I’ll start by saying that up until 2009 I had experienced no desire whatsoever to travel to the United States of America. I had mistakenly assumed that as it’s population looked largely like us and spoke the same language I felt it didn’t really offer a culturally different experience. That all changed when my brother had this great idea to move his whole family consisting of the two most darling children next to my own and his wife to America during the economic slump here in the UK. It’s fairly typical I suppose that you don’t really appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone or indeed moves across the Atlantic and not even to the east coast either, but to a state I had barely heard of with my appalling geographical knowledge, Arizona.
Having swallowed the shock of the exorbitant air fares to Phoenix, off we went to see for ourselves what it was that had drawn him to such an obscure area. I’d been to a fair few hot places, but nothing really prepares you for landing in what essentially is the desert and that first intake of arid dry air as you step out of the airport building. It was extraordinary…. there was a breeze where the wind was funnelled through between the side of the terminal and another building. I imagined this was what it felt like to be tumble-dried. Warm dry air after the icy air-conditioned building was a new but interesting experience and definitely one I was going to need to get used to. Driving out through Phoenix and reaching the city limits and the dark vast open spaces, my intense love affair with the United States of America began.
It’s a biggie I know so I’ll address it up front, I love it all apart from the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, the right to keep and bear arms. I’m not going to debate it here aside from to say it scares the holy crap out of me. Moving on…..
I suppose in its favour Tucson Arizona isn’t your obvious holiday destination so it’s easy to avoid tourists and to feel quite unique as comparatively they don’t get a deluge of Brits there. It’s landlocked for a start, it’s beyond hot in the summer and there are deadly predators roaming which need to be kept out of the house at all costs. Without exception, I have always received a warm welcome and a fascination with my accent (although sometimes mistaken for an Australian?) which I vacuously lap up with my love of being the centre of attention (how shallow of me). On our first visit an errant scorpion had brazenly made its way past the machine-gun turrets, razor-wire and moat into the house and was swiftly stamped on before it could kill anyone. I understand there have been King snakes, tarantulas, various reptiles and a variety of odd-looking insects brave enough to enter at their peril. By comparison we get the odd wasp, spindly spider in the autumn and perhaps a slug if you’re back door (ahem) is a bit low to the ground. You just can’t leave doors and windows open or you will find yourself swamped with the desert’s deadliest.
Mountains…..I experienced my first mountain and canyon in Sabino Canyon; a proper mountain hike which scared the proverbial out of me, but it’s good to challenge yourself right? Trying to hug the side of the mountain to avoid looking at the very huge drop to my left peppered with hostile cacti to shouts of ‘stay upright, you need to keep your centre of gravity balanced or you’ll slip’ all the while watching while my daughter picked her way confidently over stony ground at every step forecasting certain death for her. I certainly experienced a sense of achievement (perhaps relief is better word) when it was successfully completed.
Customer service….. I know I’m a Brit and I know Brits are historically reserved but I really like someone telling me to have a great day at every transaction. I don’t actually care if they don’t mean it. They look like they mean it and they do a brilliant job of sounding like they mean it, therefore I go forth and jolly well make it my business to have a great day and in return I wish them one too. I always bring this sense of hope back with me from the USA thinking that I will wish complete strangers a great day and greet fellow runners and cyclists with a chirpy good morning but it wears off…. we are just different over here. Maybe the sunny climate makes for a sunnier outlook on life?
Their love of service personnel….. I first encountered this in Texas where service personnel were invited to board the internal flight as priority boarders. The second time was at Seaworld in San Diego where they made all service personnel, veterans and anyone from another country, serving or veteran stand while everyone applauded. It was quite something to see and as the wife of a veteran of some 23 years served in the armed forces, quite touching although I’m sure some reading this will be sceptical that their patriotism encourages division and aggression rather than simply encouraging unity. Of course along with that goes their love of giant flags, displayed everywhere and anywhere and the bigger the better; again very different to here in the UK.
The wide open spaces….. it’s not until I arrive back in the UK that I am struck with how small and hemmed in it is. How most roads are bound by walls or hedgerows or buildings, everything is so built up. On a road trip between Tucson and Los Angeles travelling out of Phoenix on the i10 across the Sonoran and Mojave deserts and crossing the state line between Arizona and California the open spaces are outstanding bound only by dust and distant mountain ranges. I remember leaving Phoenix and the satnav saying ‘Turn in 324’ miles – ok so that’s just 324 of straight miles, no turning…. just keep on going. Tumbleweed.
Culturally there are differences for sure. Maybe it was the very good area of the Catalina Foothills but generally there I find the Americans a lot nicer and British more gritty. Americans want to know if you are ok whereas the British want to know if you are REALLY ok (well I do anyway). I’d still swap our customer service for theirs in a heartbeat.
- Swearing is an odd one…. it’s actually not a big deal to say ‘fuck’, however saying ‘damn’ is quite a massive deal. Oooops.
- They have no idea what wellies are (or jumpers)
- If you want cider, good luck with that (look for ‘hard cider’)
- Chemists….. they sell wine in Demijohns….. who knew?
- Tax mostly this is added at the till, the price on the tag isn’t what you pay
- Tax varies from state to state
- Pool guys are actually a thing
- Tipping is OFF THE SCALE
- Schools – no uniform necessary
- Halloween – no one does it better
- Cacti – evil evil things, always carry tweezers
- Continuous blue sky does actually become monotonous
- The night sky…. no street lighting…. stars upon stars upon stars….. it’s the quite simply stunning
- The TV is quite simply TRASH
- Public loos are so clean it hurts unless you visit a long drop near the Mexican border which in all probability had a body decomposing at the bottom
- Children swear allegiance DAILY in school
Thank goodness my brother married the most British American I’ve ever met. God bless America ❤️
NEXT BLOG…….. something for the gentlemen……