Friday, September 07, 2007

Reverse Culture Schlock

Returning home after a year in Europe was no great shock to the system at first. Using a dishwasher and a dryer again were everything I'd dreamed of, but not much more. Seeing family and friends was great, but no better than it would have been had they been teleported into Belfast. I was overtly grateful for the home and city I live in after experiencing places like Sarajevo and the Shankill, but I wasn't too upside down about the whole transition.

A couple of times I was taken aback over my obvious return to the States took me by surprise. As I was driving again for the first time, struggling mightily over which side of the road to be on and when, and I rounded a corner only to be greeted boldly by a massive Chevy barreling down the street. Stunned at its size, at its noise, and its exhaust, as "Like a Rock" echoed through my head, I felt refreshed disgust for America's glorification of unnecessary waste.

But while I am deeply irritated by so much of the thoughtlessness that has gone into crafting Americana, I also don't enjoy the people who bring up their own irritation all the time. For example, as my mom and I were watching tv the other night (me with a book in hand for commercial breaks, attempting to mitigate in some small way the mush that Sunday nights spent absorbed in Rock of Love turn my brain into) and she belted out a loud grunt that indicated her disgust at an ad. "Ugh. How American was that commercial?" she begged. "Everything has to be quickquickquick." Criticizing Uncle Sam is a fairly new idea for my mom. Close cultural examinations were never par for the dinner table course. Bosnia changed all that, and now the house has become a veritable land mine of critiques: "AH! Why so many napkins? No one else needs napkins, why do we need 30 per meal? The napkins become an innocent microcosm of the entirety of a flawed and self-absorbed American system.

But I hope to God that there are no good guys and bad guys, that there are only differing levels if ignorance and interest. I don't want to hate that guy in the Hummer, but I do. Wish I didn't despise the person who brags about having no clue about geography, but I do. And I'm not particularly keen on judging people who probably just need a little grace, because God knows I do, and am grateful when I receive it.

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