More little remarks and observations on my stay in the U.S.
There are many beggars. Walking through any town will mean people ask me for my change all the time. Even if I wanted to give the money to them, I would have run out of change after a block or two.
After a while I started simply not to look left and right and quickly go through the streets because of this. Not very nice.
One of the beggars was quite funny actually: He asked us for our change and said we should be happy that he doesn't sell crack or rob our homes.
Although I have to admit that I don't care whether he sells crack and technically don't really have a home that could be robbed currently.
Also, this country seems to live on credit cards and change. Without a credit card you are lost. But not having a handful of quarters ready at all times can be a pain as well. So I am extra reluctant to give those away.
I just spent $12 on stamps at a handy stamp vending machine. I got change from a 20 in $1 coins. Haven't seen those before and hope they are real money.
Why can't motels/hotels tune their own TVs into their own cable service in a way that gives a good picture?
Why can a payphone tell me that I'll need to dial a '1' before the area code I just dialled but not simply do that for me?
There seem to be many many music related publications if you look in the right places. Even truely unprofessional ones. Fun.
But why is it still obligatory for such magazines to have extra poor typgraphy and look like they were done in Ragtime 2 or so.
Are U.S. power plugs dangerous? It seems like you could actually jam a screwdriver behind them and touch the contacts while they're still in the socket. Also, I find that heave plugs easily fall from wall sockets (think iPod charger in adaptor to German socket…)
With all the gadgets (Powerbook, digital camera, iPod, mobile phone) we carried around, we needed to recharge a whole armada of devices each night. Yet, only very few motels had easily accessible wall sockets. Surely, other people must find that inconvenient as well.
I tried to use some unprotected wireless networks to send e-mail while on our trip. Sadly, most networks I found were encrypted and we passed the other two too quickly.
Drinking alcohol on the sidewalk: not OK. Drinking alcohol on the beach one meter away from the sidewalk: OK.
Smoking seems forbidden in most places. Makes my clothes not stink after going out.
Just seen on TV: A guy putting up a Beck's beer thingy on his wall and an old guy saying: 'You like Germans?' – 'Hm. Don't know. But I like their beer. It's a bit expensive.' – 'I killed Germans, so you can life free and chase pussy' – 'Err, thanks.'
People said that Lost In Translation was racist against the Japanese because the showers weren't suitable for tall people. – Frankly, every single showerhead I saw in the U.S. was at the height of my chin or so…
One store in Berkeley has a sign, saying they don't allow more than 2 students in there at the same time. Lovely.
I saw a few construction sites in passing and houses seem to be made of wood with the façade attached to it. No wonder they break easily.
Many of the big buildings, though, seem to be made to resemble classical European buildings. That's quite funny in a way – but still impressive and much better looking than their wooden or concrete relatives.
Free refills! I like the fact that you get free refills and water in restaurants and even fast food places. When you're thirsty having to pay for all the refills is very painful. And with waiters offering the refills voluntarily it feels more like they acknowledge your thirst and want you to feel good – making this a good experience.
I suppose on the downside, free refills make people drink more sugar water than they should. And it completely distorts my sense of what the value of soft drinks is as well as what the difference between small, medium and large soft drinks is supposed to be.
A lot of police around. Driving their cars and flashing their lights. We also saw quite a few cars on the curbside having been pulled up by the police. Just like on TV.
Why do almost all magazines seem to offer subscriptions that work out at a rather cheap $1 per issue? Any catches there? And why do they think that you're more likely to subscribe if they put 10 little postcards for subscribing throughout the magazine rather than only one?
March 29, 2004, 17:38
Where’d you get the donuts? Krispy Kreme and Tim Horton’s (a Canadian import, actually) are my favorites. Krispy Kreme has this wonderful Rube Goldberg-type contraption they use to make the glazed donuts, which are indescribably delicious when served fresh with black coffee.
The dollar coins are real. :)
There have been lots of scare stories, even in the general interest press, about unsecured wireless networks.
Free water and refills works out well for waiters, who get to appear extra-attentive and, hence, more deserving of large tips. :)
Magazines make more money from advertising than they do from subscription fees or newsstand sales. Subscribers are attractive to advertisers because they come with demographic info (names, addresses) attached, which merits the substantial discount.
March 30, 2004, 0:51
Everybody recommended Krispy Kreme donuts, but I just didn’t se them at the right times :(
The large tips are actually another thing that irritates me. I am generally not in favour of tipping, and the tips given in the U.S. are just ridiculously high. And everybody seems to expect some. Even bartenders. I did find most waiters friendlier than their German counterparts, though. But I tend to find them being very attentive a bit intrusive and annoying at times.
I was also told that waiters tend to be paid below minimum wage… nice interpretation of the ‘minimum’ part.
March 30, 2004, 16:46
Yes, waiters are paid significantly less than minimum wage, and are taxed based on the presumed amount of tips the Internal Revenue Service expects they’ll receive.
March 30, 2004, 17:11
This may be sacrilege, but if there’s one thing I really miss in France it’s good Fish and Chips and my Krispy Kreme donuts. Tim Horton’s aren’t too bad, except a good donut requires a decent cup of coffee, and the KK I used to frequent had a brew that wasn’t too far off day old dishwater, but at least it had caffeine.
