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2/26/10 Double Vision, aka Reverse Culture Shock

Ever since returning from my trip to the US (for my cousin's wedding), I've been meaning to write about this.

My doubled vision.

My duo perspectives.

Or, as I usually refer to it, the Moroccan and American on my shoulders.

These aren't the devils or angels depicted in legend and cartoon. Just voices. Little voices. That talk to me...and disagree.

It's disorienting.

Much like doubled vision, I imagine.

Here's how it works:
  • I walked into CostCo. The scale staggered me. My Moroccan-self simply goggled at the unthinkable volume of things for sale, the sheer size of the building. I couldn't see the walls or even much of the ceiling, because the shelves were stacked so high. I grew light-headed and had to hold onto a shopping cart lest I actually fall over.
    But my American-self shrugged and said, "Yeah, it's big. And yeah, I've never liked malls or superstores, but whatever. Deal."
    So there I stood, my decades of experience as an American taunting me while my years in Morocco left me dazed and confused.

  • I found my table at the wedding reception and sat down. My Moroccan-self stared at the mass of tableware. The table was set for eight, or maybe ten, and each place setting had multiple forks, knives, spoons, glasses, dishes, bowls... There wasn't even any food out yet, other than the breadbowl, but the table already groaned under the weight of the amassed dishes.
    My patient, bemused American said, "Yes, this is what tables look like at fancy dinners. You know this. You've gone to lots of them. Nothing here is remotely out of the ordinary. You even know which fork goes with which course, which gives you points over most Americans."
    "Okay," protested my inner Moroccan voice, "but there's just so much stuff! What's it all for?! Who needs this many tools just to eat with?!?"
    The blase American voice reiterated, "This is normal. You've seen this before. Many, many times. Nothing here is weird."
    "OH YES IT IS!" retorted my floundering Moroccan. "This is NUTS!"
    ...and so it went.

  • I climbed into my sister's car to ride out of the airport. She had to remind me to buckle my seatbelt. (Though Peace Corps requires us to wear seatbelts at all times, they simply don't exist in the buses and taxis and transits I ride.) We pulled out onto the highway, and I found myself clutching the "Oh No" grab-bar.
    "Everybody's driving so fast!" Cars wove across the four lanes headed each direction, twisting and swirling around each other like braided hairs or schooling minnows. Outside of Rabat, I never see that many cars at once. Even in Rabat, the highways are smaller and the speed limits lower. In California, folks treat careening around encased in steel like a hobby.
    American: "Babe, you've had a driver's license for a whoooole lotta years. Yes, this is how Americans drive. You know this. They haven't gotten any faster in the past 20 months."
    Moroccan: "Are you sure?! Maybe they have. They didn't really drive this fast before...did they!?"
    I flinched away from the door as a taxi vroomed past at something over 80 mph.
    Moroccan: "Even in taxis, I never get above, oh, 100kph. That's what, like 60 mph?"
    American: "Yeah, about sixty. Take a look at the speedometer. That's what you're doing now. Chill out."
    Moroccan: "But everything's going so FAST!"
Over and over again, I'd find myself looking at situations from two radically different perspectives. One side of me, the side that lives the life where most of my days are spent within a 1-km radius, where I walk to get fresh produce, where I boil all the hot water I get to use, found life in America just incomprehensibly fast and laden with stuff. The American obsession with consumption simply dazed (and kinda revolted) me. But then the other side of me, the side that spent decades in America, that drives with a lead foot and eats out of a microwave most nights and takes hot showers every morning, kept assuring the rest of me that Yes, this is normal.

I'm a country mouse and a city mouse. I'm a Moroccan Tamazight and an American millenial. I'm Kauthar and I'm [my other name].

And sometimes, I forget how these two halves of myself - no, they're not equal, though I couldn't tell you what the actual ratio is - I forget how these two sides of myself fit together. Or even if they even do any more. Or if they ever did.

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