Fifteen things that amaze me about America

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  1.       You have money and you actually share it. We have been to dozens of media houses and in most cases more than half of their funding comes from Foundations and generous members of the public. Yes, the sharing does come with a tax break, but still, you could be spending that cash on new clothes or a holiday in the Maldives. I think it’s quite commendable that Americans have taken the saying “Put your money where your mouth is” seriously. Whether it’s $25 or $250 000, they’re willing to give towards initiatives they support, like the media and the theatre.   2.       99 % of your public toilets are clean        Maybe the gap in the door has something to do with it – a kind of ‘Big Brother is watching’ phenomenon? Whatever the case, I can live with the gap if it means a clean cubicle. Oh and I absolutely love the automatic flushing system and the taps with sensors. Awesome!   3.       Water at restaurants I think it’s great that patrons are given a glass of water as soon as they arrive at sit-down restaurants. It helps you to think twice before ordering a sugar loaded Coke with free refills.   4.       Traffic fines The WPI director didn’t put enough money in the parking meter while we were in Iowa. When he got back to his car he found a note on the windscreen. It was a courtesy note explaining that he would have been fined, but that they would let it go this time around. Who would’ve thought?   5.       Americans clean up after their dogs Yes the rest of the world does sometimes laugh at you for carrying your dogs in your handbags or in a pram. But in all my travels I’ve seen the cleanest and healthiest dogs here. The fact that you carry a packet around and literally pick up your dog’s poo is a little disturbing but admirable at the same time. It’s a great law that people actually follow and it keeps the streets clean so good on you!   6.       Wi-fi is everywhere, well  almost It may not be perfect, but it’s more than what I’m used to, and it’s great to be able to quickly check emails whether it’s at a local Starbucks or at a community hall in the tiny town of Ely.   7.       A great entrepreneurial spirit                         Maybe it’s the notion of the American dream, but most people I’ve met really do believe they can be anything they want to be, and it’s been great to see young people taking the initiative to start small businesses and even treat their university media outlet as a professional workplace. Oh and you can make money off absolutely anything too. There are branded magnets, mugs and teddy bears at practically every major organization from Google to the museum. At the 9/11 memorial store people can buy miniature fire trucks and fluffy police dogs!                             8.       Incredible diversity I love that I could go out to dinner and easily be sitting with six people from different countries, speaking a range of languages from Portugese to Spanish and even isiZulu. It opens you up to a whole new world of colour and culture. The US has also been really great at embracing people from other countries. Whether it’s the Latino or Hmong population, they’re encouraged to keep their traditions and values and there always seems to be one festival or the other to celebrate a cultural event.   9.       Efficiency  Generally service levels are quite good – except when I once had to phone a call centre to report a problem with a metro card. That call had me waiting at least 15 minutes while I listened to the awful recorded message assuring me that my call would be answered shortly. But I was super impressed during my first visit. I had paid $20 for a metro card which didn’t emerge from the machine, and I was leaving to head back to South Africa two days later. So annoyed, I decided to take a chance and follow the complaint system by filling in the details on an envelope and dropping it in a postbox. I then forgot all about it. Lo and behold a month later, I receive a letter at my home address in Johannesburg, with a cheque for $20. I was blown away. Of course my bank took most of the money for conversion fees, but I was still left with around R60 and some sense of faith in humanity.     10.   Respect for the police force American’s respect for men in uniform is tangible, and it works both ways. The police officers always address people as ‘Mam’ and ‘Sir’. I believe this mutual respect is key to improving safety and security.   11.   Access to Information I am rather jealous of the fact that the media can access practically any information they want, from police crime statistics to court records. This kind of openness and transparency helps the media hold people and organizations to account. Many a Pulitzer prize has been won thanks to analyses of databases of information.   12.   Shopping is a breeze Sales assistants are courteous and helpful, despite having to answer dozens of questions from tourists eager to say when they get back home, “Oh this? I bought it in Chicago!” They’re ever ready to point out the change rooms, the rest rooms, and of course to encourage you to join a free rewards programme that will give you discounts off your purchase.   13.   The best museums I’ve ever seen I’m generally not a huge fan of museums. I’d rather be out and about doing sightseeing or shopping. But after so many rave reviews I decided to visit a couple of museums in New York and Washington. They’re thorough, interesting, sometimes funny and most of all interactive. They made me go wow, oh my gosh and hmm interesting! The Newseum was particularly impressive. It has the entire history of news as well as artefacts from all the major news events. Visitors can also get a video of themselves reporting ‘live’ from the White House.   14.   There’s something to please almost everyone There are more than a hundred different soda variations and coffee choices galore. Milk ranges from 1% to 2% low fat, to half and half, to full cream and the list goes on. Sadly though I haven’t yet come across Grapetiser , Appeltiser or passion fruit and lemonade. So pleasing this young lady may take a little time.   15.   Unity in diversity Having literally travelled across the US, I’ve been truly amazed to see the differences that exist even within the American community. From one coast to the other, people have quite different priorities, music, food choices, clothing and of course opinions. It’s been great to interact with such a diverse nation, from the fashion conscious in New York, to the close knit families in Ely, Minnesota and the happy go lucky crowd in Miami. Getting in touch with the ’wild side’, in Austin, Texas was especially memorable. However through all of their differences there is one thing Americans have in common, and that’s their tremendous love for their country. When you enter the US, you instantly know you’re in America, and I’m not just talking about the hectic security checkpoints and that all too familiar American accent. It’s the US flag. The flag hangs everywhere, from buildings to private homes. Americans tell me it’s a constant reminder of the strength and durability of the nation, a symbol of pride and hope.