1. Palm Trees
You know how you see all those cool palm tree photos on instagram when people visit California? You know the one I'm talking about.. they're basically all the same, just with different filters! And you think 'oooh' I hope I get an opportunity to take that cliche LA palm tree photo even though I'll hate myself a little bit for it. Firstly, don't hate yourself - cliches are cliches for a reason... they're brilliant! Secondly, for every 1 person in California, there is 83 palm trees! Although I just completely made that statistic up, have no fear, you won't miss out! Another interesting fact about palm trees (that may also be completely falsified, because it was told my boyfriend and he is a notorious bullshit artist) is that all palm trees bend towards the ocean. It became somewhat of a hobby trying to disprove my smart-ass boyfriend (but really he's wonderful), while majority actually did seem to bend towards the ocean, we did find exceptions to the rule.
2. You'll come home with a lot of pennies
American money is strange to get used to. For starters, they have a one dollar bill? This means, that your wallet has the illusion of being much more full than it's really worth. I was on quite a budget for this trip, so I left majority of my money back at the AirBnB and would only take as much as I needed for the day... problem was one day I was running out of the house and thought 'oh shit, I forgot to grab some money, quickly took a peak in my wallet and thought actually no I should be right, I have enough left over from yesterday' and went on my merry way... When I first went to pay something that day, I pulled out my wad of cash and started counting... 1, 2, 3, 4 etc... I had a total of $27, 1 x $10 note, 1 x $5 note, and 12 x $1 notes! I had left myself $27 on a day when I would need considerably more than that (from memory, I was going to Disney or somewhere big!). Now luckily enough I had my travel card on me as well, however just be warned! $1 notes are deceiving in making you think you're much richer than you are, and your 'wad' of cash is really just a pile of useless notes.
More logic: I got terribly confused that a dime (10 cents) is smaller than their 5 cent coin. And also keep in mind, because you will be trying to get rid of a lot of those $1 notes, you'll end up with more change in coins than you know what to do with! And unless you're shameless enough to pay an airport bartender for a $12 cocktail completely in coins (like this guy), you will go home with literally 100's of coins that have absolutely no use in your home country, and no effort to go and get them exchanged.
Also... silver dollars are pretty cool! Look out for them!
3. Road Rules (& Dirty Freeways)
So we all know they drive on the right... but what else is different?
Unfortunately, being under 25, car rental companies make it nearly impossible for people my age to rent a car while travelling, SUPER annoying! However luckily for me on this trip I was travelling with my parents who could rent a car.
One notable difference in American road rules is that you're allowed to turn right on a red light. Going against her every natural instinct, we egged my mum on to turn right on the red light every time... it was terrifying and hilarious all at the same time.
Another fun-fact that my boyfriend noticed was that the above-head signage on the roads relates to the cross-road at the intersection, rather than the road you are on. For some, this might seem confusing, as in Australia we have signs pointing towards the cross-road, and often the sign overhead refers to the road that you're already on. However, I didn't even notice this until he mentioned it, and it seemed to make complete sense to me.
Lastly, Californian freeways (or motorways/interstates I think they call them) are filthy! Nobody seems to have a care in the world about throwing their rubbish out the window to the side of the road. Coming from a place where our roads are relatively clean, and the most you will see on the Monash freeway is a bit of roadkill and some broken down/abandoned cars, it was certainly a noticeable difference! Speaking of roadkill, it actually makes me think back to a family trip to Tasmania a few years ago, in which we noticed that roadkill is so highly prevalent in Tasmania, that they have a dedicated truck service to drive up and down the main highways and collect the roadkill... now that's commitment to keeping a clean road environment!
Americans like their liquor. This is evident in two key ways:
-They make their drinks strong!! It wasn't hard for me at all to get quite tipsy off just one or two cocktails. No matter what you order, expect it to be much stronger than most Australian cocktails or mixed spirits. Another notable mention is that 'light' beer infact refers to being less calories or sugar, not less alcoholic content as is implied by light beer in Australia.
