Crikey intern Samantha Kodila writes: The French are snobby and smelly, the Italians are mafia gangsters who consume pizza and pasta all day long, and Americans are fat because they eat too much of… well, everything. Or are they?
I had my preconceived notions of what New York — the city famous for Broadway and aspiring super stardom — would be like before I went. I’ll admit, I was fairly esconsoned in the typical American stereotype, expecting overweight and sloppy cab drivers with greasy bags of McDonald’s meals littering their front seats, a Starbucks situated on every street corner, every meal to be like a scene from doco Super Size Me, and general rudeness all round.
But, perhaps unsurprisingly, the stereotypes didn’t quite stack up. Here were my favourite New York travel surprises:
- The smell of donuts is in the air… everywhere. Well, churros, to use the correct term. It took me — and my eager nose — by surprise. I remember it quite vividly. It did not take long for me to establish that, when in New York, it does not matter where you go, there is always at least a light breeze floating down the street. And it is on this breeze that the delectable scent of this Spanish breakfast treat suddenly hits you in all its sweet and sugary glory. With a vendor on almost every corner, the temptation of churros and other greasy goodies such as chili dogs, pretzels and falafels is never far from one’s mind.
- Same meaning, different word. Of course different countries use different words for the same things, think “ketchup” instead of “sauce”, and “soda” instead of “soft drink”. We hear them so often in films that we don’t even notice their presence. Yet I still had instances when I would ask for something and the sales assistant would give me a blank stare. My favourite was when my brother asked a waiter for a bowl of “chips”. After the waiter explained they did not serve chips, he finished up our order with “Would you like a bowl of fries with that?” The look on my brother’s face was somewhat priceless.
- The coffee is not the equivalent of bitter-tasting dishwater; it’s actually very nice. I do not claim to be a die-hard coffee fanatic cum connoisseur, but I do enjoy a good latte with an ample amount of frothy milk sitting atop my glass. I felt that I would not be doing myself and my tourist status justice if I did not experience what a true American Starbucks coffee was like. But it was with slight trepidation that I ordered a Grande Soy Latte one morning in my attempt to wake myself up for a day of sightseeing. Taking a hesitant sip, I was instantly surprised; not only was it a smooth aromatic flavour, it was also sweet the way I like it, even though I’d forgotten to ask for sugar (it turns out their soy milk is sweeter than ours). I found myself heading into a Starbucks every morning after that to get a dose of frothy latte goodness.
- Dining out isn’t always a Extra-Large Grande Super Size experience. Sure, you can order a McDonald’s meal that is five times the recommended serving size, or a Trenta Starbucks coffee that is actually larger than the capacity of the average stomach (it’s 916ml!), but you are not constrained to these massive portions in absolutely every venue. Try restaurants, rather than fast-food, and you’ll be fine.
- People are actually pretty nice. One of the most renowned stereotypes of New York is that it’s a scene straight out of Wall Street — full of cosmopolitan suits who are both ambitious and ruthless, working in a cut-throat environment, and trumpeting the catch phrase “Greed is Good”. Thankfully, unlike the suits in Wall Street, the people I met in New York had manners and courtesy down-pat. Even the majority of retail and hospitality workers joke around with you when you can’t tell your nickels from your pennies.
Sure, there were occasions in New York, like when I went into Henri Bendels on Fifth Avenue, that I felt like I’d stumbled onto the set of Gossip Girl. But it was the quirks I wasn’t expecting, the little everyday living-like-a-New-Yorker things, that made my trip amazing. And unpicking the stereotypes is always sound travel advice, wherever you choose to disembark.