Saying Goodbye to America, Again: What We’ll Miss

Our recent visit to the U.S. was our longest in over seven years. Becoming reacquainted with our home country was in its own right a learning experience. Having just departed a few days ago for the Latin America leg of our journey, we take inventory of a few things that we’ll miss – and a few that we won’t.

Bryce Canyon, Utah - United States
Looking out over Bryce Canyon in Utah.

What We’ll Miss from the United States

Diversity of America’s Cities

America’s big cities are exceptionally diverse. They serve as an impressive reminder of America’s history as a country built from people of all nations. As various accents punctuate the symphony of sounds on its streets, we have to resist the impulse to ask people with accents where they are from originally.

But it’s not just the big cities. Diversity is so ingrained in America. As time passes, this diversity finds its way on the streets of ever-smaller cities and towns.

Obama Graffiti - Washington DC, USA
Obama’s Inauguration street art in Washington, D.C.

With the exception of the big world capitals, it’s a challenge to find this level of pervasive cultural variety spread so widely throughout other countries.

We will particularly miss one side effect of this diversity – the ease with which one can take a culinary tour of the world in most American cities. You can find yourself enjoying a different cuisine (and if you wish, taking in the owner’s personal story) each night of the week: Mexican, Italian, Japanese, Greek, Thai, Indian, or Chinese.

Trader Joe’s

The first time we stepped foot inside Trader Joe’s during this visit (Brooklyn, NY), the automatic doors parted and angels began to sing. We considered setting up a cardboard shanty inside. Reasonably-priced wines, five kinds of hummus, vegetarian Thai dumplings and organic vegetables would keep us plenty busy.

Our love affair with Trader Joe’s only seems to grow with time.

And we know we’re not alone.

Deli Sandwiches

Call it what you like – sub, grinder, hoagie, hero or sandwich – but there is no place for one like the United States.

Deli Sandwich - Brooklyn, New York
First Deli Sandwich in Two Years. SOOOO good.

The conversation begins with a choice of breads (French, Dutch crunch, hard rolls, foccaccia, etc.). The selection of thinly-sliced meats (we’ve counted as many as seven types of turkey) is nothing short of dazzling. The array of mustards (deli, spicy, Dijon – among others) and peppers (sliced green, pepperoncinis, banana peppers, pepper relish) is often only outdone by the selection of cheeses (four types of Monterey Jack alone). Top all this with your veggies of choice – lettuce, tomato, peppers, olives – and you are on your way.

The deli is a product of American ingenuity and a place where overwhelming choice and simplicity find their intersection.

Though New York delis arguably sit atop the sandwich-making hierarchy, we’ll miss sandwiches from across our American travels, including the ones we cobbled together at home.

Listening to NPR (National Public Radio)

Despite our frustration with America’s broadcast news media (we’ll address this further in the piece that follows), NPR remains a bright spot. We will have access to NPR on the road through internet radio, but it just won’t be the same as tuning into programs like Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation, or All Things Considered throughout the day.

NPR is the one thing that makes driving the Washington beltway bearable…well, almost.

Drinkable Tap Water

Before you dismiss this entry and grab a bottle of mountain spring water from your fridge, take a moment to consider this: it’s likely that if you live in America, you could drink the water straight from the tap and not become ill.

Not so for much of the developing world.

As big water drinkers, we found having access to clean water right out of the tap akin to winning a little lottery every day. It’s difficult to realize what a luxury potable tap water is until you’ve woken up covered in sweat and dry-mouthed in a steamy non A/C room in Kalkota (Calcutta) in the middle of a sweltering night. You then realize that you forgot to pick up a bottle of mineral water; your chlorine or iodine tablets will take 20 minutes to go into effect with tap water. Not to mention, the potential repercussions of drinking straight from the faucet in India are simply too explosive to consider.

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We won’t leave you misty with a post about our family and friends. We most certainly will miss them. Their support throughout our journey has made an enormous difference.

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Comments

  1. Alex says

    Completely feel you on the wonderful variety of ethnic food available in the US. But I can’t believe you missed the thing we most look forward to whenever we return to Boston: toilet paper! Oh America, with your insouciant abundance of tree-related products! …but seriously, toilet paper is useful.

