Annoyed Strangers, Giant Mickey Mouses, and Carving Out My Life in The U.S.

After a sleepless night filled with countless goodbyes, I left the redwoods to board a plane for Florida. “Wait!” you say, “don’t you live in Maine?” Indeed I do. However I had thought the easiest transition from Ecuador would be to put myself in the extremely American, money grubbing, plutocratic nation of Walt Disney World Theme Parks.  

The first of my culture shocks were on the airline. I was waiting in line to get on the jet when I heard four guys in front of me talking about their trip of nearly 24 hours. Interested, I asked where they were coming from. The four turned to me like they had seen a talking raccoon, recovered, and told me they were coming back from serving the military in South Korea. I expected them to continue the conversation, but they quickly returned to their group huddle.

Oh, I forgot, its not normal to talk to strangers in the US.

Then I was on the plane. Drowsy from zero rest the night before I fell asleep. I don't know quite when I developed this habit, but somewhere along the way in Ecuador I lost my sense of personal space. I woke up to a nudging on my leg. My dream of my dog still lingering in my mind, I thought, at first, it was him pawing at me for attention. But then I realized it was my isle mate’s knee and my head was on her shoulder. Oops. 

My social abnormalities of course continued, but now I would like to discuss the meaninglessness of money.

Epcot, a park at Disney, was putting on a special garden festival. As part of this festival they were serving dishes from all the different restaurants for six dollars. “Ok” I thought “thats like a pricy lunch in Ecuador but not too bad.” So I order a spinach salad (man I’m getting mad even typing this now). And the salad comes with literally 6 pieces of spinach a single strawberry sliced in two and some cheese! I looked at it and I told my parents, “I’m not going to eat that, that is a disgrace to food.” 

At this point it is important to understand that a three course lunch in Ecuador costs  2.50 $ at a normal restaurant and goes as high as $5 at a fancy place. My host parents would buy heaping bundles of spinach for about $2 (I did end up eating the Salad, I was not about to waste my dollar-a-leaf spinach, but my initial desire was to smack it out of the server’s hand). 

After spending a week in Disney my sense of monetary value is completely ruined. I went from Ecuador where I could buy 30+ mangos for $10 to Disney where they actually sell three Marshmallows for $4 (See the above picture). I no longer know what to make of these strips of paper we pass around. 

One incredible result of my trip is I have found it allowed me to better understand and connect with my Filipino extended family in Florida. I have always found that family just a bit overwhelming, they know each other so well and are so expressive and friendly that it used to make my old stoic northern self uncomfortable. However, this kind of attitude is so similar to that of my host family (they even do the kiss-on-the-cheek greeting) it seems quite normal! And I now know the most important ingredient to deal with it, as well as the most important ingredient in all my relationships: my presence.