Thursday, September 14, 2017

One Month in the States

We've been in the States for one month, so I'd like to share my first impressions before the culture shock wears off. I should start by admitting that I lost my wallet in the Miami airport during our layover, which delayed our travel from New Jersey to Connecticut and cancelled a trip to visit my friend Derek, whom I haven't seen in years. I was finally able to visit him this past weekend and meet his awesome wife and beautiful newborn. We have a tentative kid-free, college-friend meet-up next month and I'm also traveling to Denver next month so um, yeah, we've been busy. 

The fluff:

One of the first things that's obvious without even leaving the airport is the abundance of stores, bright shiny lights, and the high quality of everything. In the recently renovated Belo Horizonte airport, there was a small kids' play area with a toy fuselage and two small toy planes. In the Miami airport, there was a giant kids' play area which included a working tower, hot air balloon, toddler zone, and cockpit. It was huge and a stark comparison to what seemed like a nice kids' area, but now felt like a McDonald's Play Place. 

Food, food, and more food. Food is so cheap! Food is so plentiful! The kids have had a million Happy Meals already and are living off chips, gummy snacks, cookies, and candy. (Ok, I am providing them real food too, but I've never seen them snack as much as they have here. I've also put on 20 pounds (YES! 20 lbs!!) since we've been here (an unwelcome addition to the 10 pounds I put on before leaving Brazil). Between the unlimited pizza, fast food, and brownies, I need to take it a little easy. I've busted out Ye Olde Fitness Pal App so that if I'm not eating healthy, I can at least restrict myself to the amount of food needed by a human and not say.. a bear preparing for hibernation. 

Television galore! I very rarely watch tv in Brazil - our television is set to Cartoon Network until Farley gets home. Since I'm staying with my mom, I've been watching whatever she has on. And holy crap are there some weird, but addicting shows on. I can't stop watching Naked and Afraid and Alaskan Bush People. American reality television really pushes the envelope on "content that is absolute crap, but somehow you can't turn away from."

The Not-Fluff:

Outside of the silly stuff, something that has struck me the most is how "movie-like" America feels. As I was walking back from the library with the kids yesterday, we past a home with a literal white picket fence and beautiful landscaping. I glanced around and realized all the houses were immaculate with perfectly manicured lawns. Everything is so bright and shiny and clean that it somehow feels artificial. And I had a feeling that very much surprised me - I wanted the picket fence. We're staying put in Brazil at least for the next three years, so we have a lot of time to make a decision about where we want to eventually settle, but until now, I have leaned overwhelmingly toward staying in Brazil. I love the culture, I love the relaxed lifestyle, I love the emphasis on living rather than working, so I am very surprised at my reaction to being here. I'm also surprised and slightly horrified at how quickly I gave in to buying everything in sight. The commercialism is nearly impossible to avoid. On the other hand, it is incredibly overwhelming and anxiety inducing to try and, oh for example, choose a single box of cereal from over 100 (not an over-exaggeration) different varieties. I miss the simple, small shelf of cereal from our local grocery store in Brazil. There we have seven different varieties of cereal, and that is more than enough.

I teach ESL online. Stereotypical expat job, I know, but I majored in English and I love language, so I genuinely love what I do and will probably keep this as a side job even after we (maybe) return to the States. I had a large class last night with 9 students from all over South and Central America. Our lesson was "I Love NY;" naturally, we discussed NYC, its culture and landmarks. One of our discussion questions was "Would you like to visit NYC? Why or why not?" A few students answered, "I don't want to visit NYC because it is too difficult to get a visa." It struck me, as it does from time to time while teaching, that many of these students are learning English with the hope of one day visiting or moving to the States. And I have the ability to come and go as I please, simply because I was born here. At that moment I felt slightly ashamed because here I am, privileged American, considering, "Hmm, do I even want to live in this country that so many people fight to come to? That people, every week, literally die trying to get to?" And I realized last night that I should stop criticizing the commercialism and obesity and wastefulness of Americans. I should stop looking down on them for not having any idea or appreciation for the quality and ease of life they enjoy. I should enjoy my trip here, I should be grateful that my kids are able to visit zoos and aquariums and go apple picking and buy $.69 Playdough and inhale can of Pringles after can of Pringles.

So while I'm not sure if I eventually want to move back to the States or not, I am going to work on appreciating the fact that I have the privilege of making that decision.