BootsnAll Travel Network

Impressions of the USA

The first really amusing outing was our first dinner back in the USA.  Where else would we go than McDonalds?  It wasn’t that we had been missing it for the last 11 months – McDonalds are everywhere in the world.  We cruised the streets of San Bernardino looking for a McDonalds.  I was waiting for our food when a pudgy black guy with a see-through fish-net shirt, thick glasses, dread locks and a key chain with “Jesus Saves Lives” came in and started talking to me.  He bore a resemblance to a young Stevie Wonder and his belly rolls were clearly visible through his shirt.  He was very upset because they made us write our names on our receipt so they could call out our name when the food was ready.  “What if you are from a 3rd world country and can’t write?  And this McDonalds is really going downhill.  They are slow and the food is bad.” 

I guess what I thought was so funny about this encounter wasn’t really his outfit (although it did make me smile), but rather the eclectic mix of weirdoes this country has to offer.  People in Latin America seemed to be a little more homogenous in their outward appearance.  The fact that he also just started an animated conversation with a complete stranger was unusual for us.  Maybe it was just our bad Spanish, but we didn’t have so many impromptu conversations like this on the street.

While I was ordering at the McDonalds I was standing behind a rather shifty looking group of 3 adults and a couple of kids.  One of the guys was very jumpy and looking around nervously.  They seemed pretty ghetto.  They had darker skin and could have been Hispanic, but they were speaking English.  They ordered, got their food and went outside to the play area where Matthias was waiting with William and Julian.  While I was talking to Stevie Wonder Matthias came in with a big smile on his face.  William had gone up to the kids outside and started speaking Spanish to them.  Off he went playing with those kids and the entire time was rattling off in Spanish.  Eventually the mother said to Matthias “Does your kid speak Spanish?  Because my kids don’t.”  For the last 11 months William and Julian have been the only white boys and all other kids spoke Spanish.  It was so logical for him to use his Spanish with the other kids around him; especially since they looked similar to the kids he’d been around during the last year.

That is another thing that struck me in our first evening back in the USA – how diverse this country is.  You see people with all different skin colors.  Many people look like they are from somewhere else but really they are Americans – born and raised here.  The United States truly is a melting pot.

One of the most unfavorable impressions here is that much of this country looks the same.  If you drive up I-5 from San Diego you see one beige strip mall after another.  The stores you see are McDonalds, Burger King, Home Depot, Staples, etc.  In every city and every state you see the exact same strip malls and the exact same stores.  It is really uninteresting and it takes a lot of the character out of day-to-day living, in my opinion.  The only stores that appear to consistently remain independent are the nail salons in strip mall.  What culture this country has!

Overall people are very friendly – especially the supermarket checker.  Our first time back in a grocery store the checker was from Washington and gave us a hearty welcome home.  But if you listen to talk radio you also notice that a lot of people here are embarrassingly close-minded and just plain stupid.  Living in a city like Seattle it is easy to forget that a lot of the US is very rural.  Rural here means that a person can live hours away from a big city, whereas rural in Germany means you are about 30 minutes away from a bigger city and there is still a lot of urban sprawl between you and that big city.  Many people in the US haven’t ever left the US, or in more extreme cases, their own state or county.  That doesn’t make for great open-minded world citizens.  When people like that become adamant about not wanting to live anywhere where they force you to separate your garbage or recycle I feel more ashamed to be an American.

The unbridled patriotism here is also just freaky.  I would be the first to admit that overall people have more opportunities here in the US than in a lot of other countries.  But are we really more free here or is the US really the best country in the world?  What does that mean to be freer?  We are not a very family-oriented society.  I found that in the countries we have visited they received more support from their extended families in raising kids.  Am I really freer because I have to spend $1000/month for full-time daycare for my child while I am off working?  I felt like I have missed a lot being in the workplace instead of with my kids.  I certainly don’t feel very free when you look at the cost of health care and medicine in this country.  We were able to find modern, acceptable healthcare in the countries we visited for very little money.  It is not uncommon for people in the US to go bankrupt when they have medical issues because it is so expensive.  The US is also not the country with the lowest infant mortality rate.  We are definitely not “the best” in that respect. 

There are lots of places in the United States that are nice places to live.  But I find statements like “The Land of the Free” and “The best county in the world” extremely arrogant and also ridiculous.  “The Land of the Free” sounds like we are the only group of people who have found a slice of freedom on this earth.  I bet if I asked the “average” American on the street “Why is the US better than Norway or El Salvador” first they would struggle to find either country on a map, and then they couldn’t give me many compelling reasons why the US is better.  First, most people don’t know all that much about many other countries, and second, how can you come up with a couple of criteria that make one country better than the other since it is such a subjective thing.  Even if we could agree on a few criteria that would constitute one country being better than another, isn’t it ridiculous to think that the US is better than every other country on this earth?

Here’s a great clip from Bill Maher on this topic.  He’s so much more eloquent and funny than I am on this matter.

In my opinion the US is just another country on this earth.  Collectively a lot of good comes out of this country and also a lot of bad.  In many ways the US is different than other countries and in some respects it definitely sticks out as a great place to live.  I’m relatively happy living here, but I know there are a lot of other places in the world that I want to see and would be sad if I never left the US again to experience them.

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2 responses to “Impressions of the USA”

  1. Joel Goodman says:

    Hola, Well good for you for taking on this journey. I came upon your blog2 days ago and have just finished reading it…WELL DONE !! My wife and I (65 yrs old) purchased our VW Van (Bumble Bee) on-line in Dec 2002. We found it in Utrecht Netherlands and from that point we traveled and camped through 29 countries over 2 years in Europe…we also had a great experience. I found your site while searching out camping to Panama. We are planning our trip to Panama and back this January and was looking for experiences like yours to learn from. Thank you for writing your journal and keeping us entertained as well as excited to start our own journey. Right at this moment we are camping in Falls City WA while we take care of some of our medical check-ups prior to continuing on. If you feel like emailing, we would love to hear from you. Keep on Traveling…Joel and Louise

  2. thain johnston says:

    I travel a lot in the USA and I thought that your comments were right on. There are many places in the world that are as good as the good ole US and if I might be so bold to suggest there are places that are a good deal better. I see a big problem with this American nationalism and it creates a lot of problems for millions of American people. This attitude makes it very difficult to move forward in the evolution of a just and equitable society. It’s almost treason to suggest that America has some very big problems that need to be solved. The country lives in a state of denial that I find just amazing. Another point that I would like to bring up is the gullability of a huge number of Americans. In this election year you hear the same old lies and just plain bull from the candidates that we have heard over and over again in every election since Harry Truman. John Mcain, I mean the guy couldn’t get elected to a local school board in a country with any political savy.

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