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The Best and the Worst of the USA

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american flagAmerica. It’s a pretty spectacular place, and I’m not just saying that because I was born and raised in the good ol’ US of A. No, I’m saying that because many people all over the world say it as well. I had the privilege of traveling back to America recently after 3 long years away, and it helped me to see my home country in a new light – for what it is in the greater scheme of things and in relation to travel.

Now, I’d like to present to you the best and worst of my home country, the USA:

Best – The Food Portions

giant burgerAmerica is known for its level of big thinking, and it is a mindset that travels into the size of cars and the size of the food. I absolutely adore the food portion sizes in the USA, especially after living in Australia and other parts of the world where you sometimes feel a little cheated by how much you pay to get so little. To put it into perspective, a large pizza in Australia would be the equivalent of a medium in America, and a small french fry at McDonald’s in America would be a medium in Australia. If you’re like me, you like the one where you get more for your money!

Worst – The Food Portions

It’s a fact about America that I both love and hate: the food portions. Sure, you get more food for your dollar, but it also puts more temptation in front of your face when dining out. If you’re like me, then you will snack on something because it tastes good, and because it’s there, even if you feel a bit on the full side. I put on a good few pounds while traveling through America (but it was well worth it!)

Best – Security

airport securityFor being such a strict country when it comes to security in the airports, America does have it down to an art. There were long lines and plenty of people passing through the gates, but you won’t realize that because everyone is prepared, taking off shoes, popping laptops out of their cases and clearing their bodies of metals in a timely fashion. It’s a well-oiled machine.

Worst – Customs & Immigration

Coming into the country as a citizen can still mean that you wait in a line at Customs & Immigration, but that line definitely has nothing on the line for those holding foreign passports! In Los Angeles, Pat and I had to split up when in the immigration section, and let’s just say I had to wait a good HOUR on the other end before he made it through. What a nightmare.

Best – Cheap Prices

american dollarsConsidering America is a developed country, your money sure does go further here than in other parts of the world (cough, cough, Australia). I already mentioned that the food portions are typically larger (more budget friendly if you plan to share meals, etc.), but there’s also cheap shopping, as well as more plentiful budget accommodation options outside of the hostel realm.

Worst – Size

Those visiting America on a holiday will quickly realize just how big the country really is, and that means travel between the top destinations takes time and money. New York is way on the other side of the country from San Francisco, and Chicago and Florida are no quick trip in between either. To get around, you will either need to fly or have the extra time to spare for road trips. Obviously, I’d recommend a road trip as the best way to see the diverse lay of land, but time is precious for many.

Best – Mexican Food

mexican foodYou cannot visit the USA without enjoying a giant burrito, a bowl of free tortilla chips with fresh salsa or just a margarita and a taco. You simply cannot! America is home to some of the most delicious and plentiful Mexican food (outside of Mexico), and it would be something that almost every American misses when they are away from home for any extended amount of time.

Worst – Asian Food

The overall quality of Asian food in America is lacking. Chinese food, for example, has turned into only that offered in buffets or in the fried and over-sweet-and-sour-sauced kind. While it may be mighty tasty, it wouldn’t be classified as authentic by any means. To get good Asian food, you have to stick to the big cities that have a larger Asian population.

Best – Customer Service

customer serviceIt’s a customer service culture meaning people will typically go out of their way to please you in restaurants, hotels and other areas where making the customer happy works in their favor.

I love being able to sit down at a restaurant and being immediately met with waters and a server to take my order. I love that I don’t even have to ask about a drink refill; they ask me! Yes, I am important. Thank you!

Worst – Tipping Culture

Ah, but what goes with the customer service culture is a tipping culture. You have to (well, you should) leave a tip for services like at hotels and restaurants. When factoring in your travel budget for the USA, it is good to add on a bit extra for tips when collecting bags from bag storage at the hotel, or when a waitress does a job well done. It’s part of the reason the customer service is of the standard and level that it is, so I believe in tipping.

The USA is an interesting part of the world, for lack of better words. There are both good and bad features to traveling there, but I feel the awesome sights and cities – NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, baseball, Florida beaches, the mountains, the Grand Canyon, the Great Lakes – all provide a reason to plan a visit there ASAP.

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36 Responses to The Best and the Worst of the USA

  1. Mike August 1, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    Good points. Although I disagree with America having the “best” security. Well specifically airport security. TSA is a joke..

    America is a great place to travel though, such a diverse land. There is some ridiculously beautiful nature out west, CA, NYC, the rest of the northeast, FL beaches, New Orleans, TN bbq.. so much to see here! It’s kind of ironic that people (such as myself) will fly across the world to travel to other countries, yet there’s so much to see in my own “backyard.” Maybe it’s because we have the largest food portions…

    • Brooke August 2, 2011 at 8:36 am #

      TSA may be a joke, but the system is quite quick and efficient. In Australia, security is not the same — on a much smaller scale, but it just seems like you wait ages behind people who just don’t know the process or what to do.

