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Unpleasant Realities of American Life

Watch Out!
Watch Out!

As much as I love living in America, I must admit some aspects of life can be quite annoying. I think prospective immigrants should be given the whole picture and I don’t believe wearing pink-colored glasses really helps on the long run.

This is not about bashing Canada or North America, or saying that other countries on earth are by comparison much better. This is about giving some other facts, for once a bit on the “minus” side.

So here my list of what I consider are “unpleasant realities of American life”.

Political apathy: people are pretty cynical about politics and many don’t bother to vote. In the United States, approximately 55% of the eligible population registers to vote, in Canada, it’s 76%. Pretty low compared to Europe, for example… There aren’t a lot of parties either: in the USA, it’s basically between Democrats and Republicans, and in Canada between the Liberals, the Conservatives and maybe the Bloc. I rarely see or hear people arguing about politics: let’s face it, the rise of Obama and the atmosphere during the last presidential elections in the U.S.A was pretty exceptional!

Religion is everywhere: it’s hard being an atheist or an agnostic in North America. People take faith very seriously: 73% of Americans say that they believed in a God and in Canada, only 16% report having no religious affiliation. If you are just a casual atheist, like I am, you will soon learn to not debate with people and to keep your lack of faith to yourself. Activist atheists will face a much bigger challenge, since religion and beliefs are deeply rooted here. Bigger headaches too, as they will realize that the separation between the church and the state in blurred at best! In smaller communities, going to church may be the only way to “fit in”. Europeans may also be surprised to notice that what are considered as “cult” there are very popular religions on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Driving is a way of life: cities are usually far apart, spread out and most people get around by driving. Only bigger cities have efficient public transportation and the city planning is usually made in favor of drivers. Simply put, taking public transportation is simply not practical a lot of times. Therefor, it is pretty common for a household to have two cars or more… Walking is often seen as an activity that need to be planned, not something you do to get from point A to point B. Similarly, people would drive to the gym, exercise for an hour, and then drive back home…

Buy or die: consuming and buying are seen as something very positive that helps the economy. The more, the better. You can shop pretty much any time since stores open late and don’t usually close on Sunday. And if, exceptionally, stores are closed… don’t worry, there is always the internet! There are always sales going on and any major holidays or event is over-marketed months ahead. To give you an idea, we are in July and I saw the first “back to school” sales at Wal Mart! Halloween sales start as soon as mid-September, Christmas merchandises are sold right after Halloween etc.

Whose debt? A lot of emphasis is put on living beyond your means. Americans carry the most credit cards, with an average of 4 cards per person. You are always encourage to get yourself in debt: from credit cards companies sending you applications with ridiculous credit limit (I’m talking ten of thousands here) to the “buy now pay later” scheme in stores. Being in debt seem to be a fact of life here and most people are quite casual about it. Ironically, you do need to have credit cards to build your credit history, in order to be able to get a mortgage later on.

The power of marketing: there is an insane number of commercials on TV and advertising in general everywhere. Public space is cluttered with billboards and I have to skim through the newspaper to find the genuine articles among all the crap. Movies start 15 minutes late because of the advertising… there are even ads on garbage can and on public bathroom’s doors! I’m tired of retrieving flyers in my mailbox and to walk home just to find more in a small plastic bag hung at the doorknob. I hate adversing.

Eat, eat, eat: all in all, food is pretty unhealthy. Portions, for a start, are huge. Junk food is incredibly cheap and convenient: there is a fast food at every corner! People eat just about anytime and anywhere: watching a movie at the theater, doing a meeting, driving, being in the bus… And I find most North Americans don’t have a healthy relationship with food anyway, from eating the wrong foods too often to banning some food groups altogether as a way to diet, from binge eating and exercising to exorcise heavy meals to eating too much too often.

Have fun!: North Americans value “entertainment”: work hard, play hard. Movies, music, sports, everything is bigger, funnier and better. It does get a bit annoying though, because everything is very short-term and quite superficial. You will hear about a movie for months before its release date for example, only to see it last for two weeks at the theater. Somebody is the biggest star one day and a total loser the next.Consistency, people…

Media Hysteria: medias are very powerful and they take their role seriously. It’s not so much the media biais that drives me crazy, but rather this weird twisted way of exaggerating every single event. Mickael Jackson died? We had 24/7 footage about the news, including the video of Jackson’s Body being flown from the hospital to the coroner’s office (with close-ups). Demonstration in Iran? No deep coverage of historical issues etc. but the same footage of blurry demonstrations all over again. Less pictures, more talk, people!

How about you? What drives you crazy?

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