American Dream – Reality or exaggeration?

The first time I visited U.S. was in 2005. I went on a road trip with my family. We started our trip in Washington D.C. and drove all the way to the state of Florida, it was one week of slow driving through the six states (West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida). As you can probably imagine, we saw a lot of roads and very little of beautiful landscape (thanks to interstate highways!). Besides the Disneyland, Mexican Theme Park and some small museums, our trip didn’t really leave many exciting memories. Although the kitchen table mats with a realistic cat sleeping on a bookshelf, which we bough at a ‘cat-design-house’ along the way, are still being used at my parents’ house.

On my next two trips I was old enough to travel by myself to see if U.S. is really so boring and artificial as it was when I saw it with my childhood eyes. The idea of my next two trips was to try to understand what America really has to offer for a person with extremely high expectations to see the reality of this most immigrated country of the world. In the next paragraphs I will try to explain my experience from different angles.

Food

Everywhere you look you can find fast food chains, or restaurants that are also mostly owned by the big corporations and serve food for a decent price. Grocery supermarkets are also not to be missed out. The bigger it is, the cheaper you get the food, but the quality is a different matter. And of course the world famous Starbucks will give you a sugar kick!

Beverages

While you will only get a 250ml cup of coffee in a regular coffee shop in Europe, Starbucks* offers smallest cup as grande size which is 450ml, almost a double size Europeans are used to drink!

It would not be a big issue if the drinks they serve would be a traditional coffee. The problem with Starbucks and many other coffee houses lies in syrups and other sweeteners to pop-up their so SPECIAL and original tastes.

I ordered Chai Latte and I could not drink even half of it!

Hot milk with tea extract syrup?! U.S. is already ranked as nr.3 nation in the world with most diabetes diagnosed population. I hope one day Starbucks will become a healthy cafeteria.

*there are plenty of other coffee shop chains in U.S., but Starbucks is the most known. Map: Coffee Place Geography

Snacks and Sweets

Have you ever tasted green or blue cookies or red chips?  The same as with coffee chains, the candy and snack producers include tons of weird ingredients which have no good impact on your health. So don’t cry if after eating Cheetos Flamin’ Lip you would end up having red mouth. There are of course healthier things to be found, it all depends which grocery store you choose to admire.

Keep in mind: If you want buy a Snickers bar that only costs 99¢. At the register you find out that you have to pay an extra fee for sale taxes. You end up paying 1,15$ and negatives thoughts strikes your head. Every American knows that taxes are added to the price at the register and you should know it too. If you are still not convinced about this fact, You can check sales taxes rates by states.

Fast food

Wendy’s, Hooters, Donuts, McDonalds, Hardee’s and many other names are the ruling fast food chains that are found in almost any commercial area in the cities and highways. It is very convenient, fast and tasty and probably one of the places where you can find “national” food of U.S.

Buffet/ Salad bar

(It is) a buffet-style restaurant where you can get better quality meals and fresh salads. It costs more than burgers, but you have more choices.

When I first visited this type of restaurant I was surprised by the variety of food it offered. It seemed that the people in the kitchen used their brains to prepare the food, which is opposite of what you would see in the fast food places. Definitely not all the things there to be found are ultra healthy as well, but the ability to choose what you want to put on the plate is a good thing.

Restaurants

These days it is hard to find a cheap restaurant that is owned by one person/family and does not belong to a restaurant chain. Maybe it’s fine because it makes the prices lower, but not sure about the quality. For a cheapest option I would recommend to look for a Middle East or Chinese cuisine.

 

Attractions

If Americans are good at something, then I would say it’s their entertainment skills. Doesn’t matter if you are going to a small village museum or well-known Disneyland – you would definitely be exited and not bored until the end of the day. Yes there are places where you should have a whole day off to manage to see whole attraction.

 

For example it’s impossible to see all the House on the Rock museum in one day – only if you are a fast runner.

