Expat Life

20 Things I love About America

“American Dream” by Danger Ranger

There’s a lot not to like about America (I’d say superficiality and ignorance probably top my list). But after reading this very well-written post, 17 cultural reasons why this European never wants to live in America, I felt that America and its people could use a little defending. Don’t get me wrong, I agreed with everything on that blogger’s list and especially liked reason number 17 “Thinking America is the Best”.  Here’s an excerpt:

I also keep hearing about America being the land of the free – it certainly was… 200 years ago. Most of western Europe is as free or more free, with opportunities for people at all levels. America is indeed a better place with a higher standard of living than most of the world, but free speech and tolerance for all is the norm in the western world as a rule, not just in America.

But traveling has taught me that although the US isn’t the best country in the world, there are a lot of places that are far, far worse. Thus, without further ado, here’s my list of reasons to love (or at the very least appreciate) America.

1.  Metered cabs

In a lot of the world, taxi cabs aren’t metered and you’re expected to haggle and negotiate a price before you get in. While this works great for taxi drivers, clueless tourists usually wind up paying 5 times what they should, simply because they don’t know any better. This was particularly annoying in Jamaica, where tourists were expected to pay 30 dollars for what would cost the average Jamaican two.  I didn’t realize how much I’d been overcharged until the end of my trip and by then, I’d wasted a couple hundred dollars on taxi fare.  After I started demanding a fairer price, I found that taxi drivers would refuse to pick me up; presumably because they’d rather wait for a tourist to come along who was foolish enough to pay their overly-inflated fare.

2. Good Coffee

“Latte Art” by Tonx

While people often lament the fact that Starbucks has taken over the world and at the expense of independently-owned coffee houses, you grow to appreciate the overabundance of cafes in the States the moment you leave the US. I found this to be particularly true in India, where tea is not only the beverage of choice, but it’s practically the only choice as far as caffeinated drinks are concerned. In the entire four months I was there, I think I had a cup of coffee once (Nescafe doesn’t count). Outside of North America and Europe, coffee is hard to find and a good cup of coffee (with fresh cream) is nearly impossible.  In Asia, for example, dairy products aren’t as popular and most cafes don’t provide real cream (the Japanese prefer powdered or artificial versions).

3.  Coffee shops with free, fast WiFi

While in Jamaica, I went through serious internet withdrawal. The hotel didn’t have Wifi and it wasn’t until the last day of my trip that I finally found a coffee shop that provided free internet-access. Unfortunately, they were only open for a few hours in the early morning, so it was completely inconvenient. By comparison, I can usually count on being able to access the net in most coffee shops or fast food restaurants in the US; some of which are open around the clock.

4.  Reliable, friendly and speedy customer service

5.  Varied geography

You could spend a lifetime traveling the US and never run out of places to visit.  Plus, nearly every type of landscape and terrain is available (want the tropics?  Try Florida or Hawaii.  The snow? Alaska. The desert? Nevada).

6.  Authentic Mexican food (no Taco Bell or Tex Mex, por favor!)

I love Mexican food. Sadly, it would seem that most people outside of North America don’t share this love.  Mexican restaurants abroad are few and far and in between, oftentimes expensive and rarely taste anything like the Mexican food served in Mexico or the American Southwest. Here in Las Vegas, there are five authentic Mexican restaurants within a five mile radius from my house and all of them are inexpensive and delicious.  A genuine Mexican soft-shell carne asada taco is what I crave most when I’m traveling abroad.

7.  American’s patriotism

American flag horse
Photo by Bennett for Senate

As annoying as I find Americans’ blind patriotism at times, their patriotic behavior reminds me of all the reasons the US is a great place to live. Mainly, its freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. I was reminded of this on a recent trip to China, where I discovered, to my horror, that due to a government firewall, people in China are blocked from using social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.

8.  Americans’ optimism

My European friends and some of my ESL students have claimed that Americans are incredibly naive to think that anything is possible and perhaps they’re right. But so what? Although this belief has deluded some to a lifetime of failed dreams (the thousands of young wanna-be actors or singers that move to Hollywood in hopes of being “discovered” are proof of that), it’s fueled some to achieve some seemingly impossible successes.  I think that their optimism is what accounts for Americans’ innovation and enormous contribution to the technology, scientific and entertainment industries.  America has produced some of the best film and music in the history of the world.

9.   For every conceivable mistake you can make, there’s a Hallmark card to apologize for it.

The cards for the most common mistakes sing. Did you accidentally impale your neighbor’s pet llama with a lawn dart? Even you are only $2.99 away from healing and absolution

10.  No matter what it is, it is not malaria.

(I totally stole numbers 9 and 10 from The Oswegonean. Muchas gracias!).

11.  Roller derby

“rollergirl” by Paolo Marconi

12.  Baseball

13.  Drive-in movie theaters

Though they’ve become increasingly rare in the last couple of decades, we have one here in Las Vegas and I love it. You can cuddle up with a blanket in your car or sit outside on a lawn chair and drink beer, chat or scarf pizza, making it far more of a social experience than catching a movie at the Cineplex.

14.  Barbecue

Sitting in a lawn chair in your neighbor’s backyard with a plate full of BBQ chicken, potato salad and a cold glass of lemonade on a warm summer evening  is quite possibly my favorite thing in world.  I missed this tremendously in Japan, where people are far more private and far less likely to open their homes to strangers. When celebrating a birthday or holiday, most people in Japan gather in restaurants, parks or bars.

15.  S’Mores

Photo by Kate Sumbler

When I lived in Germany, I was surprised to learn that most of my German friends had never tasted a marshmallow. I happily turned my German roommates on to rice crispy treats and s’mores and by the end of my year there, they were die-hard fans.

16.  Summer camp

17.  Prom

Photo by Arianne

I didn’t even go to my high school prom, but I think the tradition of having school dances is a good one, and surprisingly, a uniquely American one. In Japan, for example, school functions like dances or field trips are rare.

18.  Soul food

My mom’s parents were from the South so I grew up eating fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn bread and black-eyed peas. Fattening, but oh-so-good.

19.  Unlike many countries, Americans’ don’t consider it cool to be 37 and living with your parents

Many of my ESL students were surprised to learn that I moved out of the house at 18 and that when I briefly moved back after college, I paid my parents rent. In much of the world outside of North America, children live with their parents well into their 20s or even 30s. Some don’t move out until they marry.

Though some of my students have commented that they think the American style of pushing the child out of the nest while they’re still in their teens is selfish and cold, I happen to like it. I think having to be financial responsible at a young age forces you to work harder. Plus, I love having my own house.

20. If it’s 3 am on a Saturday and you have the munchies, you’ll never have to go to bed hungry.

When I lived in Germany, I’d always have to remember to make sure my fridge was well-stocked before Sunday rolled around  (no easy task when you’re a 21-year-old) because the stores were all closed on Sunday. All of them.  And for the entire day, too.

Now I live in Las Vegas and a 5-minute drive away from two 24-hour Walmarts, a 24-hour pharmacy, diner, gym, Mexican restaurant and two 24-hour coffee houses. Though I rarely take advantage of this and grocery shop at 3am, its nice to know that I could if I needed to.

What about you? What do you love (or hate) about the United States?

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