Results for tag "america"

Where is Home?

pico iyer quote home

I spent much of my 20s asking myself that question.

I’ve lived in a lot of places over the years (I’ve moved a total of 23 times, four of which were to foreign countries) and I used to agonize over the fact that I had nowhere I felt I really, truly belonged. And when I say “I agonized”, I”m not kidding. I was super,  DUPER angsty about it! If I was smart, I’d probably delete all the posts I wrote back in those dark days of 2009, but I sort of like looking back at old lost Reannon. She reminds me of how much I’ve changed since then…and she was pretty entertaining, too.

Anyway, I watched a TED Talk today by travel writer Pico Iyer, and something he said really struck a cord with me. He described how many global nomads take “pieces of many different places” and put them together to form a sense of home that is a “stained glass whole”. He then went on to explain:

“For more and more of us, home has really less to do with a piece of soil than, you could say, with a piece of soul.”

It was eerie hearing this because I’ve been thinking the same thing lately. I think the pressure we Gen Y-ers place on ourselves to find this one place to settle down in life limits things. Because home doesn’t have to be any one place if you don’t want it to be. Home can be a patchwork quilt of several different places.

“Home” to me, for example, is the beach in front of my childhood home in Hawaii, the eucalyptus forest behind my parents’ house in Northern California and the ramen shop near my old apartment in Tokyo. Home is the damp earth smell of the hiking trail that overlooks the cemetery in Sleepy Hollow and the whoosh of warm air right before the subway appears out of the darkened tunnel in Brooklyn. Home is my best friend’s laughter and cuddles with my dog and mother-daughter road trips in my mom’s cream-colored convertible. Home is being myself.

Home is the whole world.

What about you? Where (what, who) do you call home?

You can watch Pico Iyer’s TED talk in its entirety below.

Read more I wrote on the subject of home:

How do you define “home” when you live out of a suitcase?

Homeword (Re)bound

Ah, kids today. They don’t know the meaning of ‘play’! Seriously.

children making mud pies

Photo by JBColorado.

I loved the article “Do you know where your children are? Is that always a good thing?” that appeared on a couple of months ago. It addressed the issue of play and adventure and how today’s generation of kids are, for better or for worse, being robbed of the opportunity to jump in swamps, climb trees and play unsupervised. According to the article, children spend an average of just 30 minutes playing a week. Here’s an excerpt:

 “Richard Louv, a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, worries that bugs and creepy crawly things may become more alien, more “other,” if kids stay out of the woods. All over the world, children may not be getting to explore plants and animals in natural settings on their own. That’s a loss, he thinks. Will they know what they’re missing? In 2005, Louv asked a fourth-grader in San Diego where he liked to play, indoors or out? The kid said, “I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where the electric outlets are.”

So maybe you’re thinkin’, “So what if kids would rather play with a Blackberry than go pick one? What does it matter if children’s definitions of fun has changed in the last 20 years?”

Well, according to this study, children’s ability to be creative and to invent original ideas and imaginative solutions has been on the decline since the 1970s. According to the researchers cited in the article, the possible culprits involved include standardized testing in schools (“You can do well on a test by studying a lot, but it won’t encourage original thinking”), the increase in hours children spend each day on “passive activities” like watching TV and – yep, you guessed it- the decrease in imaginative play.

So, to recap: kids aren’t playing as much anymore = kids aren’t as creative =  kids will grow up to become unimaginative gadget-obsessed bores.

Yikes. Should be we scared?

What do you think? Should we be worried that children are being robbed of the joys of mud pies and bug collecting? Or are people making a big deal out of nothing?

OMG, I have so much stuff! Or, Things a Former Nomad-Turned-Suburbanite Freaks Out About

blue wall, red sofa

My dining room and study

Before I left Central America and moved to Las Vegas, everything I owned fit into a backpack and a handful of boxes in my parents attic. Now, going on two years later, the list of things I own has grown from a backpack of volunteer hand-me-downs sequestered from an NGO-sponsored garage sale in Xela, Guatemala to a two-story house, a brand new 2013 Chevy Sonic, a wiener dog and a garage that every day is beginning to look more and more like a Goodwill donation center.

I now own furniture (furniture!) and appliances (including a brand-new fridge with an ice machine – If only my friends in Guatemala could see me now, huh?) and super duper suburbanite things like tool boxes, potted plants, a backyard fire pit, and patio furniture.

While some people (I.e, a good 95 percent of the planet) would be ecstatic to have even 1/8 of what I have, rather than feeling grateful, I just feel this perpetual sense of unease. Because the problem with collecting all this stuff is that the more material possessions I own, the harder it’ll be to just pack up and leave. With a 30-year mortgage, a six-year car payment and an anxiety-plagued dog to contend with, I already worry that I’ve passed the point of no return. It’s as though my two sofas, fake fireplace and mismatched bedroom set are like chains; immobilizing me for an eternity of “stay-in-one-place-ness”.

