Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In which I suffer for apparently no reason at all

So we've now been in this 'ere country for going on four months. Crazy.

I'm amazed at the very hard concept of reverse culture shock. We read about it. We were warned. But DUDE. It's real.

One of my biggest problems is the fact that I start every other sentence with "when we lived in Brazil ...," and the fact is - no one cares. Not really. They act politely interested, but in truth they're thinking about their dinner or their kids or some TV show or the fact that I have a huge zit right below my nose. And that's hard for me. I've had this overwhelming experience that has shaped the very person that I am, and I can't talk about it.

A much smaller aspect of culture shock is some moral quandaries that I've been experiencing.

Quan-da-ry: –noun, plural -ries. a state of perplexity or uncertainty, esp. as to what to do; dilemma.

Somehow I feel GUILTY for living here.

Does that make sense?

We have a dishwasher. And air conditioning. And a very active church right down the road. Our kids go to amazing schools and we can eat Mexican food whenever we want. Everything is so EASY here, and I can't help but think about the millions of people (some of which are my dear, dear friends) who have it pretty darn hard.

I've blogged before about being accidentally crunchy. I was somewhat interested as to whether or not I would continue to be, once we moved back. The answer is: yesno.

I no longer make my own cheerios. (Tchahright.) But I do continue to use Tupperware instead of baggies and cloths instead of paper towels. It's ingrained.

The quan-da-ry comes into play in the grocery store.

I wander up and down the aisles, salivating over CONVENIENCE: frozen dinners, cake mixes, Rice-a-roni, instant au gratin potatoes and Hamburger Helper. But I somehow can't bring myself to buy them.

I imagine my Brazilian friends standing behind my shoulder, looking at me with understanding eyes, but somehow sad.

Am I selling out?

I'm already anticipating the comments: "Gimme a break, Bex, buy the stupid instant rice and canned beans and call it a day. Who. Freakin. Cares." And you know what, you're right. And I have, to some degree. We have frozen chicken nuggets in our freezer and I did buy ready-made spaghetti sauce. But I just ... can't ... bring ... myself ... to go the whole shebang.

Don't know why. Maybe I'm being a martyr. Maybe I'm crunchier than I thought. Or maybe I'm just weird.

Any bets on how long I last?


janel said...

Just save yourself the trouble and skip the Hamburger's totally not worth it. As to which country is better, I'd just wait and see if your little one starts to grow some hair here. If so, it's definitely the US, and then we should all start making Cheerios. Because I'm already making (three times!) beans, thanks to your recipe.

Perpetual Mommy Exhaustion said...

You sound like a shell-shocked missionary. And in a lot of ways, you are. My husband hated the sight of Wal-mart when he first came home from Argentina. He had only been home 4 months during our first holiday season as a married couple, and the lines snaking around the mall for the after-Thanksgiving sale, full of people who were about to drop as much cash, or more, than people he loved made in a year brought him to tears (its part of why I adore him). It's hard sometimes to realize how good you have it and how hard it is for others.

Besides, a lot of that instant stuff is garbage anyway.

Danielle said...

If you really did make that many close, Brazilian friends, you should remember that many Brazilians are very opportunistic people! If most Brazilians lived in the US, they would totally take advantage of the convenience.

When my students bash America and Americans (why do they think that's Ok to do, right to my face?), I like to turn the tables a bit. I ask things like "If a McDonald's hamburger was 1 real instead of 15 reais, do you think more Brazilians would eat them? What about poor Brazilians?" That usually keeps them thinking for a bit.

So you can glean the good lessons that you've learned, but don't make suffer in the name of some solidarity. If your Brazilian friends were behind your back, they'd probably say, "wow! that's so cheap and delicious! Go for it."

Maybe it's more important to think about health and environmental factors than just the guilt factor. The canned veggies aren't as healthy as the fresh one. That's a good reason not to buy them.

I love reading your blog. :) I put a link to it on mine recently.

I hope things are going well, aside from the reverse culture shock.

Megan said...

You'll go for convenience when necessary. Right now, it's not necessary. However, after a new baby or a dear husband goes out of town (or whatever) and you've had a bad-ish day, it might be a necessity. Stay with your homemaker roots and save yourself some money. Your food is healthier, tastes better, and you know exactly what's in it.

I'll step off this helping-Bex-feel-better soapbox lest you think I'm crunchy.

--Mom of Some Conveniences.

* Hugs *

Kimberly said...

My guess? It'll come down to why your accidental crunchiness is important to you. Is it because of your dear friends who don't have the same options, because it's what you've done for so long, or because it really, really matters to you and you alone? That'll be the deciding factor, I think. The why of it all.

Funnily enough, I'm fighting convenience foods and products too (there are more and more of them all the time now!). I've never known any other kind of life, but I kind of want to. I want to find out if I feel better about myself through making that kind of change, you know? Not a big glowing light bulb of motivation or anything just...a vague, whimsical sort of desire...

And when you make closer friends here they'll want to know about your life in Brazil - because it's a huge part of who you are...who you've become. And true friends want to really know each other, you know? That'll probably take time though...finding those friends. It's harder in real life than in the blog world, isn't it?

