three months in the USA. a conclusion

edit: After having spent another 3 months in the US (summer 2014) and having re-read this entry, I feel a little different about the things I wrote 3 years ago. I’m not saying it’s wrong, it is just overly generalizing. For everything I wrote their are counter-examples. There’s more to say…
Despite all of that, I won’t go about editing it. Just see it as an account of an European traveller being in the US for the first time.

 

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I moved out my flat in Vienna in June to spend the summer with my girlfriend in Pennsylvania and to see a couple of places and friends on the way. With two days left in this country, I’m surprised to realize I’m sad to leave. In fact, I got quite attached to this country. This is why:

  • The boundlessness of the USA is legendary. That is what I assumed it to be, a legend. An illusion. I was proofed wrong. Once you’re in – which turned out to be much easier then expected – an area just slightly smaller than and as geographically diverse as Europe is waiting for you to be explored. Even though border controls are history in the European Schengen area, you can clearly feel the national borders. Language and cultural differences are fine, but separate train and bus networks aren’t. I don’t even mention different tax system, health insurance and phone networks. In the states, all that doesn’t bother you the slightest. Off you go. It is an incredible feeling of freedom, that you could travel/move to a tropical island, an isolate glacier, a Mediterranean climate or whatever else may cross your mind and all you had to do is to pack your things and get going.
  • The USA is an incredibly culturally diverse country. You would say, Europe has all the different languages and cultures in its different countries. Well, every major American city has all that in their neighborhoods. And it doesn’t stop at Littly Italy or the Irish community. Chinatown is ’round the corner…
    Yes, there is inequality between the different origins and there is xenophobia. The general attitude, however, is that you are welcome in this country to achieve what you want. Most people are at least 3rd generation immigrants and in fact, the stories of people that came to this country to start a new life, are at the heart of the American myth.
  • So are stories of personal achievement. Even though only a small fraction of the people that arrived on this continent actually made it from a dishwasher to a millionaire, many started small businesses or farms. Unlike in many other places, success isn’t necessarily confronted with envy or at least suspicion, but admiration. I wouldn’t be surprised, if this attitude may occasionally turn into terror, if one decides not to do anything. But that’s not really an issue for me.
  • Very obviously, the USA are a gorgeous place. I dedicated most of my writing and photography on my travel journal to the countless natural beauties and spectacular cities.
  • The biggest surprise to me was the high quality and deliciousness of American cooking. Yes, there is a lot of awful junk food, but you’ve got a choice. Be it a Chinese restaurant in NYC, seafood at Jersey shore, soul food in the south, an Italian restaurant in Boulder, CO or any of the countless, tiny diners down the road. Never in my life I had such a good food for affordable prices than here.
  • Obviously I am sad to leave my girlfriend for a couple of months, but I don’t intend to discuss my personal dilemma on this blog.

It is not all good.

  • The strong individualism often comes with recklessness. A lot of people will drive SUVs or other overdimensioned vehicles, just because “they can,” not caring about climate change and global responsibility. Many hate paying taxes and social insurance contributions, ignoring the situation of people with less luck.
  • The religious right of the US is frightening to say the least. The way how certain politicians and media people agitate against homosexuals, Muslims or the social state is revolting.
  • A lot have been said and written about the double standards in American politics, which question the grandness of the US rather a lot. I try not to judge a country by its politics alone, even though I’m aware, that they represent the general zeitgeist of their voters at least to some extend.
All in all, my 3-month stay in the USA gave me a much deeper insight in this country and I’m highly impressed, even though there are a lot of nasty things, that bug me. But the same is true to many countries. 

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