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.
Coming 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.
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…