When I wrote a post a few weeks back about gender issues in Georgia, I caught a lot of flak from Georgians–“how would you like it if your country was criticized?” What most of them don’t realize is that I am more than happy to point out my homeland’s flaws, so in the spirit of critical thinking, this post is dedicated to all those Georgians who think I have it in for the Caucasus.
I realize that this may also come off as really pretentious to American readers, so let me quote another expat blogger, Mark Manson: “you know when you move out of your parents’ house and live on your own, how you start hanging out with your friends’ families and you realize that actually, your family was a little screwed up? Stuff you always assumed was normal your entire childhood, it turns out was pretty weird and may have actually fucked you up a little bit? …The point is, we don’t really get perspective on what’s close to us until we spend time away from it. Just like you didn’t realize the weird quirks and nuances of your family until you left and spent time with others, the same is true for country and culture. You often don’t see what’s messed up about your country and culture until you step outside of it.”
Every country has its uncomfortable “family quirks,” and here are some of America’s that I certainly do not miss:
Rules. I know it sounds weird, but life in the US is not exactly an embodiment of freedom and liberty. There are things I run into almost every day that make me crack up in Georgia, because in the US they would just be unthinkable. Riding a horse on the highway, having a barbecue on the sidewalk outside your apartment building, giving a kid you don’t know a piece of candy–things that are usually harmless, but would never fly in the US because there is a slight chance that somebody might get hurt or feel mildly offended or something. Basically, Americans are sue-happy. You can get sued by a customer who burns herself on the hot coffee she ordered from you. You can get sued for hugging the preschoolers you teach at school. Pretty much anything, which I think makes Americans way too uptight and ends up limiting our actual freedom in many ways.
Cost of living. Pretty much every major service in the US is overpriced–higher education, medical care, healthy food, housing, childcare, etc. As a result, the quality of life in much of America could technically be said to be lower than in many other parts of the world, where you don’t have to be rich to afford such goods and services. I’m a typical American student, with an unfathomable amount of debt already from undergrad and looking at thousands more in order to go to grad school, just to land even a low-level job in my field. So yeah, I’m not really looking forward to going back to grocery stores and doctor’s appointments that will inevitably turn my meager paycheck into motherfucking monopoly money.
Food. So while I do miss certain American foods, I do not miss the American food industry as a whole. A lot of expats here are NGO volunteers and students, which makes for a lot of vegetarians. They tend to get upset when Georgians laugh off their concerns about animal rights. But seriously, think about it. Being a vegetarian, or at least having a low-meat diet, is a truly honorable thing to do in the US, where the vast majority of the (often genetically-modified) animals we consume live out their lives on “factory farms,” in deplorable conditions. In Georgia, not so much. Factory farming is essentially non-existent–cows, pigs, and chickens generally live out their lives wandering around, having sex in public, pooing on walkways, and standing in the middle of the road. Not altogether a bad gig. So if you’re eating local meat, you aren’t complicit in making an animal live a miserable life for your consumption in the way that you are in the US. Similarly, Georgia is also home to tons of affordable native fruits and vegetables that actually have flavor. You know, like tomatoes that are red and taste like tomato? Even the junk food is better, because they flavor it with actual sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup.
Escalators. Every other country in the world has figured out how to use escalators except for Americans. In the rest of the world, when you get on an escalator, you go to the right if you’re planning on just standing and riding, and leave the left side open so people who are in a hurry can get by. Whereas in America, everybody just parks themselves/their bags/children square in the middle, and looks at you like you’ve got five heads if you indicate that you’re actually intending to use the escalator for its original purpose–to climb faster.
Isolation. Americans (including myself) are generally quite isolated people. This is largely the result of our desire for independence, to pursue our dreams at the cost of sometimes putting them off to help our families or spend time with friends. To me, Georgians are the opposite end of the spectrum–heavily dependent on their families and valuing time spent just hanging out. Many 20-something Georgians, even if they are married, live with their parents or in-laws, and often contribute part of their paycheck to struggling family members, something totally unimaginable to me. I used to often criticize the Georgian system of parenting–or rather, lack thereof. Georgians often have children very young, and their parents are the ones who usually end up raising the kids. Then in twenty years, they will in turn raise their children’s children. Whereas in America, grandparents go off to enjoy their retirement/mid-life crises, and the parents are stuck paying bank for babysitting so they can work, or staying at home, both of which can be challenging, depressing, and guilt-inducing for various reasons.
Birth control bureaucracy. For a supposedly progressive country, you sure do have to jump through a lot of hoops to get birth control in the US. What, are they afraid people will find a way to make meth out of it? Georgia’s conservatives are literally led by a patriarch, and yet you can still walk into any pharmacy here and get birth control for $3 a month over-the-counter.
150-foot signs lining the highways. America has beautiful landscapes along its many highways. But you wouldn’t know it, because they’re blocked out by forests of giant light-up Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel, Holiday Inn, and Sonic signs. Other countries: learn from this. Don’t do it.
How most Americans suck at expressing gratitude and affection. Georgians are incredibly sincere. They hug. They get excited. They link arms and hold hands. They approach you directly and ask you out to dinner. They pepper their writing with exclamation points. In American culture, appreciation and affection are implied rather than spoken outright. Two guy friends call each other names to reinforce their friendship; men and women tease and make fun of each other to imply interest. Feelings are almost never shared openly and freely, which can put a lot of strain on family relationships and the dating scene. Additionally, consumer culture has cheapened our language of gratitude. Something like, “It’s so good to see you” sounds cheesy at best or insincere at worst.
Consumerism. Well, consumerism is inescapable. But it is out of control in America. There is a product or service for everything, even if it’s painfully unnecessary. Even as an animal-lover, I particularly despise the luxury pet industry in the US, with doggie “vacations,” pet therapists, non-medical equine massage, cat strollers, fancy miniature furniture, pet salons, gourmet dog bakeries, etc. Seriously, people? We could eradicate TB with the amount of money Americans spend on dog grooming. That’s bullcrap.
Dependence on cars. Even the most remote villages in Georgia are accessible by a daily marshutka (minibus). You can live anywhere in Georgia, from a city to a hut in the mountains, and still get around ok. I live in a small town 45 minutes from a major metropolitan area, but if I can’t bum a ride from a friend, then I’m screwed. For a country covered in highways (or in many ways, because it is covered in highways), America has totally failed to provide adequate public ground transportation for its millions of non-urban citizens, and I am not looking forward to dealing with that when I get home.
Fat. I go back and forth on this, because while Americans are unhealthily fat (and usually ok with it), there is an obscene amount of pressure here in Georgia, particularly on women, to be thin. I’m not really sure what’s preferable. I guess a bit of anorexia and stunted self-esteem is ultimately worth the reduced risk of heart trouble and the ability to fit on a crowded bus.
Superiority. In spite of all the things mentioned above, most Americans are still relentlessly superior and assume that everything outside of our great nation is a disease-ridden slum full of pitiable, uneducated (yet crafty and devious) folk out to steal your Visa and give you cholera. This simply isn’t true, and I find it really grating when some Americans hear I’m in a small post-Soviet country and their reaction is that the food must be terrible, the people will be out to get me because I’m American (of course), and/or I’ll get deathly ill and die in an under-equipped hospital surrounded by scrawny cows and landmines.
Everything about this picture.