Well, I made it back to the States! I have actually been back for a week now! I flew from Dublin, Ireland, to Chicago, Illinois, last Sunday! I left Dublin at 10:30 A.M. and arrived in Chicago at 12:35 P.M. Yet the flight was 8 hours long! How does that work out?!
Needless to say, that was a veeery long day for me!
I was greeted by my Mom, Dad, sister, uncle, aunt, cousin, friend and his almost wife (hence my return), and two other real close friends...all at the airport! I was chosen for a scrutinous security check, so I was able to sneak up on them without them ever seeing me.
I walked up behind my friend who had his eyes on the doors coming from the Arrival Terminal, and I asked, "Who are we waiting for"? It was about that time that I heard my mom scream, "There he is! Andrew! Andrew!"
And then the fun started. Actually, it wasn't too bad. Not bad at all, really. We stood there outside those doors in the airport and probably talked for a good 10-15 minutes before we decided to head to a restaurant (Giordano's!) and continue the conversations.
I was surprised at how warm Chicago was! I was still in shorts, and stepping out into high-50's or low-60's weather in November was quite surprising (and welcome!). But I'm not banking on that to last too much longer...I've already experienced a night down to 30 degrees...and I've had the cold hands, cold feet, and runny nose already. Just not fun!
But in one week, I have a couple of insights about America. From the get-go, I quickly realized that America is loud and fast. When it comes right down to it, I am not surprised. I mean, before I left on the trip, I could have told you that, I suppose. But it's one of those things that you just don't notice when you are so submerged in the culture. But ever since I stepped foot into the van on way from Chicago, Illinois, down to my home in Springfield, Illinois, I was just amazed at how fast everything was moving. A little too fast for me! I had grown accustomed to a slower pace of life the past month and a half, and I was quickly thrown into quite a change!
Jumping on the interstate was a thrill all in itself. Of course, my dad was driving, but I just watched as cars zoomed by...70 mph. 75 mph. 80 mph. Merging. Passing. Tailgating. Everyone in a hurry to get somewhere.
I felt a bit out of place! I mean, I was eager to get home (the four-hour drive was a loooong one that night!), but c'mon, folks, you're going to get where you're going! Slow down a bit! A song from Portugal just echoes in my head right now..."Relax, take it easy!"
Other than that, I have just been amazed at how much noise we have. Everywhere I go, there just seems to be some type of background noise. Filler noise, as I call it. And it drives me nuts.
Now I'll let ya in on a little secret...if you have ever driven with me, you know that I will never turn on my radio. I just don't listen to it. Now I can sing a good many a song with the best of 'em...I seem to know country songs as they come out...but it's not because I listen to the radio...it's because everyone around me listens to the radio. I find myself knowing new songs...or new television shows...or culture in general...not because I pursue it. But because everyone else around me pursues it with me around!
What do I mean? Well, within a day or two of getting back, I found myself listening to TV again. I say "listening" because I am just not a big TV watcher. But I have heard countless movies, television shows, and sports games by listening to them from the other room. The TV seems to be on more often than not in my parents' house, and no matter which room I am in (outside of locking myself in a back bedroom), I hear noise, noise, noise.
Sometimes I wonder just how beneficial it is, too. It just seems like "filler" in life. "Well, I've got nothin' else to do, so why not watch TV"? And that just drives me nuts. Just today, I heard my dad say that the show that he had just finished watching was ridiculous...a total waste of time. He was telling my mom that who was also watching. And I'm thinking..."yeah, it is!" Of course, I myself have seen movies and shows that really are ridiculous. I would almost pay to have those hours back...but being away from TV for so long just made me not want it all the more.
I watched several hours on TV while gone. I will concede that. But "several" means under 20 in 3 months. To break it down, here is how it went...80% were futbol games. Futbol has supremacy in Europe, and it was impossible to avoid. I watched most of the games in Portugal (with a passionate crew!), though I would often see games in airports and restaurants along the street, as well. 10% was a movie I watched in Portugal. And 10% was a couple hours of television watched with girls in Ireland (they were girls, who was I to say no?!). These couple hours consisted of a popular American show as well as a local Irish phenom (The Rose of Tralee!).
