Observations About America 3 – General

Monday, November 1, 2010

Here’s the last post about observations! These cover a number of topics to do with general living and travel in the USA.

  1. Wall sockets don’t hold the plugs well. There doesn’t seem to be a proper mechanism to keep plugs in the walls, and as a result they often have to be carefully balanced or they will fall out. This was very frustrating when using something like a hairdryer, which would often become unplugged while in use.
  2. Every shop and restaurant seems to be hiring. Americans seem concerned about the economy but its definitely easier to get a job over there! To see a job opportunity actually advertised on a high street in the UK is very rare indeed.
  3. Also with jobs there seem to be a lot of questionable hires. For example at every Walmart we went to they had a greeter (occupation on name tag actually said ‘greeter’), and then an employee to hand you a trolley. No wonder they are the biggest employer in the world – is paying these two people minimum wage to do that really cost effective? This is in contrast to the UK where companies are having to make cutbacks and service seems to have gone downhill in recent years.
  4. Sort of related to driving but its interesting to note that license plates have almost no value. It costs just $50 to get any combination that will fit, and once you sell your car the plate goes with it too. When we told the cousins that people will pay tens of thousands for a personalised plate in the UK they couldn’t get their heads around it!
  5. Lottery wins are substantially larger. Its not uncommon for a state jackpot to top $50 million. With similar odds as our National Lottery. I think I would rather play over there!
  6. Commercials on TV and radio have a completely different style. It turned out that every parody we had seen/heard of an American commercial was true. Most that are advertising a product start with a question like ‘do you need X or Y’, then an overly happy American introducing themselves and talking you through the product. Most of these are also accompanied by a jingle at the end.
  7. Other popular types of commercial are the ‘seek help or medical advice now’ and political campaign smear story. These are generally paid for by private individuals and often feature ominous music and a cheaply produced slideshow. Since we were in California during the Governor election campaigns (can’t they keep the Terminator forever?), we saw a lot of these and were shocked at their style. They would openly brand the opposition as ‘liars’ and featured a run-down of quotes against that person’s character (in both their professional and personal lives).
  8. Windows in the home (or hotel/motel) always have a bug guard on them. This is a thin piece of wire mesh which sits in the window pane and stops insects from getting in. These are such a great idea and necessary since bugs are significantly bigger and more abundant in the USA! I’d love to see these come to the UK since especially in the summer, moths, flies and wasps can be enough reason to keep the window shut.
  9. Got yourself a gun? Before we went we imagined that safety would be an issue out in the middle of nowhere. Things could not have turned out more different. For a start, we didn’t see a single gun outside of a shop all trip (though seeing a gun aisle in some supermarkets was interesting), and if anything we felt safest in the least populated regions. Even the major cities weren’t ever a problem – though we did avoid the crime hotspots (luckily there isn’t much to see in Harlem and Compton). Overall I would say London feels less safe than major American cities at night.
  10. Cleanliness in motels is very hit or miss. In the UK I have always found that cheap accommodation means basic accommodation, and at any price (be it £15 in a hostel or £40 in a Travelodge), the establishment still maintains an acceptable level of cleanliness. In America it couldn’t be more different, and we quickly learnt (the hard way) that a motel must never be booked without first checking online reviews. The filth in some places baffled us since they all employed cleaners. It seemed they thought it was acceptable to just wipe down surfaces and put new sheets on. We even began to notice that some motels advertised as being ‘Ultra Clean’ – it was simply that uncommon. Luckily, after just a couple of bad experiences we became rather adept at going through a shortlist of potential motels and then reading all reviews before making a decision. Also: the above may sound like a bit of a complaint but given that motel rooms can be as cheap as $40 (about £25) with taxes, I definitely would rather be travelling in the USA than in the UK.

And a photo to accompany the post: a prime example of where not to stay – Motel 6 Cleveland airport.