Last time I wrote about the cons of living in the United States, so this week it’s only fair I wrote about the pros. Having been back in the US now for one month, these are the things I am enjoying, and remembering that I enjoy.
- UNDERSTANDING EVERYTHING
I mentioned this same topic in the cons list. It is overwhelming to return to the US and suddenly understand everything, whether you want to or not. However, there is certainly something to be said for laughing and joking with a waiter. Understanding exactly what they want. Explaining to the supermarket clerk you forgot they don’t accept Apple Pay and you have to run home to get your wallet with physical credit cards, so please hold your groceries at customer service, you’ll be back in ten minutes (true story).
No matter how comfortable I feel with learning or speaking a language while living in another country, it will never carry the same ease as English does for me. There were several times, while abroad, that after speaking with a waiter or a clerk in their native language, I would look at my friend and say “they said they close at 8, right?” or “they said they can’t serve that dish right now, right?” There is always a small lingering uncertainty when speaking a language not your own.
This topic may be relevant to the current times, and not relevant any other time I’ve come back, but it is an extremely important one to note. Yesterday afternoon (at the time of writing this), I got my second Pfizer shot. I got my first shot the exact day I arrived to Denver from Istanbul. I just walked in to the pharmacy in my local King Soopers and asked about making an appointment. They said, “how about right now?” It was that easy. And it was free. And I entered a lottery to win one million dollars in the Colorado Vaccine Lottery.
We are so fortunate, in the United States, to just walk into our local pharmacy and immediately get the vaccine, not to mention the chance of becoming a millionaire (before taxes). In Colorado alone, more than half the population is already fully vaccinated. 156 Million people across the United States. However, within the populations of low-income countries around the world, only 1% have received at least one dose. The vaccine will not even become widely available in several countries, mostly across Africa, Central, and South East Asia until 2022, or 2023.
My Colombian friend recently flew to Miami and got the J&J vaccine in the airport. It’s as easy as that. Vaccines in this country are free and widely available, and we are incredibly fortunate to have that opportunity now as millions of people world-wide will wait years for it.
3. FOOD AND DRINK VARIATION
When Americans are planning to eat out at a restaurant, they ask “Italian? Chinese? Sushi? Mexican? Korean?” In the US, we don’t really have “American food,” beyond BBQ and hamburgers. We are, therefore, so fortunate to have a mix of so many different cultures in this country, which then extends to our food options. And all of them are good, no great. In Florence, if I was craving Mexican, there was one option: Tijuana’s. The only Mexican restaurant in town, which was mediocre at best, and incredibly overpriced, but at least they had specials for Taco Tuesdays. Same thing goes for Chinese food in Georgia, Korean food in Turkey, etc. All just…underwhelming and overpriced.
Every time I come back to my hometown, the first meal I must have is from my beloved Santiago’s. The best burrito in the entire world, and you will never convince me otherwise. Smothered in homemade green chili, topped with melted cheese, lettuce, and sour cream.
Kombucha is easy to find, all the flavors. Brunch places. Happy Hours. Craft beer, so many options. Just in my hometown alone, there are now 6 craft beer bars and breweries, as well as a distillery. Liquor stores have multiple refrigerators full of craft beer options from all across the state, and country. Options are overhwhelming, but I also love them.
Supermarkets in this country are huge. They have everything. Want cereal? Here is an entire aisle and 150 kinds. Want cheese? Here are four refrigerators full. Want a notebook? I got you, here are 200 colors. Vegan only? Cool, check out this entire corner section.
While it can feel like a lot the first few times I re-enter American supermarkets, I also love them. I don’t mind spending over an hour walking up and down each aisle just to see all the varieties of canned beans, headache medications, and juice options. I’m not vegan, but I buy all the fake meat and veganaise just because I can. Just because it’s easy.
5. EVERYTHING IN ONE PLACE
In Istanbul, our apartment was in the ‘funky painted (Michaelangelo’s) statues of David’s head’ section.’ Closer to the main road was the tool section, and just down the street was the ‘clothes you wear if you’re a construction worker’ section. It was the same in South Korea, and in Italy. So many cities are divided by where you can get what. In a way, that’s convenient because you know exactly where to go if you need a house lamp, or bathroom tiles.
But in the United States, there are stores with everything you ever needed all in one place. Building something? Home Depot, or Lowes has got you covered. If you have ever been to Target, then you know the feeling of going in for one thing and coming out with $200 of stuff you didn’t need. But all that stuff you didn’t need was all conveniently in one place. There are also the less desirable Walmart and K-Mart. This is most likely a bi-product of capitalism, encouraging consumers to buy more and more and more, but damn does it make things easy.
6. LANDSCAPES & WEATHER
I realize this may be Colorado specific, but it’s beautiful here. Whenever I go up the hill on South Boulder Road and get that close-up view of the Rockies for the first time after a long time, my heart feels happy. I can see the long mountain range from the open spaces in Lafayette where I take walks in the evenings.
