There honestly is nothing better than taking a few days off, packing a small bag and flying out to a different city, not knowing what to expect except that it is all going to be an adventure. The two and a half days I spent in Memphis deserve a short story in themselves, one that I need to spend more time writing based on all of the random notes and photos that I took, and all of the impressions that I came away with. In the meantime the photos are all up (see full set HERE) and continue to crack me up every time I look at them because they pretty much all have a story behind them. I absolutely adored Nashville and definitely need to go back and spend a lot more time there. There is no way that you can go to all of the honky tonks and listen to all of the music in a night and half a day. Outside of NYC it is definitely a place I could consider living (although the lack of an ocean nearby could be a problem).
Anyway, I feel like we did so much in so little time... Found an Irish pub two steps away from the hostel in midtown Memphis, befriended the bartender Alan, whose phrase "you guys don't exist outside of here, but in here you exist" pretty much said it all. Powers and Guinness and Magners and a photography tour along the empty Sunday night streets of Memphis... Assigned hostel chores and milk that we were not allowed to touch because it "belonged to Brad", a cab driver who not only offered to find us any drug or alcohol we wanted but also invited us to eat telapia at his house... An amazing tour of Graceland followed by a spontaneous decision to rent a car and drive the 200+ miles to Nashville... Country music radio stations and truck rest stops and finally Nashville, where music reigns everywhere. A room in the wonderful Downtown Hostel, drinks in different bars, bands playing everywhere you go... A 90's grunge cover band who totally looked and sounded the part, country singers, one brilliant guy on a street corner, making up songs as he played, a shot glass snuck out of the bar in the hostel and left undrunk... Empty bars with musicians playing at noon (do they ever really stop?), more street musicians, cowboy boots for sale, blossoming trees, lunch in a New Orleans bar where a man named Fritz played a beautiful rendition of Fire and Rain... Back to Memphis on stand by after missing my flight, making it back to New York at 11pm, wishing I could hop straight back on a plane back to Memphis. There is so much more to it than all of the above though...
Oh... And you can still smoke in bars in Tennessee. Brilliant.
Another link to all of the photos I took below.
I actually wrote this for something else, in the hopes that it may be published there, but once I had sent it realised that I just wanted to post it on here too. So I waited a while and am just going to post here anyway, while I am sitting in my Mum's house in California on vacation, another spot in this world that I consider as slightly paradisaical in itself... Sunshine, palm trees, pure calm and relaxation, food directly picked from the garden and thrown into a salad or onto the barbeque... The theme I was writing for was Paradise, and this is what I was immediately inspired to write.
I’m sure most foreigners who come to the States peruse a guide book or two, look online for tips, good places to go, where to eat, where to drink and all of that. Even if I like an adventure when I go off to explore a new country I always look up what the customs are and if there is anything I should know (for example, taxis charge tourists triple in Egypt so you should avoid them if you are broke). Every single guide book on the US tells you that service is NOT included in restaurants and bars. Yes, NOT included. This means that you leave a tip. Customary tips are 15-20% after tax in restaurants, 15%-20% for cab rides and probably a dollar or two per drink in a bar. If you don’t tip you are either extremely rude and/or you are unhappy with the service, and if it’s the latter should explain why to a manager so that they can put it right. Most people who work in the service industry get an extremely low hourly wage or shift pay, or none at all, so they literally LIVE OFF the money they make in tips. These tips don’t go towards new shoes, dresses, expensive and frivolous items. They go towards rent, bills and food to survive. Most people I have encountered are good tippers, they know the rules and to be honest for every bad tipper there are always at least 2 good tippers, so I don’t ever really complain about it. Until you get multiple different groups of foreigners in the bar at different times in the space of a few days, ALL of whom acted in the same way.
The first group of four Polish people (I think – they were speaking some type of Slavic language) got 5 drinks (after tasting a couple of beers and deciding on a local draft beer). They paid, didn’t tip and went to the back room where they lingered over their drinks for a while. Once they had gone I went to clear their glasses… And they had STOLEN one. Yes, I know the Coney Island beer pint glass is kind of quirky and cute, but come on!! If they had asked I would have sold them one!! Just after they left a couple of Brazilians walked in and sat at the end of the bar. They had three rum and cokes, paid for them, entertained themselves with extravagant public displays of affection and then left, without tipping of course. One of my friends told me to tell people that it is customary to tip in this county, but I can’t get over my British politeness and say it outright. So I suppose it’s my own problem in the end. Then a bunch of Brits came in, ordered a round and gave me a dollar tip, with a big smile on their faces like they were doing me a huge favour. Thanks. The next one of them to order a round had obviously been in the US before and made up for it when he paid for their round, so I didn’t get too annoyed about it. The thing is, I was in one of my friend’s bars last night and a different group of Brits did the SAME THING with the dollar tip, making it out to be a huge deal that they were leaving it as a tip. It’s common knowledge in England that service is not included here in the US, so they don’t get to hide behind the whole “well we didn’t know!” lie. And if you don’t know what you should leave, then just ask! I’ve had people who have asked before and I let them know. Then it’s up to them to decide!
I think it all boils down to being a little bit more knowledgeable about the location that you are going to. When I’m abroad I don’t remove the service charge from the bill and just pay for the food and/or drinks!!
OK, rant over. Come and watch real football at the bar with me tomorrow from 11am and I promise not to start ranting about people who write really mean reviews on Yelp.
