Some observations about America

| Trip to America | 4 Comments

Here are a number of general observations I have made about the American way of life while I have been here on vacation. Today is my fifth day back. Remember that I am a returning ex-patriot with one foot on the European continent and the other foot still firmly placed on the North American continent.

  • The people here are very pleasant and friendly, especially in the stores.
  • Quantities of foodstuff which you purchase in snack bars or whatever are enough for two people, eg. I easily shared a roast beef sandwich with my daughter Marlies and we were still both stuffed to the hilt.
  • Gas is unbelievably inexpensive, about a third of the cost in Holland.
  • There are alot of fat people, not just kind of fat but unbelievably obese. How do they possibly get so fat in the first place?
  • The lifestyle and pace of events is fast and there is little time left over for relaxing. What limited free time is available is used efficiently by doing as much goal-oriented activities as possible.
  • There is so much of everything, like going to the supermarket one sees an endless supply of goods which seem enough to feed have of the starving kids in Uganda.
  • Commercialism is everywhere, advertisements are splashed on walls and signs and whatever, wherever and however. Television programs are interrupted about every five to ten minutes. Everything is a sale or deal or a way to save money.
  • Wealth and happiness is perhaps taken for granted.
  • Video films are available in the Blockbuster even before the movies have come out in Europe.
  • Everything has to sound really really great, amazing, or the best in the world. For example, Gilroy claims to be the onion capital of the world, Watsonville claims to be the lettuce capital of the world, and Carmel the most beautiful coastline in the world. Do people actually believe this, that there is no other spot in the whole wide world worthy of comparison?
  • Everyone is so nice and helpful, even when they talk there is often laughter and patting on the shoulders, that kind of thing. Even when purchase groceries at the cash register, eg. they carry your bags to the car for you. In Holland they don't even look at you and grumble the amount to pay.
  • Everywhere you look there are American flags flying from buildings, cars, walls and fences. Such patriotism. It is good to love one's country, but I am against believing that only America is right, the best, etc.

  • You can watch baseball on the boob tube all day and all evening long.
  • Unlike in Europe where all the traffic signs are universal pictographs that everyone can understand, here everything is written text, meaning that for non-English speakers it could be a hassle driving around and figuring out what is what without getting a ticket.
  • McDonald's is exactly the same all over the world. We were hoping that the Big Macs here were really big but they are the same size and taste.
  • There are police cars everywhere so as a driver you have to adhere to the rules exactly, coming to a complete halt at every stop sign before continuing.
  • There is a hunger for heroes and amazing achievements. Someone who overcomes leukemia, getting good grades, winning a trophy, a person from the ghetto becoming a movie star.
  • The stoplights are on the opposite side of the intersections, unlike in Europe where they are on the same side, often causing the driver to have to peer straight up awkwardly to strain a look.
  • The music on the radio is very different, alot of hip-hop and yelling stuff which I hate (but the kids love).
  • There is very little if any international news in the newspapers or on the evening news.
  • There are regularly murders and kidnappings in California, and though the chances are slight, everyone panics and gets into the hype of the situation.
  • There are not that many Mexicans though I hear alot from family and friends that they are taking over the state of California. At least they can speak some English.
  • There is alot of violence in films, so much so that you can only laugh sometimes.
  • The bookstores have a lousy selection, mostly boring so-called bestsellers which all look the same. My impression is that people here read to escape and not have to think. I miss the more readable pieces of good literature I can get in Europe, where thinking along with the ongoing chapters is a cause in itself, eg. from England or translated from other countries.
  • Not much has really changed in the twenty odd years of have lived abroad. The essence and spirit is still there, and the good is balanced with the less good like every where else in the world..

So that is a bunch of my first impressions coming back to the country in which I grew up. I am proud of it and it makes me feel good to be back, but there are also alot of other aspects of life which are also important.

4 Comments

The American way of life is centered around "more, better, faster, cheaper."

Sponsorship is encouraged everywhere you look - like you noticed. People plaster their cars with stickers of things they buy and own and seek out the clothing that has the most popular logo and name. If you aren't wearing the branded goods, you're out of touch. (I'm out of touch.)

Even though the American way is being free to be whatever you want, most people here tend to want to be like the next person. And of course, that's all tied into that notion of sell, sell, sell. Corporations spur this on because they know that people want to be just a little different, but they want to have others around them who are "different," like they are. It's really fascinating to watch fads come and go and see how it spreads from a splinter group to the masses (which is when the splinter group abandons whatever fad got popular for a new one.) As a graphic designer, I think I have a closer eye on these trends, and my goal has always been to step the opposite direction if possible.

Anyway, I really enjoyed reading your views of the US after a long absence!

Your observations seem pretty correct Kiffin. As Tom said, I too am out of touch - no bumber stickers, no logos (usually). Hope your stay is great despite of our quirks. I am not sure what city it is in (Campbell?) but the "Jelly Belly" factory is there and has free tours (and lots of jelly beans to buy - get some "Jelly Flops" the jelly beans with slight defects, and a very reduced price!!). It should be an hour or so from Monterey, check it out!

Pretty much what I have seen when visiting the states. A couple of things: You say that people are friendly, eps. in the stores - it's called service, something that the British haven't heard of. I think you answered your own question "how do they get so fat?" - probably from the enormous portions served up everywhere! Good to hear you are enjoying yourself.....

It is so interesting to hear these things from the "foot in" / "foot out" aspect. Some of the things that you mention are great, seem to me to be things that we, or I, find myself complaining about. This makes me realize how much amenities are taken for granted.

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This personal weblog was started way back on July 21, 2001 which means that it is 7-21-2001 old.

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Graduated from Stanford 6-5-1979 ago.

Kiffin Rockwell was shot down and killed 9-23-1916 ago.

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