“We serve breakfast all day long! We also have mimosas and some fresh berry Bellini’s,” a lovely lady exclaimed as she stuck her head out the doorway of a café in Pacific Grove. My eyes glanced down the menu posted in the window and I noticed a Philly cheese steak sandwich. I got excited and said, “Wow! I haven’t had a cheese steak in ages! How are they here?” She responded, “They’re great and they come with fries and a salad!” I was sold, so in we went.
The sandwich arrived and naturally, it was on a huge plate, practically overflowing with food. Everything tasted like it had been supercharged with flavor and I ate and ate until I could eat no more. This was just lunch, but knew full well it would also be my dinner. Being used to eating small portions with dinner as the main meal, I wasn’t sure how I would be able to eat everything on my list in the month I was going to be here. I cooked every day back home and we rarely went out to eat. When we did, the portions were small and expensive. Nothing like what you get in the States.
It had been a year and a half since I was in the U.S. and I felt the pang of withdrawal starting to subside as my shopping and culinary requirements became fulfilled. Living in New Zealand and Australia didn’t afford me the luxury of Mexican food, BBQ or cheese steaks. I was in California, a place I had never been before in my travels and was feeling gluttonous at the thought of eating everything I had only been dreaming about.
I was afraid of how I would adjust when I came back. I recall after being away for only three months in Costa Rica that the reverse culture shock seemed quite stressful. The traffic, the melting pot of cultures and having been back in my hometown of Virginia took some getting used to. This time however seemed a little more laid back — maybe because it was California. Maybe because my departure from New Zealand wasn’t quite as third world as Central America was.
I arrived in Pebble Beach in late January, coming from a summer climate to winter. However, being that it was California, it wasn’t as cold as the rest of the United States was which was a relief. I had a hard time getting used to forced air heating. It dried me out and felt stifling once it warmed up. I have been used to opening the windows or using a wood stove for heat. I did find small luxuries such as a big refrigerator and a good dishwasher a pleasure. Roomy bathrooms with outlets in them to plug in a hair dryer was a nice change and being driven around in luxury vehicles made me feel like royalty.
I found most of the people working in shops to be friendly and helpful and thought back to what the Aussies and Kiwi’s would say about Americans being so polite. I definitely noticed the service in restaurants as top notch compared to what I’m used to. Where I live, you only see the waiter when they take your order and bring your food. Rarely do they ever appear again and you always go up to the counter to pay, either before or after you eat. You typically have to pour your own water if you want some and it’ll be in a pitcher somewhere at room temperature. We also don’t tip because the wait staff are paid a regular wage for working, unlike in the U.S. This is a sore spot for the folks down under who visit the States, always complaining that they have to tip and the price you see on a sticker isn’t what you pay for at the register due to tax being added on.
Target became one of my favorite places to shop and I marveled at the cosmetics aisle and the cheap prices. In New Zealand, I often see mascara listed at $22, so I stocked up on a few for a fraction of the price. Although grocery shopping there seemed expensive, at least I could get things I wanted. Large scallops without the roe and prawns without the heads, a decent cereal aisle, the canned Pillsbury cinnamon rolls that I had once loved got thrown into the cart as well. A huge selection of cheeses and although I didn’t buy any, the low prices of alcohol were staggering. As one woman in Australia had said about visiting the States once and seeing the liquor prices, she was like a kid in a candy store.
I often wondered what it would be like to live back in the U.S. again and thought one good excuse was for the food alone. Not really a valid enough reason to come back. Of course being closer to friends and family felt good and made me realize just how far away I really was. I suppose it makes me appreciate it when I do visit and I’m probably better off not having these little desirables all of the time. As anything you get too much of, you end up taking for granted. It also made me realize just how ingrained the American culture is in me and how it will probably never dissipate no matter how long I’m away.