This week, we are pleased to introduce you to one of our very own! Sean Oliver is a member of the Pocket Cultures team: our regional contributor from the US. Over the coming months, our plan is to profile our team members, so you can learn a bit more about the team behind Pocket Cultures. This week, read about Sean’s view of the best and worst of the US, why Chicago is so fantastic, and what is most surprising for visitors.
Where do you live? Where are you from? If those are different, can you tell us a little about what inspired your move?
I grew up in North Central Ohio, lived abroad in Costa Rica, went to college in Wisconsin, worked in Chile and California, and traveled all over Europe. I moved to Chicago in 2002, and have found my home! Chicago is a world-class city, with small town charms. People in Chicago are polite, but not overly friendly (the way I like it). They work hard, and show up on time. They have little patience for BS. I never get bored, or run out of things to do, but rent is reasonable enough that you can buy enough space to be comfortably alone in your apartment/condo. Compared with the rest of the country, there are lots of job opportunities.
If you would describe yourself as multi-cultural, tell us a bit about what culture you most identify with and why.
I’m pretty much 100% German and Irish (as far as I know). Both sides of my family immigrated to the US in the 1860’s-1880’s. Both my parents grew up on farms (where my grandparents still live), became college professors, and raised my brother and I in a blue-collar Midwestern town. So I’ve had to navigate rural/academic/urban cultures my whole life, with varying degrees of success.
Why did you decide to become a Pocket Cultures contributor?
It’s fun. I like writing about culture, and I find PocketCultures to be a great forum for travel/culture blogging.
Can you describe a typical day for you?
Weekday or weekend? Weekday, I get up, eat a light breakfast, shower, check my email, and then get on my bicycle and ride to work at around 9 AM (about 2.5 miles). I’ll eat a lunch made of leftovers from the night before (my fiancé and I cook about 90% of our own food), and then head home on the bicycle around 5 PM. If it rains/snows, I take the L (elevated transit). If the L is broken, I’ll take 2 buses. Depending on the night of the week, I might stop to pick up groceries at our small neighborhood grocer, cook dinner, or my fiancé will cook dinner. Then it’s some more work, a little internet/video game time, read a book, or go on a longer bike ride. In the summer I play in a kickball league, and in the winter a bowling league. I play cards with friends sometimes on Fridays after work.
Weekends can be anything. In the Fall/Winter, it all revolves around watching football – the NFL and “futbol”. I love the English Premier League. Games can be as early as 6:30 AM local time, so it involves a bit of waking up early. I watch a lot of baseball in the summer, riding my bike down to the South Side to catch a White Sox game whenever I can. I might make “brunch” for friends – generally consisting of eggs, sausage/bacon/steak, toast, hash browns, and Irish coffee or mimosas. During the summer, we might barbecue out on the beach, or on our back porch. If I’m out on the beach, people will stop by and say hello, as my neighborhood (Rogers Park) is super-friendly. I try to get in one long bike ride (weather permitting) every weekend; there are 4 major bike paths within riding distance of my house; I can ride all the way down to 75th St on the South Side along the lakefront, up/down the Des Plaines River, or all the way out to the Chicago Botanic Gardens in Winnetka (my favorite).
What is the best part of living in your country? The worst?
The best part is the diversity of people. I live in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the USA (and possibly the world). The variety of people, languages, cultures, foods, dress, etc. makes every day interesting. The worst is probably the political climate. I don’t think I can remember a time when people were as interested in their own self-interest, and proponing a single ideology, instead of the long-term well-being of the country as a whole.
What books or films would you recommend someone who’d like to know more about your country?
A tough one. “Maniac Magee” is a kid’s book, but tells of a boy’s struggle with poverty, homelessness, and race/culture. Maybe “Working” by Studs Terkel, or “A People’s History of the USA” by Howard Zinn. “The Grapes of Wrath” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” are also great classics.
What’s something that visitors are often surprised by when getting to know your country/culture?
3 things always seem to jump out: Tipping (because the cost of service isn’t included in the cost of food), the visible poverty (in a country as rich as the USA, you’ll see plenty of poverty and homelessness, especially in larger cities), and the prevalence and importance of rules and laws. As Americans come from every corner of the globe, rules/laws have to be explicit to avoid ambiguity in what’s right/wrong. The shared cultural assumptions that exist in some countries aren’t as strong in the US.
About the authorcarrie