|Chicago April 08|
|Iowa Apr May 08|
1. Americans are slobs! My flight from Frankfurt to Chicago was half-filled by a tour group of high schoolers from Iowa. They and their chaperones were all dressed in sweatpants and athletic pants! I guess I understand wanting to be comfortable for the long flight - I wore my loosest jeans - but they really stood out, and it wasn't in a very positive way. Sweatshirts are another thing you don't see much in Germany but are everywhere in the US. Also, when is this looks-like-a-piece-of-pink-lingerie trend going to end in the yuppie circles? Can we not wear pajamas in public, please? Also, legs. Too much leg going on. It's hard to look dignified when your whole thigh is visible. I'm not saying your legs aren't great. I'm sure they are. I'm just talking about the dignity, folks.
2. Americans are fearlessly nosy. I somehow ended up getting a "special meal" on the flight (I think it was a mistake and meant for someone who didn't get the flight) and the food came much earlier than everyone else's. The woman behind me started asking me all these questions about what it was, how I got it, and how it tasted. Then I tried to get eating before it got cold and turned to find her staring over the row of seats at me eating. Check-out clerks noticed little things about you and asked about them - about a guy carrying epi-pens ("What are those??" etc.) for instance. I like a certain level of familiarity. In some cases it was a nice relief after feeling so distanced from everyone here in Germany - but there's definitely a sub-population that takes it too far!
3. And what a range of customer service the US has! I guess it's pretty solid here. Distant, but not cranky. Not always helpful when you need something, and sometimes overly informative, but it's all delivered in a pretty deadpan way. Within only half an hour of picking up some items in Chicago I got everything from a clerk violently screaming "Step up. Step UP! STEP UP!!!" to customers who took longer than .5 seconds to walk up to her register, to a store full of more customer service employees than people, who greeted us, asked us what we needed, gave explicit instructions on how to find it without us asking, checked us out with way more conversation than necessary, then said goodbye as we left the door, smiles all the way. Getting a chip for my phone was SO simple and friendly. It probably would have been a torturous encounter here.
4. American restaurants are the #1 source of culture shock. They're incredibly loud. They're crowded. They make you wait so that you'll buy drinks at the bar. They give you free water - and more free water - and more free water! Wine costs a zillion dollars a glass. They're so dark you can barely read the menu. And did I mention the loudness? You won't be hanging around after your meal to chit-chat! Then there's the insane tippage added to the bill! Yowza!
5. I speak the language! I found myself talking to pretty much anybody in a way I probably wouldn't have before, because I freaking could. I would normally roll my eyes and shrug it off if someone ticked me off in public, but when it happened in Chicago, I found I was so glad to be able to sass back to the jerk (a biker on the sidewalk who had plenty of space to get around my friends and I - I bike enough to know this, and I like my space when I'm on my bike - but bitched at us as he rode past anyway) that I went right ahead. I guess a year and a half of having to deal with everything in silence because I can't be quick enough or don't know the words resulted in this. So if you see me in the US when I'm fresh off the plane, don't mess with me.
6. Small isn't small. Big really is big. I got a small drink at a cafe in Chicago and couldn't believe it when I got it. It would be a large in Germany, almost certainly. It was much bigger than I expected. I can't imagine drinking a large!! The cafe itself was huge too, I think you could fit seven German bakeries inside, and it had free wireless, which is a concept that's been really slow to spread in Germany. Then, we went to pick up some toiletries and I could not believe how big everything was!! You can buy a whole liter of shampoo! In one bottle! I just wanted something to cover me for three weeks, but that was not available!
7. I rode Amtrak! It was incredibly roomy, but this might just be because I somehow ended up sitting in the disabled section (there were no disabled passengers). The seats went way down and were super wide with tons and tons of legroom. It was a double-decker and kind of hard to get around, though. There was (expensive) dinner on the train by reservation only. I had stocked up on snacks at a bakery in Chinatown so I didn't go. The conductor was super-informative, making announcements about crossing the Mississippi and how big it is and how cute this or that town is and who owns the rails we're riding on and when his shift ends. There was only one exit door per car and an employee had to open it! He thought I was a complete whackjob for trying to open it myself, but that's how you do it here and I just did it without thinking. Also I was standing in his way because I thought the door would open out like German trains, but it opens in.
8. Things seen from the train:
- Kids waving at the train from their doorstep.
- A guy photographing our train passing on a bridge over another train.
- An old woman walking back down her drive from the mailbox.
- Knox College.
- Lots of American flags.
- A buzz-cut kid with a University of Illinois sticker in his pickup, waiting for the train to pass.
- Lots of houses standing alone.
- A tree with a big red heart painted on it.
- A trailer house with a little steeple on it being used as a church.
- Lots of rusted-out cars.
- A few little league games.
- A window boarded up with multicolored siding.
10. American flags look so much more innocent flying over the Midwest countryside than they do when flying abroad.
11. An organic food obsession appears to be in full swing now. Sometimes it goes a little too far. People buy organic to feel "green", but when you are in Des Moines buying organic popcorn that comes from Seattle, you're not doing anything nice for the environment. They had to truck that stuff all the way to you, and you live in a popcorn-producing state!
12. What happens to the town's oldest building in Germany: hotel or restaurant. Maybe even still just a house. What happens to the town's oldest building in the US Midwest: antique store. How can they all stay in business?? Is the need for antiques that great?
13. The US is rundown. In this way it more closely resembles the former East than the former West of Germany. Lots of abandoned buildings, houses falling apart with junk in the yards. It's easy to become this way in the US because there's an out-with-the-old attitude and plenty of space to build new things. In East Germany it was because everything belonged to the government so people didn't have a reason to take care of it themselves, and the government couldn't get to it all, then after communism fell, some of these things didn't find new owners and are left abandoned. Funny how these two totally different systems led to similar looks.
14. There's so little graffiti in the US.
15. Cost of 200 mL conditioner at the DM near our apartment: 2.35 EUR ($3.63). Cost of 750 mL conditioner at big-box store in Des Moines: $5.27. SO CHEAP!! (I know, I should figure in the cost of having to own a car and car insurance and buying gas, because you can't walk to the store in Des Moines.)
16. Welcome back to splashback. I think I've been converted to German toilets.
17. And I've definitely been converted to the side-loading washer. I did a load of laundry at my mom's and the top-loader trashed my clothes. Socks I washed multiple times in my German side-loader that had still looked like new became pilly, linty messes in the top-loader. A sweater was completely trashed. I can't believe I ever put up with them! Never again!! Side-loaders are gentle and awesome!
18. This list is getting really long, but anyway, what's with all the anti-bacterial? I don't need everything to be anti-bacterial and after being away for a while it comes off as really obsessive and tense.
19. Terrrrrrrrr-rists! We got a good laugh watching Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Then while I had my hair cut in a salon in a dying mall in Des Moines, my husband walked around testing out our new camera (old one is actually visibly smoking now when the flash goes off) and security freaked out! Thankfully he wasn't kicked out but the general manager came out to have a little chat with him and there must have been a general alert sent out about him because he got funny looks when he went into the stores, like he was matching some description. "Tall dude with black leather jacket and camera. Taking pictures. Look out!!!!" Check out the Iowa photo album to see a couple of these super-dangerous photos.
Overall, it was probably the best trip of my life. Three weeks, mostly hanging out with my family and not having to worry about fairly dividing it with the in-laws (they came up to DSM), vacation time constraints, and spending it mostly in the big bubble that is rural Iowa. Too bad there's no chance I'll ever live there again. Though, if I did live there again, I'd probably regret it too. Man, life is too short when you want it all.