I’ve had one of those weeks…one where you leave the familiar and go to a foreign place where everything seems so different, amazing, and sometimes strange. You are exposed to new cultural traditions, values, and food. I love that feeling of watching in wonder at something you never expected to see – it’s exhilarating. So when the Dairy Queen of South Dakota, proudly displaying her crown atop her perfectly coifed blonde curls handed me a small carton of milk, I stared in amazement thinking, “what is this strange country?”
When you feel like a foreigner in your own country, it’s a disturbing feeling. Going from a 100 degree heat wave in bustling New York City where sweaty people crowd into the subway as if they are your new love interest, to the cows roaming the wide open prairies of South Dakota; it’s a huge shock to the system. I’ve been in culture shock now for a few days.
The free milk went along with a free cheeseburger. Apparently June is Dairy Month – did you know that? In NYC you are aware of black history month, women’s history month, breast cancer month, Aids awareness month, Native American month, pride week and administrative assistant day…but I can safely say that I had no idea there even was a dairy month. In small town Midwest, they actually give out free dairy products throughout the month! There’s nothing free in NYC, so I was in awe of this concept. To top off the free cheeseburger, chips, and carton of milk – you also were served a rootbeer float. They set up picnic tables by the lake in Milbank, my parents closest and largest town, and the whole town shows up to eat for free. Everyone knows each other and they actually look each other in the eye and ‘visit’. A foreign concept to New Yorkers.
I stopped at the grocery store yesterday where I was equally amazed at the prices and the selection. The prices were half of what I was used to paying in the city, and the selection was also half of what I was used to in the city. I mean really, are fresh mint leaves considered an exotic herb? I didn’t think so, but ask the grocer in Milbank and you’ll get a blank stare. I went down the ‘ethnic’ food aisle to look for Asian ingredients for pad thai; I could only find La Choy Chow Mein….a specialty of many Midwestern cooks. I’m not quite sure that I’m ready to give up fresh mint leaves and the ingredients for Pad Thai, but in some ways it does sound better than being pushed around in a over capacity fire safety risk at Fairway Market on the Upper West Side. That’s a toss up.
Do you know how hard it is to not lock your car door when you’ve been conditioned to lock everything – even your ipod to your handbag in case someone will steal it on the subway. Here in small town Midwest, no locking is necessary. Heck – the keys stay in the car and we even leave the windows down…why not go all the way?!
Photo: My parents house in South Dakota
My first few days back in the middle of the country have been full of contemplating my origins, my present, and my future. I’ve kind of been in a mental funk taking all of this Midwestern-ness in. This is what I grew up with, but having been gone from it now for so long, it feels foreign to me. Sure, I love New York City and San Francisco, but there’s something equally beautiful about watching a huge storm roll across the prairie. You can see it approaching for miles – even the smell of it is familiar to me. In the land-locked Mid-west, the tall grasses in the pastures blow in the wind like waves on the ocean. These days have been about adjustment, and catching up on sleep; beautiful, fitful sleep without garbage trucks waking me up. It’s nice to get back to your roots, but I don’t think I could ever give up the bustle of the city.
I wonder what free food month July is? I’m keeping my fingers crossed for chocolate month!