So….we spent far too much time in the U.S. in 2019. We started with about three months in Kentucky (including quick weekends in Nashville and Louisville). As some of you know, Robert’s brother was diagnosed with cancer and we moved into his house for three months to help care for him. Then, we took a road trip through Iowa and Minnesota (where we saw some good friends) and Wisconsin (where we visited my parents) and finally back to Chicago (to see doctors and visit friends). After the road trip, we made a quick visit to Arizona to see Robert’s parents. Then, after a month out of the U.S., we returned to Chicago for a couple of days. And, at the end of the year, we returned to the U.S. to visit doctors in Chicago and to see my parents in Florida and Robert’s parents in Arizona, with a brief stop in between to visit Vegas for Christmas. When 2019 started, we never dreamed we would spend so much time in the U.S. And, as you can imagine, our perspectives on the U.S. were really marred by the reason we came back in the first place. That said, outside of seeing friends and family, we can’t say we really enjoyed our time back in the U.S. in 2019 And the tone of this post reflects that. Sadly, nothing too funny to see here. Hang on, this is going to be a bit of a bumpy ride.
The SIM card situation in the U.S. is outrageous. All throughout SE Asia, we were able to buy a local SIM card for tourists right at the airport. And, the price was very reasonable — under $10 for a month’s worth of data was the norm. No so in the U.S. Oh no. As far as we could tell (and as far as we read), there are no prepaid SIM cards for sale anywhere at O’Hare airport except maybe in some mythical vending machines somewhere. So, you actually have to drag yourself to a store outside of the airport — good luck finding one without data. And, when you do finally find an AT&T store, good luck explaining to the staff what you want — we were actually told by an AT&T employee that AT&T does not sell pre-paid plans. So not true. And, when you finally find a store that will sell you a prepaid plan, be prepared to shell out big bucks. Think $50 per person for a month’s worth of data and calls. As Americans and native English speakers, we had trouble navigating the system. How are foreign tourists supposed to do so? Outrageous!
We both swore more our first day back in the U.S. than we had the prior month in Thailand. (See the prior paragraph for a good example of why).
We completely forgot how over the top friendly Americans are to complete strangers.
We had also forgotten how out of control crazy expensive everything is in the U.S. The exact same products we were buying in SE Asia (like toothpaste and shampoo) are considerably more expensive in the U.S. A new pair of lenses for Robert’s glasses cost $70 in Vietnam and $245 in Chicago. And, don’t even get me started on the price of hotels. After routinely spending $30-50 for a nice hotel room in SE Asia, it was a bit shocking to pay over $100 for a place that wasn’t anything special at all (a Holiday Inn Express).
We had also forgotten how crazy sales tax is in the U.S. Why oh why can’t stores, restaurants, and hotels just quote the final price? Why oh why can’t the tax rate be the same in every state (or even just within every city within one state)? And why do restaurants think it is appropriate to add an additional tax onto the bill to pay for their worker’s health care? (Don’t get me wrong. Everyone should have health care. The problem is an extra “tax” on a restaurant bill is not the way to pay for it.)
Speaking of healthcare, don’t let anyone tell you healthcare in the US is the best in the world. It is most definitely not. A perfect example. Robert injured his finger while we were in Kentucky — I’m talking a completely bent finger that could not be easily pulled back into shape. He splinted it up and we went off to urgent care. Urgent care charged our insurance company $150 to take his vitals, have a nurse say “wow, that is a great splinting job — better than we could have done,” and have a nurse order an x-ray. What is missing? You got it — nobody ever even examined his finger. Didn’t even look at it. (BTW, our insurance company told urgent care to pound sand and said they would only pay $33.) So, then we go to the hospital for an x-ray. Before he could get an x-ray, we had to disclose Robert’s religious preference and whether he has a living will — to x-ray a single finger. We decided to pay cash for the x-ray ($82). But, the hospital didn’t have anyone on staff to read the x-ray. I can’t make this shit up. And, they couldn’t tell us what the company they use to read the x-ray would charge us — not even an estimate. So, we called the radiology company to get an estimate and figure out if we were better off paying cash or running it through insurance (you know, the whole out of network, haven’t met our deductible thing). The radiology company needed a code that the hospital didn’t give us. So, we go back to the hospital, get a code, and try again. Only to find out that the hospital had given us an incorrect code — not surprising since the woman who gave it to us had written it on her hand and then read it to us. So, the radiology company couldn’t even give us an estimate of what it would cost to read the x-ray. And, the radiology company ended up billing our insurance company $200. How can it cost more than double to read an x-ray than to take one? Unreal.
There is far too much overt religion the U.S., particularly in the South. Nearly every conversation included “when I was at church” or “my pastor said” or “our church family” or “have a blessed day.” Enough, already! Can you even imagine the reaction if we had worked our lack of religious belief into every conversation? And, please tell me why on earth we had to disclose Robert’s religious preference to get his finger x-rayed?????
It is next to impossible to find good food when doing a road trip in the U.S. If you want Wendy’s or McDonald’s or Subway or other crap like that, you are in heaven. If you just want something reasonably healthy, forget about it. You most likely aren’t going to find it.
It was really weird to see all the cops wearing bullet proof vests. Although, admittedly, not as weird as seeing the cops with machine guns in Europe.
Portion sizes are HUGE in the U.S. At one meal, I was served three chicken breasts. Three! Seriously, there is no need for that.
There were a few things we realized we had really been missing while in SE Asia. Topping the list for me would have to be salad bars, toilet seat covers (oh, how I love those), and Saltines. And, it was really, really nice not to see trash everywhere.
But there were plenty of things we didn’t miss at all and drove us crazy while we were in the U.S. The constant news cycle. The politics. The underlying anger. The people that spew lies told by Fox News without doing any research to find out if the lies are true even though no reasonable person would even believe the lies. The prices.
And, the U.S. doesn’t have bum guns or Coke Light (no, Diet Coke is not the same and is a far inferior product — trust me on this). Oh, how I miss SE Asia!
We feel like old fuddy-duddies for saying this, but the legalization of pot in many U.S. cities has had one horrible downside. Those cities — and especially hotels in those cities — stink. Why is pot so stinky????
Now, fingers crossed we spend almost all of 2020 outside the U.S. (except to return to vote for whoever the Democratic nominee is, of course….).