Like most of us, we are unexpectedly doing unexpected things. For Kim and me, our life has changed a lot in the wake of the pandemic. We’ve gone from world travelers to living with my mom. From staying in one exotic country after another to being confined in the United States.
Culture shock in America
Probably most of you reading this live in the United States so living here seems normal to you. It’s not. At least not normal compared to much of the rest of the world. It’s different.
As I often say, and as is true, different is not good or bad, it’s just different. Some of the differences about living in America I like and some I do not. This is true of any country.
Two things hit me square in the face after a few weeks in America
- Food is really really expensive.
- I’m spending most of my life in a car.
These are two things I don’t love but it’s like swimming in a cool lake on a hot day; yes you love the cool refreshing water once you’re in, but your first impression is the shock of how cold the water feels when you jump in. Price and driving are the shocks, the variety of food, and ease of driving are the cool water.
Sticker shock in America
Sticker shock when coming to America is not new, we experience it every time we come back to visit. What is new is how impossible it is to get out from under it.
It’s one thing to visit the US for a couple of weeks, eat out, cook some special foods we can’t find easily elsewhere, and generally be on vacation. We expect things to cost a lot. But three months on, we are done going out to eat and have had our fill of (what is for us) exotic American food.
So now we are eating ‘normally’ just going to the store and buying staples and, fruits and vegetables, you know the stuff you buy when you go grocery shopping. And the prices are outrageous.
- $1.50 for a (as in one) avocado! I’m still thinking 25 cents for two.
- Freshly baked bread is no longer a dollar, it’s $5 and hard to find.
- A good bottle of wine is $15 here. In Italy, we get 3 bottles for that price and it’s better.
This list goes on and on, I won’t bore you.
In most other countries we eat out for most meals. We do this for two reasons
- It’s more convenient than cooking and doing dishes (obviously)
- It’s not more, and is often less, expensive than cooking at the apartment.
In Kuala Lumpur, our last stop, we were eating out at our favorite sushi place for $16. Total.
- Two people.
- Four sets of rolls.
- Dessert. (Yes, we gained some weight)
At our favorite sushi place in America, Karma Sushi Bar Grill in Flagstaff, Arizona, two sets of rolls will set you back $16. This is an average price in the U.S. Karma Sushi in Flagstaff is way above average so we consider this a great deal.
A ‘normal’ dinner out, we don’t eat sushi every night, in Kuala Lumpur was about $1.50 each. Yes, you read that right $1.50.
I don’t like to drive. I owned a passenger transportation company many years ago and since then I hate everything to do with cars. Especially driving.
I’ll go for months and never drive. I’ll go for weeks and never be in a car at all. Almost every city in every country has great public transportation. I don’t mean just
- and Busses
but also electric scooters and bikes to rent on every corner and often in the middle of the sidewalk.
And we walk a lot. A mile (1.6 km) walk to the store is routine. But for some reason once in America we feel compelled to drive if we are going, well anywhere, no matter how short the distance.
American’s just don’t walk. Although Americans seem ok with “going for a walk”, it just can’t be combined with anything else.
With just a few exceptions, usable public transit does not exist in America. We’ve tried using American bus systems. They don’t work.
When I lived in Flagstaff, Arizona I had a ‘real’ job and also taught a couple of classes at Northern Arizona University. Commute times from my office to NAU
- Walking: 1 hour
- Bus: 45 minutes
- Driving:14 minutes
I drove. This is typical of what we’ve found with American public transit.
We try and walk in the US but everything is so far away from everything else. So we drive. A lot.
I spent more time in a car in America in two days than I do in a month overseas. I drive more in a week than I do in a year.
Not good or bad just different
A lot of people like to drive, my mother is one of them, so the American transportation system is great for her. She looks for reasons to drive. She will drive to see a friend who lives 4 houses down the street. Again this difference is not good or bad. I just don’t personally care for it, much like I don’t care for fish sauce in Thailand.
Food prices have an upside too. Usually, I gain weight when I’m in the US for a few weeks. Now that I have to budget for food, I’m eating much less. I can’t afford to eat with the reckless abandon as I do when overseas.