Yesterday was our last day in the USA and New York. Helen went to meet an old school friend who she hadn’t seen in 25 years. The friend lives in the Upper East side and has a view of Central Park #highrent #doingwellforherself The rest of us went in search of some breakfast at Grand Central station (again) and then Michael and I went to a golf store to browse around. I cannot believe how much cheaper golf things are in the US than in SA. New golf balls cost the same price as used ones in SA. We then headed to the NBA store on 5th Avenue so Michael could get an NBA shirt. By this point it was midday already and we had to pack and check out by 1:30pm. We took a cab to the airport and then waited out a few hours in the BA lounge at JFK airport.
Our flight to London left exactly on time and we landed 30 minutes early in London. We are now in our family flat in central London killing a few hours before our flight back home to Cape Town. So I have a little time for some musings on the US (as I usually do at the end of a trip) – here they are:
1. American’s are incredibly patriotic. They are so patriotic that the pressure to conform (with respect to patriotism) is immense. I don’t think they even realise it though. It is noticeable in how many American flags are flown outside of houses, shops, hotels, offices – in fact anywhere there is a space free. It is noticeable that they sing the National Anthem at any given opportunity (start of every baseball, basketball, football game). It is noticeable how they salute military at any given opportunity. If you don’t participate (even though I am from another country) then you are definitely frowned on. Their patriotism has now progressed to the level of ostracism in my view.
2. America is driven by commerce. The level of commercialism is at another whole level verses anywhere else in the world. There are strong economies in Europe (like Germany and United Kingdom) but quite honestly they don’t compare to America. You can simply see how they are such a dominant force. Everything is bigger and better. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a criticism – it is a simple reality. You can see why their economy has such an influence on the world economy.
3. American’s do provide great service. New Yorker’s are meant to grumpy but we didn’t meet too many of them. In fact I would say that I am reminded again how paltry service can be in other places in the World when comparing the service you get in the US. True you do pay for the service – tipping is pretty much mandatory in restaurants/taxis and is never less than 15% (and in NY it was often 18-20%) but you do generally get excellent service. The people are friendly and helpful. They really do come across as genuinely wanting to try and help you.
4. American TV is another whole experience. Besides the frequent advert breaks, there are the adverts themselves. In America comparative advertising is legal and in every bank of adverts you watch you will see at least one advert that does an open comparison with their competitors product and trashes it. Some are better than others. Some are quite subtle. For instance we watched a Lexus advert and the whole time it was showing a BMW but telling you how great a Lexus is! The best are the medicine/drug adverts. They tell you how wonderful the drug is and how they will solve all your problems. Then right at the end they have to (by law) mention the side effects of the drug. These are done at high speed so as to minimize the time taken and also in the hope you won’t understand or hear them all. They reel them off starting with the innocuous ones drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, skin rash and then move to the more serious such as kidney failure, liver failure, loss of sight. In some cases you get the final one which ends like this “and in some cases even death”. Thanks – I will skip using that drug then!
5. American company telephone numbers are also a great tradition. They have toll free numbers starting with 1-800. Then instead of numbers many company’s have managed to come up with innovative words following that (which translate to numbers on a keypad obviously) so that you can easily remember the number. I had to phone for a refund for our aborted train trip and of course the number to call was 1-800-USA-RAIL. All the hotels have numbers like 1-800-HILTON and 1-800-MARRIOT. But the best ones we came across on the trip were 1-800-BAD-DRUG (advertised by a lawyer on TV if you have taken a particular drug that caused boys to have breasts developed) and 1-800-COP-SHOT (to report information on a shooting of a cop obviously). I could think of a few good ones for SA like 1-800-NKANDLA (when you want a home security upgrade to be done) or 1-800-PISTORIUS (to report an accidental shooting).
6. America is a great place for a holiday. It is easy to get around. Helen even commented on how easy it was to drive (they have nice wide roads). There are taxis everywhere. They are flights to anywhere. Don’t use the trains though! It is easy to do things. They speak English (even though most times it is with an amusing accent). There is a lot to do, whatever your interests are. You can go to museums, shop, experience history, shop, eat out, shop, enjoy the scenery & sights, shop, see a show, shop, be entertained, shop. You will never be bored. There really is something for everyone in the shops.
I’ll do one more post tomorrow when we get home. Until then from an overcast London …