Inga’s Travelogue: Viva Las Vegas

I’m back in one piece from Sin City, and I really only have two words to describe it:

HOLY. SHIT.

Before I get into all the sordid details however, I wanted to mention some of the contrasts I noticed between Australia and America. I’m swiftly developing a bit of a crush on the ol’ US of A, but at the same time it baffles the hell out of me.

Note: Before I launch into my commentary, I should point out that when I refer to America and Americans, I’m basing my observations on the tiny percentage of the nation I’ve experienced, ie. Los Angeles airport, Las Vegas strip, Arizona, and a US naval base in Japan. I’m not sure if any of this applies to the remaining 99% of the country – although I have a strong feeling I’ll find out at some point.  

In Australia, we deal with America on a daily basis. We watch your TV shows, listen to your music, see your movies, eat your food and look up your Youtube stars. You’d think that with Australia’s saturation in American culture, nothing would be surprising for an Aussie wandering around the Land of the Free. You’d be dead wrong. It was confusing as balls.

Accents:
I’ve discovered there are only eight people in the USA whose accents I can understand, and that’s the cast of The Big Bang Theory and the cousin with whom I visited PNG. Everyone else might as well have been speaking Xhosa. People would say something to us, and Nikki and I would stare blankly at them for a few seconds, hoping if we bought some time the words would eventually trigger response in our Antipodean brains. When this failed, we’d look at each other, hoping the other one had got the gist of the conversation. Then we’d look vacantly again at the speaker, and finally stutter a confused “Um, sorry?” This process, coupled with our accent, ensured that wherever we went people assumed we were brain damaged. A lot of Americans really struggled to understand us too – on our second last day, we spent a few hours at the hotel bar drinking cocktails and chatting to the bartender. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you the conversation went like this:

Us:         So how long have you been in Vegas?
Him:       What? [unintelligible comment]
Us:         Sorry?
Him:       [unintelligible comment]
Us:         Sorry, didn’t quite get that?
Him:       What?
Us:         HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN VEGAS?
Him:       [unintelligible comment]
Us:         Sorry?
Him:       What?

This went on for literally two hours.

This is the face of a bartender who has no idea what you're talking about.

This is the face of a bartender who has no idea what you’re talking about.

Queues:
God damn, everything takes forever in America. We waited in customs for an hour in LA. We waited about twenty minutes to check in to our hotel, because there were only two receptionists processing about fifty new arrivals. We waited to be seated in cafes and restaurants, we waited for food, we waited for pizza to be warmed at the food court, we waited for traffic lights, we waited to get into clubs, we waited for bartenders to come back so we could pay them, we waited and waited and waited. No one is in a hurry in Las Vegas. Probably because everyone is either drunk or coked up.

Dining out:
This was unexpectedly confusing. One person seats you, then disappears. Then someone else comes and takes your drink order. Then another server takes your food order, and repeatedly tops up your coffee or diet Coke (the free refills nearly blew my mind…I think I yelled “I LOVE AMERICA” every time someone freshened my coffee). Then you’re meant to tip them based on…something. Smiling? Drink top ups? Quality of food? I had no idea, so I just left 20% each time. I found our dining experiences were vaguely unsettling, because I was never sure if servers were genuinely friendly or just putting on a show for a good tip. In Australia, if a waiter or waitress is warm and friendly it’s because they want to be, not because they’re expecting me to leave a tenner on the table. Maybe I was overthinking things, but it always left me with a weird feeling.

Paying at bars:
The first time we bought a cocktail at the hotel bar, the waitress didn’t ask us for money – she just gave us our drinks and wandered off. We later learned that the bar is like a restaurant, and you keep ordering drinks until you indicate you’ve consumed a sufficient quantity of gin, at which point they’ll leave your receipt in a little cup in front of you. I’m not sure what’s stopping you from leaving without paying. We ended up with free food at one point, because no one rang it up – we actually went up to a waitress and asked to pay for it, and she told us not to worry (I think that was another “I LOVE AMERICA” moment).

