All good writing — and in my case, attempts at good writing — come from other good writing. That I am typing this into my crisp, new Squarespace blog is a fact that you have Bill Bryson's ‘I’m A Stranger Here Myself’ to blame for. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a book this much in a really long time, and it led to that warm, ambitious feeling in my tummy, right behind the burrito baby, egging me on to write something of my own. So here we are.
Bryson's book is a returnee's collection of observations about daily American life. That got me thinking: there could be no better fodder for my first few posts, except the one thing that has shaped me for the better part of the past decade — life as a foreigner in the United States of America! There are so many "typically American" phenomena that I have come to love and appreciate (burgers, dryer machines, engagement photo shoots, Home Shopping Network, Shark Tank — and Bill Bryson!) but there are others that I cannot wrap my head around, even after all these years. It's only fair then that the first few posts on this blog go to them.
It seems right to start with food, specifically eating and buying it, since those were my first two activities on American soil. I remember being blown away by how big everything was — from the supermarkets, to the food in them, to the portions at restaurants. No matter how much you bought or ate, there was always more, more, more to be consumed. (At this time, please hold on any jokes about a Third World girl seeing food for the first time and going crazy because 1 - it's been done and, 2 - you can do better than that.) When I went home for the first time after moving here, I had gained almost 15 pounds, thanks to the sugar in everything as much as the sizes. I had my very own, international, culture-shock version of the Freshman 15. I had assimilated well.
I've been keeping track since, and the last time I bought and finished a soda was in 2012...in Madrid. I'm not sure an American soda should be labeled "medium" when it looks like it's meant for three people. (Medium and large are all you've got, by the way, because "sorry, we don't have a small.") If you're curious about how America got its soda sizes and how they compare to what some of the same brands sell in other countries, read this fantastic Mother Jones article. My favorite sentence: "2011: KFC introduces a drink so big that it has a bucket handle to carry it. In what can only be a cruel joke on humankind, for every Mega Jug purchased, KFC promises it will donate $1 to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation." `MURRICA!
It doesn't stop there though — I regularly bring back leftovers from restaurant meals even after I've eaten so much that I've had to open the button on my jeans so I can breathe, much to the embarrassment of whoever has had the opportunity to enjoy my pseudo-dignified company that evening. But on occasions I can't take my food home, I know I'm contributing to the country's annual $165 billion food wastage, helping put America in an undesirable winning spot over the rest of the world.
You think cooking will make your life easier. You're wrong. Shopping for groceries in the typical American supermarket is a very paralyzing experience — there are way too many choices to sift through, and making healthy decisions is an unnecessary struggle. I don't think I realized how many types of eggs there could be till I walked down a lengthy and colorful aisle of breakfast foods in a Shaws on my second day in the country, hoping to stock up on something that wouldn't taste too far from home or look like it was dying. In all my life before that, buying eggs had been a 2-minute job I could carry out confidently, but here, I froze in self-doubt: Did I want the large, brown, Grade B, hormone-free eggs that came from a town 45 minutes away, or did I want the white ones that suspiciously offered no promises in relation to hormones, but proudly displayed a Grade A? I remained short on clarity (and eggs) for a while as I Googled why on earth they were receiving grades and why anyone in their right mind would want to consume Grade B and lower poultry. Clearly, The American Egg Oversight Committee place too much trust in the public's ability and willingness to decipher what these weird grades mean and make the best choices for themselves.
I derive some comfort from the fact that I am not alone — I came across this hilarious BBC America article comparing British and U.S. grocery chain stores. While I don't agree with everything in here, I do appreciate the opening sentence: "Are you craving nineteen varieties of Oreo, or a slab of meat so hormone-pumped it could complete in the Tour de France in record time? Then head to your nearest American supermarket."
And head there, I shall. If by no other way, shopping there keeps me healthy by helping me hit 10,000 steps on my Fitbit, and for now, that will have to be enough.