Saturday, August 9, 2008

Our First Day in the USA

First surprises in America + photoalbum

Surprise one:
Have you heard that the USA is practicing democracy? That’s what I’ve learned from a world wide media citing uncountable statements of the American government and citizens. Well, it is well known: don’t believe everything you read in papers…
I learnt my first American lesson in the plane, because – technically speaking – it was an American ground because it was operated by an American company and had an American crew (even if we bought a ticket with Qantas – it is a common situation nowadays: you buy a ticket with one company and end up with another).
A few people were queuing to a toilet as it always happen, and each toilet had its own queue, as always. At some point a hostess came to us and told us that “according to an American law forming groups of three and more is illegal therefore we have to dissolve”. We – three passengers - startled a bit at this statement, and I could not help myself and asked her how we suppose to dissolve if the toilet is here and it is what we need. Her answer was: I don’t know how you suppose to dissolve but it is my duty to deliver American law to you.

OK, most likely she was in a bad mood (or maybe a bully by nature) and formulated her statement badly. Most likely, she simply wanted us not to block the traffic in the aisle. However, I have learnt something new: there is a law in America about forming groups of three and more people in public places.
Surprise, surprise… I would never imagine.

Surprise two:
Have you heard that the USA is a country of tips; that you have to tip everybody for every service provided? I heard it from every single person who travelled to the USA. I remember my initial “shock introduction” to tipping somewhere in Europe, Belgium or Holland. I was leaving a toilet which I thought to be public (sorry about another “toilet story” but essentials are more memorable than everything else) and was confronted by a gentleman who demanded a tip. He happened to be a cleaner in that toilet – and I happened to be a slow thinker – so we had a memorable dialogue about the importance of a reward for toilet cleaners (which does not make sense to me – Australia has the best toilets in the world without paying tips to cleaners). Coming from a country where tips do not really exist (I mean Australia and Russia, actually) I could not grasp this concept, not on the spot, anyway, but emotionally I was ready for tips in America…

When we landed in Los Angeles we expected to find a representative of the car rental company from which we rented a car (that was the agreement) – but nobody waited for us. Imagine our feelings at the time: not a single coin of local currency in our pockets, not knowing where ATMs and phones are in the building, a need to call the company to find out what is going on… Of course, it is all doable, but it is an unpleasant and unnecessary stress after a long and delayed flight.
Miraculously there was a gentleman in the airport who happened to be a “helper”. He did not have a uniform, did work at any help desk, but wondered around the place looking for “lost” passengers. His was a real “helper”: found a phone number of the company, called them from his mobile, waited for our situation to be resolved and the company driver to pick us from the airport, showed us everything we had to know or needed and stayed with us until we safely departed in our rented car. We had a nice chat, learnt a few things from him, and when it was time to say “good buy” we wanted to reward him – but he refused.
I think it is a great initiative of the airport administration – a very effective and personal service – and absolutely free. Surprise, surprise… I would never imagine.

Surprise three:

Is not it true that Los Angeles is one of the biggest cities in the world? Does not it mean that it has to be a modern and busy mega polis?
We drove through many suburbs and town centres of Los Angeles – it looks mostly quite provincial, in many ways just like Australia: green leafy streets full of light, shade and flowers, immaculately maintained gardens (as well less immaculately maintained), one-two-three storey buildings, casual and relax life style (anyway, it is how it looks).
Is not it a surprise?
What is definitely different – the style of buildings: a lot of Spanish- Mexican themes, many imitations of styles of the past: baroque, gothic – a lot of it on a grand scale… And the palm trees – they are so toll!!! I’ve never seen anything in the botanical world as toll as these palm trees!

Another surprise was – how easy we went through the customs. There are rumours about strict custom’s control on the border in the USA – we have not experienced it at all!

One thing is definitely as I heard about it – the smog. It is as bad as the smog in China. Pity!

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