The American dollar has taken a nosedive. As I walked around New York City in the last few months I heard more European languages than English. Hell, if I could get stuff at half price, I’d come too!
During my travels, I met many foreigners that have traveled to America or are planning to do so. I get rather excited to show off my home country to people so I am always interested in learning about where they plan to travel to in the States. I’m not sure why I ask as the answers are always the same and I tend to be disappointed by their choices. The standard answer is a variation of two or three of these cities: New York City, Las Vegas, L.A., and San Francisco.
You may wonder why I’m disappointed by this considering I have lived in two of these cities (NYC and San Francisco) and love those cities dearly. My disappointment lies in the fact that travel to me should be about experiencing the culture of a country; these visiting travelers aren’t really seeing America. The Americans that really epitomize our culture are not found in the big glitzy cities.Instead, they are seeing the same stuff they’ve been seeing on television, in movies and in magazines now for years; big cities with a flair for showing you just how much Americans can consume. It’s these same foreign friends that also stare at me in disbelief asking me how in the world the US could have elected George Bush to a second term in office (as if I voted for him — don’t blame me). The answer is that the Americans that did re-elect Bush and the Americans that really epitomize our culture are not found in the big glitzy cities — they are found in middle America, where people seldom visit. No, and I’m not talking about Chicago … I’m talking about small towns that thrive on a sense of community and national pride. You really can’t begin to see or understand America if you just stick to the concrete jungles.
For the 80% of you who are visiting America and taking advantage of the weak dollar, here are the big-city tips you are looking for:
Food tours, Central Park free walks, lunch in Bryant Park Monday-Friday to see all the bustling corporate Americans, and the Tenement Museum. Check for cheap New York hotels.
Stay on the strip, go to a Cirque de Soleil show of your choice, see the fountains at Bellagio, people-watch in an old casino with a lounge band.
Don’t even bother. You’ve seen the HOLLYWOOD sign a million times already.
Definitely the better choice when it comes to California cities. Walk on the Coastal trail between the Golden Gate Bridge and Ocean Beach — it’s stunning. Have a burrito in the Mission District, and go to a Giants game at the stadium on the Bay.
If on the other hand, you don’t want to be like everyone else and instead you want to forge new ground, then be brave and experience American culture. Get out and see something different, see the Midwest, the South, or the Southwest. Rent a car and drive on highways, not interstates, stopping at small towns along the way. Visit a national park. Have dinner at local establishments, frequent the local watering holes, go to the town baseball game or sporting event. Go to a church service on Sunday (heck, you visit temples all the time while you travel the world — why not stop in at a Sunday service?). It’s these places where you will find the culture of America. Find out when and where local festivals are in small towns. I once went to a festival in a small town in Nebraska where you paid a dollar to bet which numbered square a cow was going to shit on: kind of like shit bingo. I still remember it as one of the best times I’ve had meeting locals and participating in the festivities.
As you drive the country roads you will see an abundance of American flags flying proudly out in people’s yards, you’ll see plenty of bumper stickers that state “Support our Troops” most likely because they actually know people that are in the Middle East serving in the military. In the big cities you tend to hear about these families on CNN, but you seldom come into contact with them.
You’ll come face to face with some of the nicest people in the country, but you will also come face to face with the statistic of 73% of Americans that don’t have a passport. Many of you world travelers laugh at this sad American fact, but if you want to see why it is the way it is — then come to middle America and get out of the “international American cities”. You may begin to understand how George Bush was re-elected, and why most people don’t have passports. But you will also discover that the people you meet in the more rural areas and small towns are fascinated to meet you and they will drool over your “cool” accent.