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I have been in the U.S. for 1 hour and here are all the things that are freaking me out

Dec. 13, 2016 | 5 min read

I haven’t been back to the US since moving to Asia in February, and my connection (to Chicago!) through San Francisco for two hours was WEIRD and AMAZING for how strange once-normal things seemed.

I guess this is “reverse culture shock?”

In 7 items, all the things that made me go LOLWUT:

American soil!

1. Everything is HUGE


I stopped at a coffee shop to grab a snack, and I could not believe the size of EVERYTHING. How did these bananas and apples get this big? This was not mother nature’s plan. Why are these waters made for professional athletes, and not someone about to sit in a tiny tiny chair? Who would ever eat that much salad?

I ordered a medium coffee, because my caffeine headache told me a small would not be enough. Do you know how big the medium coffee was? It was the SIZE OF MY FACE.

I tried to take in as much of the sweet, sweet caffeine as I could before boarding, but I ultimately had to abandon 95% of my coffee at the gate. I couldn’t carry both my bags AND a 2-liter of boiling liquid.

A normal-sized coffee on board

2. Just “coffee” exists


If you had asked me to play a word association game about instant coffee 10 months ago, I would have said to you, “gas station,” “terrible,” “watery,” and “disrespected by everyone.”

Now I would tell you, “pretty good,” and “easier than drip coffee” and “disrespected by Americans.”

I had no idea “coffee” doesn’t exist outside of the US as I know it. There is no drip coffee. (Or decaf! At least in Thailand and Vietnam). Everyone drinks instant coffee (of which there are many fancy and expensive kinds) or espresso drinks. I’ve been drinking Americanos for 10 months like some sort of aristocrat, when this gal usually just orders the bottomless cup of whatever pot they’ve got on.

I had no idea how to use an electric kettle 10 months ago. “Where do you put the coffee in?” I asked my Aussie friend Vic. OH, the mug. Reflecting on this now, that may be a personal issue, and not an I’m-from-the-US issue.

Anyway, I’m going to order so many cup o’ coffees!


3. Everything is EXPENSIVE


OK, as previously noted, my experience of “everything” in one hour was a banana, a bottle of water, and a coffee, but $8??? I guess it was a gallon of coffee, so.


4. Everyone is HUGE


In Vietnam and Thailand, I could stand in a line or ride the skytrain and see what was happening a few people ahead of me or at the other end of the train car.

Now I remember what it’s like to be small — I’m constantly trapped in a sea of backs and torsos, with no visual information about anything happening outside of my immediate vicinity.

My own little world: A world of SHORT. People are ginormous, and not only vertically, but horizontally — you know what I mean, even the portion sizes of SALAD are out of control here.

5. I can “please” everyone


There’s no translation (or at least this is what I’m told) for “please” in Vietnamese or Thai. The staff members on my flight from Asia to SFO were American, and every round of meals or drinks or someone showing me how to turn on my reading light involved a ton of “pleases” and “thank yous.” I had no idea I missed saying “please” so much. BUCKLE UP, IT’S TIME TO GET EFFING POLITE, EVERYBODY.


If you had asked me to play a word association game about instant coffee 10 months ago, I would have said to you, “gas station,” “terrible,” “watery,” and “disrespected by everyone.”

Now I would tell you, “pretty good,” and “easier than drip coffee” and “disrespected by Americans.”

I had no idea “coffee” doesn’t exist outside of the US as I know it. There is no drip coffee. (Or decaf! At least in Thailand and Vietnam). Everyone drinks instant coffee (of which there are many fancy and expensive kinds) or espresso drinks. I’ve been drinking Americanos for 10 months like some sort of aristocrat, when this gal usually just orders the bottomless cup of whatever pot they’ve got on.

I had no idea how to use an electric kettle 10 months ago. “Where do you put the coffee in?” I asked my Aussie friend Vic. OH, the mug. Reflecting on this now, that may be a personal issue, and not an I’m-from-the-US issue.

Anyway, I’m going to order so many cup o’ coffees!


7. The TSA is not kidding around


I forgot how utterly stressful and rushed and intimidating a US security check is. It was a luxury to fly in Asia and never take my shoes off, remove my liquids, or go through the x-ray naked-scan machine.

Going through a TSA security check felt like going through boot camp. There was so much yelling, though I’m not sure how character-building it was.

I forgot: The disassembly of all the luggage and personal affects, the throw-your-hands-in-the-air naked body scanner, the reassembly of all the luggage and personal affects, that no matter how you are holding your passport, moving your luggage, looking at things, waiting in line, walking through the metal detector, or grabbing your stuff, you are doing it wrong and not quickly enough.

And the sweet relief of being through security afterward and off to swim in your large coffee.

6. I can hear everyone’s thoughts


Like being in my I’m-too-short-to-see-anything-visual bubble in the States, I had an auditory bubble in Asia. I couldn’t understand what people around me were saying for the most part (though it felt super good when I could, rarely!), so I was mostly left to my own thoughts and private conversations.

Now, it’s like I’m constantly watching a play acted out in front of me, or in one of those movies where the main character can hear everyone’s thoughts, and they go crazy. “EVERYONE, SHUT UP, SHUT UP, SHUT UP!” they shout maniacally, covering their ears and running down the street. Will this be me? Only time shall tell.

In Asia, I could imagine the people around me were talking about philosophy, or the meaning of life, or their hopes and dreams. Granted, I was in the airport for my first US hour, but so far, I can confirm people are mostly talking about how unfair luggage size restrictions are and how they’re going to miss their connecting flights.

(But also for real, people were helpful and sweet to each other, and hearing those conversations was great, too.)

7. Small talk must be practice


At immigration in Thailand, you’re usually asked why you’re in the country. And if you’ve re-entered enough times, some probing follow-up questions, too.

As I walked up to US customs, the officer asked, “So what were you doing in China?”

“Just connecting. I was in Thailand,” I stuttered. “Traveling.”

“And now Chicago! Sweet hooome Chicagoooo,” he sang. “Pretty cold there, huh?”

He was just making small talk! It wasn’t an interrogation! He didn’t care why I was in China!

I’m not used to small talk with strangers, and those skills are definitely rusty, but I forgot how much these small interactions can make my day when they happen.

Sweet home, Chicago, USA, indeed.

So greasy after 34 hours of travel

PS — It has been pointed out to me that this article goes 1,2,3,4,5,7,6,7, and I’m going to let the record show that jetlagged mistake!