America’s obsession with fall: Musings of a French exchange student

Photo source: Simona Rachapalli
Photo source: Simona Rachapalli

Fall has come, smashing everything in its path.

While on the other side of the Atlantic the successor to summer arrives very discreetly, it is often greeted with an incomparable celebration in the United States. Why is there such an infatuation for a gloomy season? To get to the bottom of this mystery, I interviewed some students from Northwestern, and their arguments were illuminating.

It appears that the starting point of this craze is its very essence: a change in climatic conditions. With fall comes cooler temperatures that contrast strongly with the too hot and humid summer weather, which comes to the relief of many Americans.

“Fall and spring are both good sweater seasons, with medium temperatures, and that’s kind of comfortable,” said Carter, a senior in McCormick. To my claim that fall is depressing, Carter responds, “Yes, but in a very beautiful way.” It seems like many Americans romanticize the landscape. Rightly so.

“The perfect in-between,” agreed Amanda, a freshman from Massachusetts. “Boston is at its most beautiful in the fall with all the red, yellow, and orange leaves.”

Why not spring then? I have always associated spring with rebirth and saw its lengthening days as a source of hope and happiness. Spring may be a rainier season here, and Americans overall agree that what makes fall superior to spring is the aesthetic.

Despite being partial to spring himself, Brock, a junior in the School of Communication, explains what makes fall so great.

“It is kind of beautiful, because a lot of it has to do with the leaves changing color, so you kind of have a mosaic of colours on that tree,” he said.

I cannot help but notice the beauty of the tree he is describing to me, a tree that I had only seen as dying up until that moment. Despite living in such a big and climatically diverse country, Americans across the nation still see the magic of fall.

“Central Park is just gorgeous in the fall,” said Kimani, a freshman from New York. “There’s a promenade of trees that change these gorgeous colors every year and it’s just beautiful.”

Nature is not the only domain to be touched by the aesthetic grace of fall, however. The cooler temperatures bring a change in wardrobe, and many Americans are delighted by fall fashion trends. Let’s get out sweatpants, scarves, boots and… sweaters.

Starting with early childhood, American students keep good memories of the season when they could run and jump in leaf piles.

“The leaves are everywhere! I used to jump in them as a kid,” Kimani said. “You get a nice balance of layers.”

But beyond nostalgia, fall holds a lot of sentimental value in college. Sarah, a graduate student, explains, “Fall corresponds with the moment you go back to college and resume spending the great times you’ve missed all summer long.” Many Americans associate the season with typical fall activities such as apple-picking and pumpkin-carving.

This is even without mentioning the traditional fall holidays, Halloween and Thanksgiving. The reason why Europe is not so fond of fall may also lie in this point: one of the only noticeable events in the

European fall is the All Saints’ Day on November 1st. The Old Continent is then mourning its old deaths while America parties with its living population. “Halloween is a lot of fun,” Carter said.

“It’s fun to dress up and pretend to be someone or something else. You can be weird and it’s fine,” Kimani added.

What about Thanksgiving? American students like to think of it as time to share with their families. Kimani says, “Families come together to celebrate harvests and accomplishments and give thanks, and the spirit of these holidays allows us to remember why life has beauty and is worth living.”

The fall experience, however, would be nothing if it were not associated to its typical tastes. As Brock asserts, “seasonal drinks” are an American phenomenon. Just as Christmas has its eggnog, fall has its own set of beverages. Mentioning Starbucks’ PSL (Pumpkin Spice Latte) makes many eyes sparkle and incites the typical fall craze. Apple cider flows as fall harvests commence.

Stores and brands also take part in this seasonal craze. Apart from the traditional Halloween decorations, stores everywhere transform with the arrival of fall. In October, you can find a derivative of pumpkin wherever you go; Trader Joe’s gives its consumers a special issue of its newspaper dedicated to the famous cucurbit, and cereal and snack brands propose limited editions of their products. Don’t miss them, or wait 10 months.

One word to describe fall? Unique. While I always considered it to be a dull and useless season, I must now acknowledge that it is anything but insipid. But the American fall seems to be a whole different season than the European one. From an actual climatic change to the culinary and social experiences associated with the season, fall might just be the “quintessential season of the United States,” not merely the season of American white girls’ Instagram feeds.

Trying to understand the craze of fall in America not only convinced me that one could legitimately be glad with the arrival of autumn, it also made me realize how different the American experience promises to be. The “New Continent,” as Europeans like to call it, still holds a lot of surprises, for better or for worse.

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