Customer service:
My god, Americans are blunt. There’s no “Hi, how are you?”, no smile, no eye contact. I thought it was terribly rude at first, until I realised that people are friendly and helpful;  it’s just they’re not decorating it with the layers of pleasantries we employ in Australia. They cut straight to the chase, and it really threw us off balance. As an example, the customs officer at LAX was a scowling old bastard that snatched our passports, admonished us for coming up to the counter together when we weren’t related, then in a mildly threatening monotone ordered us to record our fingerprints and look into the camera. After doing so, he told me I’d taken a beautiful photo, and told Nikki he liked her better as a brunette (her passport photo is blonde). This ‘geez, what’s up your arse…aww, aren’t you sweet!’ turnaround happened so often, we felt like we were being waterboarded.

Toilets:
Aka ‘restrooms’. I don’t understand why the toilet water is so close to my bum. It’s unnerving. Also all public toilets have a giant gap between the door and the frame – if I can see people washing their hands, surely they can see me. I do enjoy the automatic flush sensors, but they gave me a bit of a fright the first few times. “Well, better zip up my pants…OH GOD, POLTERGEIST!”

Supermarkets:
Holy hell America, can you guys build a grocery store. Nikki and I visited a Safeway in Arizona, looking for road trip snacks. We spent a good ten minutes trying to figure out in which aisle the chips would be – with crackers? Nuts? Cookies? Then we realised there’s an entire CHIP AISLE. Right opposite the beer aisle. Near the in-store Starbucks. Next to a cabinet holding every kind of ready made lunch imaginable, and stacks of sugar-encrusted cookies that were literally the size of my head. I could have spent hours in there. YOU GUYS HAVE CHEESE IN A CAN. And sleeping tablets next to vitamins. I just…I can’t. Mind blown.

Chip aisle.

Chip aisle.

Beer aisle. Hello.

Beer aisle. Hello.

 

Food:
I love disgusting food, I really do. Give me chips, cheese, pizza, chocolate – I wolf it down. Except I can’t deal with the American version of any of those delightful things. The packaged food is so processed that I’m not sure it’s even food any more. The ‘whipped cream’ in our key lime margarita was hydrogenated palm oil. Doritos burned off our tastebuds and Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups sloughed off our dental enamel. The cheese on my chilli beans was a vibrant, unnatural yellow, and it tasted like glue. The pickles are salty and the salami is vinegary. Everything contains high fructose corn syrup and/or meat.

I was being a fantastic vegetarian until I set foot on US soil. A mushroom burger is just a regular burger with mushrooms. Vegetable tortilla soup has mince. A chilli bean burrito has beef AND bacon. In Australia, everything that’s included in a meal is listed on the menu description, and it took me a while to learn this is not the case in America. Nikki can’t deal with spicy food, and it turns out ‘spicy’ has a completely different definition in the States. No matter how many times we asked a waiter “Is the so-and-so dish spicy?”, the answer was always “No, not at all!” – and inevitably, half an hour later Nik would find herself with a flaming tongue and cheeks afire, gulping down her cola while I frantically picked pieces of bacon out of my nachos.

Then there are ‘sides’. Everything comes with a side! Do you want fries with your sandwich? Caesar salad with your pizza? Spring rolls with your stir fry? Bagel with your omelette? I was pretty excited about this for a while, but my poor stomach was definitely protesting at the amount of food I was trying to shovel into it.

One amazing food item that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to live without: jalapeno poppers. Oh. My. God.  For the uninitiated, they’re jalapeno peppers stuffed with cheese, then crumbed and deep fried. Oily, cheesy, stroke-inducing nuggets of pure joy. If I ever move to America, it will be for jalapeno poppers. Or possibly black men, but that’s another blog post.

This is either breakfast, or a one way ticket to the emergency ward.

This is either breakfast, or a one way ticket to the emergency ward.

Big Papa

This is not the face of a woman who’s enjoying her Big Papa pickle.

Motoring:
My biggest bugbear: why are the speed limits posted in 5 mph denominations, when the speedometers in cars go up in tens?

Secondly, the freeway on-ramps are nowhere near long enough for traffic to merge properly.

Thirdly, I don’t understand the fuel bowsers. Apparently you need to pay in advance if you’re paying in cash, and they’re not terribly excited by foreign credit cards. I got so flustered in Williams, Arizona that a greasy old mechanic came over to help me out, then promptly hit on me. Luckily I was wearing my decoy wedding ring.

On the plus side, motorists seem a lot more polite than in Melbourne. Everyone stays to the right unless they’re overtaking, and when they do overtake you they don’t drive right up your backside and then pull in metres from your front bumper, like they do here. I didn’t get honked at once, despite driving like…well, a Melbournian.

