Cultural differences #2 – Having fun in US part one

April 25, 2008 — Leave a comment

Vegas, baby!
As I’m getting married this year I wanted to do something out of the ordinary with my two best friends, who will also be the ones to make sure that I’ll be standing at the right place, on time and sober on June 7th 2008. In the Asian (more likely Chinese-Indonesian) social network it’s always common to organize a whole day as a bachelor party.

In this case the organization proofed to be challenging as Koen, well over 30 years and trying to relive his second student life at Haas business school in Berkely , probably could not make it back to the Netherlands in time. And as crazy and impulsive I sometimes can be I convinced Eduard, a kinda hard to motivate and stubborn IT professional, to just go to Koen to have fun. Initially I wanted to have more people at my bachelor party, but for me less can be more, in this case having my 2 best friends for 2 days in Las Vegas would match one of my life motto’s ‘work hard, play hard‘.

Intermezzo: Just after all the arrangements for Las Vegas were made, Koen actually confirmed his trip back to Europe for some job applications in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and London. So this means I could have had my bachelor party in NL and miss out all the fun of Las Vegas, easy choice still. But the worst of it, he also had a last-minute job interview in New York for some big hedge fund, not allowing him to be present in Las Vegas for our first day. Of course Eduard and I were not really amused by it all, but it’s hard for any Financial MBA graduate to find a good job with the current credit-crisis going on. And investments have to be earned back. So Koen, make sure the job is not in the Netherlands so I can at least have a place to crash in London or New York!

Embarassing first time in the US
Though it took me a long time before I visited the US, it’s been my favorite vacation destination for the past 3 years. In the last 3 years I’ve visted New York, Boston, Philladelphi, Orlando on the East coast. I remember well how BT and I first visited the US and drove a rental car from New Jersey to Philladelphia. The feeling was great to drive in the country where the car is a symbol of freedom, but I learned the hard way that it’s not easy to be free when you encounter a toll bridge of $1 and not having it.

I mean how embarrassing can it be; the first day I was in the states I was really begging for $1 in a 7-11, as the ATM was not working. And luckily there were a lot of nice folks that were willing to help me out. I offered them to exchange Euro’s, but they didn’t want to. I guess that would be different nowadays …

I would love to live on the West coast
The West coast has been my favorite, as it’s a better mix of cities, countryside, forests and ocean. I’ve seen the whole San Francisco area; from Napa Valley to the Vietnamese neighborhoods in San Jose, from Berkely downtown to Vacaville Premium Outlets, from Yosemite National Park to Rose Bowl ski resort in Lake Tahoe. The food is great and cheap, the Californian climate is perfect, the entrepreneur scene is inspiring (Silicon Valley, Google) and the nature is just awesome.

Anyone who has visited Lake Tahoe in both Summer and Winter, Yosemite park and has driven the highway 1 from San Francisco to LA can understand my passionate feelings for this part of the world. I guess I have more special feelings as I proposed to BT on Pfeiffer beach as we were driving the Highway 1 down to LA.

On our last visit we also went to Hawaii and that imho is just heaven in the US! It’s less cheap, but the atmosphere, the beaches, mountains, the people, it’s just a must do! And make sure you take a car, it’s so relaxing to drive and stop where ever you want to.

Earn back your vacation!
For BT and I vacation in the States is living to the max. First of all New York remains the shopping Mekka for us, espescially in Century 21 department stores. But in generally we have been doing shopping anywhere as outlets can be found practically everywhere, espescially the Chelsae Premium Outlets have been very nice to our wallets.

Just a quick overview of facts that will show all Europeans why a ticket to NY or Philadelphia can be a good investment, especially with the current Dollar rate:

  • Real cheap jeans like Levi’s can be bought for $20 – $30, Europe: €50 – €80
  • Jeans of designer brands like Guess, Tommy Hilfiger, Kenneth Cole can be bought for $40 – $70, Europe: €90 – €150
  • Jeans of designer brands like Armani Xchange, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein or DKNY can be bought for $50 – $100, Europe: €120 – €180
  • Polo shirts of designer brands like Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger can be bought for $25 – $40, Europe: €40 – €60
  • Sweaters of designer brands like Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger can be bought for $30 – $50, Europe: €60 – €90

So if you spend a few thousands on clothes a year; exchange that for a vacation in the US and more clothes. But make sure that you stop shopping when you’re back in Europe 😉

Food lovers
As for food, it’s everywhere. If you like fastfood, I think you have a vacation for a month, you can eat out in a different fast food chain every day:

  • Breakfast: Denny’s, IHOP, Heidi’s, Dunkin’ Donut – for less than $10 you order for 1 and eat for 2;
  • The whole day: Wendy’s, BK, McD, Carls Jr., In & Out Burger, KFC, Popeye’s, Taco Bell – in Hawaii you have my favorite Teddy’s Biggest Burger, hand made burgers upon order;
  • Diner: Sizzler’s, Red Lobster, TGI Friday’s, Applebees,

I have practically tried out all of them, but just occasionally, there are just too many other great options around. And to help you to choose your favorite place you have portals like Yelp, a great example of Web 2.0. As I’m a great fan of eating, Yelp is let’s say my bible whenever I’m in the States. I check it every day to make sure that the next day on the next location I’ll get some nice food. But Yelp can be used for anything fun todo, like shopping, hotels, etc.

And if you just don’t fancy fastfood or Asian, then you’ll definitely find your happiness in the many Italian restaurants, the garlic restaurants and great steakhouses. And if you don’t like meat, then that shouldn’t be a problem either, Yelp or Zagat will show you around. And if you’ve found the place where you want to eat, then go to OpenTable to make direct reservations, something I wish we would have in the Netherlands.

Amazing Asian scene
Personally I have a great favor for the East-Asian cuisine; Thai, Korean, Vietnamese and of course Chinese can be found practically everywhere. As I’m Vietnamese from origin I really fancy ‘Pho‘, in my opinion really the best noodle soups around. In generally I like the Vietnamese noodle soups better than the Chinese or Japanese, the latter are just too boring and simple when you compare them with the Vietnamese dishes like ‘Hu Tieu‘, ‘Bun Rieu‘ or ‘Bun Bo‘. Even the Vietnamese sandwiches are known for the very high price / quality ratio. You can really get a good sandwich for just $2,50, in the Netherlands you would pay at least € 4,50 if you could get it.

In the states you can really live like an Asian and only know your native language and still make a living. You have China-Towns, Little Saigons, Japan Towns and Korean Townsin most bigger cities of the US. I remember well a night in Korean Town when BT and I weren’t on time to eat at one of the best Korean restaurants according to Yelp. After driving around for a few minutes, we saw so many small eateries we really didn’t really know which one to chose. So we just picked out a small quiet place where some Koreans were still having diner. I still remember that night as ‘hottest food ever’ night, never before have I given up eating because a dish was too hot. Afterwards BT said that she saw even a Korean girl go out to get some milk, a remedy for hot food.

For me it’s always special if I drive through an area like Story Road in San Jose or Santa Ana in Los Angeles. Those communities have hundreds of thousands of Vietnames people living there. I just get a ‘it’s good to be Vietnamese’ feeling when I can read the signs as practically 80% of the signs are in Vietnamese.

Now to enjoy Vegas
As I’m ending this first part of my blog about the US the Continental airplane is already descending. After a stop over of 3 hours, it’s off to Las Vegas. I’m quite excited actually as I have only heard good things about it. On the other side I miss BT as I has been a very long time since I have gone so far away from here to have some fun with friends. BT, I miss you babe!

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