“In New York freedom looks like too many choices.”
The above line appears in U2’s song about New York City, aptly titled “New York.” While I don’t expect to be setting foot in New York next week, I think the sentiment about “too many choices” will apply to my experience returning to America, even for a brief stay. See, I moved to Prague about five years ago with the intent of experiencing Europe. With the help of my wife, I’ve done it. I’ve traveled and seen more places than I ever knew existed. In order to accomplish that, I’ve had to build up an acceptance of the unfamiliar. Even my daily commute is a barrage of things that I don’t understand. I don’t speak Czech (I know few expats who actually do) and therefore everything I experience outside of my home and office is in a language I don’t understand. Yes, I know, that’s my fault but that’s not the point here. The point is, that’s what I’m used to. So, when I go home to Washington, DC next week, I expect to have some serious culture shock.
The last time I was there I experienced what I could compare a deaf man suddenly being able to hear. While in America, I can say “excuse me” and be understood, I can order a sandwich with extra mayo, I can ask, “What aisle is the deodorant in?” It’s shocking after not being able to do that for over a year. As for the choice, that’s another thing entirely.
I recently talked to one of my buddies that lived abroad about his experiences returning home. We both agreed that the number of choices is the hardest thing to adjust to. It’s overwhelming. He actually admitted to turning around and walking out of US stores upon his return in America because it was just an overload to the senses. As Americans, we sometimes forget that all of that choice is not a worldwide standard – it’s particularly American.
I’m not condemning it. Not by a long shot. I’m excited to see and experience it. I’m excited to experience it in stores, in restaurants – everywhere. I’m going to go to the grocery store just to look around for goodness sake. But I know it’s going to be a shock.
In preparation, I’m going through blogs and food sites making a mental list of places to eat before my trip ends. There are just not enough hours in the day to eat all that I want to while I’m there. But rest assured, I’ll post about my impressions with the giddiness of a small child after each meal. I can’t wait for my senses to short circuit, short circuit in America. Heck, we’ve got new circuits in aisle 11. Sure beats Grunt for dinner.