America is overwhelming. Everytime I visit I experience this. Initially I feel like a baby in a large bathtub, like an ant in Rome's catacombes.
It's because everthing is so large-scale. The distances, the shops, the coffeecups (if you are lucky enough to get one, that is, soupbowl size, instead of a mega styrofoam cup), the portions served in restaurants, the width of the roads and streets, the cars, the people, even the small houses. I know it is somewhat of a cliche and yet it is this fact of largesse that costs me the most energy to adapt to the first couple of days. It means your brains have to change their perception of things, of distances (how long does it take to get anywhere), of what to order, how much you can do in one day etc. For Dutch perceptions it is theoretically possible to visit touristic attractions in Amsterdam on 1 day within a reasonable time. One can probably travel by subway within the hour from one end of the city to the other. In New York City we wanted to go to a beach, located on the southshore. We drove, naively taking a 'pretty' route there. It took us 2,5 hours just to get back to the address we were staying at in Brooklyn. Just as an example…
I like diversity, and I like the possibility of some choice. Not too much though or I go completely passiv and leave any store without having bought a thing. So, I like to avoid big supermarkets and stores in the US. On the one hand they attract me, I want to browse forever to see if there are any special, typically American things. But the choice is so massive that after working through one isle, say of 'herbs, spices and condiments' 2 hours have passed.
My parents-in-law live in an area where a lot of tourists come. It is the beautifully restored harbor of Boston adjoining a shopping/restaurant area called Quincy market. The harbor is no longer active, but many boats are there to take you out onto the ocean or for tours along the islands.Many of the old wharves have been restored into apartments, hotels and otherwise. Right along the water is a Harborwalk, which takes about an hour if you walk the whole way. Really very nicely done. This area used to be totally decrepid and fallen down. Somebody with vision designed a good plan and worked it out over the last 35 years. I wished this would happen to Scheveningen. The harbor here is not very attractive and the boulevard along the ocean is the most tacky area of all of Holland, I'm afraid.
Anyway, I noticed how few homeless people walk around the larger harbour area there in Boston. Except for a few mentally disturbed people, walking around in a fur coat on a boiling hot day, the place is kept pretty 'clean'. Nobody really pays any attention to these folks.
Further towards the center of Boston you see more beggars. I was struck by the men in wheelchairs, claiming on boards that they are veterans of different wars. They are handicapped and perhaps through psychological problems and alcohol they end up on the street. I was pretty shocked to see that. It is one thing I don't expect to ever see in Holland but who knows?
The healthcareplan of Obama seems to have some benefits for poorer people, but it is only partial, apparently. People are still faced with very high medical costs, which they usually cannot pay. It leads to debts and eventually to banktruptcy and for some to living on the streets. Having paid vacation and on top of that vacation money is an absolute luxury in the States.
Let's count our blessings!
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