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Sandwich Revelations, or How I Figured Out America

They say the first impression is the one that will stick the best in your memory. I remember my first impression of Graceland University. I had traveled for more than 48 hours total (with all the connection flights and all), had a terrible jet-lag, and could hardly breathe from Iowa humidity. As my eyes were struggling to remain open (maybe little bored for seeing nothing but darkness since we left Des Moines Airport), I had no choice but to listen to what driver was saying. She was my very first unofficial tourist guide to Iowa. I failed to see how six red lights from far away as seen from the highway were referred to as “Eiffel Tower of Iowa”. I failed to be impressed by vast nothingness as we drove towards Lamoni. I didn’t even seem to move a brow when I was told of a newly opened “dance club”. I don’t know whether it was jet-lag, or I was already homesick, but I slowly started to accept my destiny…

“We also have a Subway in Lamoni”, and at that moment I thanked the God, and blamed myself for being so stupid. Of course, the subway, the Underground Railroad connecting Lamoni with Des Moines, Kansas City, or any other place I wanted to go within the U.S. “There’s still hope after all”, I was thinking to myself “Whenever I get bored, all I have to do is get a subway train and go whenever I want to go…” There was a solution to all my problems.  “Oh, no, no, no… Sub-Way, like sub-way sandwiches is what I meant” replied the driver, as I got absorbed in the never-ending vastness of corn, Midwestern summer humidity and that dark night with couple of red lights which were supposed to be Eiffel Tower. I’m finished I thought. Only later would I understand the significance subway sandwiches would have on my life.
For months afterwards I was trying to escape the whole sub-way thing, probably because I might have been embarrassed about the whole underground-trains-to-Des-Moines embarrassment. I didn’t know what I was missing. There was an entire philosophy to be built on sandwiches, if I only tried them.

It was just one of those hungry nights when I went to the “subway station” with couple of friends, and that’s when the revelation occurred to me: “How can I help you?” and I replied “Yes, I would like a sandwich please”, and then I was overwhelmed by questions “what kind of bread? What kind of meat? What kind of cheese? What kind of sauce? What kind of vegetables? Etc.” It’s funny, back home, if I order a chicken sandwich you get a chicken sandwich (you trust the cook, you have no choice); on the other hand, in U.S. it took me at least half-an-hour to order a sandwich.

After my first sandwich experience I started seeing a pattern. There were so many brands of cereal, and I could not decide whether I needed extra vitamin A and D, or should I go with the other cereal that had extra vitamin C and 12 minerals. So many kinds of insurances, so many kinds of cars, so many kinds of computer brands, so many kinds of everything. I had difficulties calculating all these choices I was making. I didn’t really know whether I liked my sandwich with or without extra tomatoes, with or without pickles, toasted or not toasted…

Sandwiches taught me the basic value of American life – choice. This value seems to be rooted so deep in American culture that one has a choice even in situations of life and death (take medical ethics class if you need more explanations). It seemed that so many ethical decisions that are made everyday in this country are shaped so that they can respect this very value. It is not the place and time to discuss whether culture shapes ethics, or vice-versa, but there certainly seems to be a connection. On a brighter note, I still am not sure what kind of sandwich I like best. Can I proceed to more complicated issues without figuring out my favorite sandwich? At least I have a choice; it’s much better than to go with the taste of some weird guy back home that calls himself a chef. Here, I am my own chef, I am my own medical ethicist, I am my own stock broker, I am my on insurance agent… Here I am my real me, and not some cookie-cutter-mold of a person.

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Artrit Bytyçi, or Titi, attended Graceland University between 2002 and 2006, during which time he wrote his "Titi's College Journal" column for "Tower", the University's newspaper.

3 thoughts on “Sandwich Revelations, or How I Figured Out America”

  1. Article tailored very nicely, interesting with a hint of surprise, informative …and in a way educative for some of us:)

    You Smooth Criminal…didn’t know you were such a talented ‘no-writer’!!!

  2. Clever piece, and your distillation of America into that one word, “choice,” is keen analysis. The first time I visited a supermarket in Scotland, I felt a certain desolation, because there was only full fat or “skinny” milk, not an a range between fat free, 1%, 2%, organic, and so on. Loved the bit about cereals. Once you start reading labels, you’re lost.

    I know your post here was written some while ago. What are your impressions now? Have you traveled much beyond NYC?

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