I went on my big trip to the USA this year. What an amazing place! It’s a big place and I only managed to visit a handful of states – Texas being my favourite, California being my least favourite – but it’s all a matter of personal taste. I think there is something for everyone in America. But I did get a big shock on some counts. Well, I took notes on my observations and here is the bad (and a little of the very ugly) and the good. And the bloody good.
Tips – So this is how it seems to work in general: I sit in a bar or restaurant and pay them for food and beverages and then I pay 15-20% more to supplement the staff’s salary because the business is not obliged to pay them a living wage. I lose, the staff lose, the business is ahead. Where’s the justice in that?
Public Transport – whenever I point out that the public transport is bad to terrible in the 5 states I visited, the locals all point to New York City. I’ve never been there, so let’s talk about the rest of the country. Unless you have an enormous, petrol-guzzling vehicle, there is no effective way to get around. We can’t change this so be prepared if you visit (download Uber, bring walking shoes, rent an enormous, petrol-guzzling vehicle)
Drive Thru – It broke my heart seeing hoards of dangerously overweight people using the drive thru pharmacy to pick up their heart medication before hitting the drive thru KFC (or any of the hundreds of different fast food outlets they have here, they seem to have totally conquered the food market)
Homeless – this was the saddest sight of all – in this country of “plenty” so many have no home. I noticed in California, Arizona, Illinois and Hawaii armies of homeless walking the street, building makeshift homes on the beaches and eating out of the rubbish. It wasn’t just a handful but thousands that I saw over 7 weeks. Humans shouldn’t have to live like this. Some people I mentioned this disturbing fact of life to told me that it was a matter of choice. As a great many of the homeless people I encountered clearly had mental illnesses I don’t believe that at all. It was upsetting and not befitting of a developed country.
Except the whole drive-thru thing I don’t see how this can be solved on a personal level, so I hope the government steps up and improves the lives of the average American. And the below-average citizen – they all deserve it.
Polystyrene – The use of such hydrocarbon materials shows a general lack of respect for the environment. Both the production of polystyrene and is inability to decompose makes it an environmental hazard. With the exception of California, every state I went to ended up with me avoiding food and drinks because half of it came in polystyrene. I haven’t seen that used since I was a child.
Talking about Politics – Urrrrrrghhhhh… Please. PLEASE! I’m on holidays in this country. And I don’t know the difference between the autocrats, democrats, aristocrats or the Hell’s Angels. I don’t know which one is running the place. And I’m not sure which team Bill Clinton or his husband are on – we don’t get CNN. It’s not my country. And I don’t care. Got it?
Shorts – These clever cut-off trousers are a marvellous invention for the beach, for running marathons and, if they are made of leather or PVC, for hitting the fetish clubs. Shorts are a privilege, not a right. They are to be worn by the sporty, those who are actually going to the beach and the smoking-hot, leather-wearing people. For some reason, this rule of thumb has been disregarded by our American cousins. People seem to think that living in Arizona means that you should wear shorts everywhere all the time and complain about the heat – and get fat because it’s “too hot to move”. Then inflict your roly-poly legs upon the rest of us in your shorts. Of the many places I have been that are much hotter, I have never seen so many shorts, or people moaning about the weather. I was the only person out there in July going for a run every day, in the middle of the day. And never in shorts – apart from looking stupid if you want to stay cool and un-sunkissed then cover your skin, it’s quite basic science. For God’s sake, kids: wake up! Get yourself some proper trousers, or a nice skirt.
A sarong perhaps?
Leave the shorts in your gym locker and get some self respect.
The Food – Well, I must say my tummy has rarely had such a good time. All the weird and wonderful food I’ve seen on the telly I got to try for myself. Extraordinary treats such as real American doughnuts (donuts?) and hotdogs, sushi fresh from the sea and delicious fried chicken – much better than any foreign pastiche.
As a sushi lover and former resident of Japan I rarely compliment other countries on their sushi but I did find a few places that were quite like Tokyo. Hats off to them, it isn’t easy. I never got down with the whole peanut butter and bacon donuts or French fries with mashed banana, chocolate sauce and jalapeños (or whatever the hell they were)
Some of the odd food pairings that I found surprisingly good:
- Cheese with bits of dates and onion in it
- Sweet potato fries with lemon (I’ve always disliked sweet potato fries prior to this!)
- Mango and dill martinis.
Be warned: bring your PE kit (specifically shorts) and go for a run everyday. You’ll still get fat but it’s a bit of damage control.
Takeaway Paradise – you can walk into most restaurants (including swanky gaffs) and get most things to go. Amazing! Why didn’t we think of this before?
Landscape – varied and lovely. So many beautiful places to visit. I’ve seen mountains, deserts, beaches, forests and cities in only 5 different states. It’s got a bit of everything, the USA does. I would like to see more up north some time – mountains and snow are very exotic to me.
The Bloody Good
Friendly People – For all their shorts-wearing, genetically modified war-mongering, they’re quite a nice bunch. Really! I had a great time with my new local friends. We had a lot of fun. They are generally helpful and kind to tourists in the places I visited. That’s a big plus for me. I will note that the ladies at the chemist in Dallas didn’t understand a damn word I said. And I couldn’t understand them either, so we laughed!
The Shops – Never seen so much stuff in all my life. The choices are endless, for everything! USA is a shopper’s paradise. If you’re in the market for, say, a pair of shorts: there are thousands to choose from. Every style, every price range. I got some amazing stuff such as my favourite Wet Brush hairbrushes for a few dollars, very cool nail polish, exciting bubblegums in a range of psychedelic colours. I think people found me easily thrilled.
Toilets – spotless! Plenty of toilet paper, clean floors, shiny sinks and filled soap dispensers. Even small, grotty, hole-in-the-wall bars have a nice loo. Maybe I have low standards after my travel throughout the developed world, but USA is in my top 5 list for cleanest toilets in the world. Well done, America. NB – this comment doesn’t refer to publicly owned and managed toilets, rather ones owned by businesses.
The Downright Puzzling
Yes and No answers – I am still getting my head around this one. Perhaps it’s not a feature of their language, questions with a “yes/no” answer. Every question I asked in shops, in airports and even to my American friends is answered in a roundabout, clumsy way that frustrates me. I don’t want to look like a moron by asking again so I just never know what’s going on. Maybe they like to mess with Australians? Or is this how they speak to each other all the time? Anyway, I got by.
There you have it. I enjoyed my trip and I love my American friends. I don’t know what I would do without my Americans: Rich, Jodi, Lori, Eddie, Nick, Joyce, Mark and Daryll – and Shawna and Andrew, the “new Americans”
I’m glad you like Texas! It happens to be my favorite place, too. I agree with all of your assessments, even the ones I’ve never thought of before–shorts are not a right, for instance. The people who need to wear them the least wear them the most, it seems (the same people at those drive-thru’s you mentioned.) Regarding tips, though, the staff usually come out way ahead of people working in similar jobs but earning a set wage. If someone is extra kind or even does a decent job, I’ll tip 25-30%. You are right, though–it costs more for the customer, but we just get used to it.
Thanks for the info – interesting that staff get paid so well in restaurants, isn’t it? 30% seems like a lot of extra money to us foreigners! Even 15% is to us but it’s important to follow customs…
Yes, it really is crazy when you think about it. Someone may wait tables to get through college, but just continue doing it when they graduate. A good waiter often makes more than a college educated teacher.
Im so happy you love our W.C.’s…
Hahaha! Yes, they seem well taken care of in cafes, shopping centres, etc. Not all countries put in the effort!