      There is a lot to see. I felt like I couldn’t really go into the sites because the post would be miles long! 🙂

  2. Shereen August 2, 2011 at 2:21 am #

    I think it depends on where you go when it comes to Mexican and Asian restaurants. While we have found some bad Asian restaurants, we have found some amazing ones as well. In fact, we tried a new one yesterday and it was really delicious. Living in Portland (Oregon) there is a good selection of restaurants of all kinds. I think that our awesome Asian restaurants make up for the crappy ones.

    We go to a lot of Mexican restaurants and they are basically all the same. But again, it’s much different the further north you go, I think. Mexican is going to be much better in Arizona, Southern Cali and Texas, because they have a bigger influence there and also there is a bigger Mexican population there. I will definitely say there are much less Mexican restaurants here in Portland than when I lived in Arizona, but the good ones are VERY popular no matter where you go.

    • Brooke August 2, 2011 at 8:38 am #

      Oh, I know Mexican food varies, but it’s all better than what you find oh… in Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Australia (where I’ve been living since 2008!)… so to me, America is like a Mexican food goldmine 😀 I will say the best steak burrito I ever had was from a food cart in Arizona (OH YUM).

  3. Traveling Ted August 2, 2011 at 4:36 am #

    I enjoyed this post. I spent three months away, and I thought this was a long time, and I felt strange coming back. The perception of someone who has been away for three years is especially acute, so it was an interesting read.

  4. Bluegreen Kirk August 2, 2011 at 4:52 am #

    Wow you think the customer service is actually the best? Don’t let my wife hear that, but I guess you may have a lot a places to compare it to. Food portions are the double edge sword in my book just like you mentioned. But people are so cheap when it comes to tipping it just drives me nuts!

    • Brooke August 2, 2011 at 8:42 am #

      Oh man customer service in the US is AMAZING! I’ve lived in places where you have to shout for the waitresses or else you won’t get helped. I’ve walked into travel agents to be met with everyone ignoring you (looking down at their desks) until you picked someone and sat down right in front of them and asked for help. i think ytravelblog even wrote about it in their post: http://www.ytravelblog.com/best-and-worst-of-australia/

      • Bluegreen Kirk August 9, 2011 at 11:05 pm #

        Ok then I guess it would make sense then why you say its Amazing when you compare it to some of the other places out there. But I know we are horrible when it comes to tipping as a whole and I think we both truly agree on that one.

    • Adam @ SitDownDisco August 2, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

      Hey Bluegreen, I’d be one of those cheap ones. I never tip, but I’ve never been to the USA. I don’t think I would tip very much unless I got some amazing service. And I’d never tip someone for getting me a beer…

      • Brooke August 2, 2011 at 11:05 pm #

        Adam, that’s really just not cool. Please don’t go to the US…

        • Adam @ SitDownDisco August 3, 2011 at 12:52 am #

          Thank you for letting me off the hook. 🙂 Do you tip for bad service too? Rude service? No service?

          • Rebecca August 3, 2011 at 8:38 am #

            The only time in my memory where I have not tipped was for no service. We were sitting at that table that know one knew whose section it was in and we had to flag someone (different) down every time we needed something. Two or three groups next to us came and went in the time we just drank and ate (no desert). We could have left without paying, no one would have noticed, but my sister knew the hostess. I had to actually talk her into not leaving a tip!!

          • Scott August 10, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

            not-tipping here is about as ignorant as not observing any other cultural norm around the world. So, if you do come here and don’t observe it you are just as bad as those bearing midriffs in temples or laughing in a church. Just sayin’.

      • Coleen September 10, 2011 at 10:02 am #

        I know I’m super late on this post – but… I would like to explain why tipping is important in America – in many regions, the waiters make $2.15-$3.00 an hour. This is NOT a living wage in America. The govt takes into account the tipping culture and factors that in when not requiring restaurants and bars to pay their employees the federal minimum wage. Usually, for most waiters, their entire paycheck is taken in taxes and they actually get a “check” for $0.00 with a big stamp across the face stating “THIS IS NOT A CHECK.” It’s basically a record of the taxes they paid.

        Also, if you do NOT tip a waiter, the waiter is often time paying money out of their own pocket to wait on you. Many restaurants require that the waiters pay out a portion of their tips to the bartenders, bussers and hosts – and it’s usually a flat percentage rate of their sales, regardless of whether they got an actual tip or not.

        Obviously I’ve been a waiter before and am sensitive to this, but I’ve found that when explaining this, people are understanding. Just an FYI. =)

        • Adam @ SitDownDisco September 10, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

          @Coleen – best explanation ever! Most people just trot out the usual line of it being ignorant to not tip or that servers don’t get paid much — and I just think it’s not my problem! But your explanation puts it into context and I get it. Question though… Why don’t these hospitality staff get paid minimum wage? The minimum wage is there to ensure people don’t work as slaves… And in this case it doesn’t really work. And it’s not like the minimum wage is much anyway. Minimum wage plus a few tips would be quite good, I think! Especially since we’re talking about the very lowest paid workers — not bankers who will always get nice commissions etc.