Here’s a lovely page on Wikipedia that explains tipping customs all over the world: HERE
For a larger version of the image above go HERE
Now you will never need to worry about being the object of a bartender or servers rant on their blog ;)
In March 2003 I entered the US on the usual visa waiver progamme thing, up to 3 months stay in the US, no right to work etc. This was after I had requested a 6 month tourist visa in London so that I could actually stay longer with my family and it was refused. Bear in mind, I had been to the US twice that year and had stayed for 3 months at a time… I was taken to the side office at Immigration in SFO, held there for over an hour without being able to contact anyone, yelled at, and then told that this was the last time I would be granted entrance into the US for at least a year, and if I tried again within that period of time I would be deported.
My mother and sister moved to California in 2000, and thanks to my mother’s job got their green cards pretty much straight away. So did my little brother, even though he moved there later. But I happened to be 22, and therefore not legally a child anymore, and therefore not eligible to get my green card like my sister and brother. So my mother applied for one for me, and we waited.
And waited. I finished my MA in France in 2002 and decided I didn’t want to live there anymore. But I didn’t want to live in England either. So travelled back and forth to California, getting more and more depressed and using more and more of my mother’s money in flight tickets and living expenses, seeing as I couldn’t work. I went to Israel for a little over a year. I went back to California, still waiting. I applied for Canadian citizenship, on the off-chance that if I got it it would be easier to get a working visa in the US. Thanks to the small fact that my dad happened to be born in Canada and lived there for a few years of his life and never gave up his Canadian citizenship, I was granted with a nice blue Canadian passport myself. This was in 2004.
I was at a loss of where to go. I didn’t want to go back to France because it was so hard to get a job there (and I didn’t feel like going back to school). I couldn’t stay in the US. I couldn’t go back to Israel. I didn’t have enough money to go back off into the world and travel around hopelessly looking for something that didn’t really exist. So I went to London. I lived there for ten months, and apart from the fact that I lived with the loveliest people and actually started being responsible and had a full-time office job, they were the most depressing months of my life. London is not a good place for someone who is fighting heartbreak (never, ever fall in love with a Colombian boy, EVER), and who just doesn’t want to be there. I love London as a city. I love walking around, discovering little places that you would never find if you didn’t explore, going to the free museums, the leaves falling in the autumn, the special days in spring when you can feel summer coming. But London just depressed me. I didn’t know anyone, I was too shy and depressed to actually go out and meet people. I didn’t earn enough to spend it by going out. I didn’t even earn enough to be able to spend every weekend with my family in Rutland, and I just wanted to be in California. I didn’t even have a plan after California – I just wanted to BE THERE.
Then a light appeared in the form of a job offer in NYC in the spring of 2005. I’d never been to New York, but it couldn’t be any worse than London, and it was the US! My work visa was a little too temporary (year-long TN visa on my Canadian passport, renewable every year through my company). So I moved to NYC with two suitcases and nothing else. I worked hard, made some wonderful friends who have become my family, partied hard, stopped partying hard, went through a terrible depression, worked even harder, suffered through visa renewal stress every year, worked harder, felt trapped, wanted to leave. I fell into a life of thinking that I had to work at my job because that was the only reason why I could stay in the US, but in the end I just began to despise my life, myself and everything I had always stood for. Six years in NYC and all I wanted was out, to be someone else, somewhere else. Until I had my Biometrics appointment, and another light appeared right in front of me. And it dawned on me that I wasn’t in a prison, that I could find myself and the life I wanted again… So I left my job, and fell back in love with my life again. And got my green card 4 months later. In the mail, just like that. No official ceremony or celebration. Ten years of stress, heartbreak, crying, depression, travels, new experiences and happiness for the freedom and right to live and work in the country that I haven’t really left in the past 7 years.
I could write a novel about the last ten years. I don’t regret much, because I ended up experiencing things I never would have experienced if I hadn’t had to go through this, but if I had to do it all over again I would just go with the easier option of getting married. I just kind of needed to write this all down, get it out of my system and maybe put it aside as another idea for a novel. Sometime in the future.
(Oh, and as a side-note: it just annoys Immigration officials even more if you burst into tears when they are yelling at you. I know from experience. Try to keep it together, especially if you are prone to burst into tears at any given moment in your life, like me).
I usually ask people the question "so what are YOU doing", and hope that this will raise some type of awareness. The other day I asked someone this same question and was given the response of "well if it's not happening right in front of me then it doesn't really exist". Cue frothing at the mouth with anger on my part (deep breaths before continuing), as this is a standard response that makes me want to bop people on the head. Then said individual went on to say that he is a strong believer in helping out at home before looking to help other countries. To which I gave my standard response of "well there aren't millions of people dying of starvation in this country though are there?!".
And then I started to think. Is he right? Should I spend more time looking at what is happening around me? Am I trying to help people who are beyond help when I could be helping people next door? Are there REALLY thousands of people dying of starvation in this country?
So let's do the research and a little comparison. Nothing really beats hard facts when faced with them:
MOWAAF survey in 2007: 750,000 seniors suffering from hunger ( I couldn't seem to find stats for non-seniors in the limited search that I just did on the internet)
WFP Stats: There are more hungry people in the world than the combined populations of the US, Canada and the European Union.
US, 2006: 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births
World Bank, 2009: 128.2 deaths per 1,000 live births
(Please don't hate me for my less than deep research - I would do a better job if I gave myself more time, but I think these stats just show what we all know anyway).
So, I'm still confused. Or maybe confused isn't the word... Thinking too much into this? Should I do something at home too? Work in a soup kitchen? Tutor young kids for free? I think that can never be a bad idea, right? In the end, the only reason that I keep thinking about this is that I now feel that I am not doing enough. But at least I am doing something.
Women for Women
War Child Canada