Advertising Culture Shock in Washington, DC

While back home in DC, I was whacked up the side of the head with the sheer volume of advertising and promotion everywhere. Yeah, there are ads in Prague but they’re not in my language so I don’t pay much attention to them. As for TV, the satellite service I have has PSA’s instead of the normal ads so the barrage in the US of A came as a bit of a shock.

The strangest was the Ambien CR ad disclaimer that ran during the spot. It went something like this:

AMBIEN and AMBIEN CR are treatment options you and your doctor can consider along with lifestyle changes. When taking either of them, don’t drive or operate machinery. Plan to devote 7 to 8 hours to sleep before being active. Sleepwalking, and eating or driving while not fully awake, with memory loss for the event, as well as abnormal behaviors such as being more outgoing or aggressive than normal, confusion, agitation, and hallucinations may occur. Don’t take it with alcohol as it may increase these behaviors. In patients with depression, worsening of depression, including risk of suicide may occur. If you experience any of these behaviors contact your doctor immediately.

Shoot, I’ll say.  Sounds like this pill may get rid of your sleeping problem but give you a host of others!  It also makes me just think that it is the pill form of this – minus the blueberry flavor.  To each his own!

Metro Culture Shock

You should be looking at a cool, panoramic picture of the inside of a sparsely-populated DC metro car right now.  But you’re not.  You’re not because I got served.  I got served on the metro tonight like I’ve never been served before.

I had a great dinner out and was just cruising home the final three metro stops to my hotel.  There was nothing going on, only a handfull of people were on the metro and I got on a peculiar car with no handicapped seats that left an awesome, panoramic view of the car that looked like the perfect headline photo for some post on culture shock, public transport, or orange astro-turf.  It was not to be, friends.  Not to be.

As I raised my phone to make it happen, I rethought my move and double checked that the <<ka-ching>> photo sound was turned off.  Good news, it was.  The bad news followed.  Upon seeing that my settings were correct, I looked up and saw a towering 5’3″ American woman in her 50’s shouting something at me.  I didn’t hear her.  My headphones were on.  I just saw her gesticulating.  Much of the gesticulation involved a pointed finger.  I pulled one of the noise-cancelling earbuds out of my ear and heard her shout, “Did you just take a picture of me?”  Wha?  “Did you just take a picture of me?”

In shock, stupefied, but not yet guilty, I said, “No, no.  I haven’t.”  I think my verb tense threw her off.  She dropped her finger and sat down – facing the other way.  Suddenly, the car seemed full of people.  Some were snickering and some were scowling.  They all knew I got served.  Geez.

I could turn this post into something analyzing the post 9/11 right to privacy, but I won’t.  Fact is, I don’t blame the lady too much.  I just saw a cool picture and wanted to save it.  Heck, 75% of the reason I wanted it was because there were so few people in it.  But, I guess it was her right.  Is there a law against it these days?  How should I know?

Hell, I’m just a tourist here.  These days, it seems I’m just a tourist everywhere.

The Czech Sasquatch – In His Underwear

Just one final impression of Prague for you during my last hours in the Czech Republic.  What I’m about to tell you is a phenomenon that is highly Czech from all accounts.  Nevertheless, I’ve only ever heard about it and read about it from friends or on other expat blogs.  You know, kind of like the Sasquatch.

There’s the thing about being an expat, the surprises never stop.

Now, to the story.  I was driving down one of Prague’s busiest streets (Evropska), the street that carries all the traffic to and from the airport.  It’s a 4 laner and busy.  However, on this particular morning, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of white and yellow and did a double take.  It revealed a bald guy, 50’s, in his tighty-whities and yellow Crocks.  Standing there.  In front of his yard.  Traffic speeding by.  4 lanes.  Tighty-whities.  Crocs.  Wha?

Apparently this is regular practice here.  Folks go out to do yard work and instead of dirtying a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, they just go in their skivvies.  I guess its kind of logical but no less shocking when seen in person.

But for me, it really hammers home one point.  Culture shock is real.  And it’s going to hit me HARD.  I’ve been out of America a looong time.

Before I got this job, I remember seeing the guys that worked in Prague when they came back to Washington for consultations.  They always looked really lost and a bit out of place.  Now, I know why.  They were.

Seriously, how does one transision from what I just saw to the Pentagon City Mall?  I’ll soon find out.

Freedom Looks Like Too Many Choices

food aisle“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.