Thursday, August 4, 2016

Re-entry anxiety: shopping

I started this post months ago, but was reminded to finish it after going to Wal-Mart with some friends of ours who recently moved back to the States from Nicaragua. I’ve updated it to more accurately describe my current feelings.

Having been back in the States for nearly a year now, I like to think the most intense emotions of reentry shock are behind us, but we still experience them from time to time—and likely will for years. Living in a different country inevitably changes you. Actually, I would go so far as to say that if living in another country has no effect on your perspectives or practices, you may be unhealthily inflexible. But I digress…
When we first got back to the States, we were running on empty—physically, mentally, and emotionally. As such, we quickly learned which things “cost” the most in terms of energy or anxiety:
  •           interacting with people we did not know well
  •           being in large public places
  •           choosing between a large amount of seemingly equal options
Being overwhelmed all the time was a weird phenomenon for us, and you may not fully understand it if you haven’t experienced it personally. It’s like the emotional version of being sore in unexpected ways after a new kind of intense exercise, but in this case, “being sore” means having trouble making eye contact with people, being completely incapable of answering the question, “What would you like for dinner?” and having a lot of anxiety even thinking about leaving the house. Going to church on a regular basis almost seemed out of the question.

The more we talk with former missionaries or read their blogs, the more we learn that these are common experiences for those returning from out of the country. And there’s one thing especially that everyone like us agrees is the absolute worst: Wal-Mart.

 Other places have similar effects, but something about the sheer size of Wal-Mart, its difficulty to maneuver, and its exorbitant amount of options leave the already-tired person completely debilitated. If the grocery store you’re used to is about the size of a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, then the Superstore is an atrocity of heinous convenience. How do you decide what color of tire pressure gauge is best? If you’re used to selecting your cereal from a 15-foot section of an aisle—and most of the options are corn flakes—how will you ever respond rationally to 75 feet of selections? It’s not even enough to decide, “I’ll get Cheerios.” What kind? Frosted? Honey Nut? Multi-Grain? Apple Cinnamon? Fruity? The Great Value version of any of these? The Malt-o-Meal version? The 24-oz box? The 40-oz box? The two-pack of 24-oz boxes? The single big box that contains two 30-oz bags? Just one big re-sealable bag? I would start to feel annoyed and panicky.
Next on to ziplocs, with every conceivable variation of zipper style, bag size, sheet thickness, and brand abound, and I was already done for the rest of the day, paralyzed and anxiety-filled. I discovered that my internal clock of shopping tolerance was starting off 90% spent, leaving precious little time for me to make rational choices.

I also found that I’d completely forgotten how to unload a grocery cart and take it through the checkout lane. In Nicaraguan grocery stores, you unload your cart and leave it behind, since the lanes are too narrow to push it through. An employee comes along within a few seconds and puts it away—a seemingly irrational system perhaps, but they make it work. Being used to leaving my cart behind, I no longer remembered where to put the cart to unload it. If I parked it behind the conveyor belt, I couldn’t get back around it since the people behind me advanced while I was unloading and left me little space. If I parked it next to the conveyor belt, I couldn’t reach the can of beans that rolled to the end of the basket. I always meant to watch other customers to see how they managed to unload their carts like Americans, but I also forgot. I’ve either figured it out now or have gotten used to the awkwardness.

Some people cry at Wal-Mart if they’ve been out of the country for a while. This never happened to us, so I guess we had it better than others. But reentry can be really uncomfortable, y’all!

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