Earlier this year I spent a fortnight in the United States, visiting Indianapolis, New York, San Francisco and Salt Lake City. I hadn’t been to the US for over ten years. Here are the twelve things that ‘weirded me out’ in the US.
1. They have those old school buses from the movies.
You know the ones. Why they don’t have modern-looking buses is really weird.
2. Every glass of ‘soda’ is bottomless by default.
I ordered a Pepsi at a restaurant (an alternative to beer, just for a change). They brought me a bucket of the stuff. When the glass was half-full, they automatically brought me another. I was confused. I hadn’t ordered another drink and there was no way that I could drink my way through a second glass. I learnt later on that every cup is ‘bottomless’ and that the waiting staff automatically provide you with a ‘refill’ as you near the bottom of your glass. Any wonder they have such a high rate of obesity.
3. There’s no requirement to wear a helmet on a bicycle or motorcycle.
There is no more overt expression of American freedom than a bandana-wearing, helmetless bikie roaring down the main street atop his pimped-up Harley Davidson motorcycle. In the US, you don’t have to wear a helmet on a bicycle or motorcycle.
4. Portion sizes are MASSIVE.
I am known as a pretty big eater, but even I was defeated on several occasions by the size of the servings. Here are a couple of photos of the massive Reuben sandwich at Katz’s Delicatessen in New York, made famous by the orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally. The sandwich was orgasmic in its own right.
5. Every second restaurant is a steakhouse.
Carnivores rejoice! Americans love their steak, ribs, chicken wings and any other cut of meat available under the sun. In Australia, we have such a wide diversity of cuisines available to us, but in some cities of the US, it’s hard to find an alternative to the stock-standard American steakhouse, all serving up the same fare.
6. Baseball is played every day of the week.
I went to a minor league baseball game in Indianapolis and learnt that baseball is pretty much played every day of the week, for long stretches at a time. The Indianapolis Indians were playing at home against Scranton Wilkes-Barre over four consecutive evenings whilst I was in the city, and then they were headed interstate for another four-game stretch, without any break in between. It probably explains why the crowd seemed so indifferent to what was actually going on during the game.
7. Toilets have a high reservoir of water in the bowl and they flush themselves.
This is quite disconcerting. Not only is the ‘product’ of your toilet session deposited disturbingly close to your backside in the high reservoir of water in the bowl, there’s often no button to immediately flush it away. And when the automatic flusher does kick in, the slurping vacuum is so strong that you fear being sucked down into the sewer with it. Oh, how I yearned for an Australian toilet…
8. Coffee tastes like dishwater
They just don’t know how to make good coffee in the US – even in Italian restaurants, where you would expect to get a decent cup. The coffee below was ordered in Little Italy in New York and I could barely stomach it.
9. They expressly say when handguns aren’t welcome.
In Australia, you just don’t see signs like this:
10. You need to keep an eye on your credit card at all times.
A week after returning home I received a phone call from my bank. Apparently, my credit card had been used to make a fraudulent transaction back in the US and the bank had automatically cancelled it. Clearly, my card had been ‘skimmed’ at some stage during my trip. I learnt later on that my travel companion had also had his card skimmed and that his bank had taken similar action. A lesson for future travel: never let your credit card out of your sight, even when travelling in a first world country.
11. Steam comes out of the sewers.
Buggered if I know why this is.
12. Tipping. I’ll never get used to it.
I wouldn’t be the first Australian to be bamboozled by tipping. It’s expected in the US, regardless of the level of service provided, and those unfamiliar with the protocol can find themselves in some awkward situations. In one hotel I stayed at, the bar waitress worked only for tips. That’s right – no salary whatsoever. Maybe she was the one who skimmed my card?