there is a specter haunting [cynthia in] europe.
(and no, this isn’t a spooky halloween tale, although that sounds like a nice idea)
more and more, the longer i live outside of the united states, i am noticing a great widening divide. the divide between my political views and that of my family or other people i know. the divide between lifestyles that i consider excessive and that of so many other countries in the world.
i have been feeling an increasing amount of animosity between those urban dwellers who live in a rapidly gentrifying area full of micro-breweries, yoga studios, hip new pubs, etc. alex and i had a talk about seattle the other night. what we saw when we returned to our beloved neighborhood shocked us after three years away. the working class aesthetic that attracted us initially and made us feel so at home was all but literally demolished in favor of strip-malls on the ground floor of a new condo. almost all of our favorite mom-and-pop places out of business only to give way to a hip new biscuit restaurant with eight different types of over-priced, artisan biscuits and gravy. (i wanted to cry)
during my time home, i kept running into bros in the park who were planning on doing a ballard brewery crawl with their homies later, if i wanted to join. the newly opened fremont brewery crawling with young urban professionals with money to spend on different craft beers all afternoon. shiny bicycles and suave looking cycling outfits. everyone looking down at their iphones. the large flatscreen televisions in every apartment and the huge plush couches which surround them. all of the lights on in a house even when you’re not in the room, or even at home. a room of the house purely to keep exercise balls and yoga mats in. garages decorated as if it was another room while the cars are parked outside. locked cabinets with several different models of guns inside… to keep us safe, of course. gas-guzzling, engine-idling pick-up trucks bought for the image and not because there are supplies and goods to haul.
i have been thinking a lot about why exactly these things bother me now, especially seeing as they certainly didn’t before. was i just bitter that i wasn’t enjoying these things over here in the czech republic?
then i realized, i think i’ve been “corrupted by truth”. that is, the truth about how millions of other people live. i’ve just spent almost three years living in a central european country that, although you may argue otherwise, is still markedly different from its western european neighbors and north america, even after over twenty years of capitalism. this country is not a rich one. the average salary for a working, educated adult is only a percentage of what one would earn for the same work in much of western europe. the lifestyle here is much more frugal. homes are sparser and smaller, but no less cozy. people use natural light to their advantage and don’t turn on the switch on sunny days. clothes dryers in a household are extremely rare. appliances are often unplugged when not in use. it is not uncommon that young siblings share a bedroom. for better or worse, credit cards do not exist here. (i’ve looked!)
we have learned that you don’t need a lot to live a comfortable, more eco-friendly life. and the life i saw that used to be so normal to me left a bitter taste in my mouth back in america. i’ve now seen and lived through a less than excessive life, and after a bit of getting used to, i have come to find it refreshing.
perhaps this has turned me into a bit of a negative nancy, having to bite my tongue many a time or keep my thoughts to myself. i don’t like this negative, “judgy” rain cloud that seems to hang over me when i think about how things are done back home and i find myself rolling my eyes a lot more often these days, but i suppose it comes with the territory of living in a very different country. i can’t unsee these things that now make so much more sense to me.
is it possible that i am “less american” because i now disagree with a lot of the lifestyle choices there? sometimes it feels like i am, but in the end, i would firmly reply no. america was founded on the principles that people are free do live and practice whatever we please.
so, i am exercising my freedom to live abroad and continue learning valuable life lessons that will stay with me, to take back and to improve upon when i do return, because as much as our politicians say otherwise, we are actually not the greatest country in the world. there’s a while yet to go.
top photo via