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biffsgasgas

First time Visitor to the US for the WTC...

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For those who are planning to visit the US for the Arizona world round or anywhere else for that matter I thought I would toss together a post about what a traveler should expect. Most of my interactions and travels have been between US and Europe but this should apply globally. I don't know all or any of the visa laws from your country so that part you will need to research independently. 

First impressions when getting to the US:

When I travel to Europe i am surprised usually that I am hardly ever asked a question at a pass port inspection. Here in the US even as a US citizen traveling from Canada, Mexico, Europe ect... I am asked at least 20 questions about who are you, where were you, why were you there, what do you have with you, can i trust you, ect... Americans brag about their freedom but when it comes to border crossings you don't feel like you have any. Little tip is don't use sarcasm or joke with the boarder officials. That is a big red flag for them. Also try not to take it personally because that frustration you show also can be considered a red flag for hiding something. 

Ok so you have passed the boarder and are now in the states. Almost everything is in english (or secondly spanish) when looking at signs. I hate to say it but Americans usually only know english. If you are reading this i figure that isnt a big deal for most of you but my travels to europe are always met with "oh your american lets speek english" even when trying to talk in german or french. The more south you go in America the more Spanish is spoken as a second language but regardless you would be lost if you didn't understand the language. 

If you are flying into Las Vegas for the WTC you will find the airport to be full of lights and sounds and busyness. It is Vegas after all and the city is aimed at trying to dazel the senses. 

Ok out side of the Major cities this is what to expect:

If you expect public transportation in America well... Don't. We have some in the cities like New York, Chicago or Boston that is really good. Other cities try but don't bank on trying to get around with out a car. We do have taxi's and Uber or Lyft but those are for getting from one side of town to the next. If you want to travel which you would for a world round Taxi or any ride service isn't an option. 

Our vehicles are much larger as are our people, Food portions, stores, roads and country in General. The Ford Mondeo (Called Fusion here in the US) is a mid size car. We have much larger vehicles here. The roads are bigger. Most of the streets i drive on here are 4 lanes and that isn't an autobahn or interstate. Our roads are also designed that if an emergency exists most of the time you can pull to the side out of the driving lanes with out impeding traffic. You will also find that our drivers don't follow the rules that europeans do. Here to get a drivers licence you take a test, maybe a class depending on state laws, and a short driving test when you are 16-18 and you are good. So passing on the wrong side, changing lanes not signaling, going faster than the posted speed limit or driving slowly in the fast lane isn't unusual here. Yes those driving habits frustrate the majority of Americans because we know its not right but we try not to go out of our way to scold each other. Gasoline here for me locally is currently around $2.60 a gallon. A gallon is 3.8L so thats about 68 cents a liter US dollars which is somewhere around 60 cent euro i believe. Yea fuel here is cheap so we drive big distances. You will notice that with large roads and most of the people driving the same speed that cruise control and relaxed driving is easier. You don't have to constantly check your mirrors because you are worried about people trying to overtake you at twice the speed. 

Ok what if i need to buy something when i get there?:

Well that is one thing you are going to notice right away about america is our consumerism. Most stores are open till 10PM or 22:00 here. (most of America runs on an AM/PM time schedule and not 24 hour clock). If i need a fuel can, two new button up shirts, a light switch, Sofa, a whole roasted chicken and a 12 pack of beer at 3am it is incredibly easy to get here. Actually we have many stores that have all of those things in one place open 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Just about the only time we can't go and buy something is for a few hours during our national holidays and even then you still have other options. If you need something ask a complete stranger. They will go out of their way to help you (which we will cover here in a bit). 

One exception that you might find to that rule that affects you personally are the motorcycle stores. Our Motorcycle stores here are also know as power sports outlets. These places are usually geared toward one brand of bike or another and are open usually Tuesday through Saturday. They might or might not carry that oil you are looking for. They generally have most of the consumables you would want except for trials. As you might know trials isn't as popular here but if you need chain lube or two stroke oil its not hard to find. I would suggest calling the store you are seeing ahead to see what they have before driving there. Unless you want to kick tires then by all means go poke around. 

