laupäev, juuli 05, 2008

'meerikas

It's the Fourth of July, and the Fourth of July demands an obligatory American post.

I'll say this. At the airport in Helsinki, the luggage carts were free. They were as free as the chairs; as free as the toilets. At the airport in Vancouver, the carts were free; as free as the view from the windows; as free as the napkins at the airport cafes. But at the airports in New York and San Francisco, the carts for your luggage cost $3.

That's right, you get off a plane -- hot, sweaty, jet-lagged. You wait to go through customs. You stand among your fellow travelers, eager that your bag made it through the labyrinthine underbelly of your departure point onto your plane. And then, after you lug it off the baggage carousel, you swagger on over to the line of carts, dig out your credit card, and deduct three measly dollars from your savings so that you can use it. This is America, after all; and America's business is making money off of you.

I paid it, of course. But I felt a little dirty. Canadians and Finns were getting things for free that I, as an American, had to pay for. Sure, it was only $3. But in Canada it was free. In Finland it was free. Why is it free there, but not here? I just don't understand.

At the hotel where I stayed in San Francisco, I became increasingly paranoid. The food in the room was hooked up to sensors that went off when you removed an item. I didn't find out about this until I located a small book that warned me of the perils of eating a Snickers bar in a San Francisco hotel. It would cost me $4 plus sales tax and a 20 percent restocking fee to eat said bar. Therefore, candy I bought across the street for $1 could wind up costing nearly 10 times that in my hotel!

I became worried that other things were not free. Maybe there was a special charge for flushing the toilet, or even turning on the TV. Maybe I would go to check out and find out I had watched TV for 15 minutes at $4 per minute. I am sure it was written in fine print somewhere in my room. TV+San Francisco real estate prices = money, right?

So I didn't watch any TV and I am smart (and cheap). I went to the little Arab-owned and operated convenience store across the street, bought a new Snickers bar for $1 and replenished my own hotel mini-bar. Inside the shop, the clerk watched a French film from the 1950s dubbed into English.

"How cool is this country," I thought to myself. "Arab guys watching French film noir while guys like me buy Snickers bars." There was also an Asian guy there with a goatee and an Obama '08 t-shirt. The fog covered the buildings outside. On the counter, under a panel of glass there was money from all different countries. Mexican money. Malaysian money. And, representing Europe, a five kroon note. I proudly whipped out my 25 kroon bill featuring Estonian national writer Anton Hansen Tammsaare and showed it to the Arab clerk.

"Are you from Estonia?" he asked. "No," I responded. "My wife is." "Do you know who that is?" he inquired. "Sure," I said. "It's Paul Keres, the chess player." He looked me in the eyes. "Keres was very famous. Veeeerrrrrry famous." I paid for my chocolate and was on my way. But I felt immensely proud of the country of my birth. Here was a place where Arab store clerks watched French films and collected Estonian money in a city founded by Spanish missionaries. Fees for luggage carts aside, it's hard to get any cooler than that.

15 kommentaari:

Wahur ütles ...

Your headline caused a an association. On the northwestern coast, near Vihterpalu there is a small village called Meerika. I spent my childhood summers nearby and once asked why such strange name. Comes out a fellow lived there who had been in Ameerika for a while.

drEsolve ütles ...

You've touched on something with which many of us with ties to more than one country often struggle.

I've always known that America is great, and that a large part of New York City's appeal comes from its diversity.

But I want to know, if the US is such a great country, then why can't we pay for parking with our phones? Why does my cousin in Tallinn have internet access that's over 4 times the speed, at a quarter of the price?

Some may consider these questions to be trivial, but I think that they're just a couple of goals to which a "cool" city and country should aspire.

drEsolve ütles ...

You've touched on something with which many of us with ties to more than one country often struggle.

I've always known that America is great, and that a large part of New York City's appeal comes from its diversity.

But I want to know, if the US is such a great country, then why can't we pay for parking with our phones? Why does my cousin in Tallinn have internet access that's over 4 times the speed, at a quarter of the price?

Some may consider these questions to be trivial, but I think that they're just a couple of goals to which a "cool" city and country should aspire.

Wahur ütles ...

dresolve, no place is perfect. in order to use that magnificent and cheap connection your cousin has to shell out 1/3 more money for the computer.

Doris ütles ...

or, having figured out that he can get it cheaper from EBay (or Amazon or wherever) forgets to buy a current-converter for it and has it blow up when connected to the Euro power system. I kid you not, this happened. Not to me though, luckily :)

Looking from afar, America seems like one big duality (or, to put it nastily, hypocricy) There's Republicans and Democrats, East Coast and West Coast, Rednecks and Yankees, Whites and everyone else, overweight people and Hollywood, Good Christian intolerance for, er, everything and gay freedoms for all... all in all one big indians and cowboys game, no? So many black-white perceptions that all in all it looks like one gray caleidoscope. Or am I wrong here?

Hirnu-Hrnx! ütles ...

Yeah, America. What can you say? Imagine NY Times published something like this: http://www.epl.ee/artikkel/434543

Yet in Estonia it can be done. In the mainstream newspaper. Kinda makes me think that Estonia is not as much as a country as it is alternative life-style.

I love it. In my own perverse way. After all, I am an Estonian too. Or was, maybe.

stockholm slender ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
stockholm slender ütles ...

Sorry, wrong thread, deleted my previous comment...

Martasmimi ütles ...

Doris ütles...