  2. Alex says

    (Just noticed, belatedly, that we were asked to keep it clean. Which we either did or didn’t, depending on how you look at it.)

  3. says

    I’ve done several posts about what I miss about the States. It seems to change each time I leave. I don’t even have a Trader Joe’s near me, but go when I travel so I miss it all the same. I hear ya on the sandwiches and I would add bagels! :)

  4. says

    O.K. the things I’ll miss from the last stay in USA (family and friends aside).
    1. The wine shop in Clarks Summit. I’m feel like a woman in a shoe store when I am there.
    2. The pizza.
    3. The ability to get anything you want at ONE grocery store, and not having to go to 5 different places to get supplies for a simple dinner.

  5. says

    “The potential repercussions of drinking straight from the faucet in India are simply too explosive to consider.” Pun intended? ;)

  6. says

    Thanks everyone for your comments. Individual responses below:

    @Alex: Toilet paper is a clean subject, don’t worry. We’ve found that we can get toilet paper just about anywhere (or at least tissue), but the quality varies…from the soft, 3-ply baby-your-bottom stuff to the consistency-of-wood-chips variety you get in Tajikistan. I’ll go one further tangentially on this toilet talk and echo the sentiment of another traveler here in Guatemala: “What I miss is being able to walk the streets without the smell of urine everywhere.”

    @Eva: Like we said, on the TJ front, we know we’re not alone.

    @Lori: What we miss evolves, also. In fact, after writing this piece, we recalled a number of things we could have added. It’s difficult because availability of these things varies. Take bagels, for instance. Bagel shops are popping up in more places, but the quality definitely varies. A good NY water bagel topped with lox spread, and you are talking.

    @Tony: Once they got their pricing straightened out, the Clarks Summit state store was good. But, the wine shop down the street from you in Vilnius was also pretty good, don’t forget.

    The thing with pizza is that you can get it anywhere. Of course, it may not be Scranton quality…but the same holds true throughout America as well.

    The super-duper grocery store is a double-edged sword in my book. It’s great for convenience. But when you are looking for smoked salmon, and all they have is that fluorescent stuff…what then?

    @Diana: Absolutely.

  7. says

    I’ve always drank the water in Europe… even in the Old Town in Vilnius… but no water I’ve ever tasted from the tap has been so good as in Okemos, Michigan where I grew up. That is, until I went to Suomu, Finland this month!
    But, the thing I miss THE MOST, the one thing I can’t substitute, replace, or get off the internet, is CBS Sunday Morning. My all time favorite news/culture show. Why can’t they stream it online? Even if they do it a week after it broadcasts… PLEASE CBS!!!
    Audrey, Dan, I TOTALLY hear you about the deli sandwiches. Vilnius is SO missing that. Cheap, tasty, even healthy (if you can restrain yourself not to have 13 kinds of sauce and cheese) and fast lunch.
    Trader Joe’s is just so special.
    And yes. The pizza. Oh the pizza.
    The wine shops here are ok… except that it’s SO expensive! I was in France and bought a bottle of 2006 Chateauneuf du Pape (with the medaille d’or) for 12 euro… for that same price here you can get a mediocre bottle of Bordeaux….
    And the bagels….
    Hmmm… I have quite a list. Good think I’ve got my plane ticket outta here June 4th…. ;)

  8. says

    @Jenn: We were Sunday morning show junkies during our visit to the States, so I completely understand missing CBS Sunday morning. That is strange they don’t stream it online.

    Grass is always greener in regards to availability and price of wine :) Although the price and availability of wine in Vilnius isn’t that of France, you do have some great wine shops with reasonably priced wines that beat anything we had in Prague!

    Just a few more months until you’ll be in sandwich, pizza and bagel heaven!

  9. says

    I’m Melanie Waldman’s dad (Travels with Two). I loved her blog on the two of you and that she turned me on to your blog. You seem unusually thoughtful and observant folks, livinga truly self-created lifestyle. I’ll keep following your journey.

  10. says

    @Ron: Melanie did a great job with the interview – we gave her a lot of content, so she had her work cut out for her to select the best material.

    Thanks so much for connecting with us on our website and for your thoughtful words about us and our lifestyle.

  11. says

    @Turner: Us too! Still haven’t figured out why it’s so hard to get a decent sandwich outside the United States. It really shouldn’t be that hard.

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