People eating with their hands. After 6 months in a place where people eat everything either with chopsticks or directly out of a bag, watching people's hands get dirty and seeing them lick their fingers really makes me squirm.
(That said, I also haven't gotten used to the Chinese spitting out bones, husks and pits onto the table.)
Overweight white people. Coming back to North America from Europe the girths are disconcerting. Coming back from China where even the (few) overweight people are much smaller than me, it's like arriving in Brobdingnag.
On a related note: portion sizes. I ordered a sushi lunch special. There were something like 16 large pieces - twice as much as I expected. J asked me worriedly if it would be enough. Her "bento" was a foot-long serving tray. It's grotesque.
Being asked for a credit card. In Europe (or Germany, at least) they are used rarely. In China it appears they skipped credit cards altogether and use mobile payments for everything. Here you're looked at funny when you say you don't have one, or that you prefer to use cash.
Being offered a parking spot. Since when did hotel rooms come with parking spots? Why would anyone voluntarily drive a car on holiday? To a city?! I'm so very far out of the car owner lifestyle I can barely comprehend this is a thing people do.
Peanut butter. Peanut butter is fucking great. Of course it's sold everywhere in the world for home consumption but only in North America can you order it in breakfast joints on a bagel.
Bars. Oh lordy I missed proper bars. Bars where you can walk in at a respectable hour and drink alone and not feel obliged to bring friends or play drinking games.
Tap water. I can drink it without boiling it first. I can drink anywhere, for free! What luxury!
But also: ice water. What is with ruining a perfectly good glass of water with a half ton of ice?
Kindness. There is something nice about having a "sorry war" when one person inconveniences the other. It's nice that cheerfulness is considered an asset in the service industry. Chinese are polite, but not very kind. Europeans are neither polite nor kind. Kindness isn't necessary, but it really is nice.
Diversity. China is a diverse country in theory. Different regions have different languages and cuisines and cultures. Domestic migrants face similar challenges to international migrants elsewhere. But even still, almost everyone is Chinese. It's not a country that has ever welcomed immigrants. Toronto feels like a global city. China's cities, aside from Hong Kong, all feel Chinese. I forgot what it was like to see the rest of the world around you.
I go back tomorrow. I am glad I took this trip; it felt like both a holiday and a homecoming. But it has also left me feeling fat, bloated and a little ashamed at the decadence. Not that the Chinese nouveau riche are any better, but at least they have the excuse it's all relatively new to them. The developed world should know better. I expect more. I expected more from myself, coming back. Three crippling hangovers. Coney fries. Really?
Today I am going to visit my favorite place in Toronto: the island. It's almost free (just a ferry ticket) and there are no shops there, no bars, no food, just some bicycles and cottages and a Great Lake. I need to take a walk and remember this place is more than just a monument to colonial excess with potable water and peanut butter bagels.