Friday, August 10, 2012

America, I Love/Hate You

In an effort to better process my re-entry into American culture, I thought I’d put together a list of things I like and dislike, or "enjoy" and "could do without," as I think about settling back into my homeland. 

Friendly Faces—People smile at you here, a lot! Not only are people generally warmer in the US than in Hungary, Americans can also be really kind and caring. If I can brag on my parents a bit, most recently they visited Dallas and came across a homeless man begging on a street corner. My parents saw the man, had compassion for him, rolled down their window and offered the man $10 to help him on his way. The man looked at my parents, looked at the bill, looked back at my parents and said, "Holy Shit!" My parents took that response as a "thank you" and wished him well. Even the homeless in the US are not out of reach from American kindness. 

Generosity—Americans are very generous. Though we consume more than any other nation, we also give, give, give and give some more. I have an American-Vietnamese friend named Thai, who upon learning that we didn’t have cable TV because it’s outrageously expensive shared his Netflix account with us. Now we can catch up on two years of movies we missed while overseas, all for free. I have dozens of other stories like this one, or the one with my parents, where kindness and generosity go hand-in-hand. 

Dinner and a Movie—Living in Dallas, we have found ourselves in the restaurant capital of the world (Dallas has more restaurants per capita than any other city). We have top-notch Tex-Mex, cafes, burger joints and, what’s quickly becoming my favorite, Indian restaurants. A colleague of mine took me to a breakfast spot called, “The Dream Café.” Apparently Bono like the place when he’s in town; I myself was having a beautiful day following granola-crusted French toast!

Dallas also boasts some outstanding movie theaters. Here you’ll find everything from state-of-the-art IMAX screens to low-key, artsy movie houses. When we first came back from Budapest, I was desperate to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The British-made film was shot partially in Budapest and we wanted to see our old stomping grounds on the big screen! We had an impossible time finding a screening of the movie at first, but then one of the art-movie houses—The Angelika—began showing the film and we had a blast revisiting our favorite European city while being in Texas.  

Could Do Without
Here in my Car—Life happens in the American car, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Road trips are a blast and Wayne’s World moments are even better. However, for two years I had been living with and loving public transportation. I am not such a fan of traffic, countless auto expenses and angry-as-hell drivers. We live on a street corner where many people mistakenly believe they have a stop sign, when actually they could keep cruising through. This has led to many near-misses and one street fight I witnessed from our balcony. Some dude got so mad about almost being hit that parked his car in the intersection, moved ferociously towards the other car and began cursing while threatening to pull the other driver out of the car. There is no shortage of enraged Americans on the roadways.

Busy-ness—The pace of life in the US is often overwhelming. In Hungary we ate meals over the span of at least two hours. Our Magyar friends would sometimes apologize for leaving a coffee date after two and a half hours of conversation. Back here in the States, our waiters rush us through our meal in 45 minutes, Starbucks has drive-thru coffee and we all rush from here to there. So I swore to myself that I wouldn’t rush so much when I returned. I said I would never again eat and drive when I got back to Texas. I thought, “I will make time to eat and enjoy my food.” On the contrary, I have already eaten my fair share of hamburgers or other forms of food in the car so that I wouldn’t be late to work or some meeting. Slowing down to enjoy life, and food, is going to be harder than I thought.

Fear—I’ve never been in a culture that operates under fear like that of America. Especially when it comes to consumer purchases, fear is a motivator unlike any other—even sex. Our home or car must be protected from malicious intruders, our bodies from harmful foods or chemicals, our future from financial uncertainty and the list goes on. I even get tired of people telling me to “Be careful” whenever I’m leaving a restaurant or someone else’s home.

I was on Facebook and someone had posted a picture of a gun where the caption read, “Welcome to my home…That door you just kicked in was locked for your protection, not mine.” I can remember living in irrational fear like this once before, where I was constantly afraid of someone breaking into our house. After living overseas, travelling a lot and learning to trust God in thick and thin, I’ve changed. I’ve seen there is an entire world to explore out there and people to be enjoyed. I’ve learned that not everyone is out to get you. Fear is paralyzing, it distorts reality and robs our lives of adventure; I pray that I can overcome my fears while facing them here in America.

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