The Richest Arrangement of Tints

We’ve been back from Turkey for about two months now, and, to my surprise, I haven’t slammed into any really hard reverse-culture shock moments.

Well, wait.  Actually. There was this one weekend in early August when, on our way to Wisconsin to meet up with the families of some of my college pals for a couple days of camping and grassroots revival music, we pulled over to get dinner at a Culver’s (a regional restaurant known for “ButterBurgers®,” cheese curds, soft-serve frozen custard, and carting patrons out on stretchers).  As I stood near the easy-refill soda machine, waiting for my curds to finish deep frying and for our burgers to be wrapped in significantly more paper and bags than were technically necessary, I had a moment.

Leaning against the ketchup counter, sipping absentmindedly on my Diet Coke, completely part of the problem, I surveyed the clientele at the Culver’s and recoiled.  The dining room was packed, but as I scanned the room of Wisconsinite burger shovelers, I was smacked by how boring, how uninteresting, how unhealthy, how pallid a scene was playing out.  Everywhere I looked were white people topped by white hair wearing white t-shirts uncomfortably tugged over hefty guts.

As I say, I was part of the problem–although, to my credit, my t-shirt was blue, my skin florid, my hair autumnal.

So I stood there, sipping and tugging down my own t-shirt uncomfortably, thinking to myself, “ICK. I don’t ever need to talk to a single one of these boring-looking Midwesterners.  I am so–yawn–bored by their very appearance that I–snore–never need to engage with them in any fashion, ever, never, nowhere. What a grim-looking bunch of Wheel of Fortune watchers. Where is the color? Where is the vibrancy? Where is the texture? The tone? Where are the ubiquitous silky scarves covering the heads of the females with vivid hues? Where are the bright red peppers; the sounds of too many cats wailing as they look to poach their next meal; the murmurs of men chatting as they wash their feet before prayers; the smell of the lemon caves; the tap-tapping of the coppersmith decorating a ewer; the visual splendor of towers of handmade soaps–mint, daphne, cinnamon, olive oil, pomegranate?  Where, in the midst of this beige dining room dotted with white bodies, is the allure, the charm, the enchantment?”

A year of cantering the crossroad–the Silk Road, to be exact–of history and cultures in the near Middle East had forged me into one tough Culver’s customer.

My reverse culture shock that day continued beyond watching the pasty pallids suck down the custard Flavor of the Day (Crazy for Cookie Dough!).  An hour later, discreetly burping curds, we pulled in to the Hayward KOA, and my eyes got even bigger.

Certainly, I know that KOA campgrounds don’t exactly bring “nature” or “escape” to the camping experience, what with their swimming pools, hot showers, convenience stores, and well-lit sites.  But there are times of life and circumstance that make them a good choice for people who fancy the idea of Being Outdoors So Long as The Bathroom Is Tiled. In this case, we had five tents of families and kids and thought the kids might actually give the adults a chance to chat if they were distracted by Marco-Poloing around the pool.

As it turned out, trying to triangulate the location of the lost Polo was the least of their options at the Hayward KOA.  In fact, dunking in the pool was the consolation activity in a place that had a whiteboard propped outside the registration office that listed the weekend’s schedule.  When we’d booked our sites, we’d known the place had a water slide, but we’d been unaware of the looming Chocolate Weekend–featuring a chocolate pudding eating contest; a chocolate fountain by the pool during Adult Hour; a chocolate slip-‘n-slide, candy bar bingo, chocolate pancakes at the cafe–and we’d been unaware that, Chocolate Weekend aside, this KOA consistently offered daily movies, a huge jumping pillow, wagon rides, cosmic mini-golf, dances, crafts, tubing on the river, and s’mores at the fire ring.

All of this before the karaoke and dancing.

As I stood there in front of the registration office, gawking at the schedule of events on the whiteboard, the kerfuffle in my brain was only muffled by the creaking sound of John Audubon rolling over in his grave.

Wow. Karaoke. Under the pines. With a chocolate fountain gurgling in the background.

