Sunday, January 8, 2012
America: Reflections of an American Living Abroad
Visiting America after having lived in Japan for over half a decade was both unusual and familiar all at the same time.
Some things have changed. For example, the medium sized drink has become freaking gigantic. The large size drink is ludicrous. And now they offer even a larger size! Barrel sized 72 oz. drinks are sold at gas stations now.
All the food has advertising that it is 99% sugar free. Or is reduced fat or less salt. But all the food is like 99 times bigger--so it really doesn't seem to matter. It all is about the same as full sugar, salt, or fat because your eating a hundred times more than you ought to.
I did enjoy all the new Vitamin Water flavors though. That was new to me. When I left the states there were no Vitamin Water drinks... let alone an entire rainbow of flavors to select from!
Some things stay the same. There are tons of fat people. Probably from the huge soda drinks and amount of pop they drink. Americans still prefer to talk out loud on their cell phones in public places (Japanese prefer to text silently) forcing you to hear how wonderful they think they are. But their conversations never change--it's always either about money, business, or relationships. Always.
Another observation I made is that there is a ton of cleavage. Breasts are hanging out everywhere. I have grown accustomed to short skirts and the occasional flirtation of panties peeking out from underneath. Not much in the way of breasts though. The fatty volume of boobs was everywhere to be found--American women's boobs are like everywhere--even my little cousin had breast implants since I had been gone (I was in shock when I found out--bajinga--hugeness abounds). I couldn't even go ten minutes in a Barnes & Noble bookstore without some girl walking up to me wanting to know if I needed anything. I'm not complaining... I like the service... but my eyes ever only raised enough from the book I was perusing to get a glimpse of boob valley.
Not to paint me as shallow or anything... it's just that I had forgotten the level of propriety is almost non-existent when it comes to women's tops.
As for my home state of Montana, I had forgotten exactly how awfully conservative it was. No offense to my family, who I had a pleasurable time with, but most of them are still trapped in the thinking of their own politically limited political views. Obama got mentioned once... and the vitriol flew like streamers at a party. It was an incoherent mess of character attacks and misdirected disdain. Apparently Obama is an idiot that just doesn't know how to run the country. He's not an Arab terrorist (luckily!) but he is corrupt. These are just some of the things I learned about Obama while I was back home.
I constantly had to bite my tongue. I don't make a habit of talking politics--for obvious reasons I should think--but much of what was spoken was bat-shit insane.
Meanwhile, I couldn't help but notice all of the churches everywhere. And I'm not just talking every street corner--which there were. But new large stadium sized churches have sprung up all over. There is such a saturation of "Christian" religion in America that no matter your beliefs... you are sure to find a group with similar beliefs. If not, then they'll probably just build you a church.
It probably sounds like I'm exaggerating--but I'm not. After having been in a totally secular environment for six years... the in your face religion... was sort of overwhelming. In passing, I commented on the number of new churches I saw. Everyone agreed--that there was a lot of "Churchianity." Their proud smiles seemed strangely sinister to me. I kept my mouth shut--even though I was deeply weirded out by the bubbling glee... as if it would overwhelm them and suddenly burst out through the cracks in their skin as they peeled their faces off to reveal themselves as evil alien overlords underneath--religion a means to an end to gain world domination.
Maybe I just have an over active imagination. But it is what gets me to think about things and ask the big questions. Maybe they aren't all aliens... but the question remains pertinent... is all this religion really necessary to be happy? And are they really that happy with it? I know I for one became a hell of a lot less miserable and a lot happier when I shed my faith. Being without religion is a hundred times nicer, in my opinion. I guess most of them could never realize this, not having been without religion their entire lives.
Their happiness seemed extremely strained to me... artificial even. Maybe if they stopped to ask the big questions they would come to realize that their happiness doesn't come from their religion, but rather, it comes from the love they have for each other. Religion is like artificial sweetener... a poor substitute.
I guess for Americans religion is sort of like their beverages--they want to overdose on it.
In my opinion, people have gotten fat on religion just like they have gotten fat on their super massive drinks. It doesn't take a genius to know that perhaps a little moderation is in order.
Anyway, I don't mean to dwell on the negative. I really did enjoy visiting home.
Of the positive things I noticed, Americans read a ton more than Japanese. My family is especially book happy. Everyday my aunt, uncle, mother, and grandmother would be silently sitting in the living room drinking coffee or tea and reading their books. Usually two or three different ones. Strangely enough, not once in the six years of living in Japan have I ever seen any of my Japanese family members or friends read a book. Not once!
Which is strange when you stop to think about it.
Prices are so cheap in America. Everything is affordable. A tank of gas cost half of what it does in Japan. That was wonderful! The pizza tastes wayyy better too. Meanwhile, it was nice to eat a hamburger without someone commenting on whether or not hamburgers actually constitute genuine "food." Apparently, the Japanese view it as a type of junk food akin to potato-chips or french fries. I can understand that if McDonals is your only hamburger experience you might make that mistake, but there are numerous hamburger restaurants in Japan; MOS Burger, Freshness Burger, Lateria, etc. Some are better than others, yet they still get deemed "junk food." Meanwhile a hot bento from Hotto Motto (delicious by the way) is thought of as "healthy." Oh well, go figure.
I do appreciate how Americans don't constantly feel the need to idolize or demonize their food. They eat it because they like it--and if they don't like it then they don't eat it. So there is never any food commentary like in Japan--where everyone feels obligated to incessantly talk about their food. It's a weird obsession.
As I came to see, most Americans appreciate having a variety of foods to choose from. In Japan, the Japanese usually try and separate their foods from other cultures... and then emphasize the health benefits of their cuisine--as if it was God's gift to mankind. I suppose they just think overly highly of their food. But to me, that's a weird thing to be proud of.
Americans are much more sociable--and generally more friendly in public. Americans are excellent at letting quaint compliments roll off their tongues. I ordered a slice of pizza at Bob's Pizza in the local mall and the cashier commented on mine and my brother's coats. Apparently they were "Awesome."
That made us feel good--because for the rest of the day we were happy with the delusion that we had good fashion sense.
In the end, there are things I like and dislike about both cultures. No one is better than the other. They're just different. Needless to say, when I am in Japan I tend to miss America, and when I am in America I tend to miss Japan.
I consider both America and Japan to be my homes. I suppose the only difference is, technically speaking, Japan is my adopted home. But as the saying goes--home is where your heart is--and I happen to love both Japan and America.