I’ve been back in America for four days. Here are a few things I’ve observed since arriving.
A street in Washington D.C.
Please don’t be offended by my generalizations and stereotypes.
1) American service people are friendly.*
One of the things I like about South Africa is that people tend to be really friendly. However, this friendliness is usually absent in the retail and service industries. Bad service isn’t the norm in South Africa but it is a regular occurrence. The saying, “The customer is always right” doesn’t apply in South Africa.
In America, good service is taken to the extreme.
I landed at Dulles Airport at 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning, staggered through immigration and customs, and walked straight to the Starbucks counter. (In true American tradition, Starbucks is the first thing you see when you walk through the doors of the international arrivals area.)
Starbucks was crowded. I waited for my turn.
“GOOD MORNING! Whatcanigetforyoutoday?!” boomed the man behind the counter. I flinched and ordered an americano. I was startled by the friendliness.
“WHAT’S YOUR NAME?!” boomed the smiling man. “Heather,” I said.
“Tall americano for HEZER!”
An inaugural American coffee for Hezer. Somehow the misspelled name improved my experience even more.
Seriously though, service here is great. I’ve been taken aback by it again and again this week.
*This generalization does not apply to people working in Amiercan airports. Service in airport domestic terminals is worse than I remember. Plus I had forgotten that it now costs money to check bags, which enrages me.
Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C.: Beautiful architecture, horrible service.
2) Everything in America is automated.
I stand at a retail check-out counter, holding out my credit card for the cashier to swipe. The cashier looks at me blankly. I then remember that credit card transactions are self-service in America now. There is a machine in front of me and I must swipe the card through myself, then sign the keypad with a plastic stylus.
I went to a cellular phone store to buy prepaid airtime for my phone. When it came time to pay, the guy took my credit card and did something with it (I didn’t notice exactly what — maybe he waved it in the air like a magic wand?) and then presented me with an iPad.
“What do I do?” I asked the sales rep, whose name was Ron. (Sales reps always introduce themselves in the America.) “Sign the screen,” he said. There was no pen, no stylus, nothing. I signed the iPad with my FINGER. The resulting scrawl looked like the signature of a three-year-old.
I forgot to take a picture of the iPad signature. Here is a photo of Bob and Tim’s cute cat instead.
Speaking of automation, Americans rent movies from vending machines now. I saw it with my own eyes at Walgreens.
3) Some American accents are cool.
I’m surprised when South Africans tell me they like my accent. I’ve always found American accents unattractive. Every now and then, I get ambushed by a gang of American tourists in South Africa and their voices repel me. I cringe to think that I sound like that.
Now that I’m back, I feel differently. Certain American accents still repel me, but I find others quite melodious. Ron, the cell phone sales rep, had an awesome African-American Washington D.C. accent. How have I never noticed how cool that accent is? I wish I’d had an excuse to talk to Ron longer, but this is America and service professionals are too efficient to engage in a long conversation with any one customer. (See observation #1.)
4) There are fire hydrants in America.
Fire hydrants used to be red, right?
When I arrived in D.C. on Monday, I immediately noticed all the fire hydrants. I think they jumped out at me because I can’t remember ever seeing a fire hydrant in Joburg. Do fire hydrants exist in South Africa? I have no idea.
5 America is not so bad.
I was worried about coming back. I was afraid that I would hate everything about America after being gone for so long. And while there are aspects of life here that have shocked and annoyed me (and I’m sure I will discover more in the next two-and-a-half weeks), I’m generally finding America to be a pretty nice place.
Also, America is more similar to South Africa than many people think.
American hipster coffee shop. There are plenty of these in South Africa, too.
I’m sure I’ll have more observations as this trip progresses.