The Kindness of Strangers

The last couple of weeks have been a little foggy. My apologies for the absence. And thank you all very much for your condolences during this time. It is comforting to hear such kind words from so many of you, most of whom I’ve never met.

London, Los Angeles, and San Francisco have all figured into the mix following the loss of my mother. It’s been fatiguing jet lag, predictable paperwork, and somewhat surprising revelations, as well as an emotional family gathering–all while the rest of life’s demands and work go on pretty much unchanged.

The two weeks we’ve spent in the United States this month were markedly different. The circumstances made me less observant, especially regarding societal and economic changes I’d noticed before. Also, I’ve visited the states 3 times this year, in March, August, and November. So this one wasn’t as ‘new’.

I will note some small, random thoughts, which are as follows…

I think American democracy is healthier than I thought it was, speaking in very general terms, as I was here during the midterm elections. Voting was a safe, routine exercise from everything I observed. Incumbents–ones not ousted last week–are nervous. Challengers are numerous and optimistic. Power players have been sidelined. Political parties have lost and gained seats, and influence, often in surprising ways. All of this points to a healthy, competitive marketplace of ideas, not just rhetoric.

I think Americans are less healthy than they’ve ever been. I’ve never heard so many conversations (from friends, family, and strangers) about knee replacements, hip replacements, back surgeries, and cardiovascular ailments. I’ve never seen so many television commercials for prescription drugs (which I think should be illegal, by the way).

So many of these advertisements offer relief from what I see as lifestyle diseases, a result of diet and exercise choices. They also mention possible side effects, many of which are worse than the original disorder that the drug was intended to cure.

I’m dismayed at the food I see Americans eating, and how much I see them eating.

The economy is no longer something I can accurately assess. Tech layoffs loom large, first at Twitter, now at Amazon. However, what the future holds for the stock market, the real estate market, and the job market is a mystery to me. I think I’ve lived abroad for too long now to comment…or perhaps a certain lethargy is setting in.

Returning to the states to live is, for me, out of the question now. Perhaps to work, for a period of time, but not to reside. Culturally, I’m firmly European, if not completely Parisian. The two weeks here in the states has felt like two months, and not in a good way. I am a foreigner in my own land, as someone once said.

I have no idea when I will return to the United States. I’m not sure if I’m sad about that. I’m keeping judgments and commitments at arm’s length during this emotionally complicated time.

Tomorrow, we return to Paris. I already feel the distance.

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8 thoughts on “The Kindness of Strangers

  1. Good to hear from you, Byron! Please, no apologies needed. We’re glad to hear what you’re doing, and what America looks and sounds like to you now, from your unique vantage point. Take good care.

  2. Sincere condolences Byron, but it must have been good to see family even if for a sad event.

    It’s always interesting to read your take on the States from abroad as a fellow, well, Expat Yank. I am actually seeing some reasons for optimism in our home country; hopefully that impression will be confirmed during our annual Christmas trip.

  3. Losing one’s mother is a lifetime event, for sure. May the good Lord give you comfort as only He is able. My mother died in 2018, 14 weeks after receiving a 6-week diagnosis. My dad had already passed, so it was a double whammy. Not only no mother, but no parent left. Even in my late 50s it was a hit. Counselors call it the ceiling effect.

    American democracy, yes, better than in 2020. I agree with most of what you wrote, making my living in that arena for most of my career. And I felt you stated it better than most, clearly objectively.

    On the other hand, the inability to count votes is humiliating on the world stage. Iraq did better with their purple thumbs 2 decades ago than our western states are doing even a week after the election.

  4. I was glad to read your observations on the American diet. I feel strongly that most Americans eat an unhealthy diet and it’s the cause of many people’s medical problems. I thought maybe it was a little better in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco, but perhaps not. And it’s not just you who doesn’t know what’s going to happen in the stock market, the real estate market and the job market. Nobody does.

  5. Your observations as an expat are always interesting. Isn’t it curious that we are simultaneously the most obsessed with weight loss and also have unhealthy diets. I taken your request to heart and have been making mostly vegetarian lunches for the past few months. So far so good.

    On side note, have you noticed that Old Money content creators are growing on YouTube? (Alux and Anna Bey touch on OM a bit. Nicole Fiona Davies did a whole series on two of your books. The rest are more focused on the aesthetics.)

    Wishing you and your family the best.

  6. I am sorry to hear about the loss of your precious mother, I lost mine at 28 and feel her loss everyday.

    On another subject I agree completely with you on the American way of eating. Just in the last year I have started learning how to eat, I am currently eating according to the Mediterranean diet, and am considering whole food plant based, using only olive oil from Italy. What passes for olive oil here in the US is usually a stabilized liquid butter. Disgusting. I watched an Italian man on YouTube who is a food blogger discuss real olive oil and I found a wonderful brand that I buy now.

    I have been diagnosed since I was 34 with hypothyroid, and with a heart arrhythmia. Not once has any doctor ever mentioned changing the way I eat for my thyroid, the heart issue I was born with and never treated for. Now I take a heart medication daily for that. My thyroid goes up and down and now being in menopause it still acts up sometimes. The more I get closer to the WFPB way of eating the more it does it’s own thing and they lower my thyroid meds.

    I went to a doctor last year, who prescribed me medicine for pre diabetes, medicine for cholesterol and when I was dismayed at this he prescribed me an antidepressant. I did not take any of them I changed my way of eating and started walking (I’m 49 and overweight because I’ve eaten the SAD (standard American diet) since I was born.) with my new doctor all my levels are normal. I can’t believe the former doctor tried to give me so many pills without a moments thought. The sad thing is blood sugar fluctuations and cholesterol fluctuations are normal in menopause. However he didn’t know that, most doctors don’t know about menopause and what it does to women.

    Anyhow, I’m rambling, again, my condolences, and us Americans need to learn to use food as medicine, not entertainment for our brain.

    1. Good for YOU, Teresa, for using more common sense than your doctors appear to have. With respect to the Mediterranean diet, I wonder if you’ve checked out the work of Dan Buettner. Google him when you have a chance.

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