Third week of USA and Americans viewed by two European chicks.
Reminder for those who did not read the first posts.
This post series won’t be book related except that we both became “partners in crime” Talia @redhotink and I through our love for books. We met on Goodreads and it clicked immediately! You’ll find our “bio” at the end of the post if you are still with us by that time.
In this series of four Fridays posts we want to offer our US (and non US) friends our reading of America and its citizens. We’ll keep it light and funny. No debate about politics but talks about interesting tidbits and odd things we found while visiting and living in USA.
I’m covering the West-Coast and some West-Center States and Talia speaks aplenty about Big Apple.
This post has become nearly a small novel as we have much to tell. We decided to make it a mini series over the span of four weeks. We hope that you’ll bear with us and enjoy the tour 😉
Let’s roll Ladies and Gents!
After last’ Friday’s post about driving, talking traffic lights and other oddities let’s speak about servicing the client, buying products etc.
1)The client is King of the shop
First morning in the US and empty bellies we are entering a diner. We are welcomed with a “Hi! How are you today?” shouted with a loud and bubbly voice.
My thoughts: “Wow the waitress is really perky and friendly to ask how I am!”.
After the second, third and fourth similar welcome while entering shops and restaurants I came to the conclusion that you do everything for the customer to feel welcome. As waiters/waitresses and many shop assistants live on tips they have to make the client feel like a king catering to his e…very whim if they want to get fat tips.
By the end of our stay I was answering “Fine thank you! And you?” in an enthusiastic voice much to my kid’s shame (they are teenagers so try to be perky and loud you will immediately “put shame on them”).
As waiters and shop assistant don’t rely on tips in Europe they will be friendly (we are no beasts!) but more “contained”.
But the bubbliness and friendliness don’t stop at waiters and waitresses or shop assistants!
2)Customer service is da bomb dot com!
Raise your hand if you enjoy talking over the phone to customer services? No one? Wow, what a surprise! So, yeah, this will never be a joyful activity, but when the person on the other side is helpful, nice and upbeat to the point of making you wonder whether they spiced their morning coffee, it goes a long way in making your experience more bearable.
Being an immigrant in the US means spending a loooooong time talking to random people over the phone. Banks, postal services, wifi providers… the list in endless and it should be a nightmare. Yet they are all so nice. So genuinely (or maybe not, but they sure make it seem like it) nice. So much so that they end every call asking you whether there is something else they can help you with today. It almost puts a smile on my face.
In Italy? Dealing with bureaucracy, people in the administration and customer service is a battle of the minds. Your stubbornness against their despondency. Your desperation against their contempt. It always seems like by calling them you are throwing the proverbial glove to their face and declaring war.
Thing is, they have the power and there is only a number of hours you can listen to Vivaldi’s Primavera before blowing a gasket.
3)Cashiers deserve a medal
Not only they put up with customers all day. Not only they do it standing (YES, they do not have chairs; at max I’ve seen some crates) but don’t even think of putting your own groceries in the bags.
No, ma’am. They will bag it for you and will do that with science and conscience. Refrigerated things go together, eggs on top. Fruit too. They will make sure the weight in the bags will not be too unbalanced and wrap your items in so many bags that no way you’ll have spilling or dropping accident.
It’s weird, being serviced like this, and half the time I just want to grab my things and tell them to take a break and relax, that I can do that myself, but damn if they don’t have a great strategy and fast timing.
4)Tipping and taxes, the ultimate math test.
Imagine the scene: you’re sitting at a restaurant (or more realistically a pub, because, again, expensive) half buzzed from all the margaritas you drank in order to forget the huge work or courseload of the semester, or the student loan you just signed, or the next lab meeting and volunteering event, and suddenly a waiter shows up with the bill.
Everyone’s laughing, carefree and unable to form a coherent sentence, but here you are called upon the daunting task of calculating how much every person owes. It’s not just the taxes, which need to be split between everyone (in the lucky case no one left earlier burdening everyone else with their taxes too), but also the tip which needs to be calculated. They say a good way to think it is to double the NY tax (which is already freaking high if you ask me). Trust me, nothing ruins your mood more than having to pay an amount that would have likely fed another person. But this is New York, people. You are basically paying to breathe.
5)Eating at the restaurant: very enlightening!
You want in that diner but there is a queue? Don’t worry you’ll have a table in a jiffy.
Americans go to the restaurant to eat and then leave.
Europeans go to the restaurant to eat and chat. They stay way longer than Americans enjoying their evening and meal. Food is no small business in Europe it’s meant to be savored and enjoyed in company for a long evening.
So you want a table you’ll get your table after a small wait.
You want coke with your meal? It will come right away with glasses of water and the refill are already paid for. In my country if you want water you have to pay for it and if you want a second coke or more coffee you also have to pay for it. We had to fend of the waitress as she was on a mission: filling our glasses again and again! She also was dead set on filling our glasses with ice. It’s unconceivable for Americans to drink cold drink without ice. You even have ice machines in gas stations, hotel halls, etc.
