Now that Ive recovered from the worst of return culture shock I can think more rationally about what was going on. Many people have asked me.. "what was so difficult about returning to the United States?"
There are many answers, but the simplest one echoes a statement recently made by one of my English students: "I was shocked by how materialistic Americans are". This girl went on to discuss the differences between her country and this one. She noted that in her country, most people emphasized conversation, social time with friends and family, and education. She said it was considered rude to talk about money or consumption. She was therefore shocked when she arrived here and found that the foci of American society are money and consuming.
I had a similar shock, despite having grown up here. Still, after more than two years in Thailand, Id grown accustomed to a more human way of life. Of course Thai people need a certain amount of money too.... and I certainly needed an income while I was there. But money never felt like the focus of life. In fact, it never seemed like much of an issue to me. I always had ENOUGH. Not a lot. Not luxury. But enough.
In Thailand I had plenty of time too. My life revolved around reading, relaxing in coffee shops, eating at sidewalk food stalls, and seeing friends.
Upon arrival in America, money immediately became my number one concern. I was hyper stressed the first few months I was here. I had modest savings.. but had to find more to pay for all the expenses of getting set up here-- the fees, the deposits, the rent, etc...
Worse still, it seemed that most of the Americans I encountered also focused on money. TV and movies were full of vulgar commercials and other displays of materialism. Friends, family, relaxation, learning, contemplation, art,... all seemed to take a back seat to the all important gods of money and consumption.
Of course, this has not changed about American society. But Ive managed to find a simple place to live and a pleasant income source. Ive relearned my hobopoet survival strategies for living pleasantly in America. Once again, I find I have ENOUGH. Once again, I can focus my life where I want it focused-- on friends, family, learning, contemplation, etc...
As Ive relaxed and eased back into my preferred lifestyle, Ive begun to meet others who share my values. Thats one very positive thing about San Francisco. There is incredible diversity here, not only in terms of nationality.. but also in terms of lifestyle and thought.
Finally, I have been joined by more friends. One by one, they are moving here. That too makes a huge difference. Ive always felt that community is far more important than cash.
And so, while I still find much of mainstream American culture to be vulgar... I have found a very nice niche here in San Francisco.