Things I Miss About the U.S.

Bryce Canyon

Like our second-to-none national parks

It’s been nearly a full year since we last set foot inside our home country. And while I can’t remember experiencing a single bout of homesickness during the past 342 days that we’ve been overseas, there are definitely things I miss about traveling in the U.S.

Breathable Air

Air pollution in Asia

Smoke from burning offerings billows down the street in Penang, Malaysia

Walking around Hanoi’s old-town was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our nearly four month tour of Asia. The energy and vibrancy of Hanoi’s streets were intoxicating. Unfortunately, so too was its air.

As much as I loved dodging motor bikes on the city streets, inhaling large lungfuls of their exhaust wasn’t nearly as endearing. I spent pretty much the entire month of December feeling ill. That’s not something that’s ever happened to me in any of my previous 43 years. I suspect air-quality, or lack thereof, played a roll.

Either way I’m ready to get back to a place where surgical masks aren’t seen as necessary outdoor accessories.

Visibility

The view of Chiang Mai, Thailand, looks a lot like every other high vantage point we reached throughout South East Asia.

This scene over Chiang Mai, Thailand, looks a lot like the view from every other high vantage point we reached throughout South East Asia.

Related to breathable air is air that you can actually see through. Everywhere we went in Asia looked as if it was covered in a grey film. The combination of pollution and humidity conspired to sap every vista of its color and every landscape of its contrast. I’m sure Asia has some beautiful scenery. It certainly looked that way in silhouette. It’d be nice to see it without the smog, though.

Take-away

Take Away

Take-away, or “take out” as we say in the States, is pretty much unheard of in continental Europe. In fact, I think it’s a crime. That’s at least how it felt while walking down the streets of Madrid with Big Gulp sized cups of joe. From the looks we got you’d think we were carrying the Queen’s jewels in our hands, or maybe even the King’s.

And while I understand that locals probably have work they want to avoid by lingering over meals, we have a completely different problem as tourists. European cities are so jam-packed with awesomeness that we hardly have enough time to visit all their castles, museums, cathedrals, and piazzas as it is. If we ever hope to see anything other than the inside of a café, we really need to condense some of Europe’s traditional marathon meal sessions into take-away containers. If only they’d let us.

Big Coffee

Small European Coffee

Speaking of coffee, I’m a glutton for the stuff. It’s one of the few Americanisms I just can’t seem to shake, probably because I don’t want to. I’m also not sure why anyone on earth would want to limit themselves to a thimble-sized cup of anything, especially something so deliciously drinkable as coffee.

Window Screens

Window Screens

Growing up in the U.S. I thought putting screens on windows and doors to keep biting and otherwise irritating insects out of living spaces was the most natural thing in the world. Now I understand it is totally unusual. Moreover, it seems entirely cultural.

To be clear this has nothing to do with economics. It’s not that the places we’ve visited this past year were too poor to afford screens. And it’s not even that it’s too inconvenient to retrofit century-old buildings with them. We’ve stayed in million dollar flats in London and in newly constructed three-story U.K. townhouses. Both places came complete with every conceivable modern amenity, except window screens.

In Asia we mostly stayed in hotels and guesthouses that could afford to install air-conditioning units. Some even provided mosquito nets to hang over the beds, but I only remember one place with screened-in windows.

But that’s okay. It’s not like mosquito-borne illnesses are a problem in the tropics. Oh, wait.

Craft Beer

Craft Beer

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the U.S. brews the best beers in the world by far.  

I actually feel pretty comfortable out here on that perch because I’ve yet to find anywhere that has as consistently good, as widely varied, and as successfully inventive beers as does the U.S. We spent four years driving coast to coast in the States and almost everywhere we stopped we found small local brewers doing amazing things. That may have spoiled us.

The biggest surprise in this regard was the U.K. We spent nearly five months traveling through England, and while it’s a great country for sightseeing it’s a hugely disappointing one for beer. It’s not like we didn’t try. We quaffed pints in centuries-old pubs and had our fill of new-brews at modern beer festivals. I think that, maybe, we had three really good beers our entire time in Europe. And one of those was in Spain.

Snacks & Baked Goods

Fish Food

If there’s one thing the U.S. got right in the processed food department it’s making Goldfish crackers that taste nothing at all like actual goldfish.