And it freaks me out.

Do any of you other ex-wanderer’s out there feel the same way? And by the way, my dining room is pretty fabulous-looking, no?

Neurotic New York or Nice New Orleans: Which US City Suits You Best?

map of america

Where do I belong?

I fell in love with Orlando during my sophomore year in college. Warm, exotic and full of Latin charm, our relationship was hot and intense, but as is the case with most first relationships, it eventually came to a petering halt and by the end of college, I’d moved on to my next great love: Brooklyn. Brooklyn was everything Orlando wasn’t: Neurotic and cold yet creative and quirky, Brooklyn buzzed with a wild, frenetic energy that was both exciting and infectious.

What these two former loves have in common is that they are both cities; Cities that like boyfriends, had a lot of potential but for one reason or another, were never a good fit.

This is an allegory that author Richard Florida would probably understand. He’s the researcher and Stanford economics professor who penned the book Who’s Your City? How the Creative Economy is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life.

City Slickers vs Southern Belles

In Who’s Your City, Richard Florida details a study by psychologists Sam Gosling and Jason Rentfrow, entitled “The Geography of Personality“. The study was conducted using a 44-question online personality test, which the researchers used to gather personality data on 600,000 participants across the United States.

By asking participants to rank to what degree they agreed with various statements (“Religion is an important part of my life”, for example, or “I spend a lot of time visiting friends”) Gosling and Rentfrow were able to measure what psychologists call the “Big Five” facets of personality: neuroticism, extroversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness and openness. Gosling and Rentfrow then used the participants’ zip-codes to pinpoint their precise locations, thus creating a “Personality map” of the United States.

personality map of the us

Richard Florida’s Personality Map of the US

Source: The Official Who’s Your City? Website.

As they’d hypothesized, the results showed that certain personality types tend to cluster in particular regions of the country; coastal cities like the Bay Area or Boston were hotbeds for the intellectually curious while cities along the Bible Belt attracted a largely conventional and industrious crowd. As it turned out, there was some truth to the stereotype that New Yorkers are harried and stressed and Southerners are friendly and rule-abiding.

The following is a description of four personality types as well as a list of their corresponding city “matches”. Read on to find out if you and your favorite city are a match made in heaven or if you’d be happier, well, moving on.

The Cynic

neurotic new yorker

Neurotic New Yorker. Photo by Vic Deleon.


Cities: The New York metropolitan area, the Midwest (Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit), parts of West Virginia and Kentucky, Tulsa and Oklahoma City

Famous Cynic personality type: Woody Allen. Though extremely creative and artistic, quintessential New Yorker Woody Allen has also been described as socially-withdrawn and aloof.

New York City and Midwestern cities like Detroit or Pittsburgh are ideal for those who like their life served with a heaping dose of drama and unpredictability.

A large number of people in these areas scored high on the neuroticism scale, which means they’re prone to anxiety, depression and hostility. Neurotic personality types are also characterized as being emotionally unstable, impulsive and aloof.

But it ain’t all bad. The same personality trait that makes New Yorkers moody, also allows them to experience life intensely and have a depth of emotion that when channeled properly, can be used to create brilliant works of art.

The Party-Animal


party animal

The Party Animal. Photo by Haags Uitburo.

Cities: Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Omaha, Wichita, Kansas City, Miami, Orlando, West Palm Beach, Fort Worth, San Antonio

Famous Party-Animal personality type: Robin Williams. Funny-man and actor Robin Williams was born and raised in Chicago and as a passionate and talkative extrovert, is naturally drawn to the spotlight.

The Party-Animal personality type is extremely extroverted and loves to socialize. Though people in this region scored low in the neurotic trait (and thus aren’t moody and angst-ridden like their Cynic neighbors) they also scored low in positive qualities like conscientiousness and openness to new experiences. Furthermore, these Midwesterners scored very low in agreeableness, which means that though they may love team sports and group activities, they’re not the nicest or friendliest in the bunch (that distinction goes to North Dakota, whom the study found to be the ‘friendliest’ state in the nation). Thus, these cities are not well-suited for more agreeable types who crave close friends and community involvement.

The Model Citizen


model citizen

The Model Citizen

Cities: Atlanta, Phoenix, Richmond, Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Memphis, Nashville, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Indianapolis

Famous Model-Citizen personality type: Sarah Palin. Former US vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin grew up in Alaska and is a warm and energetic rule-follower who values traditions, security and close family ties.

The agreeable and the conscientious personality traits tend to go hand-in-hand and most of these personality types cluster in the southeast, particularly in the Atlanta, Memphis and Mississippi areas. ‘Model Citizen’ personalities are hardworking, compassionate and trusting and nurture close bonds within their family and community. While they score very low on the neurotic scale, they aren’t very open to new experiences either and thus, are less adventuresome and less likely to move far from home.

