In the USA, some cultural differences and all that

A taster of what's to come: relaxing in a park in Mexico City and suddenly a conga line of clowns go by...

A taster of what’s to come: relaxing in a park in Mexico City and suddenly a conga line of clowns go by…

My time in the US has come to an end and I have now headed to Mexico.

In total I spent around 5 weeks on the West Coast of the US, from Seattle to Portland to San Fransisco, to the parks and deserts of California, to Las Vegas and finally LA.

However I was getting through too much money; as a travel destination the US is not a cheap option.

Culturally, it’s an easy country to travel in. Compared to taking trains and buses through India or China, then this is easy travel.

We share a common language, although you do wonder about that when you see the various interpretations of my name in Starbucks, from Seba to Estrella and, my favourite, Sailor (makes me sound like a perky soccer mom or something, and anyone who knows me would be hard-pressed to describe me as ‘perky’). However I learned to speak slower and I got by.

The streets of NYC, recreated in Paramount studios, LA

The streets of NYC, recreated in Paramount studios, LA.  Maybe a little cleaner than the real thing?

I will never get used to the level of homelessness on the streets of American cities. People who should be receiving medical care are instead left to fend for themselves on the streets. Meanwhile in the UK we are destroying what is left of our National Health Service and are just a generation away from seeing the same thing on the streets of British cities. One of the saddest things I saw was a woman begging with a sign saying ‘single mom with stage 3 cancer’.

This is Tom Cruise's car from the movie Jack Reacher.

This is Tom Cruise’s car from the movie Jack Reacher. (From Paramount studios tour)

I also don’t like the ‘car is king’ culture, where everyone is expected to drive everywhere and people who don’t are marginalised, with very little public transport provision.

Another thing I don’t like is the huge, mega portions of food served in restaurants. ‘You don’t have to eat it all’ someone told me.  Well actually I do. I was programmed from birth to finish everything on my plate “for all the starving children in India” and really it’s too late to re-train me now. The best way is not to put it in front of me in the first place.

Lots of balls in the lake at McArthur Park for Portraits of Hope project

Lots of balls in the lake at McArthur Park for Portraits of Hope project

So that’s what I don’t like in the US, here’s what I do like.
1. The availability of ‘rest rooms’ everywhere you go. Like it’s not a secret that people sometimes need to use them, and they will be available. Not like in London when I go to Dalston every 2-3 weeks (other side of London to me) and I’ve sat on a train

Colourful Dalston

Colourful Dalston

for an hour so I go into Costa Coffee but I can’t use the loo unless I buy something. So I then have to stand in a queue to order a coffee and get my receipt with the magic number to let me in the bathroom. Except sometimes the number is out of date and I have to go back and ask the cashier and she shouts at me and looks so grumpy as if I deliberately filled my bladder on the way there just to annoy her (trust me this is true, Costa coffee in Dalston and ask the tall, skinny barista for the code for the bathroom, just to see that I’m right. In America, this woman would not keep her job).

And that is the good thing about the tipping culture. Much as I hate it and don’t know how much to tip, who to tip, when to tip (and resent the extra expense it puts on everyday spending), if someone thinks there is a chance of a tip then they will pretend to care about your day. And not shout at you because you need to use the bathroom.

2. I also like the whole ‘tell everyone your life story as soon as you meet them’ culture. Maybe it comes from an education system where debate is encouraged (rather than the British system of shut up and listen) but I love that I have had so many conversations that go beyond the weather and where you come from.

I’m a big fan of Meet ups in London and go to a lot of theatre/music based meet up groups where I meet a lot of similar people. Meeting people in London: first 20 minutes, discuss weather (believe me, we can make weather-based conversation into an art form). Then move on to where you come from and/or what you do for a living (the answer to both of those is usually pretty dull; I’m thinking about giving prizes to anyone who has a job title I understand).

Should I find myself back in London, I’m going to start a new trend of talking about something ‘real’. It’s an experiment.

4 replies »

  1. I must admit, I’m slightly horrified that you’ve only come up with 2 things you liked about my home country. Gulp. How about customer service? That’s one I always miss. ;-). But every time I go home I realize how much I miss the relative friendliness of Americans and their ability to chit chat. Sure, a lot of it is bullshit and there are plenty of whack-a-doodles, but it is something I miss a lot. You can learn something from most people….even the whack-a-doodles. 🙂

    • Well I had to cut this post down a bit because it was running 2000 words. I was kinda implying the service thing I thought. I hate the tipping system because it confuses me but it does get you better service and there are plenty of moody people in customer service jobs in the u.k who wouldn’t be employed in America. And I get it sort of. I’m not smiling for £6 an hour either.
      And yes what I really loved were the conversations that went beyond small talk with people I didn’t really know. I feel it’s my mission now to introduce this wherever I go next.

  2. This has made me chuckle. I never get the huge portion thing! And as you know, I am like you. Finish your plate or else. Also, I am going to have to go to Dalston now to take a look. I am not surprised to hear about the number of homeless people you have seen. I remember going to the States years back and there was a huge gap between those who had and those who have absolutely nothing! Yes you are right about the NHS and cannot help thinking that we will be in the same sinking boat before long.

    Safe travels my friend xx

    • Yeah it’s being seen to give value for money I think, but I hate it. Because I can’t waste food.
      No for a moment I had a vision of myself as an 80 year old on the streets of soho begging for the money to pay for my operation. Frightening.

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