Transport

It’s easy to travel in U.S., because it has all kinds of transportation options you could imagine, but there are some things that you should have in mind about each option.

Public Buses and Metro

Most major cities has both buses and metro/ subway line, but if you’re going to suburbs it’s more convenient to take a metro. Usually you can buy a ticket on board, but it depends in which city you are.

metra-ticket-in-chicago

Buying a ticket is pain in the ass…not for the passengers, but the train officer who has to make 7 holes before you receive the ticket

Long distance buses

If you are planning on taking a long term trip between the states, the cheapest option would be a long distance bus.

Train

Travelling by train could give you a best chance to see different landscapes and parts of the cities that it’s going trough. But besides that, compared to other countries the train system is outdated and trains run very slowly.

Fly

The weird thing about the flights is that it cost as much as taking a train. So why waste 20 hours when you can make to your destination in 2-3 hours?

But have in mind, like in international flights you might be checked and asked weird questions…even if you’re looking very normal.

Cars

Those who have been in U.S. probably know that driving from one state to another means driving interstate highways for hundreds of kilometers without seeing any attractive places to stop and admire. To approach cities or beautiful landscapes you have to exit the highways and take local roads instead which are usually narrow and speed limit is twice lower than on the highway.

There are many cars in U.S., everyone has one and the gasoline is cheap. If you’re on a long vacation, the car is most convenient way of travelling. The only dull thing is that many highways are tolled. Local people who are driving through tolled roads usually have a special chip attached to the front window which automatically charges the price you need to pay to drive trough. Others need to stop at the checkpoint to pay in cash. It is usually no more than 1-2$ per each road.

Most new cars have integrated GPS navigation system, but if it seems to be missing, ask the car rental to provide it. In my own experience portable navigation device is much more accurate than integrated ones.

People

If you have ever worked at the tourist agency, restaurants or any other business oriented towards foreigners you definitely remember the kindness of American people and their thankfulness for the good service, food or any other help. It’s really nice trait, but sometimes it feels that they are faking it just to make you feel good.  So on my last trip I spent a lot of time trying to notice how a real American person is.

There was one thing that I figured to be really annoying. People often say: “How are you?”. But it seemed to me that they didn’t really care about the answer to their question.

Cashier: Hello, how are you?

Me: I am fine thanks, and you?

Cashier … (no answer)

Of course some people were more aware of their words and gladly answered to me about their mood just as I did to them and it made me feel much better than receiving silent treatment.

Other trait that was noticeable is saying thank you for as many times as possible. Thank you for an Americans person is more than just polite way of saying that you are thankful for something. It’s gratitude and a way of showing respect for the people. So when the next time you say thank you in U.S., be more creative, don’t just say thanks, otherwise you might end up being disgraceful.  

Work

As a person who has worked in a variety of jobs, I must say the pressure that people have in U.S. is outrageous to imagine for most of us living in Europe and some other parts of the world.

The typical Wall Street guy with a cup of coffee running late to meeting, for me was only a stereotypical personality that only existed in 1990’s Hollywood films. You know what?  They always showed the truth. The extremely busy “guy in a suit” was and still is the reality of a typical American businessman.

The other day in New York I noticed a guy in sport outfit running with his suit in his hands. Was it a Spiderman, Hulk or the Superman or just someone really busy? It’s more likely the latter. If a typical businessman is so overwhelmed, you can imagine how a regular laborer is supposed to feel about his daily routine.

Taking a metro between 16-18 o’clock makes you feel that you are surrounded with sleeping zombies getting ready for a battle…to get back home to have some dinner and have 7 hour rest until the beginning of routine next day at 6am. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that movies about busy people evolved into super hero movies. Everyone wants to be one!

After staying two weeks in U.S. I came to a conclusion that most of the people are slaves of capitalism who have hard time to understand the reality of happiness. Or maybe it’s not important to be happy, the money brings it all? I am not sure about that ideology, but it’s not my aim of this article to exploit the difference between those two things.

 

By M.Borgarbúi

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