Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ins and Outs

I have now had to both enter and exit Colombia four times since coming here over a year ago. The most recent time was over this past week for my good friend Matt's wedding in Eau Claire for which I was groomsman.

Anyone who has ever spent any significant amount of time in another area other than where they came from knows about the cultural period of adjustment. You can have culture shock moving around within the United States even! What most people don't consider is that there is an opposite reculturalization when you return.

It doesn't seem like it would be a big deal, but every time I am reminded of things that I like and dislike about my home country, my host country, and the citizens that make up each.

The first shock is the amount of conversation I can understand all around me once I am back on American soil. Each time I have returned I have found myself a little over stimulated by all the mini-dramas unfolding in parts at every turn. What once was "white noise" has now become comprehendible. Sometimes not knowing what is being said is comforting.

Secondly, and I know this will come off as clichéd, is the number of overweight people. Yes, I've been to state and county fairs before and been amazed at the temporary per capita poundage of the fair grounds but stepping off a plane upon returning to the U.S. of A. presents as much a case as any that "we have a BIG problem."

Thirdly, Americans are always running and rushing, panting and panicking to get to where they need to be. I was told when I arrived in Colombia last year that the concept of "time" is different in our respective cultures. To Americans, time is something that is spent, saved, and wasted. Colombians don't attach a tangible value to it, therefore making it nothing more that a reference point. You don't see people in Colombian airports sprinting awkwardly down the hall with four bags a toddler and baby, red in the face, ready to blast through any pedestrian not aware of the train wreck coming toward them. I think every time I've stepped off the plane from Cali I've had to look both ways before stepping out onto the concourse. However, this ease with time may explain why there are occasionally empty seats on a supposedly full flight too.

Organization* is one thing that I do miss about the American savior faire. Everything is very clear as to where to go and what to do and there are always enough people around to help and serve the needs of everyone. I have returned to Colombia to find several planeloads of people in one long single-file line waiting for the one customs official at his booth to process them. Fortunately because time is not a "thing" to Colombians, no one appears upset by this obvious staffing error and they stand calmly and wait. Don't even pretend to think that that would happen in the States!

*does not apply to the hot mess that is Miami International Airport.

Next time I leave the country will be over the Christmas/New Years holiday break. I must have been subconsciously worried that I would start to become used to this in and out business so, to make things interesting, I will be going through customs TWICE! In December I will be flying from Cali to Panama City, Panama, to Houston. I'll let you know how that goes...