For the past six years, my world has been about green tea, getting jostled in the subway system (and on the road) and being around the shiniest, newest technology in South Korea. Visiting the US for the first time since 2009 was a bit of a culture shock and here’s what really smacked me in the face the most.
1. Big open skies
The landscape is insanely flat. Road trips must be get wildly boring. I’ll take Korea’s neverending mountain ranges any day.
The food is really salty – no seriously, really, REALLY salty. Might as well just leave a salt lick and high blood pressure meds on the table with every meal.
4. Excuse me, sorry, go ahead!
The people are quite warm and friendly! I definitely had doubts before getting here but strangers here been really warm, approachable and open to friendly conversation. It’s a nice change to actually be thanked for holding the door open for someone as well as having the favour returned.
5. Steer clear
…but some of them are pretty nutty, too. Don’t get me wrong, the diversity is fantastic. Unlike South Korea, people aren’t cut from cookie cutter molds here. But there are definitely some wacky people that take being different to a whole different “are they for reals?” levels. Chicago’s “L” Subway North Korea’s Metro
6. Blast to the past
After being spoiled on the futuristic trains of South Korea and Singapore, getting on Chicago’s subway (aka “The L”) was shocking. Not only is it downright ancient and feels like it’s about to jump off the tracks, some of the infrastructure is rusted to the core and the stations don’t look like places I’d want to be waiting alone after sundown.
7. Tough times
The signs of recession are painfully obvious in some parts. A lot more cars here are over 12 years old, pockmarked with rust scars and damaged sheet metal; a number of strip malls displaying “for rent” signs in hollow windows.
8. Damn, you got land!
Everything is so far from everything else. As soon as you leave the city center, getting anywhere becomes so much harder. Public transportation is less accessible and withers away to the point where having a car is essential to survival.
9. Shoes everywhere.
Having never worn shoes indoor with my own family in addition to anywhere in Asia, watching people stomp into living rooms and prop their shoe-laden feet on top of seat cushions is bewildering.
10. BYOB & open-container laws.
Unfortunately, America’s open-container law bans our favourite Korean pastime of drinking on the beach, or while walking to the bar, or pretty much anywhere outdoors. BUT, Chicago restaurants balance this out by having Bring Your Own Booze signs in their windows, allowing you to bring your own drinks in so they don’t have to pay for a liquor license. Awesome! 11. “No guns” signs.
Chicago area establishments welcome you with “No guns” signs on their front doors…and yet people say America doesn’t have a gun problem. If you could leave your lethal death tool at home, that would be great, mmmkay?
12. I don’t think that means what you think it means…or does it?
In Canada, the suburbs are areas on the outskirts of the main urban core, but are still easily accessible through public buses and/or a light rail system. Apparently not in America! If you live in the suburbs, that means zero public transport. Even if you need to drive 20 minutes to get to the closest intercity train, you’re still considered living in a suburb. In Canada, that’s straight up rural.