I’m Afraid of Americans
Do you think just like that you can divide this?
You as yours, me as mine, to before we were us?
The United States of America are without a doubt the country of contradictions and extremes, and frankly this is one of the main reasons why I’ve always been profoundly curious about it. I guess it’s pretty common to be fascinated by cultures different from ours, and unsurprisingly I felt the same interest from Americans towards Europe: several people told me about their desire to move to countries like England, Spain or Italy, exactly as I always dreamt about relocating in some American city.
I could write a long list of the main differences between the two continents, but the first that comes to my mind as an Italian is, of course, the food culture. The huge sizes of courses and drinks always freaked me out and it’s pretty easy to tell why obesity is a serious problem inside the country. Though something is changing in the late years with crusades against sweet sodas and fast foods, I still noticed some kind of perversion even in chains like Whole Foods which, despite promoting healthy ingredients and alternatives to junk food, maintain the same exact model for an American supermarket: massive shops with tons of choices and huge packagings. I’m not lying if I say that I spent more time in front of a fridge to find a simple orange juice between hundreds of beverages than waiting in line at some museum ticketing booth.
The gap between poverty and richness is another aspect which you can easily observe, and while it’s pretty common to find homeless people in almost every big city around the world, Europe included, it’s traveling on Greyhound buses where you get in contact with the real American poverty, that hidden part of society who cannot afford a flight ticket to reach their families around the country.
It’s also pretty curious how different realities coexist in the same place: from the conservative one, common in rural areas of the country, where religion and bigotry still reign supreme and abortion is still considered a mortal sin, to completely different situations in cities like San Francisco, where it’s pretty common to find young boys who do nude photographs or porn movies as a second job to pay the rent, whereas in the old continent they would rather work as waiters or bartenders.
Once, I was asked if, as a European, I considered American people dumb. Following my sarcasm I should have replied a sardonic yes, but instead I seriously analyzed this cliché. For sure I cannot generalize since I met so many intelligent people during these years visiting the country, but I actually noticed a lack of common knowledge in most of the people. Probably the educational system in the States is way too specific into a few fields, the ones which qualifies the final competences that one individual should have in his own job, whereas in Europe we are used to having a wide introduction of general culture at school before studying some specific subject. This also makes me understand why Americans sometimes get easily fascinated by Europeans, considering them more charming and passionate compared to their relatives in their own country.
What I found inconceivable the most is how acceptance towards diversities is still a big issue in some areas of the country, with huge differences between the big cities and the countryside. True, dynamics like this still happen everywhere in the world, but not with such intensity. This shouldn’t also come as a surprise after the results of the last election or reading the news in the last few years about black people being killed by policemen, but if we think about how much the racial melting pot is eradicated into the social fabric of the US, stories of racism sounds so anachronistic in 2017. While traveling in the Midwest I’ve been told several sad stories, and not only related to black people: asians, latinos, arabs, every person that I met who doesn’t belong to what is considered the “white race” had some bad experience to tell that had happened in their life.
Personally I grew up in an environment, like the Italian one, where the presence of other ethnicities was not common until the immigration currents of the last three decades, but in spite of this I’ve been educated by my parents to respect and accept everyone since I was a child. Years later, as a teenager, I started to discover the African-American culture coming from the US through music and movies, falling endlessly in love with it. That’s why I still have some issues nowadays using labels to identify races because it’s a categorization I never use to describe a human being — and also consider universally meaningless by anthropologic studies. Racism, together with misogyny, homophobia and xenophobia, from my point of view are the utter representation of human stupidity: how can we judge one person for the color of their skin, their heritage, their sexuality or their feelings? We the people should remember that, as somebody said in the past, there is no race but the human one.
I left Omaha with these thoughts bumping in my mind, after having spent some wonderful days there together with my friend Mike, who drove me around the area and showed me the best, most lovely side of the Midwest. At night I jumped on the California Zephyr, the uber-famous Amtrak train that runs from east to west, for 25 hours en route to Salt Lake City. Usually I can barely stand 3 hours of train between Milano and my village, but this time I realized that it was the best choice I could have made. Once the darkness fades away and you open the curtains, the wild nature outside the window is stunning and overwhelming: all the different landscapes, the colors of the soil, the water, the plants, gradually changing from Nebraska to Colorado, and then again in Utah. Everything looks so vast that you feel even smaller than your actual tiny size, and you understand that there’s some strange force in nature, in its fierceness, which doesn’t make distinctions of any kind, in the good and bad fate, it treats us all the same.