Lost In Transition

Having spent the last 2 years in London, I couldn’t imagine myself in any other city.  Granted, this was the only big city…and it is a Very big city…that I had ever lived in, something about London struck home with me.

But, as the saying goes “all good things must come to an end”, my 2 year saga in London finally came to an end, and I find myself once again in “the land of the free”.  In the grand scheme of things, 2 years is only a twelfth of my entire life so far so you would probably think it wouldn’t be too hard to transition back.  But for almost 4 years now, I have spent more time living outside of my native country then I had spent living there.  My first long term venture began the 2nd  day of 2007 when I studied abroad in Grenoble, France for 5 months.  I spent the remaining 7 months  back in the states, but ventured out, yet again, to another Francophone country – Quebec, Canada, for another 4-5 months.  3 months later I found myself in a country where although everyone spoke my language, their accent was funny.  Insert 2 years in London.  During my stay, I had the good fortune of exploring Europe which really opened my eyes to a different lifestyle.

With that said, I am having more troubles transitioning to the American lifestyle than I had anticipated.  One aspect of the European lifestyle, which will never compare with the United States, is their mode of transportation.  Almost every European country has some type of public transportation, be it a light rail (tram) or an underground system.  Even Grenoble, with a modest population of roughly 160,000 people, was well equipped with a tram line and bus system, keeping the low mountain dwellers connected.

Above from left to right – London’s underground, Paris’ Metro, Amsterdam’s Tram, Prague’s Tram, and inside Berlin’s underground train.

Unfortunately for the U.S., after President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill in 1956 to authorize the Interstate Highway System, America has been doomed to depend on personal transportation (i.e. cars) to get around.

Interstate Highway plans – 1955

This has become an aspect of my lifestyle which has been difficult to transition away from since moving back to the states.  As someone who considers my impact on the environment, I don’t like the idea of driving everywhere.  Not to mention it seems like roads are becoming more and more crowded, putting my personal health at risk as traffic tends to stress me out to no end.

United States Commute Patterns for Major Cities

United States Commute Patterns for Major Cities

I must admit though, the northern east coast is pretty well linked with trains and subways.  NYC has an extensive subway system not to mention two main train stations which are home to lines which venture out to as far as Vermont.  Washington DC, and the metro area, also has a pretty decent public transportation network.  However drawbacks include the cost, reliability and efficiency.  It is refreshing to learn, though that Arlington, DC’s close neighbor, has been actively maintaining its bus systems to keep the Arlingtonians connected to the metro, which has successfully kept more and more cars off the roads.  Their master plan is well worth taking a look at for fellow public transit lovers.

As you can see, I am relearning the American ways of life, but can’t say that it has been easy.  I stopped eating meat (yes, that includes seafood) while I was in London and had no problems.  I have found it more difficult in the states to support this new eating habit of mine, which is discouraging.  The UK Vegetarian society mandates the “V” label (right) on foods that are suitable for vegetarians.  This saves time reading ingredient labels when food shopping.  Even in restaurants the bright green “V” was a common element of menus to help people like me make meal choices much easier.  But I can sense that this movement is growing here, and am happy to contribute what I can to keep this momentum going.

These are only two examples of how life back “home” has felt strange and slightly foreign.  I can’t say that all of America is driving around in huge Escalades while eating double bacon cheeseburgers and this is why I am not transitioning well.  There are many places in this country that support the lifestyle I have chosen.  Burlington, VT, for one, is always a place that I can call home, having lived there for 4 years.  Burlington was rated one of the healthiest cities in the United States circa 2007 and they support a non-carnivorous, bike and public transportation friendly lifestyle.  On top of that, there are cities  that are popping up around the states to brag about how “green” they are, and with just cause as well.  So I do believe there is hope for America, but I feel like our habits are a product of our history, and as young as America is, our history doesn’t lend itself well to a very Eco-Friendly lifestyle.

While I learn to become American again, while still maintaining my beliefs and green way of life, I hope to spread the word about my experiences and how I plan to maintain this balancing act.


About Zanna Leigh

I am a born Wisconsiner, native New Englander, short term (and wannabe) European, vegetarian foodie, good music lover, public transit enthusiast and sustainability devotee in the DC metro.
This entry was posted in Arlington, London, Smart growth, Transportation and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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