Culture Stunned

Dearest Rachel –

Over the last week and a half, I’ve said a number of times about how ‘what’s mundane for one person is exotic for another.’ Naturally, it stands to reason that this situation goes both ways. What’s particularly weird is how it’s happened to me in both directions. I can’t say that I got used to the ordinary things in Basel, but I do find myself having to adjust to how things are done back here.

It’s not exactly ‘culture shock,’ since it’s more a matter of reacclimating myself to the culture I always called home after a couple weeks in something different (and rather more confining). Call it being ‘culture stunned.’

Let’s start with the fact that, while we live on a fairly busy thoroughfare (it’s part of why we got this house so cheap, you’ll remember), I still think of this as being the quiet suburbs, as opposed to the busy city. Well, the busy city I just returned from isn’t nearly this loud as rush-hour traffic on Wilke Road. Most of that’s because a large part of the traffic on the Clarastrasse are pedestrians, bicyclists and the trams. Cars, in comparison, are a lot noisier, and there are a lot more of them here. It doesn’t help that Wilke is twice as wide as Clarastrasse, despite the latter being important enough to merit its own tram stop.

And that’s the next thing to deal with; the sheer amount of distance and acreage involved with the Chicago suburbs in comparison to a European city. Everything is flat, level and spread out around here. And while this is the sort of thing we’re generally aware of (I know I’ve mentioned before about the silliness of European vacationers not grasping the sheer size of the country when they’re visiting), it’s astonishing how, even on a micro level, everything here in the States is just that much more spread out. Even a decent parking space at the Meijer entails a walk that would be longer than my stroll from the door of the Pullman Hotel to that of the Co-op supermarket; the distance from the Meijer entrance to where the Teslas are plugged in would probably be enough to get you to the church in the Claraplatz a block over.

Oddly enough, our downtown is actually a bit more built up than theirs. With a few exceptions (like the Roche building in the northeast), most of the buildings are no more than five or six stories high. In our downtown, seven stories and up are commonplace. Granted, our downtown is considerably smaller than Basel’s, but we’ve been expanding upward only since my college days. Most of their buildings date back centuries (which might also explain why they aren’t that tall to begin with – without indoor plumbing or mechanical ascension, any higher would be unfeasible to build back then).

As long as I just mentioned the fact that I visited Meijer this morning, I should also mention about the fact that this is the first time I’ve paid for anything in cash in over two weeks. I had considered going to an ATM once I was underway and out of Switzerland, and getting some €300 so as to have as mad running money for all the stops as we made our way north. Of course, none of that happened, and most of my days, any expense I would incur (like room service) was all included on my hotel bill. And from there, with only having a couple days when I was freed up to wander the city, I concluded I hadn’t the time to bother getting any francs at that point. And it’s not like I spent 300 francs worth, unless you count the restaurants (which all seem to prefer plastic, in any event). So coming home and paying for things in cash took a moment to get used to.

But only a moment, especially since everything is so much cheaper here. A continental breakfast at the hotel was CH₣ 17 (somewhere between $19 and $20), and even what I got from the Co-op the other day was CH₣ 11.50 or so (about $13). I can get as much or more at the local Mickey D’s for less than $10. And that’s not to mention the stocking up on milk and juice at Meijer, offset by all those discounts thanks to using my credit card – yay for rewards! I literally spent pocket change on my trip to the supermarket. Granted, that’s the benefit of being a local; for all I know, Migros or the Co-op have credit cards with rewards benefits too that I don’t know about, nor can take advantage of, since they don’t exist here. If anyone could confirm that for me, I’d appreciate it.

Finally – and this is a bit of a twofer – I have to get used to the fact that, despite the fact that Basel is 5.5 degrees (which amounts to about 350-400 miles or so) further north of where we call home, it’s actually warmer there than here. I’m not sure if that’s a matter of weather or climate, but it is a thing. It’s not by much, mind you, but you’d expect further north to equal colder (or at least cooler), and it simply ain’t so. This leads to the other thing I have to get used to for a day or two at least; my car won’t start, after sitting idle in the Chicago-area cold for the past two weeks. Just a few clicks when I turn the key, and that’s it. On the other hand, your car starts and runs like a charm. I take it from this that Daniel’s been using it from time to time. Anyway, it’s what we have for the moment, and I have to accustom myself to it. For now, I’m going to say that driving a car is like riding a bicycle – you don’t forget how. At least, not in only two weeks.

More news to come, but I think that’s all on this topic. Talk to you later, honey.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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