Impressions of the American People:
The American people have almost invariably been kind, very friendly and helpful.
For example, let's say Narrelle is taking a photo of the kids and me at some
attraction. Almost every time, someone will come running over and offer to take
a picture with all four of us in it.
Narrelle and I have been trying to decide whether the same would happen in
Australia – we think not, as the Australian people are maybe a little less forward.
Many times I have been asked by tourists in Australia to take such a photo,
but I don't recall Aussies actually offering to do so.
Another guy, the guide at a Civil War site in Louisiana, took 20 minutes or so
to come outside on the lawn and show Zac how to throw an American football,
and in turn be shown how to throw a Rugby pass.
When we first got to Venice Beach (LA) we found even the police seemed friendly.
They regularly cruise up and down Ocean Front Drive in their ‘black and whites’,
and a couple of times on the first few days one of them would smile and say
‘how ya doin?’ as we waited to cross over.
We've been on a few tours where there were groups of school children, and some
of the hotels also had large numbers staying there. They always seem very polite
and well behaved. On one occasion I gave away a packet of frozen ice blocks
that we had no means of keeping frozen upon checking out – a little while later
a couple of the kids saw me loading the car and came over to thank me once again
for the ice blocks.
We've had one or two hotel receptionists who showed little interest in the (fairly minor)
problems we had with something or other, but overwhelmingly they were friendly
and helpful. For example, let's say the central reservations call center for that
motel chain gave us one rate, and the motel actually quotes a different (higher)
rate when you check in. The Americans would negotiate, and usually would
ultimately let us have the originally quoted rate. This was less likely with some
of the motels that were run by immigrant managers.
Another place, the reservations people had assured us the motel had a guest
laundry, which we badly needed. It didn't. The woman at the front desk offered
to slip our washing through the motel's internal laundry, used to do the linen etc,
and not generally available to guests.
The people are not at all like the stereotypical 'Ugly American' that you hear about,
especially in Europe, or at least they don't seem that way in their home environment.
From talking to various Americans, they have a pretty good general idea that many
Europeans don't necessarily have a very good impression of them.
Having travelled there for nearly three months, I find it annoying that some Aussies
insist on viewing the American people according to the broadest stereotypes. They
would not do this with any other nationality or ethnic group (OK, maybe to some
extent the Brits or the French!). These people do not seem to realize that America
is an enormously varied and diverse land, whose people hold a wide variety of
political views, as in any country. It is ironic that in their narrow-minded and
ignorant attitudes to the US they are behaving in the same way that the US is often
accused of doing!
Violent crime is one of those areas where the stereotypical view many foreigners
have of America is somewhat exaggerated. One woman at my work said
something like ‘you’re brave going over there, especially with kids’, when told of
our planned trip.
We travelled widely, and never at any time felt threatened or in fear of crime.
Obviously there are places it would be best to avoid at night, but you are unlikely
to find yourselves in such places as a tourist. I understand that the vast majority
of serious crime happens in a relatively few very ‘bad neighborhoods’, such as
ghettos. It is very real, and very sad, but is not that much of a threat to most people
or to tourists. Still, as in any location you should observe sensible precautions.
Some Americans we've met have travelled, mainly to Europe, and are fairly
knowledgeable on world affairs. A few have been to Australia. Practically all
express a strong desire to visit Australia someday. Many have seen stories about
Australia on the Travel Channel (a cable TV channel which apparently features
our country regularly), so have some knowledge of the various destinations
and attractions there. They often ask how long a flight it is to Australia,
and are amazed when we tell them it is 14 hours from the West Coast!
Others we meet have never left the state they live in! One couple we met in
Cocoa Beach, Florida, the husband was from Buffalo, NY and in over 40 years
had never visited New York City, although his wife had travelled all over the US on
business. We found that amazing. He's not an idiot or a hick by any means,
just not interested!
California seems very much like Australia - we didn't feel that there was much of a
cultural gap between us and them at all. One feels more of a difference in the rural
South, certainly. Even though the northeastern cities like NYC and Boston are very
cosmopolitan, they are probably not as similar to Australia as California would be,
in terms of lifestyle and obviously climate.
Every now and then you see something that you think would not be done in Australia
and indicates some cultural difference. For example, we noticed bumper stickers
(in California and elsewhere) such as 'My Child is a Straight-A Student at Riverside High'.
Evidently some Americans think this is as crass as we do, since you also see stickers
(presumably in reaction) saying something like 'I'm proud of my kids, whatever grades
they get' (can't think of the exact wording).