It kind of made our year in Turkey–of living in a crumbling stone house and chopping kindling every day to create enough heat to warm a single room

feel like


Reaching out my soft ButterBurgered® hand to clasp Audubon’s skeletal digits through the dirt covering his grave a thousand miles away, I gave him a good yank, and we made our way to the KOA tent site, where no one blinked at the fact that I was dragging the remains of John Audubon next to me, discoursing animatedly about the long odds of spying a gyrfalcon circling over the slip-‘n-slide…but how, if we did, then I’d shoot it down with Paco’s slingshot, and John could then pose and paint it…using chocolate from the pudding eating contest as his medium! Our enthusiasm was quashed, however, when we realized John’s painting had declined substantially since his death and that he hadn’t been able to hold the brush with any semblance of skill ever since three of his fingers snapped off thirty years after his interment. Sadly, we realized the Hayward KOA was no place at all for a legendary explorer of the natural world, so I sent him back to his grave in Manhattan with a quick plink of magical thinking and a care package of chocolate pancakes.

Back to its original numbers, our crew of college friends and progeny drew upon its well-honed ability to relax into situations of public idiocy (these are people who have survived the mosh pit at Black Flag concerts) and settled into the vibe of the KOA.  We were doing quite well at being happy campers, too, and accepting that some people’s idea of connecting with nature involves a can of Red Bull and a t-shirt that reads “Celebrating 100 Years of RV-ing,”

but then.

The next morning.

We emerged from our tents, glanced over towards the cooking gazebo (replete with stoves, sinks, electrical outlets) and spied not a gyrfalcon but, rather,

a Flat Screen.


This family proceeded to watch programs on their Flat Screen for three hours.  In honor of the shock I felt, I could work up a wacky tangent here about Phineas and Ferb wrestling their way out of the television and going for a swim in the kitchen sinks and getting up to naughty hijinks with the vegetable sprayers, but, frankly,

I’m still just too stunned to play silly on this one.  A Flat Screen? At the campground? And you go camping why?

So there you have it:  my culture shock–which didn’t truly grow out of anything “reverse” at all.  Even if I’d never left the States, never had my skin exfoliated by dust dropping off the frescoes of early Christian churches in Cappadocia, I daresay Flat Screen While Camping still would have sucked the breath from my lungs and made me feel alien in my native home.

In fact, as I stood, gaping at the 32 inches of pixels under the pines,

I rather wanted to head back to Turkey–

where men wear suitcoats in the fields

where lingerie is sold in yarn stores

where corn is the preferred topping on pizza

where Sex in the City is in regular rotation on the viewing schedule, but all instances of cigarette smoking in all programs are blurred

where Old Schoolers haven’t yet adjusted to the new monetary system and are apt to tell you the cost for a bag of pistachios is “five million lira”

where you can be sure the granny in shalvars next to you on the bus is as naked as a mole rat in her nethers

where grilled sheep’s intestines, leading with the flavor of dirt, are a nostalgic delicacy–

if only so I could be in a place where things weren’t so damn weird.




20 responses to “The Richest Arrangement of Tints”

  1. Jeni Hill Ertmer Avatar

    Well, welcome back to your former (normal) form of blogging! It’s been a while since you ripped into things, at least stateside anyway, but was a welcome read for my somewhat perverse frame of mind these days. Never having experienced any true culture shock myself, but having witness that in some of my friends when I managed to convince them to come up from D.C. to spend a weekend with me at the quaint little village in the mountains that I called “home” I doubt I’d have thought twice about seeing all the white. I think perhaps for me, the chocolate everywhere might have tugged a good bit on me -probably would have had to drag me away from a chocolate fountain -but camping with a big screen tv? Now that definitely would have told me there really are a whole hell of a lot of very, very strange people existing in the world today and holy rip, they are here, within our country’s boundaries and in abundance too. Why even spend the time and money to go “camping” if you’re gonna take the majority of your home along with you anyway? My head is still shaking now in a bit of disbellief on that one!

  2. Lil Avatar

    A flat screen while camping? I’m at a loss. Totally.

  3. chlost Avatar

    Oh, the big screen! How about the RV’s with air conditioning, showers, two (or more) tv’s-big and/or small screen, queen-size beds, full-sized stoves, refrigerators, and of course regular size toilets. This is how many people “camp”. I don’t understand it. I think it makes so much more sense to do as the nomads have done for centuries….just pack up the house and take the whole d*^& think with you on your back.
    Love those Culvers’ cheese curds, though!

  4. Bob Avatar

    Well – along with my tent, my coleman griddle and stove I do pack my laptop and an outdoor speaker. In my defense, this is when my and I friend can spend hours trading music.

    But there is absolutely no tv.

  5. Jenn @ Juggling Life Avatar

    I have never been to a KOA campground, but I’ve heard stories. Yikes!

    Well told, as usual.

