Oh, the American dream. Something even we, the teenage kids in the far away country of Ukraine were aware of from the early childhood through the shows we saw on TV, the music we listened to and icons we had on our bedroom walls. We wanted to be them, the Americans, no matter how strong our ties were with other countries of the Former USSR. We envied their easy access to everything and thought nothing like this can ever be accessible in Ukraine. But the times have changed.
Same as many people around the world, me and Yuri, too, were mesmerized by the American dream. After visiting New York during Christmas of 2016, we knew America needs to be looked at closer. Not even a year later, we decided to go to the United States as an experiment to see if we would love to live there. After all, we always wanted to at some stage. And since we don’t have ties to any specific place, we are always on the lookout for the next interesting destination to experience.
But the difference was, we didn’t go to just travel. We picked one spot, which was Sacramento in California (as he had friends there), and stayed there, mimicking the actual living situation. We got the car, rented a room, and were sort of “going to work”, which for me meant driving to the nearest coffee shop to write my book about Ukraine. During the weekends, we went on short road trips to the nearest sights, while during the week we shopped in the local stores, dealt with DMV, went to movies with friends, signed up for the gym, and even went to a Thanksgiving party with locals. Basically, we lived exactly the same as everyone else in Sacramento did. Full blown living experience during the course of three months.
Many people since then, have been asking me about how was the USA and why did we actually come back? Well, the short answer is, we came back because our visa was close to running out and we weren’t going to break any laws. So, we left the country in a timely manner.
The longer answer can be found in paragraphs below. Before you dive into it, I want to say this is just my one-dimensional opinion based on three months of living in Sacramento meant for entertainment purposes only. So, before I sum up the results of the experiment I have to provide you with some qualitative data that I have gathered. I will divide it into pro’s and cons of the American Dream and you’ll figure out which one is which for yourself.
Welcome to the American Dream
I still can’t teach myself to not consider people living in Los Angeles, New York or San Francisco to be lucky. This thought just comes naturally, as we think that they actually are the ones living the American dream, driving by the Hollywood sign, shopping on Fifth Avenue just like Carrie Bradshaw and working alongside giants like Google, Facebook, and Apple. And this American dream has merits as we know them. Welcome to my interpretation of what is the American Dream and how we got to taste it.
How about the most stunning natural sights in the world?
Living in the USA you don’t really even need to travel abroad, you have everything here! The hell with that, you have everything in California alone! Want to see snowy peaks – go to Tahoe lake, have a thing for tall pines and mountains – head to Yosemite or Sierra parks, in love with the ocean – off to Santa Cruz and San Diego to have a splash. Everything you need is here!
And it is so easy to get around because you have to have a car in America. Want to have a short family getaway in the nature? Just pack some snacks, take a blanket and off you go to the next sight that is probably listed as one of the best places to see before you die. Yuri and I made those trips probably once a week during our stay in California and it is one of those things I was never tired of, you could really be a traveler here. And the next step? I’d gladly rent out a camper van to go on a road trip around the United States.
You can be whoever you want to be
I wrote about this already after my trip to New York, as this is where I actually felt it from the start. You see, America is founded by immigrants and you see it right away, especially in the big cities. You just belong, instantly, regardless of what your skin color is, regardless of how imperfect your English is, regardless of whether you have the money or not. And the best part is? This is the place you can just be whoever the hell you want to be! Nobody cares! There are so many weirdos here already that you’ll just be another person in the mixing pot. And most likely there will already be a community out there for your kind of weird that you can sign up to.
Looking for freedom? Look no further!
Freedom is one word that I associate with America. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of expression… Americans are born with the underlying notion that anything is possible, if you work hard enough, dare to dream and do the impossible. Americans are taught to have discussions, apply critical thinking and ask questions. Whereas in Ukraine, you can get a bad mark by expressing an opinion which differs from that of your teacher.
No wonder entrepreneurs from all over the world (including Elon Musk) choose to come here to start their business. It is so easy here. The market is huge, people are prone to try something new and failure is no stigma, everyone can just try again.
The weather in California is something you could move to the USA for alone. Even Yuri, which up to the last point denied that weather has any effect on him, gave in and admitted that having sunshine every day in California made him feel much healthier and happier. Never ending summer, beaches, and waves…even if you have nothing, life is beautiful.
We’ve got them jobs
Funny how people often complain that there are less and less jobs in America, I found the truth to be quite the opposite. There seems to be a job for everyone who is willing to work. Quite often though it will be a cash paid job without any documents (as it also happens a lot in Ukraine), but you can find absolutely anything from babysitting, to filling up the eBay online stores, from driver and mechanic to gym trainer, you name it! I’ve got the impression that only a lazy person cannot find a job in America if they really need one.
