A few days ago a reader used this expression to describe how he thought he was going to feel when he came to the Philippines to live.
Probably an apt choice of words, but as some of you know, I am currently back in the USA and believe me, the expression sure explains how I feel, in more ways than one.
Stranger in a strange land is actually a quote from the Bible (Exodus 2.22 in the KJV)
” And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.”
or in some other translations,
“She gave birth to a son. Moses named him Gershom [Foreigner], because he said, “I was a foreigner living in another country.”
So in many ways, all of us expats are “strangers in a strange land”.
But the phrase gained it’s most popular cultural meaning from the title of a best-selling 1961 Hugo Award-winning science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein. It tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human raised by Martians on the planet Mars, after his return to Earth in early adulthood. The novel explores his interaction with–and the eventual transformation of–Earth culture.
Smith find himself completely at odds with most life on earth, even though he is the child of earth parents and an earth man in every sense of the word. In my case I was born in the USA and lived there a large part of my life, but I find I am growing farther and farther away in thought and culture.
A few things that come to mind that just seemed so strange to me ….
Fright: The America I grew up in had just kicked Japan and Germany’s ass and walked tall. I don’t know where that country went. In my trip from the Philippines I went through seven complete shoes-off, TSA-compliant inspections … and i never left a ‘sterile’ airport environment from check-in at Manila to going to the baggage area at MCO. Seven full inspections in one day. Of course not one of those inspections would have detected the “underwear bomber’s” pants load, had I been carrying one like it … we’re too squeamish to properly check for weapons, but we default instead to repeating ineffective screening over and over again to make it appear we are doing something. Sad.
The list goes on. How many times in the past two weeks have I heard people rambling on about their worry about people placing unauthorized charges on the credit cards? I mean, Jesus, people, if you are that scared of the damn things, why not get rid of them … I’ve been spending cash … you know that green stuff that you can get at banks … virtually exclusively on this trip, and there is no way you can convince me that credit cards are more of a convenience. Every retail transaction is held up by people fumbling with credit cards or debit cards, even for the most inconsequential transactions. The funny thing is, it’s riskier to carry cash around … I could lose my wallet, get mugged, etc., but with a credit card I’m protected, under law, to a maximum of $50 loss anywhere, any time … so why are Americans obsessed about these benign pieces of plastic. There are certain things in life you can’t escape worrying about. The death of a child, coming down with incurable cancer, buying counterfeit Super Bowl tickets … important life changing things … for the rest of life, why not just remove some of these obsessive worry items from your life? Are we Americans addicted to worry, like smokers addicted to Nicotine?
Excess: I have heard from various news agencies, and other pundits who should know, that there is a national recession or business slow down in the US. I wonder if by chance my airline flight somehow got routed to a parallel universe and I am in a USA in a different dimension.
Try to buy a computer at CompUSA (the chain that the news media told me last year was closing down, so why are there two CompUSA’s within 6 miles of each other here in Orlando?). You can’t get a sales person … not because they are screwing off, but because they are all busy selling gigantic wall-size TV’s faster than they can get them delivered. Recession? People worried about jobs?
Car sales? Booming. And boy do they boom too, still selling pickups an SUV’s with gigantic engines designed to keep us in the thrall of the Saudis for yet another generation. You know, when my first son was born in 1973 I had continual worries about gas to get him around to doctors and hospital appointments and spent hours stuck in gas lines. That was what, 37 years ago? And we STILL haven’t learned? Just how stupid are we?
My son came to spend part of the vacation with us and rented a car … nice little Toyota RAV (built in the USA and not subject to the recalls). Among other gadgets it came with was an overall fuel mileage read out, which was pretty much stuck ay 23.4. Why so low? Simple after we investigated a bit …the stupid little car was full time four wheel drive. Full time four wheel drive to run the Interstates in Florida and bake in the sun at Disney World parking lots … is there anyone in the USA awake to what’s happening in the real world?
Overall: Well I still love my country, but I don’t like living in it. I will say this. When it comes to selection of things to buy, quality merchandise and really cheap prices (yes, even in the much maligned Wal*Mart) there is no place at all that can come close to the USA. Those of you thinking about moving to the Philippines for a lower cost of living need to make very sure you are getting all the facts and figures, because the reason my wife and I are planning our next trip back to the USA, even before we are through with this one is, shopping and the plethora of choice and downright cheap prices “you all” enjoy beck in the “homeland”. Nothing else like it on earth, believe me. On Mars? You’ll have to ask Valentine Michael Smith.