Here, in this final examination of ‘S’s American adventure, we’ll turn over a few more stones in the desert to reveal aspects of America as seen through the eyes of a stranger.
I plan to return to these proceedings with one further twist in the tale: yet another viewpoint still. For now though; let’s concentrate on ‘S’s views of the strange new land spread out before him.
“I didn’t see soup!”, he exclaims with some surprise: “We eat soup, they don’t!”. It’s the most normal thing in the (Russian) world to find soup on the menu.
Indeed, I can attest to fabulous late-night mushroom soup and coffee, in the Stolovaya on the way ‘home’ from another late-night prowl around Nevsky Prospect. This is not my tale however. “And they don’t drink tea” he adds as a follow-up.
Someone somewhere in the USA is likely to consume soup and/or tea at some point, I’m convinced. Perhaps though, these just aren’t the go-to refreshments of choice. ‘S’ reports that “coffee, beer and cola” are the mainstays, as well as some “strange food ideas”, such as drinking milk and eating steak” (at the same sitting).
Oddly – to us – the American consumable that ‘S’ praises the highest is orange juice, importantly: the freshly squeezed variety. “I liked fresh orange juice the morning, in Russia it is not fresh” he says.
Not so secret service
‘S’ frequently makes positive comments about the competent, jovial nature of the staff and the experts he encountered on various stopovers; the shop attendants, the man in the liquor store with whom he shared a whisky, the friendly, costumed “cowboy” at the Wild West Town living-museum and the tour leader -with his “good stories”- on the dark, claustrophobic gold mine tour next door.
There, however, any trace of the precious metal was conspicuous by its absence! Though dirt and darkness was plentiful, by way of poor compensation.
‘S’s (and others) personal service “experience” is a significant factor though; something that American commerce takes very seriously. In Russia, the path to customer satisfaction can be a little more rocky.
Don’t expect the “have a nice day” mentality that often, – especially if you happen to catch a disinterested service attendant on a bad day. There were even workshops for some Russian staff prior to the 2018 World Cup: designed to raise the customer service bar in order to accommodate the expectations of incoming western (and westernised) tourists.
Of course, those working on the front line of Russian tourism are (usually) canny enough to give the visitors what they want – in order to receive the cash. It would be bad business not to.
Pins in the map
The fabulous botanical gardens with their towering cacti were worthy of note -unlike anything on ‘S’s home-world. The associated visual documents fell into my inbox as proof: a carefully selected catalogue of species, each resplendent in their individual spikiness.
In anticipation of a soaring balloon ride, ‘S’ marveled at his conveyance’s conversion from flaccid sack to sky-chariot. Unafraid, he had approached on foot to welcome its compatriots: firstly as dots, then giants looming in from the horizon.
A common theme in ‘S’s appreciation of his trip was the ongoing proximity to nature that he felt in Arizona. The aforementioned cacti, the balloon ride and the closeness to numerous birds and animals by a mountain lake in Minnesota are just some examples.
With some excitement, he exclaims: “There were real turkeys in Minneapolis’ centre! -real turkeys!” -an unthinkable occurrence in Moscow, where gangs of stray dogs are the norm -even ones resourceful enough to utilise the Metro.
Perhaps for ‘S’, the stand-out location above all other was the Grand Canyon. He has to take time to find the words -in an attempt to do it justice. But first, some comments on the (original) locals, who still: “go with the territory”. We’ll end this mini-series in ‘S’s own (though slightly edited) words.
“My impressions when visiting the Grand Canyon:-
- About the Indians. My knowledge of them is only through the books of Fenimore Cooper and American or European Westerns. For example, the Grand Canyon is associated with the movie Mackenna’s Gold. I was surprised to learn that the Indians continue to exist on the territories of their reservations almost autonomously. They learned to make money from tourism and casinos.
- The Grand Canyon. This place inspires great respect and delight simply by its appearance.
Perhaps this is mysticism, but there is the impression that it gives strength to the people who live there. Perhaps this is mysticism” he says again, “but this place sometimes takes human lives, perhaps as some kind of sacrifice.”