Since we have returned home the question most often asked of us is, “Do you have culture shock?” In a close second place is, “What are you going to do now?” I will address the first one in this article.
“Shock” is an extreme word and feels like an exaggeration to me. The phrase “Shock and Awe” comes to mind, and since 2003, I have just felt guilty using the term to describe something I have gone through. Honestly, I am not in anyway shocked since I have returned home, I would just say I am more aware, much more aware.
As Aracely and I traveled from country to country throughout Central and South America we witnessed changes in culture, customs and traditions. We made an effort to distinguish countries or peoples so we could gain a better understanding of a place. Is the United States drastically different from the places we visited? Overall yes, but not to the point of shock.
If we lived with an Amazon tribe for 6 months, which people can do, then yes, it would be a shocking experience returning to the USA. We didn’t subject ourselves to these extreme challenges. Every country we visited had at least one developed city. Each country also had indigenous populations living off the land in a way we don’t see in the United States. We weren’t away from those developed cities for a long enough period of time to forget what’s it like living in the 21st century. Our trip involved all landscapes, urban and rural.
Now that I have explained why we aren’t feeling shocked, let me make you aware of what we do recognize. The United States is a consumer driven economy and successful marketing drives it. I know, you already knew that. I did too, but I didn’t feel pain participating in it like I do today.
After retrieving only a few of our 10 or so Rubbermaid bins from storage at my brother’s attic, it quickly became apparent that we have too much stuff. This is after selling half our stuff at yard sales and on eBay prior to leaving on our trip. During our travels over the last year we have lived out of large backpacks, nothing more. The experience made us realize we don’t need all this stuff and it’s rather frustrating to own it now. We admit, we wouldn’t have realized how little we really needed if we didn’t spend the last year backpacking.
We can drink tap water! The United States has drinkable sink, shower and toilet water. Drinkable tap water doesn’t exist in most places we traveled and it was often an inconvenience having to run out of the hostel to a corner store just because you were thirsty. I don’t think we realize how good we have it here. We now do our best to avoid drinking bottled water, saving waste and money.
All the cars look new and the highways are, well, highways. Our infrastructure in the Untied States is incredible. We can travel by car anywhere on paved roads in a country that spans 2,500 miles across. Not only are the roads paved, but they are also clean. And the vehicles driving on them are new; a great contrast from the vehicles driven in Central and South America. Auto manufactures have ran successful leasing campaigns convincing consumers that they must purchase a vehicle every 2-4 years.
The most difficult part about all this is that no one relates to us on these issues. Those around us think we are silly for buying a 20 year old car that runs, for drinking tap water, and for being so mindful about waste. I realized then that living in the US actually requires effort to not be wasteful. The “consume” message is so ingrained in us all that we feel the need to buy such things as event specific disposable plates, greeting cards for Halloween, a purse to match every pair of shoes and a new fully loaded MacBook Pro for blogging.
We aren’t shocked, but we are more aware of the culture in the United States and it’s quite different from those living in Central and South America. We are grateful for the opportunities this country has given us, but we aren’t so proud of the way we live in it. Now is the time to change and live with a little less, actually much less. Less stuff and less stress, we believe.