My time in the US has come to an end and I have now headed to Mexico.
I could happily have spent much longer, 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.
For a start, we share a common language, although you do wonder about that when you see the various interpretations of my name written on my Starbucks cup, 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.
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.
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 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.
So, having moaned about what I don’t like in the US, here’s what I do like:
1. The availability of ‘rest rooms’ everywhere you go. It’s not a secret that people sometimes need to use them, and in the US they are available. Not like in London when I’ve sat on a train 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 Except sometimes the number is out of date and I have to go back and ask the cashier and she shouts at me and looks so grumpy as if I deliberately filled my bladder on the way there just to annoy her. In America, this woman would not keep her job.
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. Here’s how it goes, meeting people in London for the first time: 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’ and cut straight through the endless smalltalk. It’s an experiment; I’ll see how it goes.