Deputy editor Virjinia Vassileva shares her first impressions of the United States after spending a month in New York State.
I landed in New York City around noon on August 25. After an exhausting 12-hour journey from Bulgaria through Germany to the States, I felt so relieved to be able to finally feel proper ground beneath my feet. But I also felt confused. It took me a few days to realise that I was indeed on the other side of the globe – and in such “crazy” times. The scenery did not make things easier.
I had never seen NYC this empty before. There were only a few people walking down the streets, a few brave souls walking their dogs in Central Park, not a single tourist taking pictures at Times Square and no traffic at all. I could actually breathe air rather than emissions. I could actually see the end of the street without any smoke interfering. I could actually hear birds rather than the usual sirens of police cars and ambulances. It was scary to see what looked like a scene from one of those dystopian post-apocalypse movies, but it was also truly enjoyable to walk without rushing and bumping into every second person.
With the biggest attraction being statues wearing masks, I truly felt like I was in another world. Coming from Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, which is significantly smaller, but so much more alive and populated now, NYC looked as if someone had dropped a bomb. Just a few hours before I was having a drink at a pretty crowded bar at midnight with some friends, but now I was standing between infinite skyscrapers with fewer than five people around me and almost no cafes open. NYC has always made me feel negligible, but all those empty streets sharpened this feeling even more.
I only stayed there a few days before leaving for Buffalo, a smaller town in the northern part of the state. The scenery on the way was extraordinary: with trees already changing colours, a sunset that literally set the sky on fire, and veritable herds of wild deer running next to the highway. I was extremely tired but could feel some strange energy bursting inside of me. I was going to a place I had not visited for nearly 10 years without knowing for how long I was going to stay, in the middle of a pandemic.
But there was more to it, as I was about to find out; the pandemic was not the biggest concern on people’s minds. That honour was held by the upcoming elections. And while some people were trying to escape from hurricanes or wildfires in the more southern states – while others were protesting because of lack of rights – people here were trying to avoid getting into political arguments.
I had been watching the news and keeping myself updated on the subject of this year’s elections, and I had heard stories of people getting into arguments because of different political views. However, I never expected people to be that passionate. You could see banners of either Trump or Biden’s faces on house walls, posters on windows, signs in yards with various pro-Democratic or pro-Republican slogans and other indications of particular political views.
You could hear people shouting at each other or talking quietly behind backs, disagreeing. Groups of friends have decided to postpone their meetings for after election day, wives and husbands were refusing to talk to each other, children were getting into fights with their parents… and all of that because of the elections. Friendships broken, families torn apart, people building an image of you based on the answer of a single question: Are you a Trump’s supporter?
“Is this what democracy is?” I thought.
Sharing and supporting your opinion is important, but being passionate about something does not preclude listening to and respecting other people’s views. Having a discussion is one thing, but imposing your will and opinion on others is another. This year’s elections have turned into a brawl, and all I can see are pointless arguments in the name of not-so-promising candidates. If this is the new American dream, I doubt anyone would like to have a taste of it. America is a beautiful country, but by the looks of it, its political affairs are going to tear these united states apart.
I feel lucky that my closest ones and the new friends I have made do not fall under this description.