Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Motherf**in' Culture Shock

A lifetime ago I was in the Army. For 5 years, no less. This is often a shock for people who only know me as old, soft, weak, fragile Charlie, but indeed I served my country.

Like anyone in the Army, I'd go on field exercises and deployments. When you're "in the field," things get kinda salty. You curse a lot, you spit, do dip, talk a lot of trash, and generally act macho and tough. And when you return from the field to "the world," its always a bit of a transition. The old joke, but dead accurate, is that when you go home for Thanksgiving you'll inevitably end up saying "Pass the motherfu*king potatoes, Grandma."

Returning to the US is kind of like that. I've now been in China for 2 months as an expat, versus just a periodic visit, and have just returned to Atlanta for my first visit. Its a bit of a transition.

First off, forks suck. At nearly every sitting, I find myself desperately missing chopsticks. Its just so much easier to eat with them. Even something like steak or a chicken breast... I'd so much rather pick up the whole bloody thing with chopsticks and take a big bite outta it like some kind of hobo than be inconvenienced taking a knife and fork... cutting a piece... setting the knife back down, eating the single piece, then getting the knife again, later, rinse, repeat. Waste of damn time and effort. Western manners suck.

And dealing with bones, gristle, shells, olive pits, etc is so much easier in China. Here you have to delicately spit the non-digestible item into a napkin, elegantly and discretely. In China if you don't wanna swallow it, you just spit it out... right there on the table. PTOOOEY. Problem solved.

I also miss screaming "FUYAN" across a restaurant every time I want something. Its so much easier to bark for service than having to wait for a waiter to happen buy, or desperately trying to flag one down from across the room. I'm dying to scream "HEY WAITRESS" at the top of my lungs across TGI MCFUGNUTS to get a fresh order of wings, but I know I'd get tossed out for doing so...

And I probably don't need to mention the dirty looks I got when I hocked a big loogie on the street this morning? Mind you, I usually get funny looks in China when i do it but its more of a "HEY! LOOK! The big laowai just spit on the sidewalk, too" than any true judgment.

Another weird transition is driving again. I haven't been behind the wheel of a car in over 60 days, and now have Beijing cabbies as my automotive role model. Atlantans seem less tolerant of me honking, swerving and weaving, stopping wherever I want, turning without a signal across multiple lanes, and driving with an unpredictable mix of g-force speed and an unexplained crawl.

And could I actually be craving baiju?! I swear I miss the stuff. Tonight I soaked a dirty sock in some grain alcohol trying to recreate that perfect mix of burning and stinking. Its just not the same.

But, oh man... Five Guys Burgers make it all worthwhile. Aside from my son, Chip, 5 Guys may just be the finest thing in America. I'd like to marry a 5 guys burger, have sex with it, and have baby 5 Guys burgers, just so i could eat them, too.

And you know as I was enjoying it, without thinking, I asked my Grandma to pass the motherf*ckin' french fries. Some things never change.