It has almost gotten to the point, after two decades of absence from the US of A, that I sometimes feel like a tourist in my 'own land.' Or perhaps somewhere in between a local and ferner.
There are a handful things I truly miss. This is my top ten. So it goes.
1. It's clean. Really it is. The air. The streets. The parks. Parking lots. There simply isn't any garbage to speak of. The recycling truck comes like clockwork every Thursday. My clothes and hair don't stink of low-quality coal particles.
2. Friends and family.
3. Things work. I often criticize the states for waving the freedom flag whilst being the most regulated country on earth. It's a bit hypocritical if you ask me. You're free...but you can't do this, this, this, or this. However, I will readily admit that things work here. Municipal, state, federal. Whatever. Need a driver license. No problem. It'll take you 30 minutes to get a brand new one. Need a passport? No problem. 7 days via post (you don't have to be pinched to prove who you are), done deal. Emergency services are admirable here. Truly. Things just work here with relatively little hassle. Nothing needs a stamp. You can register a business online in 15 minutes.
4. Sports. Sports are enjoyable anywhere. But Bosnia and Europe annoy me with their fascist football hooligan war calls. I find it offensive. There is always healthy competition here and we may not like the opposing teams fans all that much, but the bottom line is that there is next to no violence. It's a place to bring your kids. And there's no need for body armor or shanks. No war chants. No racial slurs. It's just a friggin' game.
5. Sales. I usually get about ten good years of wear on my sweaters. Almost as long for t-shirts and pants. I'm not a big shopper. Americans are. That provides me with a great opportunity. My family lives in south Florida. Winter lasts about 2.5 days. All the stores stock up with winter or warmer stuff. They sell next to nothing. I arrive in February. The stuff they were selling for $150 in December is now $7. I much rather spend my money on travel, food and friends. Ultra consumerism does have its benefits - great sales. I know, shame on me.
6. Parks. They rock. They really do. Not only are they immaculately clean but are a great gathering place and safe space for kids. The playgrounds are super safe, with no money saved to create ideal conditions for our kids to play, for a long time to come, in superb facilities. People take care of them too. There are no destroyed park benches. No garbage. No cement slabs for our kids to bash their heads on. No rusted, outdated, and downright dangerous seesaws or slides to speak of.
7. Green. Even though I'm in south Florida, which is by no means a progressive, green community, there is a heck of a lot of green going on. Even the main supermarkets have a remarkable selection of organic fruits, veggies and other staples. Then there are specialized shops, with the bohemian hippies and odd kid from high school with dreds serving up a super food concoction to try, or recommending which crystals might help you sleep at night. Expensive, sure. But America's food industry is the scariest on earth. The GMO's, the hormones, the processing, the corn starch, the mono agricultural practices. Truly scary stuff. At least the green movement is gaining momentum. They'll need it in south Florida too...I'll talk about obesity another time.
8. NO SMOKING. Yes. I can go to the bar and have a pint without inhaling a pack's worth of secondary smoke. I can eat at a restaurant without my 'dear' friend lighting up before I finish my meal and blowing smoke directly into my mouth along with my pasta. I don't stink like an ashtray, ever. Smokers, almost embarrassed, go out of their way to remove themselves from our company when they have the urge. When will I see that day in Bosnia? Never, I know. That's why I am revelling in it now.
9. Kindness. Americans often get accused of being ignorant about world affairs...or even domestic ones for that matter. Their geography skills often don't go beyond the state they live in. For some, perhaps even just the county. But there is most certainly a genuine kindness to folks. People will almost always say hello with a smile when passing you in the street. They'll lend a helping hand. And if the going gets tough they are exceptionally generous. Some may say its superficial but for those of you who have experienced it first hand, you know what I'm talkin' about.
10. Colors. Of all kinds. I sometimes frown at the lectures I often get in Sarajevo about multi-ethnicity. Too much back patting for a culture where a handful of 'peoples' speak the same language, have similar traditions, similar backgrounds, similar cuisine, pretty much similar everything and claim to be a bastion of tolerance and multi-culturalism. It's nice to see African, Asian, Latino and every other kind of peeps that constitute this nation. It may not be perfect but the melange of cultures, colors and cuisines is nice. The Balkans are so white.