  5. Steve August 2, 2011 at 5:06 am #

    Best: National Parks!

  6. Chris August 2, 2011 at 6:27 pm #

    Great read. I love this Blog Your Backyard concept. Looking forward to writing some for it myself.

    I noticed a lot of this when I was in the US. The portions really blew my mind.

  7. Adam @ SitDownDisco August 2, 2011 at 8:42 pm #

    I really don’t like big portion sizes… When I get them anywhere, it turns me off the food! It just feels so gluttonous and wasteful to me…

    • Brooke August 2, 2011 at 11:06 pm #

      It’s not wasteful if you use it wisely!!! 😉 Splitting meals and taking leftovers home.

      • Adam @ SitDownDisco August 3, 2011 at 12:53 am #

        Yeah, splitting meals sounds like a good idea, but I’ve never taken leftovers home before…

  8. Rebecca August 3, 2011 at 8:39 am #

    Ohmigod, the portions are out of control!!! Though I do love me some leftovers.

    And of course, Mexican food…yummm. No one does it better then the USA, hehe:-).

    • Sandra September 6, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

      I think the Mexicans would have something to say about this… as I have travelled in both countries for extended amount of time, and I regret to say… no one does Mexican food better than Mexicans! There is a lot more variety of Mexican food down in Mexico than in the States!… I am (too) just saying 🙂

      • Brooke September 6, 2011 at 4:09 pm #

        Hi Sandra, I completely understand, which is why I made sure to mention in the article it is the best “outside of Mexico”:

        “America is home to some of the most delicious and plentiful Mexican food (outside of Mexico)”

      • Claudina November 7, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

        Exactly, best mexican food is in Mexico. I have yet to try Mexican food in the US that is half as good back home! If you see yellow cheese in your food you know its not authentic.. 🙂

  9. The Travel Tart August 3, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    One awesome thing about the U.S. are the awesome range of microbreweries! I cannot believe the great quality of craft beer there, I was in paradise. Unfortunately, the Yanks keep the best beer to themselves, and only export their crap beer :(. Looks like a need to do a microbrewery junket there!

    Totally agree with you about customer service and cheap prices. With the Australian dollar at parity, it’s worth travelling to the states with a large empty suitcase!

    However, one thing that makes me sad when I visit is seeing the large number of homeless people. It’s a bit in your face sometimes.

    • Brooke August 9, 2011 at 10:05 pm #

      It is sad that we don’t export more of the good beer… all the crap beer is what makes people around the world say that American beer tastes awful.

  10. Charu August 4, 2011 at 12:18 am #

    All great points, Brooke, although not so keen on the “Best Security” because I do think TSA is a bit lax. But agree on all other points.

    • Brooke August 9, 2011 at 10:02 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Charu 🙂

  11. Bob Crunch August 6, 2011 at 1:00 am #

    You make a lot of great points in this article. I totally agree with traveling within the USA. Sometimes it feels like all the states are like different countries with the way things are spaced out. Another great point was the security. While many people complain about TSA (and sometimes rightfully so), for the most part our security is very efficient.

    • Brooke August 9, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Bob 🙂 Like that you agree with the efficiency of security. I was preparing myself for the worst because of all the TSA drama over the years, but was relieved that it all ran like clockwork.

  12. Mack Reynolds August 6, 2011 at 4:08 am #

    i agree. i love america. i talk crap about it sometimes, but it’s because i love it. i feel like people outside of america generalize us way too much, but the same can be said of americans generalizing other countries. it’s a catch 22. yay big fat food portions!

    • Brooke August 9, 2011 at 9:59 pm #

      So true. I always feel a nerve being tugged when I hear people in Oz talking about Americans in general. Very annoying, but I probably do the same…

  13. Justin McClelland December 19, 2011 at 8:14 am #

    Yes. This list cracked me up. I totally agree with “Tipping Culture” here in the states. I mean I agree that it’s a bad trait. When I was in Asia, I loved the fact that people didn’t ‘expect’ a tip. So then if/when you gave them one, it was much appreciated versus, just the norm.

  14. Catalina January 28, 2012 at 12:22 am #

    Great post!!! After living for 12 years in the US I can relate to many of these things. The food is always good and bad for my willpower! I would add the best: nobody cares what you do. Strangers dont get in your business. The bad: nobody really cares about you. It takes a lot of work to become friends with someone. I will continue to read your blog. My bet friend (from Colombia) just moved to Sydney and she loves it. I must share your blog with her.

  15. Gemma January 28, 2012 at 3:50 am #

    I just travelled here through your link from another post and I’m so glad I did!

    I’ve been to the USA many times, all with my family and I have to agree with you on so many points. People in general seem happier and more friendly. I loved the portion sizes (I love food) and the airport security is actually pretty good.

    I remember flying into Florida a few years back and accidently bringing a pair of scissors through with me. My family was taken over to the side, obviously at the time we were a little worried but they were really great about it (at the time I was about 12). I don’t know how we managed to get through the UK security checks with scissors but hey…

    Great post 🙂

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