Thursday, November 04, 2010

Reflections on the US

I've just returned from a week in the US, and a very good time I had too. I was down in Texas, and I found the people wonderfully friendly - not in the automaton "have a nice day" sort of way, but genuinely interested and solicitous.

Being a foreign country there are, of course, things that are very different from what you're used to. Firstly, the food. I barely used a knife and fork the whole time I was there. It seems remarkably difficult to find anything other than fast food in the States. And what is it with the sweetness kick? Breakfast was impossible, because it only ever seemed to consist of Danish pastries and other sugar-laden products. My body isn't capable of digesting sweet things that early in the morning. And this endless choice you have to negotiate gets wearying, too. You select the sandwich you want from the board, but then you have to endure death by a thousand questions. What type of bread do you want? What type of cheese do you want? What type of salad do you want? Onions? Peppers? Chilli flakes? What type of sauce do you want? Please just give me my sandwich and let me go before I faint from hunger.

And getting about is fraught with difficulty, too. America doesn't appear to have been designed with pedestrians in mind. It was only about a twenty minutes walk from my hotel to the university, but it was damn near impossible to actually walk it. At one point there was a bridge, and here the pavement (sidewalk) simply ended, leaving the pedestrian with nowhere to go and a dual carriageway full of traffic racing towards you. The only road signs are in the middle of the road above the traffic. If you ask for directions people have no idea - because they don't walk - or theye look at you in amazement. "You want to go where?" they say, and you immediately assume it must be miles away, but it's actually not more than a few minutes distant. "Where are you parked?" they say. "I'm walking." "Walking?" they repeat, incredulously. "Well, lemme see... It would be easier if you had a car."

And finally shops. Where are they? I spent six hours in Austin and I never found one. Seriously. Lots of bars (Sixth Street is great), a few tourist tat places, but no real shops. I know where they are, of course - they're in the shopping malls. Which are out of town. And only accessible by car. "You're walking? Really?"

But nonetheless it was a very rewarding experience. And those fantastic blue skies and huge horizons. Back in England, where I'll be smothered by low, grey cloud from now until March, I'll remember those skies with great affection.


doniganmerritt said...

You've got it exactly. I think I'll use this to stimulate a post (tomorrow maybe) over where I post. Thanks.

courtmerrigan said...

I hear Austin is great. Never been there myself. I'll be curious to see whether you find the lack of sandwich choices back in the UK stifling. I remember being frustrated in the UK when you could only get what you ordered one way, the way they wanted to serve it ...

And America is certainly not designed on a human scale. Two days ago I drove the equivalent of Manchester to Bournemouth through the Wyoming mountains just to hear a one-hour author talk, and thought nothing of it. And Texas is quite a bit larger than Wyoming. I reserve judgement as to whether that is a good thing or not, but it has been the case my entire life, so it's certainly the standard.

le said...

This is funny, very much any European's first reaction to the US. I have pestered my American friends with these remarks too much, not to find this funny.