It’s a little different here…
After Russia and China, the United States of America seem to be slightly different every now and then… Even though I went from the East back to the West (which should actually be more familiar to me…). For the very first time I had kind of a little cultural shock after I entered the States. Who would have thought that? After travelling in so many different countries, the US should actually be culturally the closest to my home, but apparently, it is not. Hm… or I am just not used to the western world anymore… After one year in the East… Who knows?
Well, below are some little thoughts I had and observations I made during my first days in Alaska. They all are subjective and should not be taken personal or even offend anyone. I am just writing about my personal feelings and my current point of view can change quickly in the upcoming months. Nonetheless, I am an open-minded traveler 😉 Anyhow, I would like to share my thoughts with you. Maybe you even had some similar feelings while you visited the States?
- Big, bigger, America. Everything seems to be super big; nothing has “normal” size. The portions in the restaurants are so big that you can even order half or only a quarter of it. Furthermore it is normal to take a “to go box” at the end of your dinner for the leftovers. The products in the supermarket seem to be all in family size, but it is actually normal size. Even the smallest coffee in a café is European large size. Then there are the mega malls. Well, not really. They are just supermarkets but appear to me as malls. I would rather call them “megamarkets”. The variety of products is endless. Hundreds of shelfs filled with thousands of products. I only went a couple of times to such a megamarket, but every single time I stood almost 10 min in front of a shelf because I just could not decide what to take. It is too much choice for me! Three different products would be just enough… Nonetheless, it is almost impossible to find products in normal size. Every box, every tube, literally everything is mega sized. Not even to mention the cars the Americans like to drive. Some of them are so large they could actually be considered as busses or mini-trucks…
- Public transport? What for? Everyone drives his own car. That is why busses usually only run once an hour. The cities themselves seem to consist mainly of little “autobahns”. Highways and cars, cars, cars everywhere!
- Coherently, the passengers of public transport are some kind of other clientele. The less fortunate, I would say. Marginal groups that either do not have enough cash for their own car or that are not able to drive a car in the first place.
- Poverty and wealth go hand in hand: During my travels, I have never seen another country were poorness and richness are so close to each other. On one side, you see people with expensive products going (rather driving) along the street where on the other side people are begging for money and food. Of course, poor and rich people exist in every society and the distribution is different in every country, but only in the States, I saw the very poor next to the very rich like it is the most normal thing in the world. The poor are not hidden in some marginal districts, which is usually the case in cities in many other countries. They are part of the society, part of the everyday life. The average citizen seems not even to notice them anymore… Poverty seems to be the most normal thing in the world here. For me it is just terrifying!
- People like to talk. Loud. And to everyone. Chitchatting all the time. For the first time in quite a while I understand way too much of the things people say around me. That is just too much information! I am overwhelmed! I miss Russia where I hardly understood anything… There I could easily live in my own little world…
- People are very kind and friendly. No matter if you are in a restaurant, café, shop or in the bus, people like to ask how you are and how your day was so far. As soon as I say a single word, they immediately notice I am a foreigner and want to know where I am from, what I am doing here and at the end wish me a pleasant stay. All the other people that do not work in some service field were very opened minded and interested in my travels as well.
- Where is the living room? The architecture of American family houses is slightly different from the German one. So far, all the houses I have seen have a front yard and a parking spot in front of the garage. The entrance is next to it. The first floor is the smallest and least important part of the whole building. There you might have a guest room and guest bathroom, or just a wardrobe and a washing room, all depending on the size of the house. The main floor is the second one. There is everything: The living room, the dining room, the kitchen – all in one big open room without any walls in between! Finally in the back part of the second floor are the other bedrooms. Furthermore, the ceilings of the second floor tend to be very high and to have many windows so that a lot of daylight can enter. Therefore, there is no loft. Actually, the big open floor makes the home quite cozy – maybe also because you cannot hide from each other and you have to spend some time together 😉
- Supersize me! Even though every household has an open and well equipped kitchen, Americans like to eat outside. There are fast food “restaurants” everywhere. No matter where you go for dinner, the portions are always too big. Well, apparently not for everyone. One shocking observation I had on my first day, was the amount of obese people. It is devastating! At least every third person is overweighed. Not just a little, I am talking about obesity. It seems to me not everyone is aware of the option of half or quarter portions or maybe just do not care because it tastes too good. Who knows?
- The thing about smoking. Just do not! Like in Germany, smoking in restaurants, bars, cafés and other closed places is strictly forbidden. If you are lucky, there are some smoking areas, for example at the airport or railway station. In general, you do not see many smokers in public. The people you do see smoking are the less fortunate, beggars and drunk. It is obvious that smoking in the United States is part of marginal groups. The better educated do not smoke. One other reason for not smoking is the ridiculous price: One box of cigarettes for 10 bucks! That really hurts! That definitely takes all the pleasure of smoking!
- The American Dream. Ever since I arrived in the US, I get the feeling that everything seems to be possible here. Some of the people I met so far came from other countries and achieved quite a good life. A well paid job, a good car, a house. Apparently, you can quite achieve something here. Of course, no one is waiting for you. The opposite, you have to try hard and work even harder. The difference to Germany is that here the chances for newcomers are higher. In Germany, you can only be successful in the area of your specialty, which is closely linked to your educational background. If you want to work in another field, it is most of the times impossible or very hard even though that it is changing right now. In the US, it is already changed. Even as a social scientist, I could make quite a career here!