In October 2011, my girlfriend Emma and I, spent 8 days in San Francisco and 2 days in Los Angeles. Although Emma had been to the states many times before, this was my first ever visit. I loved America so much, i thought i would share my thoughts and views of the USA...
Wow, is all i can say. You friendly Americans were chatting to us at the Airports, on buses, in queues, in restaurants, on boats, at cafes! People were so very interested in finding out about us and what we thought of America. In Manchester UK, if i randomly started chatting to a stranger on our Metrolink system, i would either be given a strange look, or i would be beaten up. When we got to Los Angeles we found that the people weren’t quite as friendly however, but on the whole I think us Brits could learn something from the open and outgoing nature of our neighbours across the Atlantic.
When i say the place, i refer to the roads, roadsides, diners, the architecture, the fire hydrants, the outside fire escapes, and all of the things about America which seemed so very familiar to me. As i have been watching the USA on TV and in the movies for my whole life, it was amazing to walk down an actual American street and see the movies come to life before my eyes. It felt like i had finally met a pen pal i had been writing to my whole life.
Damn you Americans know how to put on a good meal; I have never eaten so much food in all my life! Pricewise, meals were about the same as they would be in the UK, but the portions were huge. My girlfriend often had to leave some and she is really not keen on wasting food. I however managed to finish off most the dishes but i have a greatly expanded waistline now because of it. In the UK over the last few years, realising that i am started on the downward slope to 40, i have started eating more healthy meals than i did in my younger days, but for the 10 days i spent in the States i thoroughly enjoyed indulging myself with lots of burgers and fries and those amazing refillable cokes (Man! I wish we did refillables in the UK). I would never class too much food as a bad thing, so thank you America for keeping me so well fed.
Now we have some lovely nature spots and architectural sights in the UK, but once again the Americans have done everything bigger, better and far more spectacular. The views as you enter, and walk around, Yosemite National Park were truly breathtaking and far more epic than many of the tiny national parks in England. That Golden Gate Bridge is one seriously impressive structure (especially when cycling across it), although the lesser known Bay Bridge is actually bigger and just as impressive. In fact the skyline in San Francisco was just awesome, the way the almighty sky scrapers tower over the financial district and how the hills rise and fall so sporadically across the city.
If there is one thing which, without doubt, the US has got right and us Brits have got so very wrong is road layouts. The whole grid/ block pattern is fantastic and makes getting lost practically impossible. It is far easier to say, “i will meet you on the corner of Main and 5th“, than it would be in the UK, where you would be saying “go down Main street, turn left at the end, follow that round the bend, then take first right...” you get the picture! Also there seems to be a distinctive lack of roundabouts in the US, whereas in the UK we seem to shove them pretty much everywhere. But i guess with the block system the Americans use, there is no need for roundabouts. On the subject of streets, i have to mention the streets on San Francisco and the amazing cable cars. Hanging off the sides of a packed cable car is so much fun and a great way to see the city.
When i stumbled across a full on game store in San Francisco, i was speechless and just wandered wide-eyed around the never ending aisles. It had certainly seemed true that Americans do everything bigger and better than us Brits do, and apparently game stores are no exception. This store must have been three times bigger than the main store i often visit in Manchester, and the prices were so cheap i had to do a double take at nearly every price sticker. Needless to say i spent lots of my holiday money in that store taking full advantage of the mega price differences!
I’ve for ever been reading on BGG about Thift store bargains, wondering exactly what a thift store was! I had a feeling it was like the charity shops we have in the UK, or a cross between a charity shop and a car boot sale. So i was very excited when walking through the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco i stumbled upon a real life thift store. Although there was a distinctive lack of decent board game bargains, i did get some inexpensive props for my upcoming Halloween party.
After leaving San Francisco i was very excited about arriving in Los Angeles. Being a huge fan of the series Lost (evident by the multiple Lost games ive designed), even just flying into LAX sent shivers down my spine for a start. However it was a little downhill from there; our shuttle bus took us through what appeared to be ‘slum’ areas, and when we actually arrived at the hotel it didn’t look quite as nice as it had in the brochure (although it was lovely inside) and the neighbour seemed a little rough. Then once we stepped out of the underground station onto Hollywood boulevard itself, i was amazed at how bustling and impersonal the place was; the exact opposite of the laid back and overwhelmingly friendly San Francisco. Once i got used to the place, i started to relax and over the next few days i enjoyed visiting the sites such a Grauman's Chinese and Egyptian Theatres, the wax works, the tour of the stars homes and the Hollywood museum. I loved universal studios but, as a huge Back to the Future fan, i was disappointed that the studio tour no longer seems to visit the iconic Courthouse square which portrayed Hill Valley. My final gripe with Hollywood is that sign and how it is either much smaller than i had imaged, or they just don’t let you get very close.
Since posting this geeklist i have remembered something else which i found different in the US than it is in the UK; tipping!!! In the UK if you like a meal or the service you receive, you can leave a tip to show your appreciation. However it is in no way expected, and you are not (usually) frowned upon if you do not tip. Besides meals the only other times we actually tip is sometimes when buying drinks in a pub (the phrase ‘and whatever your having’ springs to mind), or perhaps on occasion maybe we might tip a taxi driver.
In the US however tipping is almost a way of life, seemingly because, as it was explained to us many times, the wages are sometimes so poor that workers rely on tips to earn a good living. The American tipping culture was something i had been aware of for a long time and so it did not shock me quite so much. When having a meal it just took a bit of maths – add the tax, and then work out a percentage for a tip - we always opted for what we thought to be a generous 20%, hopefully we weren’t insulting anyone!!!
The Tax situation also took a bit of getting used to; in the UK anything we buy has tax included in the price, whereas in the States prices do not seem to include it. I quite often took something to the till (or ‘checkout’) with the exact money in hand and was then surprised that it cost more than i thought due to the tax having not been included in the price. After a while i got used to this, but i certainly appreciated the simplicity of the UK pricing upon my return. I’ve been told that some US states are tax free, so i guess the taxation rules must vary dependent where you are – maybe this whole add tax afterwards is a Californian thing!??
As it was Fleet Week during our holiday, we were lucky enough to witness the practice sessions and the final displays from the amazing Blue Angels as they soared high above San Francisco bay. Once again us Brits have been outdone by Americans – the daring displays and breath-taking stunts were skys-above (pardon the pun) anything i have ever seen our Red Devils perform. I was amazed to see advertising slogans written across the sky in jet streams precisely left by the incredible Blue Angels. Is there anything these Angels can’t do???
Bums (or Beggars / tramps as we would say in the UK)
In the American movies i have watched over the years, it always seemed that there were lots of bums hanging around the street corners. After a few days in San Francisco, it had become evident that there were indeed lots of bums around, but it was the sheer number of them which surprised me - they were everywhere! Many of them seemed to be collecting some kind of bottles from litter bins, and storing them in huge sacks. My guess was that they could return the bottles to stores for a payment of some kind!