Monthly Archives: August 2013

British, you know! Part 2

Previously I rambled on about America, the land of opportunity. It is safe to say that I was mightily impressed by the USA, from the moment we arrived until the moment we left. Of course the roads aren’t paved with gold, I am not going to say everything was great. For example there was the first night, where we stayed in a Days Inn in Valdosta, GA and heard gun fire and police sirens in the distance. I did wonder if we were going to be featured on CNN in the morning…it was all better after the IHOP (International House of Pancakes) breakfast in the morning.

Pancakes and cooked breakfast

A huge IHOP breakfast

Over the course of the holiday I was to put on 12lb, well earned I should add. The American’s certainly do food in a very big way and we ate at quite a few American favourites; Wendys, Waffle House, IHOP, Red Lobster, McDonalds, Burger King, Longhorn Steak House. Not to mention pretzels, seafood, and a lot of junk food. And one thing that is very different about eating in America as opposed to eating in England is the service.

Prior to heading over to the US I had been told about the ‘tipping’ culture. Indeed, I’ve heard horror stories of people being chased down the road by angry serving staff for failing to leave a tip, and this didn’t really sit well with me. Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favour of tipping people when they provide a good service and when in a nice restaurant in the UK I will often leave a tip. But so often in England the service is woefully inadequate and then you glance down at the bill and so the┬áthe dreaded words “service charge included”. This infuriates me. It is the assumption that a good service has been provided, when actually the waiting staff didn’t look like they care and the icebucket has a warmer personality than the bar staff. This has left a bitter taste in my mouth (excuse the pun) when it comes to tipping.

But actually the reality in America is that the system actually works. Generally waiting staff over there don’t get very much in the way of a standard wage, but they make their money in tips. At first this might seem a bit unfair but actually it puts the onus on them to do a good job. And they do. In the 17 days we were over there I didn’t experience a single bad service. I mentioned in my last blog about the happy greeting we received when we arrived in America, well the waiting staff are the same. In almost all the restaurants we not only got the basic, we had long friendly conversations with our waiter or waitress, and it wasn’t feigned interest, but genuine two way conversations.

For me, this was an example of how the tipping system can actually work. The personalities of American people suit this approach anyway, they are kind and open. They earn their tips and the conversation over the bill is often not, “I don’t want to pay a service charge” but “how much should we leave, 15% 20%?”. The way they have set out the system means that the customer actually has the power, as the staff need to impress them and make sure they have a good time. In the UK it often feels like the opposite, that the customer is there to do as they are told and pay the requisite price, whether the occasion was enjoyable or farcical. Another point won for America here. I am still not a fan of tipping in the UK, but in America it is a system that works.

British, you know! Part 1

I have just returned from nearly 3 weeks holiday in the good old US of A, a country that in so many ways is similar to England and yet in so many other ways is a world apart. Indeed, our little cohort of tourists came to use the joke phrase “British, you know” every time we came across something culturally that made us stand out. This experience intrigued me and so I thought I would lament on the good (and possibly bad) differences between the most powerful country in the world and the UK and wonder if there are things we could learn from the young apprentice turned master. The next couple of blogs will look at some different facets of my experience and reflect on how England would be different.

On my travels we visited Georgia (briefly) and Florida, landing in Orlando and driving up to Atlanta before then making our way down to Miami and then finishing back in Orlando. This was a very interesting little jaunt around a part of America which is, in many ways, very similar to the UK. It is an area of the US that has a very similar climate and countryside. It is green farmland and forest with small towns and interstates. But for an area that speaks English (of sorts), has largely the same landscape and a pretty similar general level of living, culturally it is very different.

Landing in Orlando and jumping straight into the interstate up to Atlanta, the first thing that becomes obvious is that America is the land of the advertiser. If it isn’t the adverts on the commercial radio stations between every song then it is the giant billboards that line the side of every road.

billboards1Coming from a country where we have public service broadcasters and television this comes as a bit of a shock, but it begins to give you an idea about how America is such a commercially driven country. Even subjects that we would probably consider quite ‘taboo’ in the UK are quite liberally advertised in broad daylight on the interstate.

billboards3

Yes, that billboard is indeed advertising the sex industry, and as we traveled through Georgia this was common place, with ‘Adult Superstores’, ‘Massage Parlours’ and ‘Strip Clubs’ being featured on these supersize adverts every few miles.

This certainly made for an entertaining journey, but I am someone who doesn’t particularly like advertising. If I am listening to the radio or watching the TV I want the good content rather than someone trying to sell me something that I don’t want. That’s why I tend to watch TV on demand or pre-recorded – so that I can skip through or avoid adverts altogether. But there is an interesting undertone in the overt advertising of America that shines a light on it’s success. The reason we went to Atlanta was to visit my cousin, an English woman who married an American and now lives there. They now run a successful niche children’s clothing store in Atlanta and are doing very well. Their store is surrounded by other niche stores as well. And if you start to look past the McStarbucks and WaffleKing branded chains that are everywhere in America, you start to realise that there are a huge amount of independent stores that are all doing quite well. Indeed, the billboards lining the interstates are not advertising major chains, they are advertising local and independent businesses. Is such an ‘in your face’ approach to advertising one of the things that allows these businesses to flourish when in the UK the smaller shops and independents are closing down and the highstreets are boarding up?

One thing is quite obvious in America, enterprise is encouraged. Whenever we went into any shop or restaurant we were welcomed enthusiastically and were offered all kinds of help, advice and encouragement (more on this in my next blog). The reputation America has as the land of opportunity is clearly well earned, my cousins experience certainly supports this and I can see why people flock to the US both as tourists and emigration.

To be continued…