Even though I’ve expatriated myself to Croatia, I am still an American. And despite my frequent negativity about the US, there are a lot things I love and miss about my native land. Much of this is tainted by Diasporic nostalgia and aging. The America I miss is probably more akin to a John Hughe’s film (
Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles
) with a soundtrack that plays the best mix of the 80s and 90s, than it is to reality. Each time I go back, the fact that the US doesn’t quite match my retro Utopia may cause me to mentally exaggerate the country’s decline. America is a complicated, confusing, really big place and part of me still loves her. Here are some reasons why you might too.
For starters it’s hella convenient. Americans have perfected convenience by inventing Wal-Mart (and her posher sister, Target). Need to fill a prescription, buy a DVD, some toothpaste, religious based fiction, an apple pie, a gun and maybe a writing desk at 3:30 a.m. on a Sunday? Well, in America you can! (And people do.) Yes, nothing is more convenient (and interesting) than 24/7 shopping.
n the US,
it’s basically possible to get anything you want anytime you want. This is not only convenient, it’s empowering! We are all masters of our needs because we no longer have to depend on silly things like "store hours" or "daylight" to facilitate our pre-dawn desires. It might also explain why people wear their pajamas to Wal-Mart. It could also make us a little less patient than our European brethren, but whatevs. Here’s to the one stop shop!
Abundance! There is so much stuff and all of it is cheap, which is also convenient. Free-refills people! Go to a restaurant and order a coke and you get an endless supply of coke (
um... the soda? What did you think I was talking about? That stuffs only free until they get you hooked! Actually come to think of it, it’s basically the same: America: Free addictive COKE
!) Coffee in a diner: free refill. Sure it might be watered down, and the soda might be crammed with high fructose corn syrup, but free is free! We also have free tiny packets of ketchup, and 99% of public restrooms have ample amounts of toilet paper. Aside from refills, the land is pretty cheap, so you’ll probably get to live in a house. Stuff is cheap, you’ll probably get to have lots of stuff. There is no federal sales tax, unlike the 25% PDV here, and most local sales taxes are rarely over 10%. And since there is so much stuff, there are always sales making that stuff even cheaper.
I miss customer service. In America we have an expression:
the customer is always right!
The translation of this expression into Croatian is a little lost. It comes out to something like:
The customer is always annoying, and will be served eventually, with great disdain, when I finish this cigarette or magazine.
Sure the politeness and friendliness of salespeople and waitstaff is often shallow and false, but you know what: It’s still nice to have someone smile at you and not act like you have ruined their day by giving them your business. Also, if you have a problem with something you’ve ordered, bought, or worn, chances are the store or restaurant will take care of it,
no questions asked
. In the US, most places have a 30 day return policy,
no questions asked
, cash back (with a receipt, store credit without). In Croatia if you return something the day after you bought it, regardless of the validity of your reason, the salesperson looks at you with scorn, mentally saying:
You should be more discriminating with your purchases in the future.
Or at least that’s what I think that frown means. The culture of customer satisfaction is one of the things I long for from America. And I’ve been on both ends. When I was selling things, I actually liked fixing people’s problems and handling their complaints. I felt like a ray of helpful sunshine on their cloudy day.
The ability to buy cheap things at any time of day or night, eat or drink until we are near comatose, and get results for any kind of service complaint, helps us maintain our healthy optimism. Yes, compared to Croatians, Americans are very optimistic. It doesn’t matter how many things I believe I have going for me here, when I talk about them with a certain older, matriarchal, female member of the family, she is never hopeful that things will work out. I’m all like things will get better:
Look I’ve got a job and this blog, I was in the newspaper, and I’m writing a book
and she’s all
“But what about now?”
It’s as if banking on the future is considered a fools errand. Better not to look to the horizon because you’ll just hurt your eyes. Sure, it’s probably useful to have a healthy dose of skepticism dumped on your dreams, but its also a bit exhausting. What’s the harm in working towards a better tomorrow? At the same time, in the States we might be too optimistic. We are told from the earliest age that anyone, even YOU, can be President! (No, not YOU. You’re a foreigner). In the US, it’s all horizon all of the time, sometimes to a fault. We believe in the greatness of the future NO MATTER what is happening in the present!
I once had a Professor say that “Americans are the fairest people on the planet.” Granted he was from China and had survived Mao’s Cultural Revolution, so in that context his perspective might have been a little skewed. But, after living here and in a few other countries, I think he was on to something. The convenience of things, the ability to have your complaints considered and usually rectified without a recourse to reciprocity, are the hallmarks of a people striving for fairness.* The fundamental problem in the US, as I see it, is how we as a society agree or disagree on what “fair” means.
If you’re skeptical about these sentiments, and you probably are, then all I can say is:
Try America. You might like it.
Now here's a song about America sung by Willie Nelson:
*And I’m not talking about US foreign policy. Who could ever call Kissinger fair?