But the clincher was when one of my friends wanted to come over to visit me. He had heard that I was back in town, and he wanted to visit. Of course he could come over, I told him! Well, he came over, and it just so happened to be during a TV show that my dad was watching. Well, we were in the living room, and Dad was more than wanting to finish up his show (granted, that is fair). So we talked as the loud noise was in the background. Well, I pulled out my laptop to share pictures and stories, and I started to show my friend. Except that he couldn’t keep his eyes off of the TV. So there I was, flipping through my pictures, with my friend at my side watching TV with my dad. Occasionally he would pop his head back over to see a picture, but he just couldn’t pull himself away from the TV. It was rather disheartening. And when the show was over and my dad goes on to watch another show, I was more than disappointed. Here I have a friend visiting, having not seen me in three months, and he comes over to watch TV. C’mon, people.
But it's not just confined to home. I visited one of my favorite restaurants the very night I was back. And there are literally 40 or so TV's in this restaurant. And they are all sports. And as any guy knows, it is just hard to have a conversation with someone when numerous sports are on the big screens. But it wasn't the distraction that bothered me. It was the noise! The restaurant was packed with American football fans cheering on their teams, not to mention the announcers being broadcast loud throughout the entire restaurant. More noise!!!
And then I go to the gym with my brother. We hop into my Dad's car, and the first thing he does (even more frequent than turning the ignition) is to hit the radio button. Mind you, I already mentioned that I am not a huge fan of listening to the radio while driving. I actually like to think to myself! Of course, he has annoyed me numerous times before with this habit of his (and I have told him), but he continues to do it anyway. The part I don't understand is how he always trumps whatever I want. When he drives, he says he is in charge of the radio (it is his truck). Ok, I give him that. But when I drive, he also takes charge of the radio. I often turn it off, but he turns it back on. I'm not sure, but the more I step back and look at this, I almost wonder if he thinks that the car itself doesn't run off of noise. It's as if the radio HAS to be on in his head if the car is running. I think he may think that if the radio is turned off, the engine may die.
Well, I almost died. Or at least went crazy. I managed the ride there without much of a problem (not that I can remember anyway). But on the way back from the gym, just a few days into my return, I nearly went crazy. The music was blaring, I was thinking about America...about how noisy it was, and I just wanted to scream! I seriously was on the verge of just losing it in the car. I had had enough.
Talk about reverse culture shock! Welcome back to the States, Andy!
But those were some insights I have had in just seven days...
Other fun stuff...we're a culture built around eating. Now I ate through all five countries I visited. And rather nicely, too! But I ate healthy. The people cooked me seafood and vegetables. Grease was a rarity...and I saw oil only the last few weeks while working on the ship.
But I was humored to wake up that very first day to have my dad offer me some breakfast...nothing like eggs and bacon coming out of the greasy pan! I'm not going to lie...I love 'em. The sandwich was tasty, and I have fond memories of bacon and eggs...but it was just the start of the American epidemic.
Here's a rundown of the last week...
Sunday--Giordano's Pizza. Grease, loads of cheese, but oh so good.
Monday--Bacon and eggs. Cooked in grease.
Tuesday--Applebee's...nothin' like a big fat juicy quesadilla hamburger and french fries...
Wednesday--Burger King...chicken sandwich and french fries. Oh, and that night? Kaleidoscoops...two heaping scoops of ice cream. NOT fat-free.
Thursday--Thanksgiving Dinner at my Dad's work. You name it, it was there...mashed potatoes, turkey, dressing, gravy, pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, pop [soda]...oh, and a pizza party that night to celebrate a friend's promotion. A medium pizza split between me and my brother. Along with a root beer. And another beer.
