Sunday, June 21, 2015

Dealing with a Bit of Culture Shock

Golden Ring Cities - Russia

I've been back in America for 18 hours now.  It was a bit more comforting going through customs when I didn't get the mandatory Russian stare down.  The guard asked Chad what his job was in Moscow.  His answer of "diplomat" was a bit obvious since it's printed in bold letters on the front of our passports.  He looked at us and said "What do you do?"  He was simply engaging us in polite conversation, but our minds immediately went into interrogation mode.  "What information is he trying to get from us?"  After a moment of clear panic and discomfort, Chad finally answered, "I'm the doc."  And the guard simply struck up a kind conversation.  We walked away and I was honestly a bit rattled.  I'm just not used to kindness anymore.

Next stop was to wrestle our bags off the luggage belt.  We stood in front of the digital display, waiting for our flight to appear.  It never did.  Suddenly someone exclaimed "belt four" and everyone ran that way.  Sure enough, luggage was coming out.  The belt filled and the machine stopped.  Other conveyor belts were running with no luggage, but ours, filled with suitcases ready to slide down the chute, was dead.  For a half hour the entire plane stood there waiting.  I was surprised that no one climbed up and grabbed their suitcase from line waiting to slid onto the belt.  Finally a supervisor came over, called some workers over and eventually got it all running again.  Living overseas, I constantly hear ex-pats complain about how poorly things work in their host country.  The moaning and groaning wears on my nerves.  You know what?  Things don't always work that great in America either.

On the taxi drive to the hotel we enjoyed the green scenery out our window.  Chad commented how pretty some Black Eyed Susans were, growing in the median.  I missed them, it made me feel sad.  I began thinking of the perennial garden I had in Hudsonville.  It's been five summers since I've sunk my hands into dirt, pulling out weeds, splitting plants and cutting the flowers to grace my table.  I miss it.  I'm not a great gardener and I really don't want to work someone else's garden.  I just missed my own for a little while.  That's how it is.  I have all these bits and pieces of life that I miss.  I want to take a jog along the ocean in New Zealand and work the flower garden in Michigan and shop the fresh fruit market in Colombia and listen to church bells while I walk in Russia.  I just can't have it all at once.  There will be something unique that I fall in love with in the next destination.  I'll love it and appreciate it, then miss it.  

I felt melancholy as we walked from the hotel to find some lunch and do a bit of shopping.  Jet lag and hormones were not helping.  We are staying in Roselyn and it was so quiet.  A Saturday afternoon and occasionally a car would drive down the main road or a person would walk by.  I almost couldn't handle the stillness.  Moscow was a constant blare of noise.  Ten lanes of traffic will do that.  I got used to the underlying noise of 15 million people.  I feel vulnerable.  Give me a day or two and I will be treasuring the quiet!

Lunch was yummy.  A bed of fresh spinach leaves with a light dressing, blue cheese, bacon and black berries.  Good greens were hard to find in Russia.  But it was a bit difficult to enjoy my meal when the woman at a nearby table was shoving deviled eggs in her mouth, talking with her mouth full and bits of yolk squeezing out the side.  It was just gross.  She sat on her chair like a drunk man and sounded equally as obnoxious.  Welcome home. 

While Chad scanned the books in Barnes and Noble, I decided to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air.  My real goal was to do a bit of people watching and figure out what the current clothing trends are.  Back in Moscow, I would see a skirt or dress and think how cute it was.  How much I liked these styles.  Then other times I would see outfits and wonder if that is really what the current trends are.  Is that popular or is it Russia popular?  I feel like my sense of fashion is really messed up right now and I wanted to get a little clarity on the issue.  Women walked by with their guts hanging out of their shorts.  Some were clearly mismatched.  On a 88F day, jeans are in, capri pants, long shorts, short shorts, long skirts, short skirts or dresses.  Anything goes.  But this is what I noticed.  Americans are slobs.  That's a trend that I really don't want to fall into.  People know how to look nice in Europe.  They take pride in their appearance.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a CVS to pick up a few things.  I just wanted a shampoo and conditioner that were better than the hotel option.  I was tired and cranky by this point and looking at an aisle of 100 different options about brought me to tears.  I didn't feel like reading every label to find something and was tempted to start squirting them into my palm to see how the smelled.  Thank goodness something stopped me.  I picked the pretties bottles, paid at the cash register then quickly headed home.  I needed a good night's sleep.

So it's going to take me a bit of time to readjust my expectations.  I'm dealing with culture shock when I thought I was above it.  People often talk about culture shock in respect to poverty vrs. wealth.  But culture shock covers everything that is different from what you just left.

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