Cultural experiences and funny musings by two twenty-somethings living abroad
One half of Hmsies was very lucky and recently got the chance to fly over to ‘Murica – Boston, to be more precise, over on the East coast. Having never been to America before and with only references such as Friends and Mean Girls to go on, I was not at all sure what to expect there. In my head, I had an image of huge roads, Mcdonald’s at every corner (or “block” as they call it) and people looking a bit dumbfounded and asking me “What is a France?” Yes, the image we have over here of America is by far not the greatest and this is why I wanted to see for myself what the place is really like.
Now, of course, America is an enormously huge country and each place will be completely different, however with that said, I was still very surprised by my experiences even just in one city so that’s why I decided to put together a list of my first impressions!
It is very, very, very green. The city of Boston was basically an American version of Munich to me. There were so many parks with wildlife and beautiful plants. Huge trees lined every street (or sidewalk for you Americans) and it never felt too congested or claustrophobic because there was just so much greenery.
It’s very walkable. Again, from what I heard about the States, is that basically everyone needs a car or you will be screwed. Well, that was definitely not the case here. Although there were metros and buses, it was really much easier (and even quicker) sometimes to walk. The streets were bustling with people, walking to work, walking to lunch or even just taking a stroll, which really surprised me in a big US city.
Family picnics. I always thought of Europeans as very family oriented people. We don’t work as much, take a lot more vacation and generally spend a lot more time together with friends and families. The US version of this is to work 10 hours + a day, and have a week’s paid vacation a year. Right? Well, apparently so but again not in this city! I saw so many families out in restaurants and parks – they even have “adult play parks” (not the kind you’re thinking about!) where both kids and adults can enjoy the swings or do bowling, play frisbee etc. It was a really refreshing sight, and it seems that you could really get the best of both worlds! Being in a city but also being together as a family enjoying the outdoors.
They are not so annoying. Now, this is again very relative to what state and /or city you’re in but because Boston is actually the most educated city in the US people there seem to understand and respect you and your boundaries. I have heard many stories where Europeans hate going out to eat, because the waiter will bother them every 5 minutes asking if everything is alright. Or someone in the elevator will engage in small talk when you are going up to the 60th floor…Here, I found that this extreme version simply did not exist. Yes, they were smiley, and yes they were friendly but in perfectly acceptable doses and actually, it was very refreshing to me to be with such people and to feel included in the city than ignored/trampled over like in Paris.
Where are the Macdonalds? This, I would actually have put as number one, but it would be a bit too obvious, no? Basically, during countless city tours, and walking in and outside the city, not one Mcdonalds ever caught my eye. (Though apparently my colleague did see one). Instead, it was more sushi bars, seafood restaurants, thai cuisine and Mexican. I insisted on having a typical “American” meal so we managed to find one burger place, but even there, they did it “healthy”. I don’t know about the rest of America but Boston is really cracking down on obesity. In fact, there were barely any overweight people that I saw there. Everyone was running, walking, cycling, rowing, doing yoga in the park and were pretty much thinner/fitter than me. Now that’s not the America I had in mind at all.
It’s safe. Or at least, it felt very safe walking around alone by day and by night (again, something I would never do in Paris!). I mean I didn’t expect people carrying their weapons around with them of course everywhere (still don’t quite understand how it’s legal but let’s save that for another post) but there was never any sense of discomfort or danger. Petty crime is very low there and there were also very few homeless people on the streets. In a country like America where poor people are very poor and the rich are very rich, this was very surprising to see. Again, I only saw Boston here and it is one of those rich cities so it is to be expected I guess but it was definitely a big plus not to worry about being personal safety compared to many other places I’ve travelled to.
Forget the louvre! The houses and infrastructure here are just incredible. Every house we passed looked like it could easily be an art gallery or a museum and instead, it’s just someone’s house. Of course, this is what you see in the movies but I never thought that in the city centre itself, they will have such beautiful houses. Probably cost a gazillion dollars that even many Bostonians could not afford but whoever does reside in these houses is a very lucky someone indeed.
The chilled life. Remember in Sex and the City where Carrie is rushing to work with her coffee-on-the-go and bumping into everyone and everyone gets angry because they are also rushing? Well, that was also what I thought I would see but as I mentioned before about the greenery and families – people here are so relaxed. On a Saturday, we went down by the waters and the place was packed with students and young people chilling by the water, lying in hammocks, reading books or floating along on small canoes on the water. Bliss.
Harvard is AMAZING! Ok this isn’t a “surprising” thing because I expected it to be pretty impressive but I had the chance to go and visit the campus and the university. I know they have tons of money so you wouldn’t expect any less but it was really, really magnificent. However, you know those student board things where people advertise their rooms or bikes or looking for language buddies etc. Well, I walked past two of those and read the notices and I saw: “Are you suffering from depression? Call xxx xxx xxx” and “Why self harming is NOT the answer” and then a bunch of psychological research studies on mental illness. Guessing those Harvard students aren’t the happiest bunch..
SO MANY LOBSTERS! You could even get yourself a lobster hat, lobster keyring, lobster t-shirt, lobster magnet, lobster teacup.. Basically, they love ‘em over here!
It was a very interesting and worthwhile trip and I really would love to go again, hopefully next time with the second half of Hmsies! For those wanting to travel to the US, you really should not miss this city and go to Boston! Many Americans and Europeans say it’s “the best” city in the States so definitely worth checking out!
Also, if any of you have been to the States or are American, what do you think of some of the myths and stereotypes out there? Was there anything that surprised you? We’d love to hear your thoughts!