All you wanna do is ride around, Sally.

All you wanna do is ride around, Sally.

Flags:
Calm down with your flags, America. Driving back from Arizona to Nevada (I really love saying that), we decided to start a flag tally. We counted twenty-nine American flags in less than fifteen minutes – and this was freeway driving, not cruising through town. On the positive side: no matter how drunk we got, we never forgot what country we were in.

What country is the Grand Canyon in again?

What country is the Grand Canyon in again?

Murrricaaaa!

Murrricaaaa!

 

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24 thoughts on “Inga’s Travelogue: Viva Las Vegas

  1. Oh wow.
    I can’t wait to go to Vegas in September. Bahahaha.
    I’ll remember everything you said here.
    I’m so sorry about the food.
    I, personally, read all the ingredients on food I buy, so avoid high fructose corn syrup and plam oil and all that shit, but you can’t DO that when you are eating out. Damn.

    We go to some pretty awesome restaurants in Vegas, but, still, I know what you mean about overprocessed non-food. Sigh.

  2. I’m sorry … I had trouble reading this. Couldn’t seem to understand the words …

    Accents – I live in an area where there are people from all over the world and different parts of this country, and it’s just something I’m used to at this point – but I can understand how jarring it could be to a visitor.

    Spicy food – that’s something that depends on where you are. In Nevada/Arizona and other southwestern states NOTHING is spicy … I have cousins from the upper midwest that think black pepper is spicy.

    And, yes, jalapeno poppers (some even have meat in them too) are the food of the gods.

    • Melbourne is the multicultural hub of Australia, we have the works…but somehow it’s the American accent that threw me! Only some of the accents were difficult though (don’t ask me which ones – I haven’t learned that much yet), and usually once they slowed it down for us we were fine.

      I loooove spicy food, and I was loving the 5 million types of hot saarce at all the shops. Wasn’t great for Nikki though 🙂

  3. I’ll have you know I reading this before taking off to a meeting this morning and you made me spit cereal all over my iPad.

    I’m glad you (hopefully) had a great time. Sounds fun. I’m so glad you put in the part about getting to know just a tiny bit of America – with 311 million citizens, extreme variation in ecosystems, and huge cultural differences, you may as well be in different countries if you go from Vegas to New England to Louisiana.

    So when you said you were puzzled by certain things, I was convinced most of what you’d experience would be restricted to Nevada. But in fact no, only 2 of the things on the list could you escape if you travelled to other states.

    The good news is, though, the bad stuff you’ll only encounter if you visit tourist traps. In most places, the locals can tell you how to avoid the bad shit.

    Lines (Queues):

    Yep, although you can avoid this by shopping at odd times on weekdays, or showing up to a restaurant right when they open / sitting at the bar.

    Paying at Bars:

    I’m not sure what’s stopping you from leaving without paying

    It’s called Chew & Screw. We’ll have to get you an American slang dictionary.

    Customer service:

    New England is almost worse. People can be blunt and sometimes crass. But Brits I’ve spoken to once they get used to it, they sort of enjoy it. It saves time and it kind of shows who’s honest and who’s not. Also there’s a very loving, helpful character beneath that bluntness. People who use too many pleasentries are sometimes thought of as salesmen or untrustworthy.

    (Note: people with an accent get a free pass on that one; we know we’re ruder than most of the world).

    Toilets:

    **spits cereal everywhere…….

    Food / Supermarkets:

    That’s 2 of the exceptions. Visit our region and you’ll see the quality of markets, restaurants (theaters, museums, stores, movies, etc etc) varies wildly and is closely tied to the size, and private vs government.

    Govt parks, theatres etc can be excellent too but whether private or not, small community businesses have so much more to lose if they displease the public. Local markets, cafes, etc you’ll find world class food, many tapas places (read: small dishes) and food that’s just to die for. Awesome farmer’s markets too.

    I owe you an email. Glad you had a good time. 😉

    • Well, Australia changes a fair bit from state to state, so I figured I’d better not generalise about a nation with eleven times the population! 🙂

      I wouldn’t say anything was truly bad – there were niggly things like the traffic lights taking forever, but even that was interesting because it was different. I absolutely loved every second, and I loved being surprised at everything. It felt like a proper cultural exchange, which I wasn’t expecting at all!