Friday--Pork chops. And a dessert of ice cream out of the box. But I had a good five or six scoops from Pa. Much less than what the families would serve me in Europe. The amount of ice cream I received here was essentially another meal...whereas in Europe it was a tasteful dessert ending. Just enough to make you want more sometime in the future at another meal. Oh, and I had Steak 'n Shake. Root beer. And finishing off peoples' plates (what they didn't finish). French fries. Some greasy reuben sandwich...
Saturday--4 hour-drive to Lambert's Cafe...my favorite restaurant. Numerous hot rolls already buttered but with butter added again by me. And thick molasses added. Barbecue pork chop. Fried okra. Sweet potatoes. Sweet apples. And a huge tub of sweet tea.
Sunday--Thanksgiving meal at church. Again, you name it, it was there. I had little weenies wrapped in bacon, numerous casseroles, and desserts to go 'round. The crockpots were plentiful, and the desserts were a'plenty, as well. A little chocolate/whipcream mixture, some sweet potato casserole, and some pumpkin brownies, just for starters. And my second dose of Buffalo Wild Wings in 8 days. 12 Honey BBQ wings deep-fried. And two large cups of sweet tea (did I mention that you do not get free refills in Europe...one cup or can and that's it! A problem? Not exactly. If you took the numer of calories in each cup and multiplied that by the number of refills we get at restaurants (2-5!), we Americans gain pounds simply by drinking so much each year...not just by eating! I learned to have one drink while in Europe...an adjustment to me, but I easily got used to it.
Oh, and this week is Thanksgiving. At least another huge meal promised to me on Thursday. Oh, and I'm invited out to lunch tomorrow...
I've been back for 8 days now. And I think I have consumed more calories in the past 8 days than possibly the past 21 while over in Europe. Of course, someone could argue that it's my food choices, and that is fair. But try this on for size...
You can't fly into clouds on a clear day. What do I mean? I mean that if the choices for grease, fat, ice cream, etc. aren't there, then you aren't going to be able to choose them. Case and point...I wanted a lil' dessert this week, and a banana was laying on the counter. I could've chosen ice cream or cookies, but the banana was there, so I ate it. A different time I chose a frozen chocolate chip cookie (ok, so I chose that twice already this week!). But if the box wasn't there, I wouldn't eat them.
Aye, aye, aye...would ya listen to me! I sound like a guy with no self-control! Wait, check that. I sound like a guy with self-control that only wants to blame his surroundings for his choices. Want a synonym? It's called an AMERICAN.
But I have been amazed and somewhat disgusted at just how much we revolve around food. And to think I ate so well over in Europe (I have pictures to prove it!). But the food was so different. Prepared so much more healthily. Shelf-life is as foreign to them as large cars. They just don't have them.
In Europe, the food was not the reason for getting together. The people were the reason for getting together. The food was just an added bonus. Here, I wonder if we don't have that concept backwards...
So there's 8 days of reflections!
I'm sure I'll have more as I get myself more and more acclimated to this culture. Loud, fast, and fat.
My thoughts on those three? Well, take it for what it's worth, but that sure wouldn't be my first choice for who to sit next to on an airplane.
America welcomes Andy back home.
(It is good to be back, though, and I appreciate the phone calls, dinner dates, handshakes, hugs, invites, e-mails, and whatnot. Sure, some of the above comments are obviously generalities, but as with any comment, one would be foolish not to at least evaluate what I write. I know there are perfectly healthy vegetarians out there in America. Congrats. But for every one of those, I have 543 obese people. So eat that (pun intended). And I know that some people in Europe drive big cars. Granted. But for every big car there, there are 73 small cars. It's the opposite here. Just for reference, my truck would not have been able to drive through several towns that I visited. It simply would not make the turns or fit down the roads. I just write down my observations. Take them as they are. And if you take offense at what I say, sweet. I don't really mind. If you don't, let me know, and I'll try to find a topic that will offend you. haha...all the best, friends).