-Alochol is ridiculously cheap!! At restaurants don't expect to pay any more than $10-$12 for any cocktail... as opposed to steeply priced Australian cocktails which are often above the $20 mark. However if you're really keen for some cheep booze, head down to a walgreens, walmart, or basically any pharmacy (chemist) and you can pick up your favourites for ridiculously cheap prices! Ranging from a slab of beer for $18, to 2L of straight Jim Beam for ~$20 or pre-mix margaritas for $10 a pop... or if you're super classy you can't go wrong with a $4 bottle of wine!
5. Homeless Population
Wow. Just Wow! I had been told about the high population of homeless people surviving on the streets of LA, but you really can't appreciate just how many there are until you're there. I had noticed lately, that the number seems to be rising in my hometown, Melbourne, but the scenes of sleeping bags lined down Flinder Street at the moment don't even compare to that of the streets around LA! i truly don't understand, how in such priviliged cities, full of wealth and opportunity, there can still be people who are left to rot on the street, without any assistance from the local governments. It's terribly depressing as a tourist, and something that you just don't expect to see down the road from the likes of Disneyland and Hollywood.
6. Enthusiastic Customer Service
I don't know if we were just incredibly lucky, or whether it's a common thing in America, but you will never meet anyone friendlier in your life than an American fast food or diner/cafe/restaurant employee. I assume this is mainly due to their dependance on working for tips, but just wanted to shout out a big kudos to any of you American's trying to make ends meet in the tourism or hospitality industry... ya'll are amazing!!
7. Consistent Weather
What's the weather in LA? Sunny and warm.
What should I wear? Shorts and a Tshirt. Maybe take a light jacket in the evening.
Full stop. No Questions asked. No umbrellas required. From my experience, no exceptions to the rule. It's always Sunny in Philadelphia they say?... It's always sunny in California I say! Sunny with a chance of glorious! Maybe I was incredibly blessed, or just went at the perfect time, but can any local Californians confirm this for me?
8. Sales Tax
Ugh! This is one of the only negatives of shopping in America.
The variety of products is insane, I could spend weeks in just one shopping mall. The customer service is generally great. The prices are drop-dead amazing. But then there's this pesky little thing called the sales tax, that the signs in the store don't tell you about!
So you pick up a cute little dress that's labelled for $10 and you think you're getting a banger bargain... then you get to the counter and the lady says 'that'll be $12 thank you', and you're a bit confused but shrug it off thinking 'eh maybe it was on the wrong rack'. Then you go to the next store, put your$20 shoes on the counter and that lady says 'I love these boots! That'll be $23.50 hun' and you're like 'okaaaay, maybe the sign was wrong'. You head over to another store and are admiring a handbag and ask the sales assistant how much it is? He tells you $50 then goes on his merry way, then when you get to the counter the nice gay man says 'ooooooh girlfriend nice choice, now that one is $55 sugar, would you like any of these lipglosses for an extra $2?' and you're like 'alright, okay, hang on, hold up, you just added $7 already, what is going on here? People have been doing this to me all day! Am I blind or just stupid?' He explains to your ignorant, comfortable, GST-used to Australian ass that all products incur a sales tax in America. You both laugh it off, and you pay for the bag even though your limit was $50 and walk out the store and immediately google 'sales tax' to find out what percentage has been added onto every purchase that day that you weren't aware of. To add to your confusion, apparently the percentage is different everywhere you go.
Now luckily for me, I had previously visited the United States year before and was now aware of aforementioned tax, however this is a near-true account for my first visit back in 2011. $2 here and $4 there may not seem like a huge deal, however it can add up pretty quickly. Especially when the conversion rate is absolute rat shit and you've been tipping people left, right and centre during your holiday as well! It's best just to be aware and accept it if you're from a country like me, in which all taxes are included in the displayed price.
9. No matter how long you visit for... you will gain at least 5 kilos!
Supersize me indeed! Where in America might one buy a vegetable?
An Australian Large meal = An American Small
A 10 pack of nuggets at Hungry Jacks will cost you about $7 - The same at a Burger King will cost you $1.50.
More on this topic in my next post... 'Body Image while on vacation'