Tag Archives: personal

What’s Normal, We’re Not

When I arrived in Germany in December 2008 to backpack for 2 weeks, my first time leaving the country, I was shocked at how un-shocking things were. People were people, living like people. No big deal. I arrived in Afghanistan in January 2011 for a deployment. I remember that of course, but the adjustment there mostly involved the job to do. After a half year there, the real shock was returning home. The colors! The information! Options! What to do?! That returning home shock doesn’t seem to wear off. I have left the country for 6+ months 5 separate times now, to Afghanistan, Japan, and Brazil. Each time I return, I am shocked by how shocking it is to come home.

Over the last year or so, I have spent a lot of time listening to history lectures from the Greeks through today (I recommend The Great Courses, available on Audible, they are awesome). I started with world history for a while, then recently listened to 2 sets of lectures on American history. The shock is the same. We are truly different. Our everyday lives are different. In fact, I would argue that America is more different from every other country than any other 2 countries are from each other. In order, the following are most noticeable:

1. Consumer Culture

Goods are so abundant and cheap that producers systematically create demand with advertisements. The result is bright colors everywhere representing the well-organized system professionally designed to make us want stuff. Our system of advertisement reaches around the globe now, and it stands out everywhere else it appears (McDonald’s, Coke, Viagra).

2. Cars

We each have one. We drive mostly alone. Carpooling is the exception. We park close when we can, pay when we can’t. Cars are our status symbol for which we spend 6 months to 2 years up to a lifetime of income.

3. Strong Institutions and Rule Following

We trust our institutions. From the government to our universities even to our franchises and brands like Coca Cola and McDonald’s. They consistently tax us, educate us, make our favorite treats, always convenient parking, minimum service standards, and a free bathroom when you need it.

We trust institutions over people. We will invest our life savings in a faceless stock in the stock market, but are much more hesitant to invest in a local business whose owner we actually know.

We stop for traffic lights with nobody around. We pay our taxes. Corruption surprises us. The roads are straight, fast, aligned at perfect right angles. We drink alcohol in specific regulated places at specific times. Next time you walk down the sidewalk in Las Vegas and think it’s cool that you can carry a beer with you, remember, that’s the only thing normal about Vegas!

Some of these things seem unrelated, but I don’t think so. We are unique in having a ubiquitous, mostly stable government that is older than the population, and we accept its authority. Most of us arrived since the constitution was adopted in 1789. Name another country in the world whose current government is older than its people. Egypt or China? Mexico? Any South American country? Some theocracy? No, not like us.

4. Sugar as a Food Group

You notice it in the people immediately upon arrival at a US airport.

5. Security

You probably won’t be robbed at a US airport, bus station, or in most public spaces. America has never been invaded. We expect security. We expect our government to counter threats, and it does.

6. Air Conditioning

7. Television


For better or worse, our lives are different. We adapt everyday. Adaptation is so ubiquitous we aren’t even aware of it. We are living an experiment from which came many of the greatest improvements in our lives, … but it is an experiment. It has not run its course. The US accounts for just 6.6% of the land area of the world. It has been less than 200 years since the industrial revolution, out of more than 1 million years of human history. As a population, as a culture, we are shocked, adjusting, and changing. We will not live to see the conclusion. The only thing known so far is that we are not normal.

I live in the US, but mostly without the things on that list. It is liberating to at least identify the ways in which we are different, the stressors on our lives. To see people shop as a hobby, drive, follow conventions, sip sugar water, follow years’ worth of TV series, and refrigerate their living space is like stepping into a hyper-modern future world. You might think I’m crazy, but I am here to tell you: we are.

So You’ve Got My Card

So you’ve got my card. Why do I have a card? The real question is, why don’t you have a card? I have one because I am an aspiring adventure capitalist, and I have ideas percolating from 7 1/2 years in the military and I want to  share them and execute the best of them. Here is my story.

This was one of the first paved roads at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan in 2011.
This was one of the first paved roads at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan in 2011.

I am a transitioning Marine Corps Officer and pilot of the mighty CH-53E heavy lift helicopter. I joined the Marine Corps after graduating college, and began my service in January 2007. Following initial training and flight school, I was in “the fleet” from May 2010 until May 2014, and deployed with various units to Afghanistan in 2011, on the 31st MEU in 2012, and back to Afghanistan in 2013. During my service, I have had the challenge and privilege of serving with inspiring and intelligent Marines. As I transition out, I feel an implied obligation to live up to the example that many of them set, and to use what I have learned for good.

This day marked seven years in the Marine Corps for me and we tested this bird up.
This day marked seven years in the Marine Corps for me and we tested this bird up.

During 7 1/2 years in the military so far, it has been busy, but there have been many hours in chow halls, K spans, “at the LSA,” on the boat, and–who am I kidding?–at work, to plan, scheme and dream about what we are going to do after. That’s a lot of talk. Now it’s time to walk the walk.

What is the website for then? Once I’m out, in July 2015, I will need a place to define and organize what I am doing. I want to share my ideas, network with people around the world, establish business relationships, sell products, and give friends and acquaintances a way of following my whereabouts, failures, and successes.

Currently the site includes a summary of my only real business venture (695 Riverview Drive) and some posts that are basically just my musings. On the near horizon, I am in the process of investing in a start-up gluten-free bread company organized by a fellow transitioning Marine Officer. It is an exciting opportunity and an endeavor for which two families are moving across the country and risking it all to ensure its success. I look forward to posting about it. I also plan to post a first-year summary of my apartments at 695 Riverview Drive.

Comment on the site, or e-mail me! nate@nathanruffing.com