Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Help. In the U.S., I Can't Walk Anywhere

The United States. So big. So sprawling. So much personal space. And yet. I felt closed in.

I was just in the U.S. for a week and I couldn't help but feel a little stifled by the lack of fresh air. Yes, the rainy weather didn't help, but neither did the fact that although the hotel I was staying at in Indiana was about 500 meters from a Wendy's (and I was really craving a frosty), there was absolutely no way to just walk there.

So I didn't go. Call me European, but I was pissed that I couldn't just walk the 500 meters to fulfill my junk food craving.

Maybe Switzerland has spoiled me. I live within 10 minutes walking distance of grocery stores, the post office, the library, the pool, the spa, the H&M, the McDonald's, and more. Having to drive in Switzerland is like having to take Amtrak in the U.S. You just don't want to do it.

And while I enjoyed stuffing my face at Lone Star Steakhouse, Subway, Dunkin Donuts and more, I didn't like the feeling of not being able to walk all that off. I want to consume like any American citizen, but then I want to be able to walk it all off Swiss-style. I guess I can't have the best of both worlds. And that's disappointing.

The closest I came to being European on my U.S. visit was walking a mile (excuse me, 1.6 kilometers) into town to get my hair cut. My mother was at work so there was no other car for me to drive (or public transportation for me to take), but I was happy to walk. But my mother-in-law was concerned. "Are you sure you don't want me to pick you up so you don't have to walk home?" she asked me at least three times.

"No," I told her, at least three times.

She thought I was just being nice. I wasn't. But see, as an American, it's hard to believe, but some of us (at least those of us spoiled by a European lifestyle) just want to be able to walk places. Is that too much to ask?


M'dame Jo said...

Having to drive in Switzerland is like having to take Amtrak in the U.S. You just don't want to do it.

Good quote :-)

Chantal said...

Thanks, M'dame Jo :)

Jessica said...

You had me at Frosty... yummmmmmmmmmmm. :)

Chantal said...

I know. I can't believe I was too pissed to get one. Mistake? Maybe.

Susan said...

Have a Frosty for me!

I am lucky; when I go home to the 'burbs of Chicago, I can walk (on sidewalks) to a grocery store and a Walgrens. It's not as pretty of a walk as here in Zurich, but it's do-able. But I don't have my granny wagon there, so do I do it? Maybe once. Sigh.

Kristi said...

Considering it took us over 90 minutes of following the bouncing blue ball on my Iphone, 120chf in speeding tickets and 50 grey hairs to get to IKEA using a car from Mobility, I gladly walk or take public transport. Amen sister...

Chantal said...

Susan, yes, luckily I could walk that mile to the haircut place because my parents live near the Riverwalk in Naperville. But the rest of the suburbs, good luck.

Kristi, we use Mobility too, but maybe three times a year. It too is a pain and you always have to pay to park in Switzerland. Even at IKEA...

Kathy said...

I know just what you mean. There are a few cities (very few!) where you can (almost do) without a car. We lived in one of them, but my family lives in much more typical car-required location. Bums me out when I visit.

Chantal said...

Hey Kathy, I'm interested. What cities do you think are the best ones to live in without a car?

M'dame Jo said...

Well, I'm not Kathy and I'm not American, but I have lived a few months in San Francisco and also in the Bay Area (Palo Alto/Mountain View) and I've never used a car. I've commuted by train and/or bicycle. And it was easy and fully respected my swissness ;-)

Chantal said...

M'dame Jo, thanks, good to know. I will keep those cities in mind should I head back to the states!

M'dame Jo said...

To be fair, if you live a tad further away from a Caltrain stop, you'd need a car. While Caltrain rides quite often, buses don't really go anywhere outside of Palo Alto. Plus the larger Silicon Vally companies have shuttles that get the employees from and to the train station, which convenient, but does not really count as "public transportation.". So to sum up, if you live/work in the city and live/work close to Caltrain, you're good, but that's it.

That said, living in the city and working in the valley is something I'd do again.

Chantal said...

Good to know. Yes, public transportation options in the U.S. are limited, but it's good to know that some companies are making efforts.

Kathy said...

Best cities w/o a car? List is just the cities themselves, not the metro area.
New York (of course)
San Francisco
Seattle (my city) but w/ limitations. you really have to pick your neighborhood or risk being stranded
Vancouver, BC (favorite NA city)

Kathy said...

Re M'dame Jo's comments. I have a friend who lives near a Caltrain stop and very happily commutes to the valley. Google provide a city-valley shuttle for its employees, at least they did until recently.

I have another friend who lives in metro Boston and finds the transit commutes into the city are pretty expensive but do-able.

Chantal said...

Thanks, Kathy, good to know. The city of Chicago, where I grew up, definitely needs to work on their public transportation. The problem is, nothing connects. The train stations don't connect to the L which makes no sense at all.

kookykrys said...

I am also a US citizen living in Switzerland. The last time I went home, my husband had to grab me by the back of my shirt and yank me out of traffic, because I totally forgot that cars in the US don't stop for pedestrians at cross walks (even though they are supposed to).

Chantal said...

I did the exact same thing, expecting cars to stop for me at the crosswalks. It's quite dangerous going back to the U.S. after living here...

swisssidejewelleryetc said...

Hi Chantal,
I love this. It's so true. I was in the U.S. on business a few years back, staying at one hotel and having to go to an event in another hotel which I could see from our hotel (prob. about 500m too). The hotel receptionist offered to call me a taxi to get there. "But I can walk", I protested, "it's only down the road". "Oh, you can't walk", he said. So I did, there was no pavement, so all the cars honked their horns indignantly at me. Needless to say, on the way home I sheepishly took a taxi...
Love your blog and will check back again soon.

Chantal said...

Hi Vicky, thanks for stopping by. Love your story about walking to the hotel across the street. So true! Glad you can relate.

Rob on the Sunshine Coast said...

Hi Chantal

My wife and I are going back to Australia for a holiday after being in Lausanne for a year. As well as the excitement of seeing family and friends we have spent the last few days wondering whether 2 months on old familiar soil might be too much. Our European travels on school holidays have been so inspiring. You also feel that you are in the middle of the world action here despite the Swiss viewpoint on many issues.
We have a car in Lausanne that Jodie uses for work but otherwise we walk, bus and train everywhere else because it is so darn easy to do. Where we live in Oz we need a car for everything small activity. A day never goes by here without a conversation walk, hike or stroll.
But yes I am also looking forward to eating pies, fresh barramundi and drinking brewed ginger beer.

Cheers and thanks for your open style of blogging.

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