We spent our first year out of America in 2006 when we went to language school in Costa Rica. We were thrust from the womb of our dear country and culture into a harsh new reality of Spanish with a side of beans and rice. Among the women at language school that year we developed certain coping mechanisms unique to women. One form of self soothing was to talk about recipes. We talked about what worked here and what didn’t work here and why it didn’t work here. We shopped together and swapped tips for which new products were a decent substitute for Campbell’s condensed soups and Lipton flavor packets. When someone discovered that another store carried an American product we descended en mass and cleared out the shelf like a plague of locusts. Food became a way to cope with too much change in our lives.
We obsessed about food so much that I started feeling like we were on the TV show Survivor. I really started feeling deprived. We didn’t have any American TV in the first apartment that we lived in, so we didn’t see American commercials much. But after about 8 months we moved into a home owned by Americans who were out of the country for several months and needed someone to care for the house. They had satellite TV. For the first time in 8 months I saw a commercial for Olive Garden and I nearly cried! We all groaned with despair whenever we saw a commercial featuring hamburgers or steak. We missed America so much… with our stomaches. Each of us had a list of places that we wanted to eat at when we returned home for Christmas.
I was craving red meat. Josh was desperate for Chipotle. The kids wanted Olive Garden and Krispy Kreme Donuts. And we all wanted Starbucks. But after inhaling our first meal back in America, we all sat there with horrible stomach aches. Too much, too fast. American food suddenly felt greasy and heavy.
More disappointment awaited me on the corner at Starbucks. I took my first sip and the only thing I could taste was the paper cup! I was shocked and sad. Did I always taste the cup before but never noticed it? That cardboard flavor just ruined the whole experience for me. All the things that we had spent the last year obsessing about, talking about, dreaming about, longing for one by one fell off their pedestals. It turns out that our IDEAS about America were more delicious than reality. We had spent the last year Idolizing America, and when we finally got home our fantasies deflated and anticipations fell flat. It was a rude reality check.
They say the grass always looks greener from the other side, but it’s also true that hamburgers look amazing from 3,000 miles away. It’s so easy to imbrue our memories with the essence of our longings and thus plump them up way beyond what is true and natural. It takes an effort to keep our expectations in check with reality. For me, the best way to do that is to remind myself not to idolize America, but to look around me and be thankful for where I am right here and now. Living in the moment is better than being disappointed in the future.