Sarah said...

Most of the change we think we see in life
Is due to truths being in and out of favor.
- “The Black Cottage,” in The Poetry of Robert Frost

My sister in law is from Chile. She talks all the time about how many Americans don't really understand what it is like not to have things. Sometimes this is good and sometimes bad. You have a unique gift and perspective thanks to your time in Brazil. Eventually, you'll find that happy medium of the two and gratitude will win out over guilt.

SO said...

I think that it's great that you still remember your time and friends in Brazil. My husband has told me many times when he came back from Germany that he would be overwhelmed walking into a U.S. grocery store because there was just so much variety.

Hang on to your crunchiness if that is what you wish. But don't feel guilty letting it go when the new baby gets here.

Rachel Sue said...

Do what feels right and don't stress about it. If you don't want to buy the convenience food, don't. Your cooking is probably better anyway.

Good luck. I hope you find your way.

Melanie J said...

I think you've been lucky enough to have an experience we all should have to remind us what good stewardship is. Being smart with our resources, appreciating what we have, etc. I'm not really crunchy, but I do try to do simple things like use cloth napkins and make good purchasing choices. I say stick with it as long as you can.

Lara said...

I struggled with this a little after my mission. 12 years later, it's completely gone, and sometimes I feel guilty for not remembering.

You DID have a life changing experience, and if some of the things you learned from it aren't the norm where you are now, oh well! Maybe you'll teach those around you a little something just by living sorta crunchy.

janae said...

Dude. I have so been through that. Many times. It took different amount of recovery for each time. Some took just a few months. Others took a couple years. But if it makes you feel better, I start every other sentence with, "When we lived in Maryland ..." which is not NEARLY as interesting as "When we lived in Brazil ..." So you're good.

ps. Sheri Dew speaks to the guilt thing in one of her books. (Either 'If Like Were Easy, It Wouldn't Be Hard' or 'No One Can Take Your Place'. Both are wonderful.) I loved what she said. Look it up if you get a chance. (Better than the book is the book on cd because she actually narrates it. Just a heads up. I got them from the library.)

InkMom said...

This may not make you feel better, but my Brazilian sister-in-law (I refer to her so often I'm going to have to start capitalizing it) uses Uncle Ben's instant rice because she thinks it's the closest thing to what she used in Brazil. I just smile and say okay, because, really? Uncle Ben's?

Also, my mom coined a term years ago to refer to crunchy people: Earth nuggets. I love it. It's like Grape Nuts.

kerri said...

Before I read Lara's comment, I was going to say it'll last forever... You know we've been back 3.5 years now and though some of the feelings you're describing have definitely faded, some habits were changed FOR GOOD. We also developed a reversal-habit of eating "a little" meat in part resulting from the "guilt" of all the meat we gorged on in Brazil. So... you probably ARE a tad crunchier than you thought, and you'll probably ease into the conveniences/out of the guilt a bit more than you have, but you HAVE changed and that's just great. :)

Lady of Perpetual Chaos said...

I have some of the same problems and I've never even lived outside Utah. Which is kinda sad, actually. I see how hard it is for people around the world and look at my life and feel so guilty. We live in a smaller home and rent out the basement and I often find myself wanting a nicer home but then feel guilty because it's not like we're living in a cardboard shack. Our living space is over 1,000 sq. ft....that's a mansion in some places. I really struggle during the holidays as well. We have so much, while others have so little...and yet how often do we complain about it not being enough. Last year I embarrassed myself by bursting into tears when I donated to Toys for Tots. This is something I struggle with so if you have any deep philosophical thoughts about it feel free to go there. ;o)


There's things you don't know until you know them. Like me and beans, right? What I'm trying to say is, give yourself grace. You may reach for an instant cake mix next month or next year. You may not. But who says you Have to?

I know how blessed we are to live here because I was part of a family that wears the uniform. But I also know how very, very, ignorant we are. Just my opinion, but we could use a few more crunchy reverse culture shocked folks. High five, me to you.

Blessings, C~

DeNae said...

You'll never be the same after Brazil, so don't fight it. There are some parts of what you're going through that will just fade with time. Others will find their proper place in your new life. Eight years after our "when we lived in..." experience, I'm still starting sentences with those words!

One nod I continue to make is, if the people I'm dealing with were speaking Spanish with each other before I came on the scene, I tend to switch to Spanish, too. I don't mean to, it just happens as a "courtesy" to them, although this time THEY are on MY turf!

And I have a much deeper appreciation for our meetinghouse, the hymnals, the library -- all the things we struggled with "when we lived in..." I hate to see any part of a church building mistreated. Too much sacrifice goes into paying for them, and I've seen it up close and personal.

Just roll with it, baby! It's all good!

Shellie said...

