We've now been home for a couple weeks and have successfully readjusted to life in the US.
When we got to San Francisco, I wrote down several first impressions that we noticed or experienced. Many of these things are obvious and definitely not super exciting or novel, but worth noting nonetheless:
1.) America is super-sized. Trucks and SUVs are large and in charge. Food portions are far too big for one person to consume and our fridge is constantly full of leftovers. And honestly, people are even super-sized. There's a stark contrast when you get off the plane and it's unmistakable.
2.) America is a pretty spacious place. Streets are wider, the space required for a single-family home is significantly larger, and even trains are more spacious. The San Francisco subway was interesting because the benches were made to be shared by only two people rather than three or four in the same space in a Tokyo train.
3.) After months of butting heads in various customer service experiences in Tokyo (i.e. banks, cellphones), I had high expectations for returning to high-quality customer service in the land of lawsuits. What I've found is that the central difference between customer service in Japan and the USA revolves more around consistency than anything else.
In Tokyo, you can always be sure that the employee will smile, bow, welcome you, listen to your concerns, and then consult their internal rulebook for whether or not they can help you. It goes that way every time without fail.
In the States it feels much more hit or miss. Sometimes people are incredibly helpful and friendly. Sometimes they're downright rude and awful to you. The thing I do really appreciate is being able to appeal to a manager or someone higher that applies the sometimes impractical "the customer is always right" strategy. On the other hand, what annoys the heck out of me is the mentality that we are 'entitled' to perfection at every turn. When your food isn't just right, or is too hot and you burn yourself, you can return it for a full refund or sue the company for outrageous amounts of money. There are so many comments in Lawyerish on labels, coffee cups, menus, and anything that has even a 1% chance of bothering or concerning the consumer. Crazy.
4.) A lot of people ride bicycles here, but not in the way that we do in Tokyo. There are fewer bikes in general, even in San Francisco! For some reason I expected many more people to be on the streets biking, but we really didn't see many in CA. In Colorado, there's much more of a crazed-bike-up-impossible-mountains-without-breaking-a-sweat culture, but even that's being threatened right now. Apparently a bunch of annoyed drivers are planning on blocking an upcoming bike race in Boulder, CO. It's all over talk-radio here in Denver too. Bikes vs. cars. Interesting.
5.) Public transit is available, but more difficult to use and definitely not as clean. Denver's Light Rail system is wonderful, but still needs a few more lines to be practical for wider usage. The San Francisco subway (B.A.R.T.) was slow, dirty, and more confusing than the super-complex system in Tokyo. Buses are pretty gross, and we even got yelled at because we only had a $5.00 bill and held up the bus line in San Francisco. A big apology to the angry hippie San Franciscans that we inconvenienced.
6.) People are generally louder in public.
7.) Sometimes strangers help each other. I was blown away in Tokyo once when 50 or more people walked, drove and rode by a guy that was pushing his broken-down antique car by himself. When I tried to help him, he apologized a million times and I almost felt like I shouldn't have offered my help in the first place. On our two flights thus far, random guys have helped Rachael lift her bag in the overhead bins, people hold doors for others, and just this afternoon I watched someone pick up some boxes a store employee had dropped on her way to a garbage can outside. I like that we do that rather than simply pretending that we don't see when other people fall or need a little help (as is often the case in Tokyo).
8.) My head is working in three languages..and having some major glitches. When I speak Spanish, I am constantly using Japanese words, and having to sort them out. Trying to remember Japanese is becoming more and more futile, but random words pop up now and then giving Rachael and me a good laugh.
9.) We're used to walking on the left. This sounds strange, but it's made for many awkward situations. Walking in Denver and San Francisco, you are bound to walk directly towards someone on the sidewalk at some point. Our first week here we constantly deferred to the left when the oncoming pedestrians in front of us deferred to their right...so yeah, we walked right into them. With a simple "excuse me" or "sorry," we'd continue on our way, but walking on the left has definitely become more ingrained in our unconscious street walking behavior.
10.) We both said "hai" (which means "yes" in Japanese) several times a day our first week back- at the hotel, at Walgreens, buying train tickets.
11.) I love using credit cards. For me, it's faster, easier on the wallet, and simpler for monitoring our spending.
I think that's it for now. Again, just a few observations from our short time in the States. We've really enjoyed being in Colorado with Brad's family, and in just a few days Rachael's family will be coming to Colorado so we'll all be together for a week of fun in the sun. Hope you're all well- keep in touch.