Last night I met a couple friends for a drink at a newer bar on Pearl Street that owned both the street level and the terrace level of the building. Up on the 4th floor, sitting underneath an umbrella as small drops of rain fell around us, you could look just to your left and see the Rockies right up close. A stunning background for an evening glass of wine.
While it does rain most summer afternoons in Colorado, we also famously have 360 sunny days a year. About 7 years ago, I left a snowy, wintery Amsterdam on December 4, and arrived to a sunny, 70F (21C) day in Boulder; people were wearing flip flops and having coffee on patios. But the next day it snowed. That’s just how it is here. Winter always offering sunny days right when you need them.
7. SPOTIFY WORKS
If you have never opened your Spotify app to get the message ‘Spotify is currently unavailable in your country,’ then you have never known true disappointment. No Spotify in Georgia. Same thing goes with certain Youtube videos, Apple TV, Hulu, and even Paypal. Outside of the United States, you are limited with what you can do due to what I assume or legal contracts with different countries. While traveling in Turkey, I was paid some money into my Paypal account, which I did not have access to until I returned to the US; because Paypal cannot be used in Turkey, you cannot have your Paypal money when in Turkey. Using these apps and websites without a second thought makes more of a difference than you might imagine.
8. FRIENDLY PEOPLE
In the cons list I mentioned the annoyance of Americans being overly polite. However, there is definitely something to say for how friendly Americans are. Americans have a reputation abroad for being loud and obnoxious, but they are also known for being friendly and talkative. This is very true. I have heard several stories from my non-American friends of meeting Americans who told them their life story during a 2-hour train ride, or being overly willing to help them out with a question or directions while in the US.
Just yesterday I was sitting alone at a sushi restaurant with my book and a lunch special. When I first sat down it was hot! But after just a few minutes, a breeze came in, clouds covered the sky and it was a perfect afternoon. A woman and her family at the next table over got up to leave, but before the woman walked away, she looked at me and remarked about what a perfect afternoon we got. We chatted for just a few moments about our fortune, and then she was gone. A pleasant little interaction in the middle of my day. This is how a lot of Americans are. Friendly, chatty and willing to help.
9. THINGS WORK
For the most part, things work here. Buses run on time. Businesses are reliable. If you need to get a driver’s license, you may have to deal with the stereotypically stoic DMV workers, but you’ll get it! If you have an appointment, you can count on it starting at the correct time (unless it’s the dentist because those never start on time).
In Florence, foreigners have to go to the “questura” or immigration building to take care of their documents. You have to go early in the morning, bring a book, and don’t drink water lest you may need to use the bathroom which doesn’t exist there. I once went in the morning, waited for hours, and when the lunch hour arrived, all the workers got up and left and they turned out the lights. All us non-Italians just sat there waiting for an hour for them to come back, with the lights off. In the Philippines at the immigration office, you take a number for your turn. And that turn doesn’t come quickly. While I waited for hours, I could see the workers behind the glass walls having a chat and a laugh, drinking coffee. Once I finally did get my passport back, several pages were covered with white out, which caused me problems later with US immigration.
10. BUSINESSES TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
If you go to a restaurant in the United States and they make a mistake on your food, they will not only give you a new dish, but also most likely a discount on your final bill. If you don’t like a drink, they’ll get you a new one, no extra charge. I currently work for a telehealth company based out of New York, and if there was an error on our end, we send a replacement to the patient. We even send replacements when it wasn’t our error, but the error of the USPS, or even of the patient who forgot to update their correct address.
Outside of the US, it’s just not the case. When I lived in the Philippines, there was a small lunch canteen connected to the school where I studied film. One day I went in and ordered noodles. Just one pack of noodles. But when my food was ready, they brought me two bowls of noodles. I explained that I only ordered and only wanted one. They insisted it was mine and that I was to get two bowls of noodles. If you know me well, you know how much I hate food waste. So I did my best to consume as much as I could from both bowls (one was more of a soup, the other just noodles with flavoring). The next day I went in to the canteen again for lunch. On this day I was informed that I must pay for the second bowl of noodles from the day before. ‘That wasn’t your order,’ they informed me. ‘You only paid for one noodles yesterday.’ I explained to them that I knew I didn’t order two noodles, as I told them yesterday, but since they insisted it was mine I did my best to eat them. But today, however, I was to pay for their mistake.
I think this goes without saying, but of course the best thing about a place is the people. Each time I come back to Colorado, I meet my old work friends at The Taj for Indian lunch buffet and we catch each other up on our lives of the last few years since the last time I cam back. I have dinners with old family friends and old neighbors, patio drinks with friends I went to university with who are still around. It’s more complicated to meet up with friends who now have kids, but when we are able to, it’s always a pleasure to reminisce of the old days and meet their growing families.
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