I’ve Come to Look for America

I’ve been back for almost a week now, spending some quality time with the parents, running errands, and readjusting to the US of A. It’s great to be home, but I am certainly experiencing some reverse culture shock.

One of the things I found most unexpected on returning to the Land of the Free is, paradoxically, how many rules there are. Take driving. Driving in Guinea is a complex activity but has almost no rules. There are no street signs, no traffic lights, no lanes, no speed limits. You drive in whatever part of the street seems best to you, in the manner and at the speed of your own choosing. You have to pay very close attention to the cars and pedestrians around you, but you need give no thought whatsoever to whether you are allowed to go or stop or turn at a particular time or place. In America the “allowed to” part of driving is a huge deal. Maybe I *can* turn left from where I am, but am I *allowed to*? Only if I’m in the designated left-turn lane and I have a green arrow. I notice it most in driving, but the preponderance of rules shows up in other areas as well; sometimes it seems like you can’t do anything here without showing ID and filling out some forms.
Another thing that shouldn’t surprise me but does anyway is how big everything is, and how much of it there is. Buildings, cars, vegetables, you name it. Venturing solo into a SuperTarget I found myself a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of consumer goods available; I stood, paralyzed with indecision, before an astonishing variety of deodorants that claimed almost half an aisle before grabbing one almost at random and getting out there as fast as I could.
There are little things too: forgetting it’s okay to drink tap water, still worrying about malaria every time I get a mosquito bite, occasionally trying to speak French to black people (who think I am INSANE). But on the whole I’m getting the hang of it.