Culture and American people when you meet them:

I know that our posts here in TC don't always show this next bit but Americans are extremely approachable. We will ask you how you are doing. You will not know how to answer but it is a way for us to say I am a friend and want to help you with what ever you need. I know some coworkers and even my wife find this completely unusual. It is even perceived as an inquisitive child who walks up to a stranger to want to get to know them. Don't be scared we mean you no harm. I would however be very open to accepting the help of others. Just ask and you will get what you need or want. The common answer to how are you are good thanks and move on to having a conversation. If you say i am feeling down to day or depressed you will then find that the american you are speeking to will usually try to remedy the situation. If you say you are lost or confused again thats our sign to jump into action to make it right. 

Don't be offended when you come to a restaurant or a store to buy alchohol or beer and are asked for your ID. You might have gray hair but please realize that our drinking laws here are extreemly strict. Some states or cities ask for the ID of every individual by law. Some of the customers enforcing these laws are undercover so they will ask everyone. Pass port as a age verification is fine. 

In the early years of this country people were really spread out. Any chance to get a visitor was considered a special thing. In the old west most people used to get their news from passers by so the culture evolved around that mentality. For some of the aged areas of the country such as the east coast you will find that people might convey that they are frustrated or too busy to make time for you. In the more rural areas you don't usually find that as much. Some call it "Southern Hospitality".

American food and what to expect:

Well if you have never experienced American portions let me just say don't go large at first. Yes the country, roads and vehicles are big. As you know the people here are also larger than most Europeans and it has to do with size and portions. Not everything is fried and we do have healthy options. They might not be the most advertized options but if you are used to eating like a European it is not too hard. You will find that the options we have are more (well because americans like more) and that you will find it hard to choose. Again if you explain what you like normally to a waitress and that you are confused as to what to order the American will jump out of that person and call to action to remedy will take hold. 

Free refills and free water. As long as its not alchohol it is expected to have and receive free refills. You might not be done with that soda but they will drop off a second just to be sure you are hydrated. Water here is 90% of the time from the tap. We have so much water here in this country that its very very accessible and for the most part clean. Sparking water is extremely rare. We call that soda water or tonic but you can ask for it if that is what you prefer. The american will usually go out of their way to agian try and remedy the issue if they dont have it. If you are not used to ice in your drink well be prepared... Americans put ice in almost all drinks except beer and wine. Just ask for no ice and you will get it. Be aware that our large is larger than what you would expect. Most of our fast food restaurant large drinks are at least 1 Liter. 

With all of these drinks finding a bathroom is also easy and plentiful. Public bathrooms are everywhere. Again if you ask someone will help. I do want to warn you however is that there is no standard for public bathrooms here. Your options vary from wow this is really nice to OMG this isnt happening. With so many options you can usually walk away from the horrible ones but when you are in the country side you sometimes have to take what you can get. 

American food standards are usually different here. Breakfast usually includes Eggs, Bacon potato and toast. That is the standard american breakfast (mmm just made myself hungry now). Sausage, Biscuits with gravy, Cereal, fruit and yogurt are also usually seen for breakfast. Bread here isn't as diverse as in europe. For breakfast you usually have white or wheat toast and a bagel as your options. My wife calls american white bread Mattress material. Orange Juice and Apple juice are the most common. Cranberry juice is also common as well but other fruit juices are generally different based on the place you are eating. If you like strong coffee then well... Americans don't take the prize in the coffee catagory. Most of our coffee is considered weak. Espresso, latte, capachino are around but you really need to go to a coffee house to get a good one. 

For lunch you have too many options. Between fast food restaurants and bistro's the options are endless. The standard of course is the american burger. I dont know how to describe it but our beef here is different. To me it feels fresh and not as uncommon as it does for me in europe. Salad for lunch here isnt uncommon either. If it looks interesting i say try it. 

