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Pirzad: Eight days. Eight states. So many impressions.

Aside from a few days in Washington D.C. a few years back, I had never traveled to the northeast United States until this past winter break. I’ve always known that America is full of sub-cultures within its 50 states, but the divisions didn’t actually become apparent until I got the chance to experience life outside of Oregon.

My home bases for the eight days were Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and New York City, but I did get to see bits of the in-between states while traveling from one place to the next. The cities were as unique as their people – and I know a lot can’t be derived from a short trip like mine, but here, I share with you my impressions of how the East Coast differs from life in Oregon.

There is much more of an ethnic mix on the East that you unfortunately don’t see much of in Oregon. Granted, this has a lot to do with the history of these places, which was really interesting to see in person. In Philadelphia, for example, the dominant ethnicities were Caucasian, African-American and Italian-American. If you look at Boston, there is the huge presence of Irish-Americans, which again, shows how much of an impact historical settlements made and continue to make.

There is a pool of varying cultures, but I noticed that it’s not always a melting pot. There seems to be a lot of division amongst the different ethnic demographics and sub-cultures. I’d come across a stretch of blocks that screamed “Little Italy” on one end of town, then another that was mainly African-American for miles. It’s not like the communities don’t interact – many people explained to me that the neighborhoods have always just been this way.

I noticed how a lot of people still hold onto traditions that date back to colonial times and further. That was one really fascinating aspect to East Coast culture for me: the fact that these are the cities that founded the U.S. and you can physically see traces of this.

One custom I saw for the first time was a single candle in people’s windows. While driving through residential areas in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia, large houses, historical estates, small apartments and sometimes businesses have an electric candle lit up in their windows. At night, one candle’s glow after the next gave our treks through the windy roads a mysterious and chilling feeling, yet an inviting familial sense too. The history of this specific tradition goes back to colonial times when people wanted nomads and soldiers to know that they are welcome in the candlelit homes.

Because there is so much history in these eastern states, not only is sightseeing worth it, but it’s fascinating because, there were so many instances where I got to meet people who have lineage tracing back to Civil War soldiers or whose grandparents’ grandparents were alive during periods of slavery. Then there are the “old money” families who are living off of money that was made centuries ago. The right last name could really take someone far in areas of the East Coast.

People are frank. Again, this is a generalization and based off of a few interactions I had here and there over my travels, but people on the East Coast seem to be a lot more honest and straightforward with everyone. Small talk doesn’t seem to be welcomed with open arms as it is in Oregon. I witnessed a handful of tiffs and brawls that were seen as completely normal by locals. There is sass every which way. But to my own surprise, I appreciated this boldness.

And lastly the food, I gave up looking for good Mexican food, but that wasn’t an issue because of all the other delicious options on the East Coast. Basic foods that we’ve been eating in the U.S. forever now like pizza, hotdogs, pretzels and subs (or hoagies as they call them), taste so much better from the old joints and street carts I came across. It’s no joke when a New Yorker says, “A crappy slice of pizza in NYC is better than a slice anywhere else.”

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Negina Pirzad

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