An American traveler back in America

Maybe it’s not fair to write this post from New Jersey. Because NEW JERSEY. Guys, have you ever been here? I am not wildly in love.

My love affair with America has been on a sharp decline since I started traveling around the world two years ago. There are places in the U.S. that I love, cities, and even whole states in the U.S. that I adore. Oregon, for example. The U.S. National Parks. I love most of the West except Los Angeles. The southeastern U.S. has grown on me in the past few months. There are many, many good things about this country so forgive me while I spend the next 1,000 words or so pointing out its flaws.

The view from our hotel room in New Jersey

When Brian and I travel overseas we expect things to be inexplicable. We assume that a lot will be lost in translation. That’s because we’re in someone else’s country, speaking someone else’s language and following someone else’s rulebook. So even if we have to do the most ridiculous things we just roll with it and laugh because, well, that’s the way they do it here.

But here in the States, I’m back in my culture. I understand when something doesn’t make sense. I understand power asserting and covering our policies. I intrinsically know when something is inefficient or illogical. And it is starting to drive me crazy.

For example. Here in America, we make rules about everything. We have no parking zones, quiet hours, lines to stand in (I do appreciate this aspect of American culture. Please, Americans, don’t start boarding planes like the Italians), and paperwork to fill out. We have speed limits, seatbelt requirements, kitchen sanitary grades, safety inspections, and leash laws. We have an adult swim and minimum charges crosswalks and assigned seats.

Don’t misunderstand

I think many of these rules are valid. But it does seem that so many of the rules we have created for ourselves are just to save our ass when our neighbor sues us because they tripped and fell in our driveway. I mean, how about instead of involving a lawyer we all just take a bit of responsibility for ourselves and loosen the grip we have on the balls of everyone around us?

In America, we worship the holy paved road, the shotgun, and the almighty dollar. We throw ourselves into the rat race because we don’t know that there is anything other than the rat race. We love our shopping malls and our local Costco where we can buy 14 jumbo-sized plastic tubs of tomato sauce to store in our 3,000-square-foot basement so that we can eat as we wait out the zombie apocalypse. Because that is going to happen. Right after those thugs break into your house and steal your diamonds. Don’t you watch the news?

Here is what I want to know

Why? Why are we afraid of everything? Why do we put up with it? Why do we just accept having a massive mortgage and the newest smartphone and so many bills to pay that we have to go in to work over the weekend to earn overtime on the way? Why has money become our collective religion?

What about happiness? What about living an extraordinary life? What about love? What about adventure? What about joy? What about peace? What about laughter? What about the soul?

People say to me, “It must be hard to see so much poverty around the world.”

I’m not saying you can’t have both shopping malls and soul. I’m not saying you can’t be over your head in bills and also be happy (though, show me who is) what I’m saying is why do shopping malls WIN? Why does the rat race WIN? And, why money above all else?

Maybe you don’t value money over everything else. I bet you don’t. There won’t be one American who will stand up and say “ME! I VALUE MONEY OVER EVERYTHING ELSE!” And yet that is the reality that we have created for ourselves in America. If you don’t believe me leave the country, travel to other places for a couple of years, and then come back. Tell me if you don’t feel the crush of our backward ways.

People say to me, “It must be hard to see so much poverty around the world.” Yes, it is hard. But you know what else I see in addition to the poverty? I see community. I see joy. Do you think poor people around the world are sitting in front of the TV weeping about how poor they are? Do you think they’re in therapy saying, “If only my Dad hadn’t been a drunk I could have been a successful venture capitalist?” No. They get up each day and they love their children and they cook food and they week out a living just like you.

But you know what else they do? They take care of each other. They hang out with each other in the evening when the work is done. They have deep connections to where they live. Sure, I’m simplifying it. And of course, this isn’t true everywhere in all cases. But they have communities while we live in our $400,000 boxes avoiding each other. So in fact these “poor” people may be richer than you.

Why, in America, do we think that money is the only thing that makes us rich?

Maybe you have seen the most HORRIFIC commercial ever to play on American TV? I first saw this commercial when I landed back in the States in January. Brian and I were at a party. I thought it was a joke, sort of like a Saturday Night Live parody of American culture. But when I looked around the room no one was laughing because it wasn’t a joke. It was a real commercial. Brian and I made eye contact across the room. My eyes said, “Holy shit, can you believe this?” And his eyes said, “GET ME OUT OF HERE.”

But we didn’t say a word. I reached for a snack from the coffee table. Brian took a sip of beer. I wanted to scream, “CAN’T EVERYONE SEE HOW FUCKED UP THIS COMMERCIAL IS?” I wanted to take a baseball bat to the TV. I wanted to march out of the door and catch the next flight to India, or Brazil, or France where money is just money and not the one identifying factor of our existence. But this is my country and I intrinsically understand how things work here. So I sat by silently, horrified. Because that’s how we do it in America.

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