A Kiwi’s observation of the Golden State

Photo credit: Matt Birchall

Like all students here at St Andrews I’ve been lucky enough to rub shoulders with a fair few of the many Americans that call Fife home. During that time I’ve been captivated by these fast-talking, gregarious and proud people. Coming from New Zealand, the chance to meet someone from the States comes few and far between. Most of the time they are over for a six-month ‘holiday’: a period that involves them routinely logging three times the average Kiwi working week and single-handedly multiplying the national GDP. They obviously haven’t figured out that beach rugby is deemed a legitimate career over in the South Pacific. Rookie error. Therefore, when the opportunity came up to visit the mystical beast that is ‘MERICA, I couldn’t refuse. As a keen IR scholar, the US elections were obviously of interest to me, so I logically made a beeline for the woods of Northern California to keep up to speed…

There is an overwhelming sense of energy that pervades America. It may be slightly crazy, but it sure is exciting. It’s like that cool uncle that gets Grandma drunk on Christmas. You never know what to expect from him, but you can’t wait for that next family gathering. From San Francisco right through to Auburn you are bombarded with huge freeways, 19 fast-food outlets at every traffic light and bottles of Gatorade that could flood small villages. There seems to be an endless supply of everything, which is quite difficult to comprehend at first. Whilst it’s easy to criticize this excess consumption, I doubt many people are left discontented with their mountain of pancakes from Denny’s.

The Yuba River was a personal favourite of mine not least for the compelling natural setting, but for the social hive that it attracted. After accidentally staring too intently at a hippie climbing trees across the river, I got into conversation with a Californian local named Mark. He exemplified Northern California’s keen sense of doing what you what, and being courteous at the same time. It’s a combination that’s hard to beat. Although the cold beer and warm weather may have aided his jovial spirit somewhat. Within a 20 mile radius of this spot along the Yuba you could go diving, shooting, four wheeling or completely arse yourself on a rock like I did. A bit further down the road and you were at Lake Tahoe where you could Jet Ski, go to the Casino and Kayak.

Samuel Johnson said that if a man tired of London he tired of life. While true to an extent I can’t recall the last time I heard a Londoner talking about how they canoed out to an isolated island amidst huge pines. Endlessly loading up your Oyster Card seems to be a more common occurrence. After feeling I had got into the swing of things I was hit with a rather comical reminder that I was indeed an “Alien” as the customs authorities term it. After placing my order at Carls Jr, I suddenly noticed a pained expression on the server’s face. “Excuse me Sir, but could you please repeat that?” I diligently followed his instructions to no apparent avail. When he slowed his speech down to mimic a six-year-old with a stutter I quickly realized that he thought I had very little grasp of English. Or should I say American. When he reached for the cups to educate me on what ‘small’ and ‘large’ were I couldn’t help but smile and enjoy the moment.

A special thanks goes to Hugh and Andrew McCullough for so graciously hosting me.


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