WorldWhat I'll (and won't) miss about America after 7...

What I’ll (and won’t) miss about America after 7 years as BBC editor


Throughout USAIn a few hours, turkeys will enter the ovens, millions of people will rush from regional airports to see their loved ones, and the roads are likely to be jammed.

And people will prepare to gorge themselves on that heinous crime against gastronomy, the sweet potato and marshmallow casserole (marshmallows, why not? But mixed in one plate? Ewww).

SIGHT: Thanksgiving Day: 8 keys to understanding why it is the most important holiday in the United States

That said, Thanksgiving is the most beautiful occasion. It is the middle ground between the ghastly excess of Halloween and the naked commercialism of some aspects of Christmas. And it’s not about feverishly unwrapping gifts: it’s about families and friends coming together and giving thanks.

My most vivid and painful Thanksgiving was in 2017.

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We were across the street at our friend Jeff’s house in Georgetown. A few months earlier, his wife, who was 39, had died of a very aggressive cancer.

We went around the table, taking turns saying why we were giving thanks, including their children, Eleanor, who was 10 at the time, and Charlie, who was eight. They spoke of the support of friends and family and how this had comforted them in that unspeakably horrible year.


Curiously, perhaps, it was an occasion that highlighted the good of the United States:positivity, hope, optimism and yes, resilience too.

This will be my eighth and last Thanksgiving before heading back to the UK, and what has struck me about living here is the good manners, respect and old-fashioned courtesy.

When I tell Americans that there are people in the UK who could learn from this, they seem surprised. They surely think that the UK, with its royal family, is the epitome of etiquette and courtesy. I ask them if they have ever tried to take the Victoria line at Oxford Circus station of the London Underground at rush hour.

But there will be many families who will not be reunited this year.

A friend from Ohio, the kindest and gentlest soul, says that your family will not be reunited due to toxic divisions that have come to light in recent years. He works in the media and is fed up with his family telling him that he works with fake news. It has been a growing and depressing phenomenon in the US, where the list of forbidden items for the dinner table is now so extensive that it is best to cancel everything.

There have always been divisions in America, some of which can be traced back to its original sin: slavery. And recent court cases have underscored the deep sense of grievance that the legal system does not work equally for black and white defendants.

Jon Sopel has been based in Washington since 2014.

Jon Sopel has been based in Washington since 2014.

But the list seems to grow daily.

Abortion, guns, capital punishment: those dividing issues go back decades. But today we can add to that kneeling before a sporting event, cancellation culture, LGBTQ rights, critical race theory, defunding the police (was it ever a catchphrase better designed to infuriate so many people?) .

And of course the the spy is clear of the attempted resurrection of January 6, the “stolen election”, which of course was not stolen.

These fissures turned into full-scale crying during the Trump presidency, when the US was either passionately in favor of the 45th commander-in-chief or downright hostile. Few were indifferent. And so a lot of crazy things have become a political dividing line.

In the south there were restaurants and bars that prohibited entry to people wearing masks. Think about it. In the land of the free, during a pandemic, some may deny you the option of covering your face for your safety and that of others because protective equipment has become a political issue.

There was a recent gubernatorial election in Virginia, where the Republican candidate achieved an impressive victory. But the Democratic candidate had a 14-point advantage among those who had been vaccinated. That’s amazing: accepting a vaccine in the US is now an indicator of voting behavior.

In September I was in New York for the twentieth anniversary of September 11, a moving moment for America in 2001, but an event that brought the country together.

George W Bush mobilized the nation after 9/11.  (GETTY IMAGES).

George W Bush mobilized the nation after 9/11. (GETTY IMAGES).

That was in those innocent days leading up to social media.

Sure, there were some strange conspiracy theories: according to some, the bombings were a Zionist plot (for reasons I’ve never been able to understand); But they did not have the highly flammable propellant of algorithms back then, nor could the malicious – state and non-state – wreak such apparent confusion and chaos.

I really wonder what it would take to unite this nation today.

Joe Biden came to power promising to lower the political temperature and heal the wounds of a divided nation, but there is no evidence that it is succeeding.

Inflation is on the rise, the departure from Afghanistan was catastrophic, Covid has not gone away, there are supply chain problems threatening Christmas, and its approval ratings are sinking despite the fact that its massive infrastructure improvement program has been approved by Congress.

Vermont in the fall.  (GETTY IMAGES).

Vermont in the fall. (GETTY IMAGES).

So this Thanksgiving will be the turkey and all the trimmings, but many Americans will feel like they have nothing to be thankful for, even as this beautiful, wealthy, creative, and entrepreneurial country still offers plenty of opportunity.

At lunchtime I will thank you for my time here, for the journalistic task of my life, for the wonderful American friends I have met and will keep

I will also give thanks for the weather. The US has much brighter and clearer days than the UK. Sunlight is the norm; but I will keep my fear, to return and listen to those weather forecasts that exhaust the soul: “It will be cloudy with thick clouds and drizzle …”

Happy Thanksgiving Day.

Postscript: As I sat down to write this, I’ve been thinking about all the things I will miss about the US And all the things I won’t:

What I will miss (in no order)

  • Sunlight
  • National parks and outdoors
  • Skiing in the USA (much better organized)
  • Weather reports (so many climates here)
  • Paved bike paths through stunning scenery
  • College sports, particularly the March Madness basketball competition
  • Being able to watch as many Premier League football matches as you can, including the 3pm kickoffs (which you can’t watch in the UK)
  • The singing of the national anthem
  • Burgers and fries
  • The “can do” attitude / innovation
  • Georgetown
  • Washington memorials and museums
  • The device on the fuel pump nozzle that automatically shuts off when the tank is full, so you don’t need to hold it by hand (not significant, I know)
  • The epic complexity of politics in Washington
  • Kindness and kindness
  • Work ethic

What i won’t miss

  • Guns: the worst thing in my seven years has been going to all the mass shootings
  • Endless television commercials for prescription drugs that promise miracles during the first 20 seconds and warn, in rare cases, of a catastrophic death in the last 20 seconds
  • Endless political ads during election season that make you want to live on a desert island
  • A lousy healthcare system that only works if you have money
  • Hearing the people in front of me at the pharmacy say that they can’t afford the drugs they were prescribed
  • Apparent disinterest in what happens in the rest of the world
  • Restaurants (this is a complete subsection)
  • Foods that are often too salty or too sweet
  • Feeling like you have to pay a 20% tip because the staff is badly paid
  • Ridiculous hierarchy where you can only speak to the innkeeper / waitress assigned to your table, and not get anybody else’s service
  • Also, why is it that the person serving the water can never take the food order?
  • That they ask me incessantly my opinion about Carlos and Diana / Guillermo and Kate / Harry and Meghan. The royal family is an obsession


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