These cities are great for people with conventional views and values. If you aren’t the type to challenge authority (like more “open” personality types) and prefer a few close friends over a wide circle of acquaintances (like the party-animal personality) then the South may be the region for you.

The Artist

the artist

The Artist. Photo by Frank Kovalchek.

Cities: The top three cities for creative-types are New York, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. But cities in the Northeast, as well as Miami, Austin, Portland, Oregon and Seattle scored high in the openness trait as well. Others: Boston, Buffalo, Washington DC, Baltimore, Louisville, New Orleans, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas and San Diego.

Famous Artist Personality type: James Franco. James Franco, a native Californian from the Bay Area, is an actor, artist, filmmaker and writer who holds two MFAs and is currently working towards a PhD in English from Yale.

The cities that line the northeast and west coasts of the United States tend to attract people who score high in the openness trait. Curious, artistic and creative, these “artist” personality types crave excitement and variety and are naturally drawn to cities with large bohemian and immigrant populations. Because the study’s results found a frequent overlap between cities that scored high in the openness trait and those that scored high in neuroticism (like New York or Las Vegas, for instance) these cities are not ideal for people who place a high value on tradition or long-lasting friendships. People in cities like San Francisco or Seattle aren’t as neighborly as they are in cities that scored higher in the agreeable trait, like Minneapolis or Salt Lake.

Birds of a Feather:  Why Where You Live Matters

What does all of this mean? According to Richard Florida, it means not having to settle for second-best. We no longer have to remain in ill-matched marriages to the cities of our birth, because for the first time in history, we have the means and opportunity to live almost anywhere – and be happier because of it. Case in point: One of the unexpected results of Gosling and Rentfrow’s study involved city personality matches and happiness levels. The study found that people who live in cities similar in personality to them are happier than people who don’t; an independent nonconformist will find it difficult to be in a relationship with rule-oriented North Carolina, for example, as will a religious family-man in free-thinking Oregon.

Thus, if you haven’t found that special somewhere, keep looking. The city of your dreams may be no more than a Google Maps-click away.

Main photo Image by Marc Levin.
Model Citizen photo by Philippe Leroyer.

Do you agree with the results of the study? Does your chosen city match your personality type?

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?

Weirded Out in Santa Cruz

Hats and Moustaches

I’m visiting my brother in Santa Cruz, California for the weekend and was reminded today about just how insane this town is.  In the last 24 hours, I’ve seen:

  • A dude walking a leashed cat
  • A middle-aged man in a black top hat seated on the sidewalk with a sign that read “Storyteller:  Chose your theme”.  From the nearly empty ‘donation’ cup on the ground next to him, I’m guessing he hadn’t had much luck finding people willing to pay to hear him make up a story.  But kudos for being unique.

And finally…

  • A homeless poet wearing a live bunny rabbit on his head.  I kid you not.  We spotted him as we were exiting a bar.  He was half-rapping / half-singing some nonsensical poem about a sail boat as these two drunk college-aged girls in mini-skirts looked on. My brother’s girlfriend exclaimed “Oh, look!  Bunny Rabbit Guy is back!” and as I slowed to get a closer look, Bunny Rabbit Guy pried the rabbit off his head and tried to hand it to me.

“Um.  No, that’s okay…”  I said, backing away fast.  He looked insane or on drugs or both.

“Reannon!” My brother exclaimed in mock frustration as we walked away.  “Never talk to the locals!”

Apparently that’s somewhat of a Santa Cruz motto.

Photo by Niall Kennedy

Bilingual and Running for Election? Shhh! Better not tell anyone…

Photo by Dasha Bondareva

While catching up on my NPR podcasts this afternoon, I came across “Bilingualism A Political Liability?” from NPR’s All Things Considered.

The radio spot focused on the negative responses some of the Republican presidential candidates have received over their ability to speak a foreign language.  Mitt Romney speaks fluent French and Jon Huntsman (who has since dropped out of the race) received flak for flaunting his ability to speak Mandarin.

As journalist John McWhorter explained in the interview:

“…The point is that there’s this notion that if he actually has some command of another language that it’s somehow possibly disloyal or it’s dishonest or it’s phony.”

Supporters of Republican candidate Newt Gingrich aired an advertisement that among other things, accused Romney of speaking French (Oh, good God no! Not FRENCH!).

The commercial features french music and a voice-over which warns that Romney will do anything to get elected and that “Like Kerry, he speaks French too”; as though speaking French somehow makes Romney less conservative or less American.  Or maybe they were just hoping the South Carolina voters would confuse Romney with another famous French speaker?

Photo by Monica

 The annoying, pesky, sex-starved skunk, Pepe le Pew, from Looney Toons

I assume that that jab at the French language was an effort to appeal to the segment of the American population that associates higher education or France with snobbery and elitism, but I think attacking foreign-language skills (and with it, live-abroad experience) is a dangerous road to go down.   The US is already frighteningly ignorant about foreign cultures as it is, we don’t need to make it any worse by making foreign language-learning the enemy.