The other thing we got right is brownies. And cupcakes. And baked goods in general. Finding a dessert worthy of the calories in Asia, meanwhile, is tough sledding (sorry, mango sticky rice is just not that satisfying).

After striking out repeatedly in Thailand and Laos we were so excited to find freshly baked Papparotis in Vietnam that we almost wet ourselves. 

Normal Business Hours

Operating Hours

You get five bonus points for actually posting hours but negative one million for not honoring those hours.

From getting evicted with a half-filled grocery cart from a supermarket in France because the store was closing for several hours in the middle of the day, to complete no-shows in Asia, to undisclosed, randomly alternating operating hours most everywhere in between, I have to say I’m looking forward to the U.S.’s brand of customer-centric customer service. There is something to be said for a business that tells you when they’ll open and then actually shows up to do business during those hours.

Sidewalks

Sidewalks

Sidewalks in Asia are used for everything except for walking.

I’m the fist to admit that the U.S. isn’t the most walkable place on earth. But that is largely because the country spans an entire continent; from sea to shining sea, and all that. But where we have cities we usually have sidewalks, too. And by sidewalks I’m talking about spaces reserved for pedestrians. Not areas along roadways used to park motorbikes; or as contra-traffic freeways; or spaces for open air malls; or places to clutter with any of a number of other obstructions that make walking anywhere in Asia a non-stop obstacle course; but areas along the side of the road reserved for walking. You know? Sidewalks.

Safety Standards

Holy cow. I’m really sorry I don’t have photos for this, but I guess I just wasn’t quick enough with my camera. In truth, I wasn’t exactly thinking “I should get a photo” when seeing kids playing with plastic bags on their heads or, for that matter, when the cute little girl in the coffee shop tried to impress us by demonstrating how many coins she could put in her mouth. None of that screamed out to me “Hey, this is something you need to photograph” as much as it did “do I actually remember how to perform CPR.”

Swimming Trunks

Speedos Yeah

Ew. I mean seriously, Ewwww!

Lets face it, Speedos are hard for even the buffest bods to pull off. Even if you have great abs, muscular legs and the perfect tan, the only thing most of us will ever notice when you’re wearing a Speedo is man-sack. It’s not a good look.

Now if it really were fit, handsome gentlemen wearing these things I’d be willing to give the penis-pouch a pass. But that isn’t even remotely true. For some strange reason it’s mostly overweight, over-40, overly-uninhibited men that seem attracted to dainty swimwear like it’s catnip.

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48 Comments on “Things I Miss About the U.S.”

  1. Frank Dynamite February 23, 2015 at 8:32 am #

    Interesting post, thanks for sharing!

    Like

  2. Debra Kolkka February 23, 2015 at 9:29 am #

    I’m with you on most of those things…except the coffee. Those great tubs of warm milk with a slight taste of coffee you drink in the USA bear almost no resemblance to real coffee. Give me Italian coffee any day.

    Like

    • Brian February 23, 2015 at 9:36 am #

      By “great tubs of warm milk” do you mean cafe lattes? If so, I agree, they’re not my drink either. But that’s not what you’d be served if you went anywhere in the U.S. and just ordered coffee.

      Like

  3. Bulldog Travels February 23, 2015 at 10:41 am #

    Great and funny post. It’s funny how you can be experiencing world class sites and amazing cultural epiphanies yet miss smog standards and Doritos. Cheers for your honesty!

    I got crop dusted with industrial bug spray in Belize last month and was certainly missing standards that prevent that. The good news is I didn’t have to worry about mosquito bites that day!

    Like

    • Brian February 23, 2015 at 7:15 pm #

      Cropped dusted in Belize is a good one. We got fumigated at a restaurant last week in Penang. It was one of these open restaurants that spill out on to the sidewalk. A guy comes down the street with something that looked like a leaf-blower. Instead of pumping air, it pumped out bug spray – yellowish, billowing, masses of the stuff right into the restaurant. Everyone just sat there, put a hand over their glass, and went about life as if they hadn’t just been poisoned.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bulldog Travels February 23, 2015 at 7:19 pm #

        It’s crazy isn’t it? We were walking down the street when a guy driving an ATV with a big sprayer that had pipes coming out the top like a big rig would have. I waved my hands in case he didn’t see us thinking he would turn it off until we passed. I was wrong. Ha ha. I just hope it isn’t bad for the local people and their children! Blowing right on your food is pretty awesome. Hopefully it made your food taste better. 🙂

        Like

  4. Rob February 23, 2015 at 11:05 am #

    I am an American who has been living in South Korea for over three years. I greatly enjoyed reading your post. It made me nostalgic, especially the bit about sidewalks. I often worry about getting run down by delivery guys on motorbikes wherever I walk.