Looking from afar, America seems like one big duality (or, to put it nastily, hypocricy) There's Republicans and Democrats, East Coast and West Coast, Rednecks and Yankees, Whites and everyone else, overweight people and Hollywood,
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Have you ever been to the USA?
We are not all fat, most don't live in Hollywood... nor do they desire to do so.
We are a big country, for example the county that I live in, in New York's Long Island, has more people then in all of Estonia.
The more people the more
more diversity, the more issues people have just co existing.
We are just ahead of the the rest of the world.
We became this melting pot of cultures because people came here.
Little by little Europe will become the same as others move there...
At some point in time even Estonia won't be 98% blue eyed.

Frank ütles ...

Kallis Martasmini!

Have you been to Estonia?

Did you enjoy extended stays in "Old Europe" as did your beloved son?

There may be a lot of minor melting pots in Europe, but it is not a melting pot in itself, and it does not aspire to be one - at least I hope so fervently.

"Lovely Lady Liberty
With her book of recipes
And the finest one she's got
Is the great American melting pot
The great American melting pot.
What good ingredients,
Liberty and immigrants."

Encyclopedic Ema Europa
With her kosmoses of kitchens
Never will tell
Which might be finest
Savouring each in its own way
Delighting in Diversity

Don´t get me wrong,
America is great in many ways,
but I guess the need for assimilation and common standards from coast to coast are much more at home there then they will ever be in Europe.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Frank ütles...
Kallis Martasmini!

Have you been to Estonia?

Did you enjoy extended stays in "Old Europe" as did your
beloved son?
--------------------------

Yes...several times and did you know that Tallinn was voted one of Europes ten new "hot" cities.
-------------------------
There may be a lot of minor melting pots in Europe, but it is not a melting pot in itself, and it does not aspire to be one - at least I hope so fervently.
-----------------------------------
It has been my experience that the
"Noah principal" applies just about everywhere... meaning that as deverse as we are or become people seem to cling together by interests, culture, financial status and yes race and religion.

Doris ütles ...

... which is why I said "looking from afar"

I am well aware that the closer you get to things, the harder it is to see the "big picture". In the details, you might find out that the big picture was not all that true after all. Like with Estonia or any other Eastern European country... they are always "ex-soviet, poor, forested and slavic (if not flat-out Russian)" which is true, of course, but it is not the whole truth.

It's just that USA is nowadays projecting such a distinct image that I am sometimes forced to wonder if there ARE people there who do not know the oath to the flag (oh what a communist conception in the minds of Estonians) by heart nor have never known it. And during the 4th of July, Thanksgiving and Halloween every year I feel all my preconcepted stereotypes for the US strenghthened. what do you think, is it better to be known by the stereotypes or not to be known at all?

As for having been to America, no. and I don't think I will either although you never know :) Andit really wouldn't matter if I had been because then I would just have my stereotypes altered a bit to accommodate New York, San Fransisco, Chicago or Malibu or wherever it was that I had stayed for the week or two. Which really REALLY doesn't give any idea of a country the size of USA. a bit like people who have only seen St. Petersburg and insist that life in Russia is all glitz and parties.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Doris ütles...
As for having been to America, no. and I don't think I will either although you never know :) And it really wouldn't matter if I had been because then I would just have my stereotypes altered a bit to accommodate New York, San Fransisco, Chicago or Malibu or wherever it was that I had stayed for the week or two. Which really REALLY doesn't give any idea of a country the size of USA. a bit like people who have only seen St. Petersburg and insist that life in Russia is all glitz and parties.
**********************************

You seem a bit hostile to the idea of a visit to the USA...
I guess our stereotypes have made you a bit uncomfortable about what you might find if you spent some time here.
I on the other hand know due to my travels that nice people exist
everywhere and so do the not nice.
I have seen the "Russian" stereotype living here ..
The pushy in your face types ..but then you must ask the question ...why are they here in the USA???
Perhaps it is because they were like this at home and they are exactly the type of person that would leave mother Russia and make a move here to "get ahead".
So it's the person not the people.
I am sure there is a pleasant woman gardening with her granddaughter in a small town outside of Moscow who is much like me..and not at all like the Russian sterotypes I have met here.
The more that people get to know one another the easier it will be for us to all get along.
As far as the pledge to the US flag .
I bet there are many uneducated people here who don't know it or don't remember it.
Sadly(now here is a stereotype) they are likely to be the ones who are the 1st to sign up for the military and consider themselves very patriotic.

Doris ütles ...

well, the place I wanted to see most - New Orleans - has been destroyed. So now I want to see Rome and Athens and the Languedoc area in France and Hong Kong and the Peruvian mountains more than any other landmark I can think of that is located in USA...

I have several American friends, from all over and with different convictions. Which is why I am very aware how perceptions of a nation do not necessarily fit an individual of that nation. But there have to be lots upon lots of people with the stereotypical traits, otherwise those wouldn't be stereotypical, right? The Dutch for example dont wear orange all the time (that's just me) but hey do wear it massively on special occasions like EuroCup and Queen's Day. And there are short Dutch people but overall it's a very tall nation. And they don't ALL bike everywhere but there are tens, if not hundreds more bikes in the Netherlands than in any other country I can think about. and there are actually rather substantial mountains (the Ardennen) in the south of the country but the majority of it is still very flat and lots of it under sea level.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Doris ütles...
... which is why I said "looking from afar"

I am well aware that the closer you get to things, the harder it is to see the "big picture". In the details, you might find out that the big picture was not all that true after all.
***************************
We were in Amsterdam last summer...my husband has been there several times,we both were so stuck by how much it "feels" like New York perhaps this is why NYC was once called New Amsterdam.
The street names and town names are the same...
We found it to be a great city...we walked for days..