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Old 08-11-2012, 10:53 PM
 
Location: Top of the South, NZ
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I've only spent time on the west coast, apart from an excursion to Utah. The scale/size of things is what struck me the most. Lots of suburban houses without fences/hedges, which I thought was nice. Where I lived in Tahoe, houses were right next to huge trees, cutting down on shade a lot. Quite a safety/fire risk as well.

Frequently being asked about my level of education, was a new experience.

All in all, a great time.
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Old 08-12-2012, 08:21 PM
 
Location: The western periphery of Terra Australis
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Quote:
Originally Posted by britinparis View Post
I have only been to the United States twice: once on a 2-week trip in NYC and Virginia (including DC), and another flying visit to NYC.

New York totally lived up to the hype to me – I have been to other major world cities (Hong Kong, Dubai, Istanbul) and lived in both London and Paris, New York really felt like the centre of the universe. This surprised me somewhat, as you read so much nowadays about how it's lost its edge thanks to restrictive immigration policies, and how London is now more open and cosmopolitan – but I didn't feel this at all. London and Paris felt slightly parochial in comparison. You get the impression that absolutely NOTHING fazes New Yorkers.

I was surprised at the squalor of the public infrastructure (subways, buses, public squares) compared to the opulence of the private (offices, bars, restaurants) – as I'd always had the impression that NY was a bit more lefty than the rest of the US. Paris is the opposite – public toilets are often nicer than those in restaurants! The tube/métro are SO much cleaner and more efficient – the only source of public information on the subway seemed to be tramps and hobos! However I was surprised at the extensive gentrification in Manhattan – even Harlem felt vibrant and lively, if not prosperous – though I never ventured to the Bronx or Queens. Buildings are generally a lot more dilapidated in poorer areas of Paris/London. The natural setting of NYC – on the harbour and all those islands – is spectacular, and something that doesn't get talked about enough. It beats landlocked London and Paris hands down. I visited in summer both times – and contrary to what I'd been lead to believe found the climate pleasant and warm without being too hot and muggy.

DC was quieter and leafier than I was expecting. Definitely not a world city. I was surprised at the amount of intact Victorian architecture there is in both DC and NYC – your impression in Europe from the movies is that everything in the US is brand new, which is just not true.

The rest of the state of Virginia did live up to my image of the US – vast distances, strip malls, big cars, big people, fast food everywhere! Another thing that struck me was that everything has a slightly 1990s feel – the malls, the fonts used on public signage… Other things surprised me; the summer climate and the scenery are gorgeous : constant Mediterranean sunshine but with lush green almost English scenery. With smaller roads and more thoughtful development (less random sprawl) it would be a paradise – it seems a shame to spoil that countryside with pointless freeways and parking lots all the time, this would never be allowed in the UK where we are much more careful with our space.

Generally though I was surprised at how unspoilt some of it is, particularly in the mountains – you can see for miles across virgin forest: in Europe, it is much more densely populated so similar vistas are always peppered with villages and roads and farms.

The food in New York and DC I found to be amazing (which I expected) but Virginia sadly was disgusting – all fast food and even when you found the odd independent guesthouse and café the portions were obscene and tasted like cardboard.

Obviously these are just random musings, and totally subjective. I'm sure someone will come back saying that New York was actually a big let down and that you can eat really well in Virginia!

Would be interested to hear what Americans' thoughts were on first visiting the UK/Europe?
I actually had very similar impressions to you. I too felt much of the US felt a little retro, the 'slight 1990s feel' you talk about. LA actually felt very '20th century' to me, even say Sunset Blvd, just the look of the buildings, the shop-fronts, a lot of the infrastructure. Coming from Australia I thought California would look extremely modern but in some ways it actually seemed a bit dated, in a somewhat good way.

I was a huge fan of NYC before I visited and agree, it still feels like the no. 1 city in the world despite London, Tokyo, Shanghai knocking on it's doorstep. Tokyo might have more people, London might challenge it as the global 'financial centre' or have people who speak more languages, but that counts for nothing when you actually visit the Big Apple: it's a state of mind, it is THE penultimate 'big city' in the world and the rest are just imitators. The first skyscraper in the world, the Flatiron building, is in NY, and don't you others forget that lol.

Yes the subways are grungy, and NYC feels gritty: but you know what, I like that. NY has a timeless quality about it: I feel it will always have that strong 'New York' feel that transplants cannot remove or time will not change. Harlem felt like a timewarp into the 1970s, there wasn't as much gentrification as I thought.
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Old 08-12-2012, 08:24 PM
 
Location: The western periphery of Terra Australis
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I went to the US for the first time last year for 6 weeks. Coming from Australia, it actually felt like a bizarro parallel Universe in a way: same sprawling suburbs, fast food joints (even MORE chain-dominated than here, and those huge billboards!), people driving on the right, American accents absolutely EVERYWHERE (felt like I'd stepped into a TV). City centres felt even MORE dead than Australian cities, with a few exceptions. I went from LA to NY, passing through 16 states, the scenery on the interstate was surprisingly dull in parts - New Mexico, Texas, but beautiful in California, TN, VA.etc. My favourite cities were probably NY, NOLA, Boston, DC, San Diego and parts of LA. LA is actually quite an interesting city. DC also pleasantly surprised me. The lack of hole in the wall diners and prevalence of fast food was a bit depressing, also Holiday Inns on the inter-state was kind of weird.

