Aug 15, 2010

A Young Man Reflects on His Trip to the US

Here's a story I found on it's the story of a 22 year old Scottish guy who asked Reddit where he should go on his first visit to the US. He's back home now. And he's doing an AMA [Ask Me Anything] about a foreigner's impression of America.

A while back he asked for suggestions about where to go on my first visit to the US. Here are his opening remarks....

"In the end I went for 5 weeks and visited Vermont, Hanover NH, Boston, Groton CT (where I met a penpal of many years for the first time), New York City, Chapel Hill NC and Asheville NC (in time for the Bele Chere festival). I've been asked to do an AMA on my experiences there.

Things that struck me about the US:

  • The generosity and frendliness of Americans in general. I think this is borne of being less culturally reserved to contributing to other people's conversations or spending time to help total strangers. So I felt very welcome and that the US was more culturally inclined to be outwardly nice to people they didn't know. People in customer service jobs were generally far cheerier than they are back home.

  • The sheer scale of everything - wow. Everything is... bigger.

  • The insular mentality. I was met with shock when I told someone I had never seen a baseball game. I also noticed a predisposition to assuming American supremacy in all fields. "Do you have Subway [the sandwich shop] in Scotland?!", I was breathlessly asked. Yes, we do, but the anxiety with which people wanted to know if America was available should they visit somewhere foreign was quite pronounced. One 400lb woman who unfortunately sat next to me on a Greyhound bus from Durham, NC to Asheville, NC struck up a conversation and asked me... if cell phones were widespread in Scotland. I decided against informing her that we really do have modern technology, and that Scotland in fact invented the telephone, the television, flush toilets and capitalism. Seriously. I am well aware that such people are not representative of all America - it's just that all your worldly-aware people are indoors on Reddit.

  • You REALLY need a car. I didn't hire one (most places require you to be 25). I didn't have much of a problem with buses and trains on the east coast, (and I was staying with friends who had cars) but I can see you really do need one if you live there. Every town except Boston is arranged in a fucking rigid grid layout, which came as a surprise too. American cities are designed for cars. I managed to get by for a while without one, with the worst outcome being having to walk 2.5 miles along the interstate between my hotel and Asheville town. Also, you guys have world-class roads and air transportation yet 3rd world railways. WTF guys.

  • Immigration control was very paranoid. Purpose of your visit? how long for? where are you resident normally? where are you staying? who with? how do you know him? (college roommates) how long were you roommates for? where did you study? what did you study? what did he study? have you graduated? has he graduated? how much money do you have with you? in cash or in cards? are the cards in pounds or dollars? does your friend have a job? do you have a job? where? doing what? do you have an itinerary? where else do you plan on going in the US? do you have bookings made for that? ok now give me 10 fingerprints and a picture.

  • "Your name is like Dunkin Donuts LOL!" - every single one of you. (Except the immigration officer)

  • The US is not monolinguistically English. I was taken aback by how often it would be useful to know Spanish.

  • Prosperity. If you have a great business idea in America there is a cultural encouragement to go for it and make a success of it. It's a great feeling to be living amongst that kind of forward-looking positivity.

  • Political stereotypes aren't as widespread as feared. But there's this difference between the US and home: to be elected to political office in the UK, you have to be a socialist (or at least not vocally oppose socialism) and completely STFU about your religion. In the US, the opposite is true.

  • I visited Boston and did some historical trail stuff. To be fair y'all were right in regards to King George being a douche. I definitely could see how the Revolution felt like a glorious assumption of human freedom. In fact, I came to the conclusion that much of American talk about 'freedom' - "support our troops, freedom isn't free, defend your rights" - dates back to this. Before I visited the US I couldn't quite understand why America was so impassioned about deploying hundreds of thousands of troops globally to defend this ephermal concept of "freedom". Now I see that the idea of having to fight for your liberty is thoroughly ingrained into the American psyche, because of its history. Congress apparently feels that they are doing the world a favour by deploying troops everywhere.

  • At times I did feel treated like a bit of a novelty. You're foreign yet you're white and a native English speaker? lol wut

America is an awesome place and really too big and too diverse to simmer down to a succinct summation of its culture and achievements (maybe everywhere in the world is). But maybe the above impression will be an interesting take on how the US looks to an outsider."

I thought you all would like to read this, and also to follow along in the AMA on Reddit. You will have to register to leave a question, comment or upvote comments -- or you can be a lurker and read the better comments.

Here's the link: IAmA 22yo Scottish male who asked Reddit where I should go on my first visit to the US. I'm back home now. AMA.

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