The Nostalgia Diaries, Part 2: 10 Things I Won’t Miss about America

Public Transport

Apart from the subway in New York City, there really just is no comparison to the European system. Fundamentally if you want to make the best of your time in the US, you need to be able to drive. The Dc metro goes on fire more than I’m comfortable with considering that it’s a tiny metal capsule running underground. On a larger scale, I never thought I’d miss Ryanair! Low cost flights really just aren’t a thing, and while I know it’s partially because the distances are larger it’s very frustrating considering how much there is to see in the United States.

Intense Patriotism

While this is of course a generalisation, American society has a tendency to be very proud of itself. For starters there are flags absolutely everywhere, and I have never heard a national anthem so frequently. Not to mention freedom, and the requirement that every public speaker say “God bless the United States of America”. It can also extend to a resistance to criticism that can discourage debate or input from outsiders. While countries like Denmark and Israel do something similar, it still grates a little after a while.

Advertising

There are just so many ads on TV. It’s as if for every 10 minutes you watch of a program, you have to spend the same amount of time on ads (including during the news) with weirdly elaborate storylines like nothing I’ve ever seen. Also, they advertise drugs. At some concert venues they even have big screens that run ads between the bands.

Air conditioning

This is a big double-edged sword for me. Why do I need to bring a jumper to the cinema and the supermarket?? I spent my entire master’s year trying to figure out the correct number of layers that I needed to be comfortable in the classroom. Also, I’m emotionally attached to the existence of radiators in houses, so HVAC is a strange concept that took a lot of getting used to. Why is it so loud? And where am I supposed to put my wet shoes to dry when it’s raining?

Queuing for a table at a restaurant that doesn’t allow reservations

There isn’t much to elaborate on here, I hate queuing, and I’m a sucker for planning. Please just let me book a table instead of hovering around the door for 20 minutes!

Tipping

I think every European who has ever spent time in America is familiar with this one. It’s awkward and weird and involves maths. Mostly I just hate the game that you have to play where we pretend it’s an optional extra, while knowing full well I’ll get chased down the street if I don’t give enough. I’d say please just pay your staff, but in several states now the mandatory minimum wage for servers has been raised and yet the culture persists. Also, I have to tip the hairdresser? Seriously?

The “News”

Traditional news as I grew up with, just doesn’t really seem to exist. Instead, there are 24/7 panel discussions, where journalists ask other journalists their opinions on local American issues, mostly politics. There’s also a general lack of international news unless it’s a hot button issue. Finally, each channel has a distinct political affiliation and I just hate having to watch three separate channels to try and get an unbiased overview. While it can be more engaging, sometimes you just want a vaguely bland person to tell you what happened, no opinions necessary.

Obligatory small-talk with strangers

While I was aware of this stereotype going in, I had no idea how pervasive it would be. Everyone from the supermarket checkout staff to your Uber driver wants to have a slightly over-sharey discussion about life. I am a somewhat grumpy European, please stop asking me how my day is, you don’t care. Also, I have no idea how to react to your telling me that your estranged twin brother is visiting this weekend. It’s stressful, where are the boundaries? Who knows??

Needless Busy-ness

A big pet peeve of mine comes from the intensely work-driven side to the US. I don’t know if it stems from the idea of the American dream, or the vast difference in the social safety net, but it’s everywhere. There seems to be an overall rejection of taking holidays or days off (the tech sector is changing this, but it’s not pervasive). Not only do employers offer less vacation time in the US and limit your sick days, but people feel unable to take them for fear of being outed as replaceable in their absence. Additionally, everything must serve a purpose and so for many, the idea of a casual hobby is considered entirely wasteful. I know several people who, upon realising that they didn’t have any hobbies, got second jobs instead. The idea of rest as fuel for productivity is deeply unpopular, and as you can imagine, it makes things very stressful.

Crappy chocolate

To end on a light note, there is simply no decent chocolate to be found in the US. Though I can’t entirely complain about this because it definitely helped me keep lower my junk food intake. I will never understand the love people have for Hersheys, just no. Why is it so waxy? How can it simultaneously be waxy and dusty? It’s a sad, sad mystery. In fairness though, I grew up in Belgium, so America just never had a chance!

