One word that in my mind best describes USA is the word “comfort”. You would think I am going to say “freedom” or “democracy” but it really is “comfort” for me. I also think that it might be hard to understand for those who were born and raised in this country because you grew up thinking this is how life should be, but for a person who was born in a less developed country USA is not only a land of opportunities, but a land where everything is made for people to get the best experience with the least efforts.
After almost 2 years in this country I start to get used to certain things and my mouth doesn’t fall open at the sight of 60 varieties of bread in a grocery store. But USA still doesn’t cease to amaze me every now and then raising a question in my head: “You, guys, have even this?!”
I have already described the many surprises that were waiting for me in grocery stores in this post. So I won’t go into detail but let me just say that peanut butter making machine and crustless bread changed my perception of the world forever. Now let’s start from the beginning.
Roads and Rest Stops
The very first thing you notice upon leaving the airport in any American city is how good the roads are: perfectly smooth with no holes or bumps making driving a pleasant journey and not a ride on a roller coaster like in Russia. Let alone Sri Lanka, where I used to live for 3 years and where in order to get from point A to point B you have to hold on for dear life. American roads are equally good everywhere in the country, in every state and every city – the same boring perfection. Road trips are made so convenient and easy that I have to admit I traveled much more around USA in 2 years than I did in Russia in my whole life.
Not only the quality of roads is great, but you can also find a rest stop with cafes, gas station and clean restrooms every 20 miles or so. In Russia you can drive the whole day with no civilization in sight and one big fresh restroom being the forest you are passing on the way.
If you were to fly instead of driving in USA, airfares for internal flights are affordable, and even in the tiniest town you will find a decent hotel room. Once again comparing it to Russia, it can be cheaper to have an all-inclusive vacation in Turkey than to travel to another Russian town.
Shopping and Returns
Never in my life have I owned so many things. That is a blessing and a curse at the same time. On the one hand, I hate to think of myself as a consumerist and I do question whether I actually need all those things in my life (the answer is – no!). On the other hand, it feels good to buy an extra pair of shoes just because. Just because you like them, just because they match that one dress you have hanging in your wardrobe, just because it will make you feel like a pretty princess.
I remember myself as a kid having one pair of shoes for winter, one for spring/autumn and two for summer. I wore them for several years in a row. You don’t just go and buy one more pair of shoes because you feel like it. It’s expensive and it will easily make a hole in your budget. In the end, it didn’t make me unhappy about life or deprived of great experiences. My parents would save the money and instead of buying shoes spent it on travelling which is the best investment of all. It was clear for me even then. But I do think my urge to buy one more dress even though I have enough has its roots in my teenage years when I desperately wanted to look cool.
Another mind blowing thing about shopping in USA is how easy it is to return goods. Not because they are broken, but simply because you don’t like them anymore! Try telling a Russian shop assistant that you don’t like the T-shirt you bought yesterday and want your money back. I dare you! I couldn’t return a pair of shoes that broke two days after i bought them. It took me a month of arguing, writing letters to customer support and even an independent expertise, but I still couldn’t get my money. In USA changing your mind is a good enough reason. Anything to make the customer happy!
And it’s not only clothes I am talking about. In the first two weeks in USA we had to return a TV set to BestBuy. I felt so awkward and nervous while we were carrying it inside until I heard a sales person at the entrance say: “Returning TV? Awesome! That way!” He couldn’t be happier that we are returning it!
It even applies to food. When I worked in an ice cream shop during my summer vacations it was normal practice to exchange ice cream if the customer didn’t like it. Even if he ate the whole cup first and only then realized that it wasn’t tasty.
Restaurants, Coffee Shops, and Cinema
Dining made comfortable is a subject for a whole other post: the possibility to remove anything from your dish or add on, to prepare it gluten-free or vegan, to pre-order your coffee online and then just drop by Starbucks to pick it up.
Coffee shops, by the way, have a station with coffee creamers and sugar available for anyone. I know this one seems like the most ordinary thing, but I have never seen anything like it before coming to USA. And once again to the question of variety: there’s whole milk, 2% milk, cream, half and half (half milk and half cream), even almond milk in some coffee shops. And you don’t think there’s only one type of sugar, right? There’s white sugar, brown sugar, sweetener, sugar syrup, agave syrup, and honey.
Upon arrival to Austin I was amazed by Alamo Drafthouse cinemas where you can order food while watching a movie. Besides popcorn, snacks and soft drinks, they serve burgers, salads, pizza, Tex-Mex, and vegetarian options. Waiters quietly come up to you during the movie and take an order you write down on a piece of paper. How incredibly smart and comfortable!
Chances to get something by post in Russia are 50/50: maybe you will and maybe you will not. Even if you are lucky enough to receive the parcel, it may take weeks, months or in some rare cases years. When in USA my order from Amazon comes in two days it’s a miracle! Then something even more incredible happens: if I am not at home the mailman leaves the parcel on my front porch and nobody takes it! In that one case when the parcel disappeared, I called the shop, explained the situation and got my money back! America, what are you doing to me? Nobody presumed that I actually received my parcel, then called and said I didn’t just to get the money. People are honest and people are trusted to do the right thing. For the same reason self-check-out counters in grocery stores work: people do scan every item even though nobody is watching them.
This comfort infiltrates all spheres of life. You always feel that somebody before you looked into the matter and figured out the best and easiest way to do it.
The Little Things
Lastly there are small things you don’t even notice, but they make your life so much more convenient. Like coffee stoppers – a plastic stick that you insert into the lid of your coffee cup to prevent coffee from spilling and getting cold. Like a packet of ketchup that you can open from two sides: if opened from one side it turns into a container so you can dip your fries, if opened from another it can be used to squeeze ketchup on top of fries. Like an avocado hugger – a container shaped exactly like half an avocado so you can store it longer for freshness. These are all real things.
After seeing the avocado hugger I thought there’s nothing else left in this world to create. You can find it all in USA. Then I watched Shark Tank – an American program where people come to investors with their business ideas – and saw an entrepreneur who created a pillow specifically for women with large breasts (did you know it’s really uncomfortable to sleep if your breasts are size D and up?). Or another person pitching an idea of selling 3 socks in a set in case you lose one (as we all do). I think as long as I live here this country won’t stop surprising me.
PS. If you want to read more about a foreigner’s perspective on USA, check out this post by LC, an Australian blogger behind Birdgehls.