I’ve just returned from ten days in Florida – my first ever trip to the land of the free and the home of the brave. I’m not daft enough to think that ten days in Florida, most of it spent having a good time with my daughter (and feeding Uncle Walt’s profits), gives me any sort of right to insight into the United States and I’m rather embarassed that it has taken 36 years for me to get round to visiting the US but how can you return from a first visit to the US and not have some impressions to share?
Sadly I can’t avoid either dealing with some clichès about the US. My father is one of the most heavily anti-American people I know and on top of that, anyone whose political education was on the British far left develops a fairly anti-Yank world view even with the usual get-out-clauses referring to Woody Guthrie, Paul Robeson, Bob Dylan and the early US labour movement – ie the they aren’t all redneck reactionaries but.……view of America.
Anyway, if our US readers will forgive me, here is my personal take on the major clichès about America based on ten days as a tourist in Florida:
1. Yes, I’ve never seen as many fat people in my life. The horrific sight of a family at Disneyland consisting of two obsecenely obsese grandparents in wheelchairs (like a lot of those in electric vehicles their only handicap appeared to be their weight) along with their hugely fat son (ten years to a wheelchair?) waddling about with two dangerously obese children was enough to resolve any emerging liberatarian feelings about the ‘nanny state’ in health matters. People do need to be saved from themselves and the US clearly isn’t doing enough to discourage people from stuffing their faces with fatty fast food crap that will disable and then kill them.
2. My favourite place for breakfast is Waffle House. Not for the waffles (which I can’t really face at breakfast) but for the bacon, eggs and hash browns. Far better than IHOP or the other alternatives. And yes, having your coffee refilled for free is great, especially if, like me, you need three cups to start the day. The fact that Waffle House appear not to have changed their interior deco for 30 years and are proud of the fact just adds to the appeal.
3. The best fast-food burger option is Wendy’s I’ve eaten at Wendy’s before and always wondered how it is that McDonalds and Burger King managed to conquer the world when Wendy’s clearly produces the better burger. And fries. And shakes…..
4. Yes, I know that the waiters and waitresses in restaurants are being insincere and just want a nice tip but let’s face it that kind of service is a damn sight better than the surly attitude you find in most of Europe. You actually do feel like giving a tip and what’s wrong with that?
5. The steaks are as good and as big as everyone says they are.
6. If I ever live in the US I will have to cook for myself a lot and shop carefully for fresh fruit and veg otherwise in a decade or so I will end up riding round Disney Magic Kindom in a wheelchair.
7. I still oppose smoking bans on principle but I really did find that the best way to meet people was while having a quick drag outside a bar or restaurant in the area for those of us addicted to nicotine and banished outside. Had some good chats with fellow lepers and judging by the content of those conversations it seems that those of us who are driven out to the forecourt tend to be lovers of freedom and liberty……
8. You can see all of Disney in a day. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar or works for the marketing department of Disney Corp.
9. How many American radio stations are there playing Eighties Classics? And could someone tell them that there was more to the Eighties than Pat Benetar, Prince and the Police? However despite my love of eighties nostalgia, when the sunsets over Clearwater Beach at Tampa Bay and you are on the highway in a a truck then the local country and western channel is a better option. Even if they are playing Dolly.
10. Trailer parks don’t seem to be as bad as I imagined and I certainly wouldn’t call the people who live in them ‘trash’. Given there are no terrace houses and its summer all year round in Flordia living in a jazzed up caravan seems a reasonable low-income housing option.
11. I didn’t see anyone with a gun.
But I did see this in the sky:
12. If I live in the US I want to drive an SUV or a huge Dogde truck. A big one. Especially if, as it seems to be, the alternative is a blessed Toyota.
13. Nice clothes are much cheaper – and even at Macy’s where your shopping bag has a big red star on it. Was it like that in the cold war? Daughter bought accessories at Bloomingdales – the little brown bag thing is cool.
14. At Orlando airport before leaving for JFK and then home I met a bloke who had served in the Iraq war. I would love him to be introduced to every British person who still holds to the idea that US soilders are ignorant grunts who don’t have a clue about the Middle East. This man was a living endorsement for the idea that the US military is the armed wing of Amnesty International. We chatted about Sunnis and Shia and Tony Blair and George Bush and Abu Ghraib. He was a soilder who thought Donald Rumsfeld was an idiot but that the liberation of Iraq was a worthwhile cause despite everything that had gone pearshaped since. I bet there are also a fair few intelligent British soilders who are also proud of what they did and have a decent critique of US-Uk strategy – but we are never going to hear from them.
15. Given the weight problem, the best looking American women I saw were either from East Asia, or half from East Asia or were Under-21 Latin Americans. What happened to all the Juliet Roberts types? Did they all OD on triple cheeseburgers with Swiss Cheese and Bacon? And talking of cheese? Do any supermarkets actually stock a version that isn’t processed plastic gunk?
16. Fox News is ridiculous. The best response is the piss-taking Colbert Report.
17. In the quite affluent suburb where I was staying, the biggest building project I saw was the new local mosque.
18. AMERICANS AREN’T LOUD. Something must happen to them when they come on vacation to Europe because no-one was shouting back home. Lovely, friendly people. Yes they still wear those shorts and caps but on their home territory they seem to be a bit more relaxed. And friendly. And helpful. And, errr, nice folk generally. Even the bloke with the NRA bumper sticker.
19. Airport security is ridiculously anal when you are travelling the US – take your shoes off, rob your lighter, ask lots of questions, serious. But they couldn’t give a toss when you are heading out of the US to Europe.
20. Lots of flags in gardens and on the backs of trucks — and that’s fine.
21. The fatness and fakeness and Fox-Newsness aside I really liked America. I’d like to go back.