The Nostalgia Diaries, Part 1: 10 Things I’ll Miss about America

As I get ready to leave the US for good, I can’t help reflecting on my 4 years here (on and off), and how it’s really the little things that make life different all over the world. With a hefty does of generalising and triviality, these are 10 things that I’ll miss about everyday life in the United States.

Public Bathrooms

Free and guilt free. They’re everywhere and I love it, the supermarket, the mall, protests marches, even restaurant’s you’re not eating at. Of course, there are places that will turn you away, but as someone with a tiny bladder, it’s such a weight off my shoulders to be able to ask to use the restroom without dying of shame. In Belgium, a lot of times they aren’t available, or you have to pay which requires the forethought to carry coins.

Ever-Flowing Tap Water

This is a funny one because paying for water never bothered me growing up, I simply sucked it up or brought my own with me. However, since being in the US I’ve really gotten used to the never-ending stream of it at restaurants, bars and coffee shops. Also, why is the US so obsessed with ice?

Defined Seasons

While of course it varies daily, and DC just had the rainiest summer in forever, overall, it’s so nice to be able to divide the year into four categories with individual colour schemes and atmospheres. To know that in August we wear shorts because its roasting hot and in February you’ll need your gloves because its freezing, rather than just 50 shades of rainy and grey most of the year, which is what I grew up with in Belgium.

Air Conditioning

I have a tumultuous relationship with American temperature regulation, but sometimes it’s really nice to be able to sleep in a reasonable temperature when its 35°c outside.

Opening Hours

I grew up in a country where almost all shops are open 9am-5pm, Monday to Saturday. While I believe that there’s a lot to be said for restricting consumerism and all that, it’s a lot more relaxing to organise your week when you know that you can get whatever you need on Sunday or go to the supermarket at 11pm if you need to.

The Abundance of Non-Standard Foods

As someone with a lot of allergies and dietary restrictions, the fashionable nature of niche foods (vegan, gluten free, paleo, hybrid…etc) in the US is pretty convenient. While they aren’t all good (or even logical, see chocolate hummus) it’s definitely nice to know that if I’m craving cheesecake, there’s a dairy-free, gluten free one waiting for me in the frozen section. Equally, it makes eating out in restaurants more feasible for me than in a lot of countries that I’ve previously lived in.

Online Shopping

This is another case of over-generalisation, I don’t mean to say that we don’t have online shopping in Belgium, it’s just not as ubiquitous or as easy. For example, we don’t have Amazon, and so have to order from the UK or France, we also don’t have Prime, so delivery is slower and more expensive. It’s just not considered such a staple of behaviour at home.

Essentially Unlimited Data

This took me a while to figure out, as a very late and reluctant convert to the world of smartphone, I had no idea how much data was reasonable and so got a ½ gig plan. When I was living in New York I never had any problems with it, used google maps and YouTube whenever I needed to and thought no more about it. It was only when I moved back to Belgium and ran out of data within a week that I realised I hadn’t been staying within my ½ gig and that it had just kept ticking over from 4G into 3G with no more said about it. Talk about becoming accustomed to standard!

Random Discounts and Sales

In Belgium, we have officially regulated sales periods twice per year, once in January and once in July. Otherwise, it’s pretty trick to reduce prices. So, imagine how I felt when I moved to the US and got 10% off at a store because there was a line for the checkout desk. While I know that there are a lot of issues with sub-standard products being reduced, and dodgy representations as to the original prices, I definitely still get a buzz when I walk into GAP and get handed a 25% off voucher.

Substitutions

I grew up in a country where the menu was considered a sacred text, not to be messed with. I don’t care if you don’t like mushrooms sir, the chef designed it that was and it’s terribly arrogant of you to assume that you know better. So as a picky child, who then turned out to have a lot of allergies, even thinking about asking to change a dish used to break me out in a cold sweat. However, the blazé approach to customer service in the US has absolutely spoiled me in this way, and I’m now totally unafraid to change everything completely.