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Culture Shocked

5 December 2008
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So remember at the beginning of the last post when I said I would write more? Yeah, well, apparently I’m a big, fat liar. But don’t worry – I’m working on it. Or at least I’m working on that fat part – worked out three times in the last week! As for the lying part, I’ve decided just not to make any more promises. I’ll try to keep writing and fighting the nagging feeling that I’m talking to myself as long as someone out there tries to comment once in a while. (Though I don’t really mind the stalkers, cough, cough, Keith.) Plus in the next two months I have trips planned to two U.S. destinations I’ve never been to before, namely, New Orleans and Cincinnati. Yes, you heard me right – Cincinnati. How you like me now?!

As for why I haven’t been writing much lately, I have decided there are two reasons. First, I really, really miss India, and most of the topics I have had in my head were starting to make me sound like Debbie Downer, and I don’t want to write posts that are best ended with that wah-wah sound and shrugging shoulders as I look helplessly into the camera. Second, this missing of India has led to endless comparing of Chicago to Chennai, and I don’t want this blog to become just a litany of all the ways the U.S. is different from India (especially if those ways make me start to think of Chicago as sucktastic).

However, I have been experiencing quite a bit of reverse culture shock, and the former Youth Exchange supervisor in me is encouraging me to let it all out. After all, it is not exactly the differences that strike me most but how I am reacting to those differences. And maybe if I write about it, there will be less of those “well, isn’t this awkward” moments, like Colbert under the mistletoe with soulful R&B crooner John Legend.

Take, for instance, my newly strange relationship with money. I now find that I have this insane need to break my large bills as quickly as possible. Right now, $20 bills seem less like yuppie food coupons and more like this insurmountable barrier between me and my getting what I want or need. The other day I bought a $2 coffee and actually apologized when I handed the cashier a $20. I half-expected her to tell me they had no change for that $20. Instead, she just looked at me like I had three heads as she readily handed back my change and told me to “have a nice day … (freak).”

I apparently now have an inability to conceive of a world where businesses would actually have money in their cash registers that they will readily give in exchange for my larger bills. And it seems that I don’t really understand that I no longer have to choose items at the store in such a way to maximize the small change I will receive. In fact, it is clear that I have completely forgotten that cash is not actually needed here in the U.S. since pretty much every place will take my debit card. I am now hoarding quarters like a fiend with a parking meter obsession. And my wallet is really heavy.

Most of all, when it comes to money, I am finding that being back in the U.S. is seriously challenging my cheapskate ways. At first, I was just excited to live in a place again where there is readily available toilet paper that costs less than $1 per roll. The cost of toilet paper in India really highlighted my cheapness. You will never know how long a roll of TP can last until you’ve seen a cheap person live in a place where TP costs $1 per roll. Seriously, like, a really long time. But now I clearly see that the cheapness of toilet paper will never make up for the fact that I can no longer get lunch at a restaurant for 75 cents or that Chicago has no mango man who will give me arbitrary produce discounts. And every time I shell out $10 for a sandwich and chips, I die a little inside. It’s taking much more adjusting than I thought it would.

I’m getting there, though. Until they canceled my debit card due to “information” that my card had been “compromised” (though they couldn’t tell me how), I was actually using it to buy coffee and toilet paper – though not at the same place because that would be weird. And I no longer apologize when not handing over exact change for my purchases nor do I turn down lunch invitations for fear that I’ll go nutters when the bill arrives.

A few more weeks, and I should be fully embracing this trophy wife role I now find myself in. I’m sure Mike can’t wait for that day. Just look for me at Target – I’ll be the one carrying the $5 latte and the 36-roll package of TP.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. ana permalink
    8 December 2008 11:37 am

    Friend – how you make me laugh! No doubt in a couple of months I shall find myself in the same awkward place (minus the trophy wife bit).

  2. D.A.D. permalink
    10 December 2008 10:49 am

    No, no…don’t get too bourgeois on us. Take your quarter-fetish to the masses!!!

  3. 11 December 2008 10:23 am

    Oh dear. A housewife does not equal trophy wife. Although I’m sure any fella would be more than pleased with you on his arm. Maybe you could use that time to make a trip to say…Nashville! How you like ME now?! Hee hee!

  4. Annahita permalink
    6 January 2009 12:02 pm

    I’m reading this!!! Well…just started. I dont know when you got back, but i hope we can get together sometime…perhaps for a trip to devon st. for eyebrow threading, masala tea and samosas? really want to hear more about your time in the subcontinent 🙂
    welcome back!

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