In our previous piece, we shared – hopefully with a bit of levity – a few features of life in America that we’ll miss.
Now comes the part where we offer some critical observations from our recent visit home, the longest in seven years.
Drive, Baby! Drive!
Throughout our life and travels in Asia and Europe, we generally made our way by public transport. We sincerely tried to do the same in the U.S.
We’re here to report that we failed.
We realize this is due in part to where we stayed (i.e., suburbs and small towns). Public transportation systems in America – particularly those in its suburbs – often feature limited schedules and routes. We discovered firsthand where the sidewalk ends: at a busy multi-lane road.
Our failure illustrates the dominance of the auto and the demise of the pedestrian in America. Need convincing? Try walking between two destinations – particularly between two shopping malls – in a suburban area like Northern Virginia.
Our own attempt ended in a call for help.
Talking Heads on TV
Is it just us, or do moderators and guests on American “news” programs spend much of their airtime shouting? Republican or Democrat. Left, right, or center. The heads are yelling at fever pitch, all the time. It’s not so much what is said – it’s how it is said.
The current two-step approach: devalue the substance of what is said, then increase the volume and abrasiveness with which it is delivered.
And if political talk show shouting matches aren’t enough to raise your blood pressure, tune into one of the myriad financial market clownfests.
The financial talking heads – pawning themselves off as experts – change songs each week. First it was stocks, then bonds, then cash. And now gold? What next? Cans of beans?
Now that our own rant is over, we point out a few exceptions. Shows like Lehrer News Hour and 60 Minutes feature civil exchanges and guests who speak to each other respectfully and deliver arguments in complete and coherent sentences. Some may not find the results especially titillating. Genuine understanding rarely is.
Fear of the Health Care System
Our concern was not so much with the doctors, but with health insurance and the U.S. health care system as a whole.
For this visit, we purchased a short-term health insurance plan with an enormous deductible specifically for the United States in case anything major were to happen during our visit. But even with basic insurance, there was still a real fear that the fine print wouldn’t cover everything.
During our visit, we were often party to conversations about health insurance that went something like this: “I can’t leave/lose this job because of my pre-existing condition; a new health insurance provider might not cover it. I can’t take the risk.”
The U.S. health care system distorts decision-making processes – at the micro and macro levels and for employers and employees. When it comes to losing a job, of course money is always an issue. But in America, the concern over lost health insurance these days might actually trump it.
Shortage of World News Coverage
We understand that American broadcast media needs to focus on U.S. and local news, but international news coverage seems a bit scant. Geopolitical events show that no country – especially America – is an island. And as it spreads, the global financial crisis further reveals the interconnectedness of economies around the world.
Of course, we consume current international news on the internet because we seek it out. But we have to wonder: for those people existing entirely on television news, what of the rest of the world?
Large Meals in Restaurants
Sushi bars excepted, American restaurants generally serve staggeringly large portions. For example, leftovers from a recent dinner for two fed three people for lunch the next day.
We often found ourselves in the following predicament: although one main dish was certain to feed the two of us, we felt awkward, followed protocol, and ordered two main dishes instead. Faced with a mountain of food, we then had a choice: a) eat too much and feel gross, or b) watch a pile of perfectly good food get thrown in the trash.
Certainly there are ways to get around this. But a scan of our environment told us we were not alone.
For better or for worse, extended travel builds awareness of how different cultures handle similar challenges. As we set off for new destinations, we look forward to returning to America and drawing further contrasts.