You want the sauce on the side? The BLT but without beef? The salad without lettuce? Everything is possible and the waiter will never show that you are annoying. I’m convinced he or she must think that we are just nuisances but it will never show on her or his face. Tips, tips and tips.
Back on American gigantism: the plates and dishes are huge!
When my hubby asked for a “large” pizza at Pizza Hutt I tried to discourage him. He was naïve and did not expect the tractor wheel landing on our table! We had food for two days after counting my two teenagers and I.
Sound advice: when they tell you it’s “large” or “big” or … in the US understand this is really enormous by our European standards! Even your ants are supersized! Must be all the hormones…
Now one of your brilliant ideas: the doggy bags!
You could not eat it all? No worries you can ask for a bag and take it away. Try to ask for a bag in a European restaurant and you will be met with looks of pity as obviously you don’t earn enough money to feed yourself.
Of course if you are low on money or fed up with the gigantic portions you can always try to cook…
6)How do you spell cooking?
I just started my first semester at grad school and the first thing you learn is that time is a luxury and you are broke. Whoever says NY must be cheap when it comes to food because it’s such a big city has either never been here or is an effing millionaire.
In Europe, even when you buy the cheap stuff, the “first price” (this is how we call it in Italy), you still get a good product. Not top of the line, nothing fancy, but good, edible and most of the time healthy.
Here, grocery shopping may entail selling an organ or two if you want the good stuff. But who needs two kidneys anyway, right?
As I mentioned earlier, time is also of the essence, even when it comes to cooking; given how eating out every day seems like the perfect recipe for Diabetes II, I prefer to cook my own meals when possible. I’ve noticed that many people around me though are kind of… refractory when it comes to the prepping, hence why fast foods, delis, and restaurants are full almost 24/7.
And here I totally agree with Sophie about the size of the meals. In Italy, you can hardly ever find a slice of pizza, especially in restaurants. That’s because you can eat a whole pizza and it will be the perfect size for a meal. Here, a whole pizza means the equivalent of at least two “normal” ones.
Same with the beverages. I don’t know you, but I cannot drink half a liter of coke during a meal.
7)You’ve got a cold: go to the supermarket
No chemists in the West but supermarkets! This was very weird for us. In Europe if you are ill and need medicine you go to the chemist not to the mall! It’s also true that our medical bills are way much lower than yours and I had to subscribe a special insurance to be covered while in US as our usual insurance did not want to cover potential huge health bills. This may be a huge advantage Europe has on the US really.
On the other hand the medicine you find at the supermarket is very, very powerful! We came back with some local medicine. They were highly dosed and much more efficient than our very controlled medicine. No wonder you can avoid the doctor most of the time your drugs make wonders!
Link to Talia’s post: HERE
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT FRIDAY
Talia is a 22 year old bookworm who is currently chasing her dream of becoming a forensic psychologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in New York. Originally, she is from Florence, Italy, where she lived all her life up until two months ago and with the exception of a semester of debauchery in Denmark (just kidding 😉). Only child of two musicians, she has also a diploma in flute, although she’d rather play the guitar to decompress. She started reading romance novels at the ripe age of 15, when the Night Huntress series came knocking on her door and demanded entrance in her heart. From there it was a slippery slope to the addiction it has now become (not that she regrets anything!). She (how weird is it to write about yourself in third person?! However…) also dedicated herself to writing, in both Italian and English, but hasn’t published anything because her perfectionism won’t let her. At the moment, she moonlights as a stripper in Las Ve… wait, no, as a graphic designer for indie authors.
Sophie is a forty something Belgian working mom of two teenagers.
Managing two teams at work and a crazy bunch at home furry ball included was not enough for her ADHD tendencies. She began blogging on a dare and does it like everything else with utter enthusiasm. She has lived her former life as a cat and is always landing on her feet even when her blog is crashing down. Wait , no! That’s her IT hubs mojo operating after she’s bribed him with her infamous …chocolate cake.
When she is not busy reading, writing reviews interviewing/stalking authors or clumsily following her feed you can find her on the treadmill, in the woods or in the kitchen baking for her posse.
Thanks for reading!
PS If you want to add your wisdom or fun facts feel free!!!
Gosh, don’t get me started about my grocery bill! For our household of 5 (3 boys, my hubby & me) we EASILY spend around $300 every two weeks and still have to return every few days or so for staples like bread & milk! Yikes!
Well Trisy I don’t know how old are your boys but my two kids are teenagers and they eat like a whole army! No surprise your grocery bill is exploding 😉
You two have learned all of our secrets! Hahaha I giggle every time I read these!
Thank you Susan! I think you have yet many secrets to reveal you know. I’m happy we make you laugh 😉