RIA.ua (Ukrainian newspaper portal) (Ukraine)
Posted on April 6, 2005
By Marina Bogdanova
Everyone opens his or her own America. And not only because this country is incredibly diverse and seems to represent a kaleidoscope of ways for civilization to exist, but also because impressions of those who have visited Alabama are different from the impressions that one gets visiting North Dakota or Philadelphia. In addition, everyone sees Americans’ life in his or her own way and has a certain perception of it. Therefore, it would be hasty to form an overall opinion about the United States based on impressions from a tourist or business trip, but everyone who steps on this blessed land constantly opens something new about America.
I was lucky, as I think I visited the most civilized places in the United States – Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The Open World Program, established by the U.S. Congress in 1999, provided me with the opportunity to see and experience first-hand American political, business and public life. Administered by the Open World Leadership Center and housed in the U.S. Library of Congress, this program is aimed at building better mutual understanding between the United States and Ukraine. This time the American world was opened to 45 Ukrainians – lawyers, journalists and representatives of NGOs.
Museum of big politics
We spent the first three days in Washington D.C., a city that Americans consider to be an “absolutely untypical America.” Indeed, this is more like a huge museum with numerous monumental symbols of U.S. history, where everything is a reminder of the greatness of this country. There are no skyscrapers here, as constructing buildings taller than Capitol in Washington is prohibited. There are monuments all over the place. It seemed unbelievable that there is a monument to Taras Shevchenko among the bronze and stone statues of distinguished U.S. personalities.
Washington, however, is an amazing city in many respects. One gets the impression that this is where big policy is made, where the country is run. Even a quick look is enough to understand how many cultural values have been created and put together in this city.
There are few pedestrians on Washington streets – in the afternoon it is deserted and slightly grandiose – Americans are working. You can see movement only in the morning when people, relaxed and concentrated at the same time, head to offices and in the evening when they finish work. At night the U.S. capital is magnificent with its illumination and decoration, as well as quietness. We only saw some liveliness in bars and cafes. Although who knows what is happening inside the nice houses? In addition, they say there are also “unflattering” districts in Washington D.C. that we did not get to see.
As part of official meetings, however, we visited the Congress, the Library of Congress, the U.S. Department of State, the Voice of America’s editorial office and a number of other organizations. All of them employ stringent security measures. After being screened several times a day you have no doubt that the threat of terrorism is a problem in the United States. Even polite accompaniment to the ladies’ room at the Department of State did not seem obtrusive, as the rules are set for everyone. At the Ukrainian Embassy, however, our dependability was not checked. There we were greeted as honored guests, and a reception looked more like a friends’ meeting.
View from above
It takes 45 minutes to fly from Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh. You can look at America from the window of the plane: the altitude is not high, the day is clear and frosty and the foreign world is clear as day. You can see bright roofs of the houses, neat buildings, gray roads and a lot of forests. We flew over the Pentagon as well! A flight attendant, however, did not allow us to take pictures. I wish we could have, however, because America is beautiful!
Like the movies
Pittsburgh is called America’s ecological wonder. This is a city that used to be a major steel, glass and oil production center and is now known for having a clean environment, amazing topography and highly developed culture.
Do you remember the movie Groundhog Day? It was filmed in Pennsylvania, and I, living in Carnegie, a suburb of Pittsburgh, felt like I was in that movie every morning because of the toy houses and the light fluffy snow, which looked as though it was not falling but flying divinely over the quiet clean world.
Pittsburgh itself is a city full of glass and concrete buildings, monuments of architecture and churches of all religions. It is surrounded by three rivers – the Allegheny, the Monongahela and the Ohio – and small mountains, which represent an entirely different civilization and give certain movie-like atmosphere. This is a city of business and cultural life. More than a million people come here in the morning and until late hours one can feel the pulse of the highly developed country with all the benefits of civilization that seem so natural.
One quickly gets used to this – to friendly smiling people, clean streets and good roads, nice and careful service and, I beg your pardon, normal restrooms, where water, smell, soap, paper and napkins are never a problem. Also, Americans drink tap water without boiling it because it is clean.
It is easy to talk to Americans even if you have minimum knowledge of the language. If there is openness and mutual interest in understanding, you have dialogues filled with child-like delight. It often seemed that they liked to feel like children and behave child-like at any age when it was allowed to do so, while at the same time maintaining their businesslike approach to life when necessary.
Nothing to be faulted
That is why the week I spent in Pittsburgh seemed like a continuous holiday of all kinds of beauty.
There were so many interesting faces, bright images, and unforgettable meetings. I was told that all Americans are overweight. Nothing of the kind. Although obesity is officially called the nation’s problem, there are a great number of slim and beautiful people.
I was also told that Americans dress carelessly, and this is also untrue. I really liked the relaxed style, where everything is in the right proportion and clothes do not put the people who are wearing them in the shade. Americans still smoke, although a healthy lifestyle is being heavily promoted. Smoking is allowed in bars and some cafes, as well as special places for smoking and outside. One will not, however, see someone with a cigarette in his or her hands in an office. This seems to be getting part of their culture.
Also, Americans do not eat only hamburgers, although fast food is a certain lifestyle as well. They eat normal food; it is just that it is different from ours.
After I returned to Ukraine I asked myself what I did not like in the United States and honestly tried to come up with an answer, but I failed. I still cannot think of anything to find fault with. Well, maybe only that I never got to eat borsch there.
[Reprinted with Permission]