    Like

    • Brian February 23, 2015 at 7:16 pm #

      Yeah, the whole sidewalk obstacle course thing is getting a bit tedious.

      Like

  5. Albatz Travel Adventures February 23, 2015 at 1:05 pm #

    I adore West Coast IPAs, with Portland, Oregon being the highlight, but Belgium, the entire country, has to be my favourite place in the world for beer…

    Like

    • Brian February 23, 2015 at 7:18 pm #

      Belgium has some great beers, no doubt. We’ve sampled a bunch but never actually in Belgium. I’m looking forward to fixing that soon.

      Like

  6. Incidental Scribe February 23, 2015 at 2:49 pm #

    I have to argue about the beer. Then again I find American beer watered down. Domestic give me a Molson Canadian. …but picking my fave import would be hard…right now I enjoy anything from the Wytchwood Breweries out of England

    Like

    • Brian February 23, 2015 at 7:24 pm #

      Watered down was probably a fair criticism 20+ years ago when American beer meant Budweiser or it’s equivalent. But with craft brewers pumping out coffee-stouts, chocolate porters, triples aged in brandy casks, black rye IPAs, Belgian style blondes, and more – some of which go over 10% alcohol by volume and up to 100 IBUs – watered down is the last thing I’d call American beer today.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Incidental Scribe February 24, 2015 at 12:04 pm #

        Well I shall have to find and try some of the new stuff then. Seems I’ve been missing out.

        Like

  7. nigemate February 23, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

    Brilliant. Had me laughing out loud on my commute this morning. You really nail some of the general “stuff” I think lots of travelers miss plus some very US ones. Great. And a couple I just have to comment on from an Anglo-Australian view point.
    Beer. How time changes things. Twenty. Some uses ago and my first trip to the USA the beer was awesome in the UK and awful in the states. Now I think you have a point (though on the rare trip back to UK, I still quite like a pint of some warm flat ale – a very English thing).
    Opening hours. So right. Last two years in Africa also teach me that even when somewhere is open, don’t get your hopes up in respect of stock or service.
    Air quality was an interesting one. Laos is an exception, it enjoys some beautifully unpolluted clear and clean air. And boy, the views.
    But thanks for a very funny and wry post.

    Like

    • Brian February 23, 2015 at 7:26 pm #

      And thanks, as always, for following along and for commenting. Cheers!

      Like

  8. skates1418 February 23, 2015 at 7:08 pm #

    I totally agree with most of these! Living abroad for the past two years has really made me wonder about window screens actually. I don’t understand why Europeans don’t consider using them! Maybe they just aren’t stylish enough for those Swedish flats 😉

    Like

    • Brian February 23, 2015 at 7:30 pm #

      One of the mysteries of life. 🙂

      Like

  9. Holly Beddome February 23, 2015 at 10:56 pm #

    Haha, as a Canadian who has spent more of the past couple of years abroad than at home I can totally relate, and this post cracked me up! Like some of the other commenters, I do have to disagree on the topic of coffee. Give me a latte with a well-pulled espresso shot and just the right amount of milk over a watered-down drip coffee any day! (And don’t even get me started on Tim Horton’s, haha).

    Like

    • Brian February 24, 2015 at 2:24 am #

      It’s funny. Of all the things in this post that I thought people might push back against it never occurred to me that coffee would be the one that got folks most excited. You like lattes, Debra, who commented earlier, not so much. You don’t like drip, and I do. And that’s all cool.

      The truth is, I’m not really much of a coffee snob. I love good coffee but I’ll drink Maxwell House without complaint. What I really prefer is volume. I want coffee by the bucket full, and that’s pretty much what I said in the article. I don’t claim American coffee is better coffee (sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t). It’s just that in the State’s I’m not handed a cup that seem like it was sized by a wartime rationing board (see photo above 😉 ).