  6. unmitigated me Avatar

    Not sure why I linked to my blog, since the owner hasn’t posted anything in at least a month! I frequently experience the Fear of Midwesterners, then feel guilty for being so snobbish, then disgusted when a conversation with one of them confirms my initial misgivings.

    Where does one go to escape, when one has no passport?

  7. Green Girl in Wisconsin Avatar
    Green Girl in Wisconsin

    I feel better–I often feel like a stranger in a strange land–particularly when I go out in public, like to a restaurant or when I walk at night and see everyone inside GLUED to glowing screens and I wonder WTF???
    Some culture shock indeed, honey. You went from culture to a cultural wasteland.

  8. Monica Avatar

    Come back to Europe – we’re indeed not at all as weird as those Americans… Allthough many want to be exactly like that…

  9. Pearl Avatar

    Why not. They’ve got TVs in cars now too… Seems if we have one unstructured moment to ourselves we might do something radical like THINK…


  10. Deborah Avatar

    Oh my goodness. How do you do it? As in, making a highly readable, hugely entertaining story out of what somebody else might just have treated as a straightforward and undoubtedly tedious rant.
    It’s all right too look down your nose at the Culver clientele and the KOA kampers, as long as you do it just like you did. I’m in total agreement but couldn’t have made my criticism nearly as funny. And that’s the thing about travelling, isn’t it? You can never look at home quite the same way again.

  11. lime Avatar

    i am glad the whole process of re-entry has so far been reasonably uneventful but oh yeah, the flat screen making you wish for a place where you get fried sheep intestines and the relative weirdness level being easier….yep. you got it. whoda thunk shalvars and headscarves would feel so normal a year ago huh?

    oh and i have a turkish man story i need to share on my blog. quite different than your stories but hit me like a sucker punch.

  12. MichiganME Avatar

    Wow, what a great post. We camped all the time when I was a kid – that’s 45+ years ago. I remember stopping at a campground called KOA and my sibs & I were so excited. It was such a departure from the usual camping venues with pit toilets, no electricity/running water/picnic tables or firewood. This place had grass, level ground, a camp store that sold firewood and candy bars, a pool, picnic tables, a field for playing outdoor games, electricity, BATHROOMS with showers and flush toilets and best of all—other kids!! We begged our folks to stay there 2 nights. MIME

  13. Friko Avatar

    I really don’t know what you are saying here:

    don’t you want to live in the land of unlimited possibilities? Where you eat till you wheeze, watch yourself into a stupor via a screen, and explore the great outdoors without having to step foot on a tussock of real grass?

    It’s progress, my dear, what could possibly be wrong with that?

  14. secret agent woman Avatar

    Ha ha ha! I needed this laugh. My version of this experience was Dollywood, where I was in perpetual cringe mode.

  15. sweffing Avatar

    As always, points well made with just the right humour coming in unexpectedly from left field. I could never have pulled it off as you have done. I think the sight of Nature being so firmly air brushed from the scene would have enraged me into searing fury, which would have turned off most readers. Well done. But oh the shame: not to be able to engage with the great outdoors and to always experience Life through a filter.

  16. heart in san francisco Avatar

    I had an experience with a KOA “campground” many years ago and even w/o benefit of living in Turkey, thought it utterly, absurdly bizarre and as far removed from the natural world as Times Square, but in a less interesting way. I am intrigued by the thought of a chocolate slip ‘n’ slide, though.

  17. Julie Sucha Anderson Avatar

    “muffled by the creaking sound of John Audubon rolling over in his grave.”

    Hahahahahahaha! And, having just visited the great state of Wisconsin for a couple weeks, I can attest to the weight those cheese curds add to one’s ass. Loved reading this.

  18. sqt Avatar

    We went “camping” in a cabin a few months ago with the in-laws. It was….weird. My mother-in-law decided she couldn’t miss the Casey Anthony trial so she ensconced herself in a chair in front of the television they brought and didn’t move for a week. Why bother leaving home?

  19. chlost Avatar

    The news of the earthquake in Turkey has made me think of you. I don’t know my geography, but wonder if the area where you were is close to the earthquake area. It looks quite grim. How are all of you doing now that everyone is truly back to the future here in the U.S. of A.?

  20. Jocelyn Avatar

    Chlost: The earthquake was in the east of Turkey, and we were in the central part. That said, the earthquake seems devastating; there was one that hit Istanbul and the west coast in 1999, and the country is still playing out the ramifications of that awful time. So my heart hurts.

    It seems almost wrong, then, to tell you how happy we are back home here.

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