Monday, November 17, 2014

America through the eyes of a stranger

Starting from November 30th my partner and I spent two weeks in the states. First a week in New York City and then another in Washington during I basically saw the hotel World Fantasy Convention was held at and Union Station. It was the first time for both of us unless you count the three seconds The Maid of the Mists (the Canadian boat that takes tourists to see Niagara Falls from the bottom) spends going slightly over the US-Canada border. And for some reason most people don't seem to feel it counts. So here are a few things that I noticed on my travels.

The TV is trying to scare you

One day when my feet were killing me especially badly, we went to watch the new Jake Gyllenhaal movie, Nightcrawler. It gave an eerily accurate view of what the TV business looks like from the point of view of someone who has never before experienced the 24-hour news cycle. The first night we were in New York there was a home invasion somewhere in the area, and by area, I mean inside the states of New York and New Jersey, which is kind of a large area, I'll admit. There was nobody home at the time but there was some property damage. While that kind of thing is certainly scary and serious I don't entirely see that it warranted live coverage from the scene hours and hours and hours even the cops left the scene. They kept playing the tape of those poor people coming home to see the damage over and again, using the scariest available language to explain what was happening, even if it was just to say that nothing but press camping out on the lawn of crime victims had happened there for hours. Now granted, I haven't exactly understood everything on the TV's of the various countries I've travelled - Korean was particularly hard - but so far I haven't seen anything like it anywhere else.

Abandoned buildings

In the Helsinki area, where I live, real-estate isn't cheap. Even when you get out of the bigger cities, abandoned buildings are fairly rare to see, partly because most developed land either is lived in or gets plowed into fields. More because paper has been one of our biggest exports for so long, thus making woodland very expensive to just leave a house on. We took the train from New York to Washington and I was amazed to see the number of abandoned houses, buildings and power lines just lying there, decaying into disrepair. I understand and maintenance costs and even tearing things down when they're no longer used is not free. I'm just not used to seeing as many abandoned buildings in places that aren't "third world" (I really hate that term, by the way) countries. It seems very much in the vein of disposable planet thinking that seems to be common among US politicians and talking heads.

People of color

Finland is pretty freaking white. We're mostly known for blonde hair and blue eyes. Until we got to the airport to go back home I could generally pick out my husband out of a crowd by looking for the blonde hair. The thing that struck me though was just how non-white the service industry in the states is. We saw white people all through the city but more or less every time we were served or sold something it was by a person of color. And to tell you the truth, that really weirded me out. I had never understood just how systemic racism in the US is because a lot of time in the movies we see even the service industry is white and the few people of color we see are basically only there to be either thug #3 or Denzel Washington. And that was the entirety of my experience on the matter before this trip. I know, on an intellectual level, that thug #3 and Denzel Washington aren't the entirety of POC existence, I simply had no touchstone into just how... silenced POC are from the general discussion.

People are people everywhere

The biggest thing I notice whenever I travel is that people really are just people everywhere. They tend to be concerned for the same things, trying to find and make other things happen, mostly just trying to get through every day with a little bit of grace and charm. Although I have to admit, there's a lot less worry about leaving appropriate tips going on in Finland. I'm fairly certain I still don't know all the places I was supposed to tip and didn't for which I will eternally be apologizing to everyone I know who has ever worked in the service industry.


I LOVE Halloween! I fully think it should be a month-long celebration of all things scary and terrible. I love costumes and scary stories and partying to the sweet sounds of The Thriller. In Finland, Halloween is starting to become a thing but there are still many who oppose it as a purely American, corporate holiday. It was frankly joyous to see Halloween celebrated so universally. I loved the sense of community it created. Halloween, at least in New York, is a massively social event, bringing together all kinds of people. We went to tour American Museum of Natural History and the Rose Center for Air and Space on Halloween and even there everyone was dressed up. It was so cool to see everyone enjoying such an excellent holiday.

On the whole our trip was amazing and fun and a hugely positive experience but at the end of the day I am very happy I live in Finland. But isn't that always the way with traveling?


  1. I read this a couple of days ago, and I have been thinking about it ever since. It is so interesting! I live in the rural northeast, and I wish you could come visit and tell me what you think. We had a foreign exchange student from France last summer, and she said, "I had such a stereotype of Americans never eating together, but I guess I was wrong." (We eat together at nearly every meal) However, I think she was probably more right than her one experience with my strange family led her to believe. This was an excellent post that really got me thinking!

    1. I'm so glad! I love traveling and hopefully next summer I'll be going to Seattle and Spokane at least and if those two happen, elsewhere as well.


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