      Definitely noticed the warmth beneath the bluntness – it seems the longer you interact with someone, the more they warm up. It’d be interesting to find out what Americans think of us when they come to Oz – are we a bunch of smiley freaks?!

      It sounds like *someone* needs to take me on a market/cafe/tapas tour the next time I come over. Sounds right up my alley 😉

  4. Were people (men) handing you free vodka coktails on the street in Vegas? When my daughter was there they were and I was like – you accept drinks on the street from strangers – have I taught you nothing!! They were also throwing free tickets to the Bellagio at her.

    Customer service is like that in Hong Kong, we were even told not to bother saying thank you to the salesperson after buying something or they’d think we were weird. I think we should take it up here as well – nothing worse than the checkout kids at Woolies trying to make polite conversation.

    Lol, the toilet water – it’s like that in Thailand, I think my husband had a couple of incidents with it.

    • Not so much on the streets, but at a few of the bars they did. Not sure I’d be happy taking drinks off randoms in the street! I did love being able to walk down the street with a cocktail in my hand though. Lots of free entry tickets to clubs too – of course they only give them to women, so when you turn up it’s a sea of vagina. Oh well.

      It would feel so weird not saying thank you. Haha, I love the Woolies kids that make conversation! If they look kind of zoned out and disinterested I try to make conversation with them, just to give them a fright. The adults too.

  5. Usually if you want to run a tab at a bar, they take your credit card and hold it until you’re ready to pay up. That prevents most folks from ditching their bills. That, and big scary bouncers.

    Maybe the customs officer was from New York. They start out really shitty and awful, but then if you don’t take their shit and stand up to them, you’ll have a new friend for life.

    The bathroom stalls are like that so people can climb under and get out if they get stuck in there or pass out. I can’t stand those auto flushers. HATE HATE HATE

    You don’t have cheese in a can?!? WTF? We’ve had that for 25 years or so. And I seem to remember those Shapes were pretty processed and Dorito-like… We DO know our snacks and dips. I’m with you on those poppers. They serve them in nearly every sports bar in the country. If it was possible to mail you some, I would, but they come frozen.

    Finding something that’s NOT spicy in the Southwest is pretty difficult. We put hot sauce on EVERYTHING. Helps keep you cooler, BTW.

    People don’t even KNOW how to merge in this country. They will literally smack right into the side of your car if you let them. Most folks have learned to change lanes to avoid merging traffic, if possible, or failing that, simply slamming on their brakes. I’m glad to hear Arizona drivers were pretty polite. That’d have been different in LA, trust me.

    Oh yeah, flags. God forbid someone should accuse you of being an unpatriotic commie liberal socialist welfare recipient, so better fly that flag, and also wear a little flag lapel pin. You ferner, you. 🙂

    • Well we definitely didn’t stand up to the customs guy – I’m pretty sure we were physically cowering at one point 🙂 I’d like to visit New York one day, but I think it would be terrifying!

      We do have more than our share of processed food here, but there seems to be more of everything in your snack foods. For example we have Gatorade and Doritos here, but they definitely use different ingredients for the Australian market – much less salt/sugar. When Nikki’s American boyfriend came here for the first time, he was complaining about how flavourless our food was – now we understand!

      I love spicy food in the heat, and coffee. I would’ve bought gallons of hot sauce to bring home, but I was a bit tight with luggage anyway. And there are so many different types, I had no idea what I was buying!

      I saw a lot of brake-slamming on freeway merges. And people STOPPED at the top of the ramp waiting for a break in traffic. I was looking at all the roads in LA as the plane was coming into land – holy shit. So many roads, going all over the place – I’d become an angry driver too!

      I’m going to try to make some poppers! When I lose my Vegas belly, that is. I swear I put on like 10kg in 9 days.

      What’s a ferner?!

  6. I hate the entire toilet “thing” here! From never referring to it as a “toilet” when we all know that’s what we’re doing in there to those awful cubicles where the walls and door don’t meet and God knows why the water is so high (plus they’ve only recently started adding “half flush” buttons).

    Great post Inga.

    • I didn’t see a half-flush anywhere…it’d be interesting to see how they incorporate that into the auto-flush. Maybe it will be voice activated…”number one please!”

  7. I would have died of starvation in the land of plenty. ‘In-principle’ refusal to queue trumps hunger every time.
    Enjoyed reading your comparisons.

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