Friday, February 23, 2007


Big Sur coast
So that’s it, then. Another huge experience, one I’m enjoying in retrospect almost as much as I did at the time. Interestingly – for me at least – the things that come out in general chat are frequently absurd; the features of American life which you suddenly realise are features and not just accidents.

Some of these occurred in the bathroom – that lovely generic term which, in the US, does not necessarily imply total immersion. The shower curtains, for a start – everywhere we went, in hotels and in private houses, there were over-bath showers regulated by a single tap (though the degree to which you had to turn them to reach the good temperature varied alarmingly) and shielded from view by a double curtain – one plastic job to keep the wet in, and another, outer, more decorative one to match the décor. It seemed to be the done thing to keep this curtain closed even if you were not actually showering, thus concealing the bath – and making the bathroom seem small, somehow. For the shower fusspots, among whom I number myself, I have to report that a shower curtain is still a shower curtain and sticks to your wet body no matter how decorous. Give me a freestanding shower any day – nae curtains. Then there’s the toilet paper. It’s single ply and small. ‘Nuff said. And the taps – no turny ones wherever I went. All levers – and as far as I was concerned, the wrong way round.

Other difficulties concerned food – or rather, my inability to cope with the quantities. Ask for a sandwich and you get enough to feed a small family. With fries. And in the South, there is much frying in cornmeal batter and very powerful seasoning – and a dearth of the kind of coffee my soul craves. We learned, eventually, to eat a decent breakfast and then fast till dinnertime.

When we first hit San Francisco, and headed out for that wonderfully serendipitous meeting with felow-edublogger Anne, we were incredibly intimidated by the skyscrapers in the Financial District. We didn't know that's where we were - all we knew was that if we beetled down Market Street for long enough we should find the Hyatt Regency. And we did - a hotel which I found quite intimidating in its own right, like a Borg ship, for the cognoscenti among my readers. I knew it was all because we'd just come from low-rise, laid-back Santa Cruz, but it did make me wonder how I was going to cope with New York. In the event, I loved New York and by the time I'd had the evening with Anne I was no longer intimidated.

We realised that many Americans are distraught at their unpopularity in the world. We spoke to a concierge in one hotel who told us earnestly that Americans were friendly people who wanted to be liked – but we also realised why it is so easy for Americans to forget that the rest of the world exists, let along has opinions. The news progs we saw on the telly made little reference to anything other than domestic issues – apart from Iraq. And the adverts! So many, and so bizarre – do they not have an advertising standards agency over there? My fave was definitely the one extolling a pill to cure belly fat. “Stubborn” belly fat, actually, in the over-30s. Watch enough of that stuff and you’d be a hypochondriac without trying – or maybe dead: there were some dire warnings about adverse effects.

A last thought, however, has to be to wonder once more at the vastness and diversity of the States, and at the kindness and hospitality of our friends – friends who made our trip possible, and gave us the experiences that the ordinary tourist never finds. We are eternally grateful to them.

Doubtless I shall refer to this trip again, but for now - I’m done.


  1. Hey, Chris, found your comment on MadPriest's blog, and dropped over to visit. I scanned your USA trip, and I'm glad you came to visit. Wish I could have met you and welcomed you to our creekside home. We could have watched the geese feeding and talked about differences in food tastes (how important is garlic salt), bathroom (what do you call them?) preferences and other important things in the world (how do we retire and still be useful in the world?) or maybe not. Just sit and watch. Will be reading more, thanks.

  2. Anonymous9:03 AM

    Well, speaking personally, I was a little sad to read this! No more Americana from the Scottish Ulysses. Well, on behalf of all us Penelopes thank you for blogging about it. I've enjoyed it enormously.

    We've decided to visit husband's youngest brother in Saint Paul this summer -so your blog has been a great way to whet our appetites.

    Are you home safe?

  3. Hi, Sharecropper - glad to have your comments! I call the place the loo, or the lavatory (illogical too, as I don't just go there to wash!), or the ladies'....but the bathroom needs to have a bath in it!

    Liz: As soon as I wrote that last bit I realised there were other things I hadn't said. They'll surface again - but I knew I wanted to blog today's march and get up to date!
    So yes - home safe. You'll have a great time in the summer - keep us posted.