The power of community and multiculturalism
I mean, American people are just some of the weirdest and friendliest I have ever met. And the weird part is also great on some occasions! I mean, the guy with purple hair and makeup that sold me coffee, the little girl in the line behind me dancing to the store music, a man in mid-forties singing by a metro station to a song that wasn’t even playing, I loved that! America is the mixing pot of humanity and everyone can just be their weird self! America has a place for everyone, yes, even you! Isn’t that amazing? And the hospitality that we’ve received here has been great.
People opened their homes for us like we’re some old friends and offered anything we needed just like that. After living for years in Denmark, where people do not easily invite you to their homes, I was almost shocked by this hospitality. Building a social life in America proved to be much easier.
The good side of consumerism
In America, you have access to everything you need. And though I am not a big fan of consumerism, I cannot deny how convenient it is to have everything available to you. Personally, I hate the giant grocery stores because I get lost in them. There can be rows and rows of just tomato sauce alone, which is almost annoying because I spend way too much time just picking one! But at the end of the day, I am confident that I can always find what I am looking for. And it is cheaper than elsewhere, which means that living in America you have a better purchasing power.
Coming here from Copenhagen, where there is only one big supermarket (Bilka in Fields) and you cannot buy anything in bulk, USA can really spoil you. I could weight as much or little quinoa as I wanted, make my own natural peanut butter right in the grocery store, find any ridiculous little thing, like a Barbie kitchen set for my niece on a garage sale. I mean, ANYTHING is available here.
The Cost of the American Dream
Because America is so popular and famous across the globe, we tend to think that everything is pink perfect there. How about this easy wake-up call – there is no a perfect place on Earth. It just doesn’t exist! Everything comes in comparison, especially to your personal previous experiences. There are places which are more comfortable for some groups of people over the others and every country has its set of advantages and attractive traits. America might be a powerful state, but it doesn’t mean that life there is easy and everyone’s rich. The USA is far from Denmark, where the most dangerous thing you can see on the news is a family of ducks crossing a street full of traffic. This misconception made me face a few things of my own which prove that there is a cost to the American Dream.
The Divided States of America
Sometimes, the United States of America truly feels more like the Divided States of America and here’s why. Whenever you meet new people, who are by the way all very friendly, they instantly want to put you in some sort of a group. Are you a republican or a democrat? Do you go to church or not? If I said I did, the next question would probably be “to which church?” Are you a vegetarian or a meat-eater?
I mean, it’s okay to ask questions in order to get to know the person, but these questions are more about putting people in certain categories, which most likely will just cause an argument and divide us. Life is not as black and white and it is not so easy to put yourself in one particular category.
The matter of security
I know that for those who grew up in America it won’t be an issue at all because it is a matter of getting used to. But the security questions is a burning topic. And I am not just talking about the whole gun control thing (I don’t even want to get started on that!) but the social security as well. Which is like non-existent. Two weeks of holidays a year? Almost no maternity leave? Out of the job, out of the medical insurance? I am sure there are ways around this but sounds too scary for me already. I get it, Europe is spoiling me, but come on people! There is a lot to learn from Scandinavian countries on topics of work-life-balance and social security in general.
I get it, California is warm all year round so all homeless people in America probably live here, which gave me the impression that there are just too many. On the other hand, the questions start to pops-up in my mind, like “how did so many people become homeless?” And they are often Americans, not some illegal immigrants who failed to find jobs. And it’s not just that it creates an unsafe feeling in the neighborhoods but it creates questions around the entire system. What if I lose my job one day? Will I be homeless as well?
What is the deal with chains?
Why does everything have to be a chain? Chain of restaurants (which is really just fast food, not a restaurant), chain of coffee shops, chain of grocery stores, chains of clothing stores. You have to try very hard to find something that is not a chain (at least in Sacramento). Why, why can’t there be just a one-off really good and cozy coffee shop that is not a Starbucks, where they brew their own coffee and not some overpriced barely hot bitter water? That’s another thing, coffee isn’t that great in America either. But my point is: authentic independent shops are some much more charming and have more soul than commercial chains, which are the same everywhere you go.
The American lifestyle
I understand that this one is not applicable to all cities in America. Obviously, Sacramento influenced the way I feel about the American lifestyle. But still, I feel that it is very common in the United States to get around by car, not with your own feet. And funny enough, this bothers me! For me, a person who used to be able to walk anywhere right from the doorsteps of my apartment in the city, it was so hard to adjust to “you cannot walk anywhere”. No buses, no sidewalks, no decent grocery shops or coffee places nearby.
Taking a stroll through the city is one of those things that brings me incredible joy and though I love driving as well, I know that my lazy ass will grow in geometrical progression if I don’t allow myself to walk. It’s bad enough that I spend my time sitting behind the computer all the time, becoming car-bound really scares me.
Though America didn’t quite convince me that it’s the greatest place in the world to live, I know I will come back here again. You just cannot let go of the American dream as easy as that.
But for now, America remains as a country with many contrasts which happens when you have so many people of different backgrounds living under the same flag. As it says in Lana Del Rey’s song, ‘God bless America and all the beautiful people in it’ ©
~ by Lana Del Rey.
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