      Like

      • Holly Beddome February 24, 2015 at 8:02 am #

        Well, I imagine most people would readily agree with you that sidewalks are are best when not under threat from deliverypeople atop motorcycles, and sights are best appreciated without a haze of pollution. But coffee people do tend to have their preferences! I suppose I am a bit of a coffee snob- I’ll drink what’s available, but I definitely appreciate it when I have a particularly good cup in my hands 🙂

        Like

  10. Ship's Cook February 24, 2015 at 1:52 am #

    As a Brit I’m going to have to take issue over the beer, While it can be hard to find a decent pint in places like central London where brewers like Samuel Smith have a bit of a stranglehold on big boozers and only sell their corporate fizzy pap the UK does have a lot of great brewers like Fullers, Youngs, McMullan, Theakstons and Shepheard Neame. We also have a burgeoning Craft beer sector with lots of micro breweries producing all kinds of ales even some American style ones. Mind you the American craft beers that I have sampled are so much, much better than what beer in the USA used to be like 20- years ago.

    Like

    • Brian February 24, 2015 at 2:43 am #

      I figured someone would take issue with that. It could be just a matter of style because we drank plenty ‘o pints of Fullers, Youngs, etc. and drank way more craft brews at the Yorkshire Beer Festival than was remotely good for us. We drank in the south as far as Cornwall and in the north as far as Inverness (although by then we had switched over to drinking mostly Scotch, which – I’ll give you this much – is far superior to even the best Kentucky bourbon.) Most of the beer we drank wasn’t bad. Very little of it though, struck me as really good.

      On a positive note I did like York Brewery’s Centurion’s Ghost, Brew Dog’s Cocoa Psycho, and Shannon became a huge fan of English ciders.

      Like

  11. Angela Dowin February 24, 2015 at 10:41 am #

    I agree with you on sidewalks and normal business hours. My husband and I have been in Europe since November and we miss being able to comfortably walk side by side down the street on a sidewalk and to buy groceries at any time of day.

    Like

    • Thomas Schwartz February 25, 2015 at 5:04 am #

      Where in europe do you have trouble walking on sidewalks? The reason I can think of that would prevent comfortable side-by-side walk is when the side walk is too crowded with other people walking..

      Like

      • Angela Dowin February 25, 2015 at 5:22 am #

        Italy has the smallest sidewalks. At least we found this to be true in Milan, Como, and Rome. Some were so small that two people could not walk next to each other at all.

        Like

  12. Danny Breslin February 24, 2015 at 11:37 am #

    As my only taste, or lack of, is of Budweiser and Coors, I cannot comment on American beer. God help your taste buds if they are your gold standard though. My advice: try Belgian beers.

    Like

    • Brian February 24, 2015 at 6:41 pm #

      I can see how you’d confuse the beers in the photo above under the title “Craft Beer” with Budweiser and Coors. 😐

      Liked by 1 person

      • Danny Breslin February 24, 2015 at 7:39 pm #

        Ah sarcasm, how it stings. I really wasn’t confusing them at all, but rather defending the unwarranted attack on English beer which are many and varied yet are the subject of stereotype by Americans as being warm.
        The bit about Belgian beer is sound advice though. Oh and I’m very fond of Alexander Keith’s beer from Halifax NS.

        Like

        • Brian February 24, 2015 at 7:53 pm #

          We spent five months touring England and drank a lot of beer during that time. So I’d say my comment that we found English beer disappointing isn’t an “unwarranted attack.” It’s an opinion. And it’s also my opinion that plenty of the English beers we ordered were served warm (“cellar temperature” isn’t exactly cold.) 😉

          Liked by 1 person

          • Danny Breslin February 25, 2015 at 4:22 am #

            Haha, you wouldn’t want it too cold, it’s always bloody raining here. You need something to warm your belly.

            Like

            • Brian February 25, 2015 at 4:32 am #

              That’s what a wee dram is for. 😀

              Liked by 1 person

  13. isbergamanda February 24, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    I’m an expat in Venezuela and I definitely miss proper business hours (and people who show up on time), window screens (Malaria, Dengue, and a new disease called Chikungunya are all common mosquito born illnesses here), and giant cups of coffee.

    Did you go to Belgium and the Czech Republic; I heard that they have excellent beers there? I’m personally all about the wine, so Europe has me covered!