I still feel I'm in that quandary. I feel guilty having so much. My brothers tell me I can't help that, and I should just enjoy my life, but that makes it worse for me. Just ignore what everyone else out there is going through? Have a big flat screen tv when I could have given that money to someone else who needed it to eat? I don't think it's a good quandary to get out of. As for the convenience food, a little bit is healthy, but a lot? Like the crappy instant rice, hamburger helper, etc? It's so unhealthy. And doesn't taste anywhere near as good as real food. DON'T cave on those, at least not unless there's an emergency.

Kazzy said...

How could your experience in Brasil NOT change and shape you? If I spent an afternoon with you I would ask all kinds of questions about your life there.

Tobi said...

I try to be semi homemade in all my cooking endeavors. A little of the made from scratch with the side of came from the box and I only added water and heat.

It's okay to feel guilty. Wallow in it. Then get over it. =)

LisAway said...

I think that's so sad that things make you think of your experiences in Brazil, but you have to hold back from talking about it sometimes. Sort of like how Greg came home from his mission SO excited to show his family pictures and tell them about his experiences and NOBODY CARED or even wanted to hear it. This is one part of human nature (it really is natural not to want to hear about other people's far off experiences) that I find to be SO sad and wish/hope I can be more interested!

Also, I am ALWAYS overwhelmed at grocery stores in the states. I also always think that I WISH we had all that stuff over here, but the fact is that apart from some of the ice cream and candy, I can make stuff from scratch, and the fact is, the processed version of stuff just tastes yucky to me now. Plus I just love to cook. And I keep meaning to make that (was it Chinese) food that you posted recipes for many months ago. . .

The Prices said...

I really don't understand why you think no one cares that you lived in's awesome! Remember when we visited a few months back? I was supposed to only be there for an hour and I was there for 3! I wanted to keep hearing more and more. I say, talk away! And, as far as the whole instant everything, I don't buy very many instant things (for meals anyway), definitley pasta sauce, but everything else is the old fashioned way and it's cuz I'm cheap and want to be healthier. Anyway, my point is, I don't think it's a bad thing to not buy hamburger helper and rice a roni.

wonder woman said...

I'm betting you last until #4 is here. Maybe the month before that. Although, you've been pretty stick and stuck with it, so maybe not.

While I haven't lived this, I totally get it. Growing up in Kansas makes me feel guilty for the easiness of church here. I can't complain about visiting teaching because I only visit two sisters and my mom visits 6 that live an hour away from her. Little things like that.

I get it.

Becca said...

Hamburger Helper = nasty.

canned beans = instant food for after baby. At least in my house. And as I get more and more pregnant the ratio of frozen pizza consumption increases.

You are lucky about the ward. Even in areas where there are lots (or just a few) members you don't always find a really active strong ward. My husband says that our current ward has a really strong Relief Society. Maybe thats because I have a couple of callings in there so he hears about everything that goes on, but compared to our last ward and even the ward I grew up in its sort of absurd.

MommyJ said...

I've never experienced anything like this, because I've never lived, or even visited anywhere far away. But, I think I would be fascinated to hear more about what things were really like when you lived in Brazil. My husband served a mission in Paraguay and I can't get enough of the stories, the people. I also remember how deeply he was affected when he was going through the post mission transition. Even still, he often tells the children, when they get particularly grabby/wanting over stuff, about the family he taught that lived in a house made out of refrigerator boxes. Seeing that, experiencing that, I'm sure it does change you. But not in a bad way. I think your sensitivity and awareness is wonderful.

And convenience foods aren't always all they are cracked up to be. Except cake mixes. I don't know why I would ever try to do something from scratch that betty crocker is so good at. But then, that probably only reveals how little I know about cake baking!

Hilary said...

I'm sure your experience will change you, forever, in a lot of wonderful ways . . . and those wonderful ways may just include banishing Hamburger Helper from your pantry forever! :-)

You'll find the 'convenient' stuff that betters/simplifies your life, and you'll hold onto the stuff that worked better for your family (healthier/better tasting/more environmentally or economically friendly) and end up better off. Then you can come and be a guest speaker about simplifying your life at one of not-called-Enrichment-mid-week-Relief-Society-Meetings in my ward! :-) (If you know, you lived in the same state.)

Hilary said...

Oh, and I'm right there with MommyJ on cake mixes . . . they're not just a convenience food -- they're a culinary masterpiece in powder form. Better texture and stuff than any yellow/white/chocolate cake or brownies I've made from scratch.
(Carrot and spice cakes and such are the exception to my "All Hail Betty Crocker" rule).

Deb said...

I hope there are some aspects of crunchiness you never leave behind. Really, it's a good thing. You're not making your own soap, you're not saving your kids' hair to stuff pillows (I assume)'re just crunchy enough. Don't let Brazil go. Even if your new acquaintances don't want to hear about it right now, it was a huge deal for you and your family.

So my bet is...forever. You will be crunchy forever.

Anonymous said...

i'm crunchy, too. i buy organic, carry my re-usable bags, shun bottled water and paper towels, recycle everything! i also hug trees sometimes, love the environment, support anti-gun legislation, and go the the farmers market every chance i get!

Good for you!!!

hopefully you never give up your crunchiness. it's not a movement, it's a lifestyle :)