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Strange things are afoot in the U.S.A. And that just proves that I do not think myself superior to the rest of you. I just quoted one of the strangest of our affinities of all time without guilt. So there.

photo credit: Brandon Christopher Warren via photopin cc
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photo credit: elviskennedy via photopin cc


  1. Oh my goodness Colleen, so true. The first time we came back to the States and I went to Safeway with the kids, their eyes got big as they stopped at the door and said "whoa mom. There is sooo much food here". After we came back from the Philippines we really noticed the roads too. Yup, we have more culture shock coming back into the States than we do into missions. ~Lora

  2. Crack up! First Bill & Ted. is truly quite amazing. My kiddos work there so I shop there more than I normally would. I usually go to Wegmans and Aldi's which is the absolute opposite of I feel I found a balance. But what I want to really say...I wish you had done 5...too funny!