    -Amanda at http://teachingwanderlust.com/

    Like

    • Brian February 24, 2015 at 6:44 pm #

      We’ve been in Southeast Asia since November so we’re missing wine, too. But because it was so good and so cheap in Europe, it didn’t really fit on this list.

      Like

  14. Into the mild February 24, 2015 at 4:29 pm #

    Peanut butter.

    And an enforced health code in markets, grocery stores, ansd restaurants.

    Like

  15. skycastles February 25, 2015 at 2:32 am #

    Hey, I stayed at the Old Penang Guesthouse too. I’ve also tried their 80s Guesthouse, which is up the road. You might also want to add that in those rare instances when there are sidewalks, they’re not all uniformly built. Each shophouse has its own sidewalk construction and style so if you’re not avoiding motorbikes, you’re watching where you put your feet so you don’t trip and fall. Happy travels!

    Like

    • Brian February 25, 2015 at 2:37 am #

      Good point about how the sidewalks are inconsistently built. Lately I’ve also noticed uncovered, meter deep, gullies along the side of the road. Because what would be the fun of an evening stroll if it didn’t include the thrill of a potentially broken leg?

      Liked by 1 person

  16. gabriellesoria February 27, 2015 at 7:05 pm #

    Haha, isn’t it funny that when we’re in the U.S., we long to be elsewhere, but once we get elsewhere, we realize all the things we take for granted? Curious about your beer comment—what beers internationally have you (not) been impressed by? I do agree that the microbrew movement has made us pretty competitive to many int’l beers, but I think some countries in Europe still have a lead. =)

    Like

  17. Marilyn Albright March 2, 2015 at 9:15 pm #

    This is a most interesting post, and it was fun to read the comments. It would be great to hear people from other countries say what they miss when traveling.
    It also made me think about what I miss about Oaxaca, where I spend half of my life, when I am in Alaska for the other half. (Although I don’t think too much about one when I am in the other)
    Top of the list would definitely be the abundance of FRESH CHEAP fruits and vegetables! Freshly squeezed orange juice is so delicious – I take my 2 liter “gas can” and have it filled with juice that she squeezes right before my eyes. 50 pesos, or about $3.50 US.

    Like

    • Brian March 2, 2015 at 9:30 pm #

      I totally get missing fresh fruits and vegetables. We’re still going through withdrawal from Spain’s ridiculously delicious citrus fruits. And Northern Thailand has more fruits and vegetables than I even knew existed. They turn up in everything.

      Like

  18. Marilyn Albright March 2, 2015 at 9:21 pm #

    I forgot to say this: we were recently in Xalapa, in the state of Veracruz, and we had an excellent craft beer made in the adjoining town of Coatepec. It was not on the menu, but the waiter suggested it, and we were sorry it was our last night there, or we would have had more!
    It is called Pixquiac, and is dark. Try it someday if you can!

    Like

    • Brian March 2, 2015 at 9:31 pm #

      Cool. Craft brew is turning up everywhere. We’ll definitely be on the lookout for Pixquiac when we’re in that part of the world. Thanks for the tip.

      Like

  19. Van Nomads March 11, 2015 at 5:41 pm #

    Yes, craft brew is definitely something I will miss!

    Like

  20. Justin February 23, 2016 at 11:10 pm #

    Heh, penis pouch. Too funny.

    This article kind of sums up why I like to travel but why I don’t see myself as a perpetual traveler. 🙂

    (this is FUEGO from the ER forums)

    Like

  21. kcowan February 25, 2016 at 11:10 am #

    Good post. We spend 6 months in Mexico and we always laugh about being ready to go home. Then we are ready to go back. We are getting some craft brews now in Mexico. But it it tough to get good take away pizza. And beef is pricey compared to pork, chicken. Seafood is cheap though.

    Like

  22. kcowan February 25, 2016 at 3:49 pm #

    Because we get satellite TV from Canada that includes Canadian and American networks, sadly we do not miss the any of the breaking news. During vacations, we enjoyed being totally out-of-touch. But in the world of streaming, no one is spared.

    We do miss cheap electricity. We miss reliable workmen. Fortunately, we are able to do many of our transactions electronically. Monthly utility bills. Annual property taxes and vehicle tags. Variously to local bank accounts and NOTB CCs. The alternative is lineups that seem to take forever.

    Like

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