So, we’re home again (as you all know) but we did want to do one concluding post (as we often do!)
In our last couple of days in Orange County with Carolyn, she asked us whether we had any observations to make, particularly regarding changes since our last visits to the USA. Well, yes, upon reflection we decided we did. Some of them we’ve mentioned in this blog, but not all – and anyhow, we’d like to have them all together in one place. So, here goes …
The things we noticed
As the list is bigger than we originally thought – and includes some “real” changes and some ongoing differences – we’re going to categorise our observations. (I’m not librarian-trained for nothing!)
Food and wine (of course)
- Wine culture is more widespread, by which we mean that wines by the glass were available at a greater range of restaurants, including the more casual family and roadhouse restaurants, and more options were offered beyond just the “house white” or “red”. The wines offered mostly came from California and other parts of the USA, from Italy and France, and occasionally from New Zealand (sav blanc of course!), but almost never from Australia!
- Coffee culture is “improving” (from our Aussie point of view!) though American baristas (with a few exceptions) still don’t really know how to produce a Long Black (Americano to them) with a beautiful crema. Coffee is relatively expensive compared with here, given you add tax and tip onto a base price of around $3.50. (This before taking the exchange rate into consideration.)
- Farm-to-table and Fresh produce movement was evident (as it is here in Australia), even in some of the fast food chains. Whilst previously the focus was on fat and cholesterol, it is now more on the “quality”, “freshness” and/or “sustainability” of food. Couldn’t complain about this.
- Advertising of prescription pharmaceuticals on TV – for conditions like diabetes, osteoporosis, stroke/AF (blood thinning meds). I don’t know why, but this really surprised us.
- Increased political satire. There’s always been some political satire in the USA, but on this visit there seemed to be so much more. A reaction to the current political regime? Or was it just that our awareness was heightened because of this regime? Whatever, we did love the cleverness and heart in the humour.
- Credit card payment requirements are highly varied. Most merchants still require signature or pin (occasionally also asking for ID card, even for a purchase of around $10). Paywave/Tap was rare, but we did experience more merchants using the email receipt facility than we’ve experienced here in Oz, to date.
- Prevalence of paper towels in public toilets for hand-drying! This is probably not so much a change, as a lack of change. While here those blow-dryers for hands are very common, there they were pretty rare (at least in the public facilities we visited.)
- Minimal evidence of domestic solar energy panels, which surprised us in southern California. We looked in vain for the panels on roofs that are becoming more and more common in Australia.
- Fast and furious freeways. In the 1980s and I think the early 1990s, the speed limit was 55mph, but by our last visit in 2014 it was 70mph with many drivers driving a lot faster than that. When you are on 6-lane (i.e. in one direction) freeways and have to get from one side to the other in quick-time for an exit, with other cars around you changing lanes seemingly erratically, it can be terrifying. I kindly let Len do the freeway driving, while I took on some of the backroads!
- Reduced confidence. We first noticed this – Americans’ reducing confidence in the “greatness” of their country – during our last visit in 2014, and saw some of it again this time. Previously, our experience was that Americans were so confident in their own culture that they’d (and we’re talking people-in-the-street here, retail workers, etc) express surprise that we wanted to return home at the end of our postings, but post-GFC, we’ve seen uncertainty creep in, an awareness that there are other countries out there that might have things to offer. This is both a good and a bad thing we think.
We do want to say a big thanks to the friends we caught up with this trip, because it’s often connections with people (planned or serendipitous) which take holidays to the next level, to:
- Phil and Betsy, whom we hadn’t met before but with whom conversation was so easy after years of internet bookgroup, Facebook and blog communication. Who said you can’t make friends via the Internet? We also appreciated their Seattle insights.
- Rosemary and Dave, who showed us over Olympia. We’d never met Dave before, Len hadn’t met Rosemary, and Rosemary and I hadn’t seen each other since the very early 1970s, but a Facebook page for our old school reconnected us, and we had a very lovely day with them learning about Olympia and Washington state politics.
- Carol and BJ, who are friends Carolyn and I made when all of our children were young and at school. Carolyn and I met Carol and BJ separately for a cuppa, and we both enjoyed catching up (though off course Carolyn has seen them since I last did!) It was fascinating to find that more than 25 years since we first met, we are somehow still on the same page – politically, for a start. So easy spending time together.
- Trudy and Carter, whom we’ve spent time with on our previous two trips, and again this trip. Warm and welcoming, they always share their love of critters and nature, and of the sights of their South Bay region of LA. History, art, nature, landscape – they know just how to enjoy these in their neck of the woods – and Trudy always makes sure I can get a Long Black somewhere!
- Carolyn, our wonderful hostess, once again, during our stay in Orange County. Where to start? Her concern for our comfort which included buying in food to suit me (gluten-free and – oh dear – wine!), getting her air-conditioning fixed, buying a non-allergenic moisturiser she knows I use ready for my arrival, and so on. She organised outings – sightseeing, for the special shopping we needed to do, delightful meet ups with family (son Ben and his wife Annie) and friends. She introduced us to the current swag of political commentators and satirists on TV. It was inspiring to see the analysis happening, and fun to enjoy it with a local. And, on top of all this, she (and her daughters) made us feel so at home.
Some of you may have seen Australian journalist Chris Uhlmann‘s piece on Trump and the G20. He ended his report, saying:
Some will cheer the decline of America but I think we’ll miss it when it’s gone.
I think he’s right. It’s easy to criticise the USA – and there are valid reasons for doing so – but it is a country that is (relatively) open and transparent and which has some worthwhile ideals. They may be more aspirational than ever fully realised, but are worth hanging onto.