Like Wade I recently returned to the USA after an absence of almost 3 years. I agree with Wade on a lot of what he said. I didn’t find the personal views of American at all extreme or insane, but much of what is shown on the news makes it seem like the country is on the brink of Armageddon. The amount of niche hobbies and knowledge is quite staggering and within the USA one can easily get lost in a thousand different worlds of specialized interests. However, there was one main point I disagreed with and a few more observations I thought I would share about my return to my home country.
1. People Really are Exceedingly Friendly
After traveling to various parts of the world it is hard not be overwhelmed with the sheer friendliness of Americans. Day to day activities were made easier by people’s willingness to be polite. I could relate a multitude of stories, but instead I will just tell one.
At the airport when I was about to leave the country, my Dad offered to buy me a coffee. The only place we could find was a Starbucks in an airport. After placing my order, the total came to $4.10. We only had four dollars of cash on us. The clerk took out his own wallet and pulled out the remaining ten cents and placed it in the register. We thanked him profusely and he waved his hand and said no problem with a big smile on his face.
Encounters like these almost happen on a daily level. My Australian wife finds the excessive politeness of Americans a tad bit creepy and over the top. I love it. For me it makes the trifle activities of daily existence a lot more tolerable.
2. The Food Sucks
While Wade’s family may eat tons of organic products and have an array of cuisines to choose from, in the Bluegrass state I found the food leaving a lot to be desired. My hometown of Owensboro is famous for being the fast food capital of the world, which basically means it has the most chain restaurants per capita of any city in the USA.
Hot wings, fried chicken, burgers, milkshakes, pretzels, and assorted other salty snacks seem to make up our daily diet. Everything seems highly processed, even the salads came in a plastic bag. The bread tastes sugary and the cheese was neon yellow and flavorless.
After returning to Australia, I will never complain about beet on a burger again.
3. Lots of TV
We watched a lot more TV in America than we ever do in Australia or anywhere else. It seemed every restaurant, bar, or friend’s and family’s living rooms were dominated by large flat screen TVs — normally blaring the latest sporting event. It’s amazing how many different storylines and plot twists your brain can accommodate. We followed the NBA playoffs, Tosh.0, a seemingly never-ending drama about the Civil War, Lebron’s saga (did you know he returned to Cleveland!), Big Brother, and some truly bizarre reality TV show that involves people being naked all the time.
The truly crazy thing, however, are the commercials. If you were to base your opinion on Americans based solely on their commercials you would think the majority of the population had heartburn, were bankrupt, had been the victim of medical malpractice, and had stinky vaginas.
I mean seriously….
The USA is a great place to camp. Situated all over the country are drive-in campsites that can offer everything from ‘primitive’ camping (which basically means you have to pitch a tent) all the way to campsites with electricity and wifi. Every time we travel around America we take advantage of this cheap way to sleep and enjoy the local scenery. Most campsites are obviously located in beautiful areas and you can usually hike, swim, and see all sorts of wild animals.
During a heat wave my wife and I drove about 25 miles over the border into Indiana and camped for 4 dollars a night. Along with an older man we had the place to ourselves. We were able to read, listen to podcasts, and go swimming at a nearby lake without a care or person in the world to bother us.
One day while walking in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia a black bear crossed our path, roughly about 20 feet in front of us. My wife made a small yelp and the bear paused and turned its head staring directly at us. Whenever a bear is on the path in front of you and stops to have a look it is a moment you don’t really forget, sort of like a screensaver image on your brain.
Libraries in America kick ass. There is really no other way to put it. Even in my small hometown of Owensboro we were able to find documentaries on obscure indie bands, academic theses on North Korea, Grateful Dead fan magazines, the complete works of Paul Bowles, newspapers from all over the country, and all the latest magazines.
Having a library card was a free pass into the canals of human thought and creativity. While I can’t say with first-hand experience that all libraries are like this, some of my friends in other parts of the country seem to say the same thing about their hometowns.
6. America is Dense
From reading the news about the USA from overseas it appears to be a country run by jingoistic rednecks hell bent on selling handguns to African fetuses. Stories about nine year olds shooting their gun instructors abound and the country’s always apparently a few hours away from a racial civil war.
One thing that I feel never gets a mention is the diversity and density of America, it really is a giant melting pot. Whether it is Native American towns out west or the Amish who ride their horse and buggies around Kentucky and various other states, the USA has a seemingly endless array of cultures to explore and examine. Whether it’s the settlement of Utah by the Mormons or an examination of the pre-civil war economy, America gets little credit by the foreign press for its intriguing history.
America is also dense. We spent a week driving around the western Kentucky lake region and southern Missouri into the Ozark riverways. We came across a second Washington monument and spent a few days drinking beer and swimming in crystal clear water with local fishermen. One could daydream about spending weeks following the Ozark down through Arkansas without so much as a care in the world. The fascinating thing is that it is just one small part of the USA. There are literally thousands of other beautiful spots that could entice you to do the same thing.