Wild Young Minds: The Scars of Sweet San Francisco

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Scars of Sweet San Francisco

The United States of America, a country of extreme opposites. The country where vegan salad bars are located next to Taco Bell, the country where media magnet Donald Trump's followers go to the same supermarket as the few hopeful Obama supporters this country has left, and most of all: the country where the rich become richer and the poor are left defeated, dominating the street corners and desperately yearning for a fix.

As each day goes by, I can say that I feel more like a local in San Francisco. It's been five weeks now, and this city has welcomed me the minute I arrived at Oakland Airport, with its beautiful Victorian houses, its thrift shops and vinyl stores on the corner of each street and my best friend: the Bridge. I get what Scott McKenzie was singing about: even though it's fifty years later, the people here are still gentle, and yes, some of them even wear flowers in their hair.

Yet, as we know, all that glitters is not gold. Friendly as they may be, the hippies on Haight Street have turned into hoboes and the amount of junk that must be sold there is unimaginable. Amsterdam is like a sweet, little playground compared to San Francisco. It's heroin here rather than hash - though cannabis is BIG as well - and old ladies yearning for it rather than college kids.
So yes, the city's shadows have catched my eye sight as well. Hoboes sleep in front of your house, ex-veterans offer you medicines in bars and crazy people sit in front of you in buses. This might sound like a horrible nightmare, but in fact, I've never felt unsafe in this city. Weird, I know. The fact is that hoboes are friendly, and often too passed out to do you any harm. Moreover, people here actually talk to each other. In the bus, in the streets, in the supermarket. A bit superficial, alright - they still get crazy when they see my ''Cara'' brows (''honey, please tell me, where do you get them done?!'') - but sociable for sure.

I guess the sun also rises. It is said to rise in the East, but it definitely sets in the West, and isn't this the most beautiful time of the day? In other words, America has its downsides, the extreme unequality is the most important one, but it has advantages too. Let me say a few more things about these downsides. As I've mentioned before, the city is so goddamn expensive. A glass of wine for 8 dollars, gum for 4 dollars (my main vitamin sources, yes) and let's not even start talking about the rent. How can normal non-technical people live here? Well, they don't. They either sleep on the streets or commute to university or work day by day.

Another thing that struck me is the fact that politics really are right-wing here. What is considered as left/Democratic in the States, would be quite right-wing in the Netherlands. The other day we were discussing the Syrian refugees problem in my Contemporary Moral and Political Issues class, and my fellow students actually agree with some very conservative ideas. We don't want immigrants. Keep the Mexicans out. If they don't have the right skills that will be beneficial for the US, we don't want them in our country. Nationalism is an important value here, without doubt. Then there are also people flyering at university, comparing Obama to Hitler and claiming that we should all support Poetin. I support free speech strongly, but was definitely shocked.

Now let's turn to the positive things I briefly mentioned! Because that's probably the reason you're all reading these long essays of mine. The thing that still surprises me everyday is the sociability and friendliness of the people in the States. They compliment you, they tell you how their day have been (and for the first time I don't even think ''who cares?'' but actually listen to them), they tell you where to go, what to do and wish you a pleasant day with honesty in their voice. The lack of sarcasm has been a bit harsh for me - Americans don't really seem to get my humour - but I'm definitely a lot more open now. Met so many random people here, you don't want to know!

So that's something I definitely don't miss about the Netherlands, where everyone is minding their own business, looking on their phones and often even avoid looking people they ''sort of'' know in the eye when they pass them on the streets (just admit it!). For the rest, my life in San Francisco starts to feel more normal each day. I go to university, do my homework, cook my own meals and have friends to visit.

Not longer a tourist, but far from a San Franciscan either. Though I plan to travel a lot (Vegas! Vancouver! Mexico!) I can't really say that I'm a traveler either, now that I have a fixed home. We did couchsurf in Oakland once last week, to experience the upcoming area in real life. Unfortunately, I got a stomach flu and we had to leave early, but we definitely met some cool people to hang out with more in the future.

So back to my identity problem. What am I? Let's just stick to exchange student, nerdy as it might sound. I'm in a priviliged position, paying fees to the University of Amsterdam and paying relatively low (ridiculous, right?) rent. I don't need to work here, have plenty of time to stroll around the streets and meet all these nice people who think I'm oh so interesting, since I'm from Amsterdam (proud of my roots, but Brabant doesn't mean much to them) and study philosophy. So I guess I'm balancing on the part of society that's better of in this intriguing country. Yet I'm always trying to remember the reality, which sadly enough, doesn't smell like flowers anymore.

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