Actually, I’d like to know if you found ice with everything a bit weird. I’ve been told it’s more of a European thing, and everytime I asked for a Coke or Water without ice I’d get an odd look.
April 2, 2004, 17:22
Yes, I do find ice with everything a bit weird. Particularly lots of ice, which seems to be fairly common in the US. What’s nice about many burger places is that soft drinks are simply self-serve, so you can have however much ice you want.
Perhaps ice isn’t as common her because it’s not so hot frequently and people don’t see the point of having ice in their drinks in winter. Also, ice spoils the drinks - I once read that when drinking a Perrier or suchlike the ultimate snob would take care the ice is made of the same water. In fact, in some places they seem to use pure tap water for the ice - and as I found the tap water to be rather disgusting an with a distinct smell of chlorine in the US, I’d object to having that in my drink.
Another aspect may be the following: If you don’t have free refills and drinks are generally much smaller, having a generous amount of ice in there will mean you have even less to drink. Thus, having ice in there may be a bad idea.
Closing anecdote: On my way back on the plane to Frankfurt, the stewardess by accident put too much ice into the little plastic glass (plastic glass?! what kind of nonsense is that? I’ll have some rounded corners please…). Actually the whole glass was full. She realised this after serving the glass and asked if I minded. Which I did - mainly because of the prospect of spilling Coke all over myself. Then she gave me another one, mumbling something about ‘you Europeans’.
April 3, 2004, 16:18
- Beggars: depends a lot on the city. Some cities such as San Francisco are filled with homeless people. Others don’t have many.
- Dollar coins are real. Even if over half of Americans wouldn’t recognize them. (They are almost exclusively used in US Postal Service vending machines and in the ticket machines for some public transportation companies.)
- payphones and dialing “1” before the area code: In many parts of the country you could skip the “1” until recently because the phone could determine whether or not you were inputting a dialing code. (Area codes used to be of the form [2-9][0-1][0-9] whereas the exchange prefix was [2-9][2-9][0-9] .. the second digit indicated whether it was an area code or not.) When we started running out of numbers they had to relax the numbering rules, so now it can’t always tell the difference between a prefix and an area code. In cases where it can tell (because a particular number hasn’t been allocated yet) it could do it automatically, but it tells you what to do instead because they are hoping that the user will learn what to do next time. (Because the number may be assigned at some point in the future.)
- Yes, power plugs are dangerous. I’ve shocked myself a number of times (typically when trying to reach behind a piece of furniture to unplug something) .. but try getting people to switch to something else would be a very difficult (and expensive) prospect. (Don’t forget, we were supposed to start using metric units back in the mid 1970s .. just look at how successful that was.)
- Most motels I’ve been in have had wall sockets. Where else does the maid plug in the vacuum cleaner?
- Most areas in southern California don’t allow alcohol on public beaches. I don’t know about elsewhere. Most American cities have laws prohibiting open containers of alcohol on public streets. (There are notable exceptions, such as New Orleans.)
- The state of California prohibits indoor smoking in workplaces with more than a certain number of employees (six or so), schools, government buildings, and most other public places. (Note that outdoor smoking is not covered by the law, hence the popularity of outdoor seating areas at restaurants.) Some cities have additional laws. (Santa Monica bans smoking in parks, at the beach, etc.) Some other places (such as the state of Utah, or New York City) have similar laws. Large portions of the country allow people to smoke just about anywhere, which I always find surprising when I travel, as I tend to forget about that. (I live in CA, and our anti-smoking laws have been around for quite some time now.)
- Low shower heads annoy me too. But high ones bother my girlfriend.
- Wood is by far the best building material for houses in earthquake-prone areas such as California. Bricks crumble and fall, wood bends and stays up. Those portions of the US which don’t have frequent earthquakes tend to use a wider selection of building materials.
- Traditionally restaurants offered free refills on coffee and tea, but since the late 1980s they have started offering free refills on soft drinks as well. If I remember correctly, McDonalds was the first large fast food chain to offer self-serve beverage stations in the early 1990s, which have rapidly become the norm for fast food.
- Some municipalities derive large portions of their income by issuing traffic citations to drivers.
- You can get almost any high-circulation magazine for a very low subscription price. More specialized magazines (such as MacWorld, Scientific American, etc.) tend to cost quite a bit more.
Oh, and I find Krispy Kreme donuts to be awful. But I seem to be in the minority. (I much prefer Winchell’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and just about any other donut place over Krispy Kreme.)
April 10, 2004, 4:26
Tim, thanks for filling in a lot of background. Ragarding the wall sockets – make that numerous and easy to reach. I found them to placed so they may actually be handy for vacuuming, but not good for charging all the devices you carry around. I prefer not to place my computer, digital camera &c on the ground as I am bound to accidentally step on them before long. Of course the trend to have all those gadgets that frequently need to be recharged is quite recent – but I really hope new buildings will pay justice to that.
Re Showerheads: Usually we have showerheads that aren’t attached to the wall but on a hose and with a height adjustable holder.
April 11, 2004, 14:55