Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What I Miss (And Don't Miss) About America

Over the fall I traveled to the US on three separate occasions - once for a work conference, once for Thanksgiving, and once for a wedding and baptism. It had been about a year since I'd last set foot on American soil, so the subtle differences between the US and UK became a bit more apparent once I was there again in person.

I began to jot down the small things that I noticed I missed about the good ole USA. Now obviously I miss having the opportunity to see family and friends on a more regular basis, and I miss being in a place where I thoroughly understand the cultural norms, but I was more keen on noting the little things that make up part of daily life that just aren't the same. And while at it, I also noted the things that I definitively did not miss. The list went something like this:

Things I Miss:

Car horns in city traffic
New York was great for this. A light turns green, and if someone sits idly for more than 0.2 seconds everyone behind them is swearing at them and blaring their horns. In my mind it is a critical component of city noise - it so perfectly exemplifies the hustle and bustle of a city. Oddly, you very rarely hear any horns in London. There are a few obnoxious bus drivers that use them, but that's about it.

Temperatures in Fahrenheit
Like all other American ex-pats I'm well versed at converting back and forth from °F to °C, but Celsius just doesn't feel natural. I suppose it's not so bad in London because the temperature is almost always between 0° and 20° (32°F and 68°F), but I have to imagine that using Celsius in Chicago would be quite depressing.

Paper money that fits in my wallet
As you can see, there's a bit of a height disparity between dollars and pounds. I love my money-clip style wallet, but it looks ridiculous with paper overflowing on each side.

Starbucks every 30 yards
Not that there aren't coffee shops all over the UK, but very few of them serve a simple filter coffee. Instead you have to order an Americano, which is watered down espresso and tastes like shit.

The occasional sound of country music
Is there anything more quintessentially American than country music? I'm no country aficionado, but I do enjoy hearing it every now and again. There was a country band playing outside the Steelers / Jets game, and I realized I missed the sound of it. Sadly you never hear it in Europe.

Consistently good service at restaurants and bars
Over here there isn't a direct incentive for waiters and bartenders to provide good service, as they don't rely on tips for wages. The difference in service quality is truly striking.

The normalness of ordering food during a night out
British people just don't get in the habit of doing it. Eating is cheating, you know.

Dryers that actually dry clothing
One upside of the washer-dryer combo units in the UK is they save space, but that's about it. They are very small, and even an hour's drying cycle still leaves your clothes quite damp.

Food / drink items
A few that I encountered and realized I missed desperately: Gatorade, hex-shaped multi grain chips, artificial grape flavored everything, Rold Gold pretzels, Vanilla Coke, etc.

Encouragingly,  the competing list of things I noticed I did not miss about America was much shorter, though there were a few that clearly stood out:

CNN / Cable News
This one is two-fold: The caliber of cable news itself, and the ubiquity of it in public spaces. For instance when you're in the airport waiting at a gate, CNN is just on, as a default, as background noise. Compared to the quality of BBC News, it is REMARKABLY bad.

ATM Fess
I'm sorry, I'm withdrawing my own money. Why do you warrant a $3 cut? This would never fly in Britain.

Price listed ≠ price you pay
In the UK if a coffee is listed for £2.50 you pay £2.50 and that's that. I strongly prefer this to the American way, where $2.50 becomes $2.71 after tax and you're stuck receiving a handful of odd change.

Dry continental air
And the havoc it wreaked on my skin. After a few days the back of my hands felt like sandpaper. I've grown a bit accustomed to the moisture-rich maritime air over here.

Waiting forever for trains (especially outside)
I suppose I've become spoiled. London Underground trains arrive every two to three minutes at all times of day. Waiting ten minutes for the Brown Line outside in Chicago in November and December just felt cruel.