Americans themselves seem quite different to Australians. More 'say what's on their mind', you see a lot of drama and stuff in public places, and contrary to what I was told customer service was often LESS friendly than here, with a lot of cold or downright surly/ride bus drivers, government employees.etc. Some of the staff in restaurants and diners down south were really nice though. I do get the feeling that it can be a hostile place, a lot of people behaving like jerks. I was scolded by the immigration official for not knowing how to use a complex device i'd never used before, and called names by a group of firefighters lol.
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Old 08-12-2012, 08:26 PM
 
Location: The western periphery of Terra Australis
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Coming from Western Australia, the US actually felt crowded/populated in comparison lol. If you want wide open spaces, Western Australia is pretty hard to match. We're 4-5 times the size of Texas with less people than San Antonio.
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Old 08-12-2012, 08:40 PM
 
Location: The western periphery of Terra Australis
24,544 posts, read 56,217,056 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tvdxer View Post
By the time I actually went to Europe I was as well-versed on what I would see there as probably 90% of people who had already been there, so not much came as a surprise. But:

1. The people were consistently well-dressed. They did not dress in a particularly exotic style, but much as American upper middle-class "yuppies" (or white Manhattanites) dress.

2. The lack of ethnic restaurants across Spain. Even in the capital city's yellow pages, listings for restaurants serving food from the various regions of Spain vastly outnumbered restaurants serving foreign cuisines. Despite the large ethnic communities found in some places throughout Spain (Ecuadorians, Pakistanis, etc.), few restaurants serving those types of cuisine could be found. In American cities (at least core cities), about 25% of restaurants are "normal" and the rest serve cuisines from around the world, e.g. Indian, Ethiopian, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, etc.

3. The role played by "bares" in Spanish culture. "Bars" in the U.S. are generally places devoted to the consumption of alcohol; usually bar food is a second thought (although an increasing number of bars are known for their food) and you feel weird NOT ordering alcohol. Children or teenagers are rarely seen in them, and might even be prohibited from entering them by local laws. In Spain, bars are more places of socialization, and have excellent snack food from my experience (bocadillos especially). Groups of children can be seen in bares and they probably serve lots of non-alcoholic beverages, e.g. coffee, during the day.

4. The apparent uniformity of some aspects of the culture. Food is one, bares are another, etc. Spanish people seem content with less diversity and more "normalcy" than Americans, or there is less of an "alternative" / "esoteric" sector in the Spanish population.

5. The lack of choice in soft drinks. In most American gas stations, there is a myriad selection of pops in both diet and regular varieties. In Spain, there is...Coke, Diet Coke, Pepsi, Fanta (usually in one flavor), and a few local "Kas" drinks. Nothing else. And those soft drinks seem half the time to be destined towards mixing with alcohol.

6. The cliquishness of Spaniards. Spaniards always seem to be in groups. This can make them seem standoffish and cold for a solo traveler, as their social needs are met by the group and they have no reason to interact with you. However, when they are alone, or with only one other person, they are often friendly, perhaps even more than Americans.

7. How little traffic is on the non-urban autopistas (freeways). In the cities, there is congestion that rival similar-sized American cities, but outside of them, there are shockingly few people traveling between cities in private vehicles, despite the autopistas being toll-free (as far as I know). The little traffic you see mainly consists of buses and trucks.
And Americans are known for their love of diversity and things that are unfamiliar? I'm speaking MOST Americans here, not some hip cultured person from SF but your average Joe from Indiana. Thousands of Wendy's and Walmart's probably say no.

Funny, Americans always seem in groups when travelling, and often are cliqueish, mostly talking among themselves. I noticed Europeans and Canadians more gregarious in general.
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Old 08-12-2012, 09:14 PM
 
175 posts, read 274,434 times
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nm

Last edited by erikthealien; 08-12-2012 at 09:37 PM..
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Old 08-14-2012, 09:41 PM
 
70 posts, read 126,325 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trimac20 View Post
I went to the US for the first time last year for 6 weeks. Coming from Australia, it actually felt like a bizarro parallel Universe in a way: same sprawling suburbs, fast food joints (even MORE chain-dominated than here, and those huge billboards!), people driving on the right, American accents absolutely EVERYWHERE (felt like I'd stepped into a TV). City centres felt even MORE dead than Australian cities, with a few exceptions. I went from LA to NY, passing through 16 states, the scenery on the interstate was surprisingly dull in parts - New Mexico, Texas, but beautiful in California, TN, VA.etc. My favourite cities were probably NY, NOLA, Boston, DC, San Diego and parts of LA. LA is actually quite an interesting city. DC also pleasantly surprised me. The lack of hole in the wall diners and prevalence of fast food was a bit depressing, also Holiday Inns on the inter-state was kind of weird.

Americans themselves seem quite different to Australians. More 'say what's on their mind', you see a lot of drama and stuff in public places, and contrary to what I was told customer service was often LESS friendly than here, with a lot of cold or downright surly/ride bus drivers, government employees.etc. Some of the staff in restaurants and diners down south were really nice though. I do get the feeling that it can be a hostile place, a lot of people behaving like jerks. I was scolded by the immigration official for not knowing how to use a complex device i'd never used before, and called names by a group of firefighters lol.
Very interesting perspective. Would be interested in hearing what you thought specifically about the cities you liked (NY, NOLA, Boston, DC, San Diego) and whether they met your expectations. I too visited New Orleans for the first time recently and it was different from what I had imagined (in a good way).
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