3 Things That Shocked Me Most In North America

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Recently, I left the jungles of PNG and took a trip to the concrete jungles of North America.

Life, in case you haven’t experienced it, is much different in the first world than in the third world.

Here are some notes regarding the things that shocked me most while I was in Canada and the United States.

Shock Number 1: Choice

Sometimes in Papua New Guinea (PNG) I wish I could get a decent cut of red meat.  In PNG there is some, but nothing that has really struck me as tasty.

In Houston, Texas some friends from church took me out for lunch and they asked what I wanted. Meat, of course.  Yes, a steak would be wonderful.

Did you know there are more than a dozen types of steak?  I thought I had done the hard work by choosing to have steak, but little did I know, my options were just beginning.

So I focused, considered, reflected and eventually ordered a steak (I can’t even remember the name – were I a better journalist, I would have recorded the type of steak).

“How would you like your steak?”

Oh man, forget about it.  I forgot I needed to choose how I wanted it cooked.  I opened the menu again and they had 6 options.  I made my choice – medium.

“What do you want for your sides?”

For the third time, I made a mad dash back into the pages of the menu.  10 sides to choose from.  Baked potatoes and side salad, please.

“What type of dressing do you want?”

There were about a dozen choices of dressing to choose from.

North America is the place of an overwhelming number of choices.

Shock Number 2: Comfort

I never really realized how many things we own that only have one purpose – to make us more comfortable.  Much of what we buy are items that make us more comfortable.

  • Beds
  • Pillows
  • Casual clothes
  • Big TVs
  • Computers
  • Chairs
  • Matching Towels
  • Pictures
  • Plus about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 other things

Hey, I’m not saying any of those things are bad – just observing that much of what we own is to make us more comfortable.  Even some of our needs are wants on steroids.  We say we need a house, but do we need that much house?  We need food, but do we need that much food?

Shock Number 3: It’s Still Not Enough

Now I’m being judgmental.

I once read the story of a missionary who returned to his home country and TVs were all the rage.  The next furlough it was color TVs.  Then it was VCRs, then DVDs, and now Blue Rays.  I think you get the point.  What once satisfied us no longer satisfies.

I guess I’m not trying to judge you, yet reflect on myself because the same is true of me.

I bought a 23” computer monitor while I was in Houston.  I don’t have a desktop computer, and since I spend a lot of time in front of the computer screen I bought this massive (and lovely) beast of a computer screen.  The worst part?  I’ve caught myself thinking, I don’t know how I ever survived without this screen.  Really, is a screen a necessary part of my survival?

I’ve talked about how, when advertising to teens, meeting a need is no longer enough. But now advertisers first create the need, and then fill it.  I wonder if the same doesn’t happen with us as adults.

When is enough enough?

Here are a post where I considered that question – How Much Saving For Retirement is Enough ?

While it is always nice to visit North America, there is no place like home.


  1. says

    I did my undergrad in Marketing, and your assertion that “advertisers first create the need, and then fill it” is pretty much right. I also think TV programs themselves play a role by portraying so many people with lavish lifestyles. Our relationship with consumption in the US is certainly messed up.

  2. says

    Having worked in the sales industry myself, it was a selling strategy to “create a need and fill it”. But you are right, when are we going to stop needing? It seems that we need almost everything now.

  3. says

    I get caught up in the many choices available to us in North America everyday too. I will go to the store to get shampoo and a half hour could go by as I examine the different brands and the simple choice I have to make turns into a difficult one. Do I spend big money to get salon quality products? Should I spend less and get more low quality product? And then there are the hundreds of choices you have to make in regards to scent, style and brand.

  4. finco86 says

    You are so right. Back in the day, I was stationed in Okinawa and my first trip back to the US was interesting in that I watched commercials for the first time in a year. We didn’t have real commercials on the one channel of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) that we had available. But it quickly lost its allure. The difference is very striking at first but you quickly get used to what is available. Don’t know if that is a good thing.

    Going back and forth as you do would lengthen the novelty of it all. Hopefully you can resist the temptations once your are back next year. I commend your focus on the true needs instead of wants. I know I get confused all the time.

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