At 11:30 Thursday morning, the thought that in a matter of hours I would be in New York City hadn’t even dawned on me. At 16:10 Thursday afternoon, sat on a 777 at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 waiting to take off, it still hadn’t crossed my mind. When the plane started to set down into Newark Liberty International Airport, scratching the surface of New York City’s skyline, that- that’s when it hit me. All of a sudden I could see the iconic skyline that had formed the basis of so many hours of entertainment throughout my childhood- I’m ashamed to admit that the first thing I thought of was Friends as I cast my eyes over the Statue of Liberty and the domineering Empire State Building. After two years of talking about it and months of planning it, we’re finally here- the Big Apple. New York City.
At present it’s 4:15 Friday afternoon (though the wifi here is questionable so this may not be uploaded until later!) and I’m sat in a hotel a stone’s throw from Times Square gathering my thoughts about the cultural differences between the UK and the US. My first thought was last night- at the airport, I watched as the stern-looking gentleman at customs tirelessly questioned Craig about more or less every aspect of his life- what his job was back home, what degree he had, why he moved out of his last house, what career path he planned to take post-America… it was as if he’d just walked onto the set of Parkinson rather than through passport control. I managed to get away with a simple, ‘why are you here and when are you leaving’- guess I just have one of those faces. This led me to question the sense of humour of Americans as a whole- naturally in England we’re a far more liberal country; I think if my reply had been ‘to get away from the bloody Olympics’ in the UK I’d have had a much better reception than here, but then, it is customs, and I suppose post 9/11, nobody can be too careful.
One train ride and a surprisingly quick taxi ride later we were settled into our hotel in a very dark and rainy New York City, and the next difference between the UK and the US hit me, albeit this time, not a very cultural one.
What is up with all the toilets in New York City?
Seriously. We thought ours was blocked. But alas, it seems, having now visited public washrooms in Bryant Park, that all toilets in NYC are ridiculously full of water. This is a bit of a tricky subject to discuss, but it may become an issue! What if I drink a lot and end up overflowing the bowl?! What if I fall in and drown? What is my impact on the environment if I’m sucking the life out of Niagara every time I flush?! I guess it’s just something we’ll have to get used to, and I’m praying that if my memory serves me, the next state we’ll be visiting, Colorado, has slightly more modestly-filled toilet bowls.
Water closet-induced panic over, this morning we took a stroll out onto Times Square, ridiculously early in fact as it was one in the afternoon in our heads, and did what we’d planned to do all along- go into Starbucks and drink it on Times Square like a right couple of pretentious ****heads. We did just that- only we resisted the urge to order ‘mocha choca latte ya-yas’ or ‘orange mocha frappuccinos!’ The morning started off cloudy due to last night’s rainfall and so we discussed our plan of action for the day ahead, deciding against the Empire State Building on account of the cloudy weather.
Of course, in the city that never sleeps, anything can happen, and before long it was baking hot and sunny, so we took a stroll down Fifth Avenue towards the landmark, taking in the scenery around us along the way- Bryant Park, the Chrysler Building, the New York Public Library, another Starbucks…
I think in my head I must have had the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building confused; the difference was certainly noticeable! Craig pointed out the top of the building from behind another, and it wasn’t until we were standing right outside it that suddenly it hit you in the face like a mean right-hook from Mike Tyson. Trying hard to avoid the hoards of ticket touts, we nipped into another Starbucks to buy a cookie and steal their wifi before heading up the big beast.
Say what you want about the Empire State Building- the view from the 86th floor observation deck is completely indescribable. It’s hard to grasp that thirty seconds in an elevator could propel you this high, but the popping of the ears was a sure reminder of the distance we’d travelled, as were the breathtaking views of the city. I always thought of myself as prone to altitude sickness, especially considering we’d climbed the stairs the last 6 floors (hence I’m not lying when I say I climbed to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building!) but it was remarkably fresh up there, and the true heat of the city was a real slap in the face on the way back down.
With all this over by only 12 pm, it certainly felt like time for something to eat, and where better than the home of the square burgers, Wendys. It was here that I noticed and continued to notice the third and final (for today) difference between the UK and the US; although we’re comforted by the fact that we speak the lingo, the nervous foreigner inside me is very aware of the difference in vocabulary. For example, in Wendys, I ordered a salad, not only to compensate for the Starbucks cookie but also to avoid having to say fries, one of many words which I found on my travels would become a hindrance to me, a native little Englander. In just one day I’ve found myself saying grocery store instead of corner shop, potato chips instead of crisps, vacation rather than holiday and Lord only knows what else, all because, like I say, the nervous foreigner within me thinks these alien Americans simply won’t understand if I use my native vocabulary. Of course I’m being completely ridiculous, and it sounds really silly saying such American terms with my over-enhanced English accent, but it’s something which is preferable to the awkwardness of explaining that a boot is a trunk, or at least, it seems so. I’ve already made one faux pas, by assuming that the blue water bottles are still and the green ones are sparkling- turns out, ‘seltzer’ is sparkling water, so watch out for that one kids.
So there you have it, my first full day in New York City and the blunders one can make if one isn’t culturally aware. It’s now 5 pm and I think I’m going to hit the hotel gym, as it’s on the top floor, air conditioned, and I don’t want to come back to England looking like a sack of potatoes. The wifi in this hotel is $10 a night so this may not make it live until I can next get to a Starbucks, but until next time, I’m signing off for now, and look forward to updating my next series of awkward US-based blunders.