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