I’ve been traveling with my parents since they arrived in the US on the 21st of May, and being with them has been very interesting. They have never been to the US, so it’s been very good for my sense of perspective to hear their take on what they’ve seen. After four years here, I’ve become jaded towards some aspects of society in the US, and my parents have reminded me of the differences between home and the US. Furthermore, I closely watched their interactions with my (American) girlfriend, though there were also other motivations for that: they had never met each other…
Beyond the personal aspects of perspective, there were still some marked differences between the ways all four of us perceive and interact with the world around us. I would love to elaborate on some of the conversations that revealed these differences, but I am not going to go that far – the conversations weren’t meant to be public. Still, I think I gleaned a lot from them that isn’t specific to my parents and girlfriend.
One of the things that has struck me throughout my time in the US is the amount of waste that is produced here, as well as some of the unnecessary consumption that drives the production of that waste. My parents came to Amherst for one of the worst weekends of the year for waste: when all the graduates leave college, they discard all manner of items that they’ve accumulated over four years, including large and expensive items like sofas and televisions. Beyond that, each student throws away all sorts of knick-knacks, papers and such-like in leaving his or her room. The amount of rubbish produced is quite mind-boggling, especially to people like my parents, who are used to items being specifically handed on to new owners. They were also shocked to see how much waste is produced through the use of disposable cutlery, plates and the like for many kinds of catering. Just about everything is thrown away. And what is worse, much of the food itself is also discarded. At a number of restaurants, portions are really large. At home, we are used to eating whatever is put in front of us. In the US, though, the level of wealth and waste makes it possible for many people to discard whatever they don’t feel like at the time: they have funds available for a later purchase of food. The result – lots of discarded food. As per the college example, this situation extends to all sorts of possessions. It marks one of many differences between home and the US. I think going home again will be good for my perspective, because I will again be with an outsider seeing things at home from a different perspective to my own. It won’t be the first time that’s happened, but it is always good to reconsider how one looks at the world.
P.S. I am aware that I haven’t seen poverty in the US, such as it is. My time in the US has not involved seeing the hard side of American life: I don’t deny it’s existence, but it’s nowhere near as prevalent or as intense, I would argue, as the poverty at home.
P.P.S. My parents left the US today, but I think I will be thinking about their impressions of the US, and my reactions to their impressions, for quite some time to come.