When I first came to the US, my observations were reactionary. I compared everything to what I had left behind in Germany. I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to travel and live in different countries. My experiences have given me a adult perspective about places. I feel no need to worship a place. Every city or country has its own beauty and areas to work on. It’s nice to feel the liberty in having a place woo you instead of assuming its greatness.
We chose to live in the US primarily because my husband received a job offer he didn’t want to refuse. And now that I have spent close to a couple of years here, I’m ready to share some personal experiences.
Living in the USA
1. Eating Local and Seasonal
Living in India local and seasonal are the only ways to eat. Normal people still go to a farmer’s market and buy vegetables. Meat doesn’t last much because of heat, so people don’t store it long. Of course. fancier millennials now order groceries online. They still come via local farmers’ markets that are cheaper. Germany is similar by regulation. Food is generally cheaper, even if organic. Many preservatives are simply not allowed.
In the US, it seems to be a Portland/ Brooklyn obsession to know where produce comes from and eat locally. You get mangoes in the winter in supermarkets. I get Turnips in the middle of summer. I got so scared of non-seasonal eating (mainly because of the taste) that I immediately Googled and made a spreadsheet of seasonal produce in Michigan. It felt like the most first world problem to have, but sometimes getting everything, every time is not ideal.
I wasn’t kidding, no. HERE
2. TV Productions Which Are Better than Films
Or better than movies, as you say in American. There’s such great quality Television on these days that it’s hard to imagine life without it. Every few months I am obsessed with something new. I had stopped watching TV since 2000 and I have to force myself not to be nodding my head with things now.
My movie watching is almost relegated to a flight only mode. Or, a Netflix binge watching zone.
3. Courage in Art and Storytelling/ Everything is personal
Storytelling is deeply personal here. God forbid I am not referring to the personal essays that make me cringe. I meant personal in a way that it reveals something about you characteristically. Work that comes from somewhere within you. There are no neutralities. It’s hard to not take sides because marketing and writing is polarizing. I often take a stand.
This has also made me very aware of how lightly we take writing in India. It’s sad that we have to rely on a borrowed language to communicate instead of being comfortable in our own. Add our relative newness on the Internet compared to the US, we’re in our own personal blogger/ Instagrammer/ WhatsApp family groupie etc. boom. Sometimes, it’s important to remind people that you’re on the Internet, it is public. Stop with your unnecessary house tours. India is also very young as a nation, which perhaps makes any reflection tougher. Quoting Jia Tolentino,
The Internet made the personal essay worse, as it does for most things. But I am moved by the negotiation of vulnerability. I never got tired of coming across a writerly style that seemed to exist for no good reason. I loved watching people try to figure out if they had something to say.
4. The State of Loneliness
Americans live in a two-arm-distance space bubble. Author Karan Mahajan described it in the best way,
Two people greet each other happily, with friendliness, but might know each other for years before venturing basic questions about each other’s backgrounds. The opposite is true of Indians. At least three people I’ve sat next to on planes to and from India have asked me, within minutes, how much I earn as a writer (only to turn away in disappointment when I tell them). In the East, I’ve heard it said, there’s intimacy without friendship; in the West, there’s friendship without intimacy.
I promise you will meet someone in India, who’ll ask, if you’re having kids, or are married or how much you earn. Even in the US, when I meet other Indians/ immigrants of Indian origin, the conversation invariably moves to green card statuses. And I do not mean from friends. I was in my first Zumba class in Ann Arbor when an Indian lady asked me my visa status. People who I haven’t spoken to in years ask me that too. No one in Germany cares about visas because once you have the right paperwork, it does not take decades to get a residency document. I do find such questions irritating.
However, the advantage of an intimate culture like India is that you have no time to feel lonely. I could go days in the US without talking to anyone and risk social isolation. Finding an hour like that in India was an achievement. It’s also true that I lived in a city of 20 million and now I am in a town of 9000. The difference isn’t mere population, but deeply cultural.
I used to make efforts to find time for solitude. Now I have to make efforts to meet people. Sometimes I give up and clean the house instead or work a few more hours. When my husband is away, I am enthused by the idea of alone-travel. I research in the depths of Instagram for hours looking for momentary inspiration. I vogue my love for sheaths, Prabal Gurung and deconstructed blazers.
5. Making New Friends
Germans would often say, that Americans are friendly on the surface but do not make deep friendships. I don’t believe in that. It’s harder to meet people in the US because the country is so massive and everyone’s driving everywhere. In both countries, you need institutional means to meet people. You could be work colleagues, college buddies, growing up in the same neighborhood, taking kids to the same day care etc.
The advantage of being a relatively decent English speaker, did make it easier for me to join various communities and groups though. It was harder in Germany because of my struggle with the language. However, I went to school in Germany, which made life infinitely easier to meet people.
Because my family is in India, all my friendships were organic. I was spoiled because I didn’t have to try too hard to make new friends. I understood the culture and language without asking a zillion questions. Our nostalgia and childhoods usually felt similar.
But that’s also the risk you take when you travel to a new place. You start from scratch. Everything from Swiss Chard to Polenta is the newness you embrace. It’s not for everyone. And it’s not easy. It’s a choice that I question everyday, as I am torn for the love of a Katlam evening, at home.