My ten favorite things about the USA

| October 22, 2012 More

Chicago skyline

On the tenth anniversary of my move to the United States, I made a list of what I hold dear about the adopted home.  

In October 2002, I hopped on a Chicago-bound plane at the Krakow airport, holding a one-way ticket. I was moving to the USA with my Chicago-native husband (now known as Mr. Jetting Around…), who had spent several years in Poland.

When his expat life ended, mine began.

Leaving behind family, friends, and beloved city naturally wasn’t easy. However, I was determined to get acclimated in my new place quickly and make the best of the transition. Before long, I had new favorite hangouts, foods, and activities.

To mark the expat anniversary, I made a list of ten things I appreciate about my adopted country. Here they are (in no particular order, except #1).

1. Sports

Without following local sports, my move would have been a lot harder.

The prospect of going to Chicago White Sox games, a baseball team I had gotten to like a few years earlier, was the number one thing I looked forward to. One of American pastimes, baseball immediately made me feel connected to the country.

In 2005, I celebrated the team’s World Series Championship like a long-time Chicagoan. The difference was, I hadn’t had to wait to see the win for 88 years, like the rest of the city (well, at least the part that doesn’t root for the Chicago Cubs). I even got the rivalries figured out early on…

Going to a White Sox game

The US may not be typically associated with soccer, but that is not to say the sport is non-existent here. On the contrary, Major League Soccer has been steadily growing and expanding, and so has the fan culture.

Rooting for the Chicago Fire alongside my fellow supporters of Section 8 Chicago not only introduced me to many new people, but helped me look at Chicago as my city. When you travel to see your team play on the road and you scream ‘Chicaaaaagooooo!’ at the top of your lungs, you are bound to find a greater sense of belonging.

2. Contemporary American cuisine

While in college in Poland, I wrote a thesis about American food. My goal was to prove that indeed there was such a thing as “American cuisine,” and it was not all fast food. Ever since moving here, I have continued my research, this time simply for the pleasure of it.

Chicago, New York, and Minneapolis are among cities where I have found incredible restaurants serving American fare, which is a fusion of many culinary influences (e.g. Italian, Mexican, Asian) and a reflection of the country’s diversity. Also, as a supporter of the locavore concept, I have been pleased with how easy it is to find restaurants serving food made from locally-sourced, organic ingredients.

American cuisine

3. Sub sandwiches

I can think of no better lunch meal than a freshly-made submarine sandwich – a long roll of French or Italian bread, cut in half and stuffed with a variety of ingredients.

Subs are also great on the go – during a road trip or at an airport – and trying them is a fun way to explore cities. Many places have local “mom & pop” joints that have been in business for decades and serve unique specials.

4. Diners

So many TV shows and movies that I watched as a teenager showed neighborhood diners – casual places that served cheap, hearty food, and were usually run by a friendly owner. It is no surprise then that I view diners as quintessentially American.

Sometimes all I want for brunch is a toast, hash browns, and bottomless coffee, all for just a few dollars.

5. Mexican food (especially late at night)

Tacos at 3 a.m.? No problem in Chicago! Mexican food is among my favorite types of cuisine, and living in a city with a large Mexican-American population means my cravings can be easily satisfied, at any time. I also get to practice Spanish when ordering, an added bonus.

6. Road trips

Another image of America I had from watching movies was that of seemingly endless road trips, journeys through small towns and vast prairies, dust clouds coming from under spinning wheels. The reality is interstate highways, toll booths, and fast food restaurants next to gas stations, but I nevertheless do not shy away from ‘driving around‘.

I love the feeling of freedom that the open road gives and, just like in the movies, the anticipation of good things to come. One of my favorite routes is the Pacific Coast Highway in California, and someday I’d like to drive its entire length.

Pacific Ocean & Sonoma Coast

7. Automatic transmission

When I first learned to drive, it was in Europe and on a stick shift. The US is not the only country where automatic transition cars are used, but it was new to me when I moved. Nowadays, I could not imagine being stuck in Chicago traffic and having to deal with the stick. My right hand is free to browse radio stations instead…

8. Natural beauty

Two oceans, mountain ranges, canyons, desserts, grasslands – the list goes on and on.

One of the reasons I do road trips is to see as much as I can of the impressive landscape. I also enjoy flying to the West Coast on a clear day and seeing the Rocky Mountains from above. Quite a view!

9. Cities

On my list of favorite cities, several are within the US, and it is due either to architecture or food.

I love San Francisco for its stunning Victorian homes and ocean-side setting, and New York and Chicago have my favorite pizza on this side of the pond (NYC-style and deep dish, respectively). Other cities appeal to me thanks to their European charm (New Orleans’ French Quarter and Boston’s historic center, with its winding cobbled streets), or Spanish colonial feel (Santa Barbara, CA).

Another reason I enjoy exploring American cities is live theater. There is a great variety from coast to coast and whenever I travel, I check performance schedules.

Stage at the Green Mill jazz club

I have enjoyed big Broadway productions in New York, intimate store-front theaters in Chicago, and modern performing spaces such as the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

10. Jazz 

The birthplace of jazz, my favorite style of music, has no shortage of clubs and festivals.

A New Orleans jazz club tour is on my to-do list, and in the meantime I get to enjoy Chicago’s jazz scene. My go-to place in the city is the famed Green Mill jazz club, which once was… Al Capone’s hangout.

What would you add to this list? Do you have a favorite USA experience? Let me know in the comments box!

