It’s natural that when you move to a different country, there will be things that seem weird. Maybe the language isn’t quite what you learned in your textbook, or the food has unfamiliar ingredients. There are birds and bugs you never saw before, and the locals go about doing things in ways that make no sense.
But, now that I’ve been here almost six years, I’m find things more and more weird when I go back to the US. I’ve become accustomed to Panama and I’ve never lived in Seattle or northern California, the places I visit now to see family.
There are bike lanes everywhere, clearly marked. There are traffic lights everywhere too, and buttons to push to trigger the pedestrian crossing signals. If there are no signals and you look like you want to cross, any car that comes along will come to a complete stop. That always startles me! I wouldn’t mind bike lanes here, but drivers are generally considerate so riding with traffic and crossing streets on foot works out fine. I think we could use a lot more traffic lights though.
I also notice how neat and orderly everything is. It must look like a mess here in comparison. We have weeds by the road, potholes, dogs and chickens running loose, and sometimes larger animals. I’ve written about this not too long ago. It’s very much a “don’t sweat the small stuff “ feeling which may not look as pretty but I find easier to live with.
I play bass and often practice with YouTube videos. In the US there is an ad before almost every video. Sometimes you have to wait for the “skip this ad” thing to come up, or sometimes the ad is short and you just wait it out. I can never tell which it is without glasses, so I’m always missing a start of the song because I’m pulling off my glasses. *sigh* When you spend hours playing and replaying videos it adds up.
There are hundreds of channels on the TV, but very little that’s interesting to watch. And the ads, they are relentless! There are so many for prescription medications. Do people go to their doctors “I want that from the TV!” It must happen or they wouldn’t keep running the ads. I can’t compare US TV to Panama though because we don’t have ours hooked up here.
Shopping still feels easier in the US. I feel like I have everything I need here, but sometimes you have to hunt and things are found in places you wouldn’t expect. In the US every Safeway is pretty much the same, and every Target, Walmart, and CVS, and displays are always attractive and orderly. I notice it especially in the produce department. Everything looks perfect and there are little thunderstorms with sprayers to keep the produce moist. There is a huge variety of choices! Here we have carrots, and sometimes they are funny shaped or have other oddities even though they taste great. In the US, there are carrots, all perfect in bags, or individually, or would you like the little bitty ones for snacks, or a variety of orange, white, and purple ones, full size or snack size, organic or not? Would you like cow milk, skim, low fat, whole, or soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, pea milk? I’m not kidding, there was pea milk! I always see new products I’ve never known about before.
There is also on line shopping. You can buy anything you can imagine and in a couple days it will be at your door. Or, you can even get Amazon items hand delivered in a few hours. Here in Panama, shipping costs and takes time. It really makes you think before you order something which may not be such a bad thing.
Speaking of shopping, I did quite a bit for things to bring back, and for family dinners and odds and ends. I used a credit card and never once was I asked for a signature or ID. Here we are always asked to sign, and we often need to show ID. It felt weird in the US, like I could be anybody with anyone’s credit card and go shopping all day long.
I’m still always bothered by the sense of isolation though. I went walking most days and the only people who talked with me or even made eye contact were the homeless people. (There are a lot of homeless, a subject for another day). If I greeted someone the reaction usually told me that they thought I was strange and intrusive. Unfortunately I think the political climate in the US now is only making this worse and we are less inclined to talk to “strangers”, especially if they look different from us.
And planes…. there always seem to be planes in the sky. Here in Chiriqui a contrail is so unusual that one sparked a huge discussion on Facebook!
Either place though, life goes on and things get done. I just find it interesting to think back on what caught my attention this time.