There is nothing like coming back into the US from another country. Partially it is the discomfort of the plane, but mostly it is the culture shock. And a few things become immediately evident. The first is the we are BIG. I don’t just mean fat. We have evolved into homo-sapien sapien grande. It doesn’t just seem like bigger bones, it seems like we have managed to inflate our DNA. We have bigger personalities or at least we like to lead with it.
And yet, we are all different. The contrast struck me as I crossed massive intersections in two of the worlds largest cities, just a sea of black hair, with only small waves of variations even in height. Landing here in the US, there is no uniformity. We have no common style, in our clothing, talk or walk. Actually we seek ways to prove just how different we can be. We don’t want a pre-assigned role or hole to fill. And so…
Thirdly we are always looking to outdo, outsmart, or outshine each other. In Japan, people wait in line for pancakes, a sign tells them it will take an hour, a person holds a sign to designate the line, and a long que builds. In Japan, people wait in lines to get into a home knicknack’s store, to get on the train, and for the latest treat to eat. It is not like a line in the US, with people scoping out their competition, trying to find a way they may be getting screwed over, and commenting to each other about how the line would be quicker if just… And in many ways I think we may be right. Here we have come to no agreement about what are the protocols for our public spaces. On the trains in Tokyo, people hardly speak, their are announcements to keep your phone on silent, and some train cars only for women. And it functions, it is very efficient, and so you know that if you wait in line, you will eventually get to eat your pancakes. But that just isn’t the case in the US. People allow their biases to decide who gets to the front of the line, the squeaky wheel gets the oil, and Darwin’s survival of the fittest applies to how we design our cars, sneakers, students, and companies. We can work together, if it is to each of our individual benefit.
And I observe from my own instincts. I scan a system for the weakness and how I can exploit it. I don’t believe when people tell me the wait will be an hour, and I have a whole toolset of ways around the rules.
Hilariously, this doesn’t only apply to ambitious or aggressive people. I have seen the same behaviors amongst people in the US discussing their meditation practice, yoga methods, or simply how much they simply avoid the rat race.
And my symptoms fit this diagnosis perfectly. I am fully acculturated. And when I leave the US, the contrast is maxed out, the starkness comes into focus, and when I return I have a fully developed image of just where it is I am and from.