by Abdul Majeed
(Read Part I Here)
I was in the United States for one month on an exchange program for youth leaders from Pakistan. Apart from innumerable things that I liked while I was there, some aspects of American life did not appeal to me as much as the rest of them. Following are some of those snippets of Daily American Life that I noticed and was not too pleased about.
Cart food,the other side
I discovered on my first night in New York City about how awesome cart food is. Being from Lahore, I have grown up with fondness as well as disgust for cart food. Being a Doctor, I have encountered multiple cases of food poisoning and gastro in patients with history of consuming such food. It was hard to reconcile with this newfound ‘celebration’ of cart food. On our first night, most of the members of our group got food from a cart titled ‘The Halal Guys’. While I was overwhelmed by the size of the serving and gave little attention to the quality of food, two of our fellows got sick later that night. It may have been the exception and not the rule, but it only served as reaffirmation of my long-held beliefs on street food in general.
Nationalism and Patriotism
I am a staunch believer of the axiom that ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’. Being a student of history and a debator, I have seen and heard too many voices/poeple trying to justify the vilest actions in the name of Patriotism. Resorting to nationalist and hyper-nationalist jargon in case of argument is the favorite tactic of many Internet and real life commentators, including politicians and media personnel. Viewing from that vintage point, I found U.S and its denizens to be even more nationalistic than my own countryfolk. From laymen to Congressmen, nationalism was everywhere. I saw more flags of the US outside homes than I’ve even seen of Pakistan in my whole life. At every historical moument, every airport, train station and other public places, U.S Flags and other symbols of the ‘empire’ were present. The most interesting case was the giant illuminated flag of the U.S right in the middle of Times Square in NYC, alongside their Army Recruitment center.
Shops outside every monument
During the visit, I visited numerous historical monuments in New York City, Washington DC, Atlanta, San Francisco, Springfield and Chicago. One thing that was a common theme of every single monument, regardless of its location, was the presence of a souvenoir shop at the exit. At one time, I had no space left in my luggage to fit in another souvenoir. This experience, in my humble opinion, is an expression of the two sides of the American Life. Love of History and Consumerism. By the end of the visit, I got sick of exiting through these shops.
The best part was, when I discovered the coin molding machines placed at the monuments, where a new coin could be minted by amalgamation of a certain amount of coins. The shops were full of memorabilia including mugs, books, sweatshirts, notebooks and other objects of this sort. At the end, I collected pens from Stanford University, U.S Capitol, Martin Luther King Jr Memorial and Adler Planetarium.
Everything closed after 8 p.m.
It was our first night in Washington DC and the time was around 8:30 p.m. Some member of our group wanted to eat something so we ventured on to the nearby streets. After a futile search of 30 minutes, they had to settle on buying refrigerated food from a nearby CVS Pharmacy. No coffee shop or restaurant of fast food chain was open at that time. For a denizen of Lahore like myself, it was disturbing to find the eateries closed so early. I mean, even Islamabad has changed over th years and a few shops are now open there after 10 p.m. I didn’t expect such behaviour in Washington DC, capital of one of the most developed countries in the world. The icing on the cake was that on Sunday, there was similar situation i.e. only a handful eateries were open. It was definitely not the first world experience we had anticipated. This problem was encountered more in Washington DC and Atlanta as compared to New York City or San Francisco.
American Food in General
It may be because of my cultural bias but I seriously did NOT like American Food. I had countless pancake+syrup breakfasts and pretzels and burgers and donuts+muffins during the 30 day visit. I didn’t even find any good soup that I liked, apart from once in Washington when what I actually got was technically ‘Achari Daal Shorba’ which I loved.!! Compared to all the stuff mentioned above, Chipotle was a welcome relief, so was the Chicago-style Pizza and a proper Italian Pizza.
(P.S These few things should be considered nit-picks and not random generalizations. I experienced more good things in the U.S than bad and I have mentioned only the few irritating aspects from a totally personal perspective, this shouldn’t be construed as ‘superficial generalization’ or ‘Naa Shukri’. Thanks)