Dinner here is also not an easy decision. If you want that american experience try someplace that looks as if it has a horse tied out front or a saloon type motif. If you are close to an ocean you will find fish or other sea food as common. If you are in the central part of the country you will find beef or chicken as the most common. Most places have a ton of options. One of the most american things you will notice is the amount of american bar-b-que. There is a complete genre of bbq based on where you are in this country and some places try and focus on all genre's. Research BBQ before coming and you might run into many many forums with aggressive opinions. With FanticMatze being a vegetarian there is seldom a place that she cant find something. Her personal favorite is Old Country Buffet even though its a chain. 

 

Well that is a good first installment. We are both planning on being in Arizona so if you are reading this and are planning a visit let me know and if you have any questions please just ask. I have to go prep some bikes for a trial tomorrow. I will post more later. 

 

--Biff

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I would also add a couple of things if I may.

1. Gas stations (Petrol), a lot expect you to pay first or leave a card of some description prior to fueling. Like the beer the fuel is very low octane and full of additives (Ethanol). If it is for a bike look for race or avgas.

2. In a lot of stores, sales tax(VAT) is not included in the marked price.

3. The bacon is very streaky and crispy. Gammon is probably nearer to UK bacon

4. Sausages will not be the sausage you are used to!

5. Mustard is burger mustard and not hot at all. Cheese has no flavour and is like rubber, look for Canadian Cheddar!

6. I f hiring a car make sure you take the full insurance, car hire may seem very cheap and this why.

7. If you get stopped by a police officer whilst driving do not exit the vehicle a la UK. Stay in the car with both hands        in     plain view until instructed otherwise and make sure you carry your licence with you.

8. You can undertake on the road and turn right on a red light. Stop signs, make sure you come to a complete stop and wait a few seconds before going (if road is clear of course!). I got pulled for this on a motorcycle as the cop said I didn't put my foot on the ground, I proved him wrong by balancing on the bike!

9. You will struggle to get a decent cup of tea, so get training on the coffee now!

10. The beer is like gnats pee due to the US alcohol regs and is always ice cold. They think you are weird if you drink warm beer and all beers are lager like unless you go for a "dark" beer.

11. Tipping is expected in all food and beer emporiums.

12. Beware of jaywalking, meaning crossing a road anywhere. Use a proper crossing, usually at intersections.

13. You will probably be asked to talk forever and if you are Australian.:)

 

Sounds like a lot but as Biff says they are a real friendly bunch and bend over backwards to help, UK retailers could learn a lot from the customer service in the USA.

Pete (ex California resident of 7 years)

Edited by petert

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Thanks pete! I will add some more later on. You are correct on all fronts. Sales tax added is around 6-15% and low tip is 10% where high is around 20%.

--biff

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Mud Brick, Funnel Cake and Sordfish is tasty as is mexican food. Catfish is not so good. I have never been able to find a Pork pie in the USA. Kenny Rodgers is about the worst fast food outlet I have ever been in, standard of food similar to poor primary school or NHS hospital food.

I always laugh at the moral turpitude part of the visa waiver - how come Bill clinton manages to get past immigration control?

Don't get ripped off by the hire car "free upgrades"

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I am a Scot from Glasgow.  Live and ride trials in Arizona now.  The trial says Kingman however the trial site it is approximately 20 KM or so away from Kingman on a Indian land with NO public transportation.

People flying in from Europe are best to fly in to Las Vegas and rent a car there as it closer than Phoenix (where I live).

There are NO bikes allowed to be ridden before and during the event so leave the trials bikes at home.

Any question about the area please ask.

Billy

 

 

 

   

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Few more tips. You should pull over and stop for an emergency vehicle on non interstate driving. Not just get out of their way and slow down. If you see or hear an emergency vehicle at an intersection just stop or try and pull over further. 

Our major highways are called interstates. Our side roads are considered routes. For example it might say to take i## to route## with gps. 

Next you will notice an immense amount of bill boards on the interstates. It dawns from a time before the internet where every business wants you to stop on by. Billboard lets you know where they are.

--Biff

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