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Category: STORIES


About the Author (Author Profile)

Pola Henderson is a travel writer, city explorer, expat, and event host. Traveling has been a part of her life since she was three. Pola grew up in Krakow, lived in Chicago for many years and is currently based in Paris, where she teaches Business English.

Comments (48)

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  1. OMG I love this list – it is so true, Pola! Except #1, ain’t no great fan of American sports which is understandable. Seriously love this – these are the same reasons why I keep going back to the US every year!

  2. Love the perspective you share! I agree that diners are quintessentially American – love going for breakfast fare any time!. But the sub sandwich thing – paninis, Pola, paninis!!! Subs fall apart in this country, so loaded with junk. A good panini – excellent walking around food! :)

  3. This is one of my favorite posts, Pola! Congrats on ten years in America! I’ve never been an expat, but I’d love to one day. I’m sure leaving behind your family was hard, but I bet Mr. Jetting Around made the move much easier. :) Love your top ten! xx

    • I appreciate your kind words, Erin!! Thank you so much. xx

      Being an expat has its pluses and challenges, and leaves you eternally torn. You always miss your home country, but if you were to go back, you’d miss the adopted one too. That being said, if you have the opportunity… it can be an interesting experience. :)

  4. Congratulations on your tenth anniversary! I really love your list. After being away from the USA for the past year, especially :) If you do return to drive the Pacific Coast Highway all the way north, make sure to plan a pit-stop in Portland, Oregon. That stretch of land from San Francisco to Vancouver, B.C. is some of the most gorgeous country in the world.

  5. Love the list, and I think it’s great that both you and Mr. Jetting Around have both had the opportunity to be expats.

    I definitely agree that the US has a lot of natural beauty. We’re lucky to have such diverse places as Alaska & Hawaii, not to mention the lower 48. And road trips are one of the best ways to see it all! :)

    • Thank you, Kim. I appreciate your comment about me and my husband both having an expat experience. I think it helps us understand each other and we both know what it’s like to be attached to two places.

      I would love to see Alaska someday soon.

  6. avatar Francesca says:

    Bravo, Pola! You’ve captured much of what I love about the USA, the only country I’ve ever called home. I can’t agree with you more about the sports culture, and how fun that we can mix sports AND travel by seeing our team(s) play on the road!

  7. avatar Kieu says:

    Good timing.. we just arrived home to the good ole US of A yesterday! I’m going out or Mexican tonight!

  8. you summed up some of our favorite things about being american! mostly food related…

    glad to have you with us– here’s to another 10 years! xo

  9. avatar Lane says:

    My better half is a British expat and she has pretty much made the same observations about the U.S. And, she’s very, very addicted to road trips now.

  10. Yeah…it’s more than a little awesome that sports is your #1! A great list..

  11. avatar Aaron says:

    Great list! You know my thoughts on road trips. Hope you make it over to the PCH soon. Love #4. Actually just experienced earlier this week, bottomless coffee and more hash browns that I could possibly consume at a local breakfast establishment. The eggs and toast alongside played second fiddle haha. :)

  12. avatar Leah Travels says:

    What a great post on your adopted country, Pola. I love seing what’s great about America from someone who didn’t grow up here. Makes me appreciate it even more. Well done!

  13. I agree with all of these! The only one I haven’t really experienced is #10. For some reason, I haven’t made it to the Green Mill yet.

  14. avatar lola says:

    POLA so glad you live here. otherwise, we might not have met!! you are one of my fave’s and the only Polish person i know. cannot wait to see you again!!

    xo – lola

  15. avatar John says:

    I love hearing people who grew up in other cultures talk about their experiences with the US. You obviously have a lot of data to pull from since you’ve been here so long now, and you really do a great job of capturing some of the best of the USA. Nice work.

  16. Those are some of my favorite things about living in the USA,too! It’s a great country and you are living in one of its greatest cities. I had to chuckle about the automatic transmissions. I tried to learn to drive a manual transmission a few times…. it’s not pretty.

  17. A great list of reasons why this country is great. Glad to see the Whites Sox are tops on the list.

  18. Love this post! There’s never enough U.S. love and I actually kinda just shot them down in my recent post…. (guilt). Road trips and diners, definitely U.S. culture and things to love. People say Americans never travel- they travel a lot in their own country. And the states/cities change exactly as you said. LA, NYC, Chicago, SF– all very different cultures, attitudes, lifestyles.

    • Hi, Christine. You can always find great things about a place, as well as the not-so-great ones… I just saw your post and understand where you’re coming from. Hopefully there will be lots of positives too. :) And I agree about the variety of lifestyles and attitudes. Thanks for the comment!

  19. #7 made me laugh out loud. Also made me smile with all your research on the American Cuisine… I certainly believe it exists… and happy for it too. And the dinner. Yes, the dinner. Love it.

    stay adventurous, Craig

  20. Yes, huge congrats on your tenth anniversary!

    And I love this list. Sometimes, it’s so easy for people to write lists about what’s not working in the US. I agree with everything you mention here (ok, not so much sports, but I’ve just never been able to get into sports), and I love your attitude and how you really just grab experiences and opportunities and live them.

    Besitos to you from Argentina!


  21. avatar Vanessa says:

    First, congratulations! I can see how you’ve been enjoying your stay in the US even if you’re far from your family…Got to thank the White Sox, the Automatic Transmission, the Deep Dish and the Jazz! Enjoyed reading it..really nice!

    • Hey Vanessa – thanks for reading and commenting! Yes, I have enjoyed being on this side of the pond, even if I’ll never stop missing Krakow. But Chicago’s been a great city to call home. :)