American Madness…

Phenomenal … the new “awesome”

0T3B3089Server  “so how is your spaghetti?”  me “good thanks”  … server “phenomenal”…

Sounds a bit OTT?   well actually I am finding myself quite liking the endless positivity here.   I really don’t think its some false ‘customer speak’, it’s just that people are more positive than back home.    “Guests” are the new customers, and people actually make more effort to engage with you and be interested in you.    Imagine going into the bank (as I did yesterday), and someone steps out to help you with the machine, and then makes you a cup of coffee? Or perhaps having a chat with the forever singing man who works in the hardware store about his trip to Kenya.  Ok so it can be a pain in the backside when you’re late for the school run and the lady at the checkout is having her ‘chat’ with each ‘guest’, but I guess I have to learn to leave more time!

I am sure that as a consequence people smile more here, and that’s got to be a good thing. It’s hard not to smile when the skies are so blue everyday. It’s also hard not to smile when you can be on the beach within the hour (and it was 26c in Santa Cruz yesterday), or skiing within three.

Over new year we dumped our gear in the boot of the tank, jumped in and 3 hours later we were at Lake Tahoe, staying in an impossibly beautiful spot on the Lake.   Skiing was simply crossing the road from the Lodge and jumping on the lift.   Snow was a bit thin, but who cares when the views are that good.  

So here’s the crazy thing, some of the ski lifts have NO safety bars or foot rests, and your bottom heavy ski-laden legs dangle into the precipice below, whilst your top half (well for vertiginous Europeans like me) clings desperately to the arms of the chair). Even in Squaw Valley (ex Olympic Ski Venue) the bars are often not used …   I had to ask people if they minded if I put the bar down!   My instructor (an Aussie who lives in London) reliably informed me they are called ‘comfort bars’, so as not to imply there is a safety risk associated with them..   Is this mad or what?

Whist on the madness theme, a few weeks ago I met a mum who was being sued by the parents of her child’s friend because their child suffered a relatively minor injury on a play date. I have met another mum who doesn’t have children to play at her house for that reason… How sad is that? I then start thinking maybe people here are scared of doing things that are even remotely unsafe to avoid the risk of being sued.   And then I went to Berkley.

So the picture above is the Berkley Adventure playground on the marina, where I went with our lovely friends from Palo Alto this weekend.   As you walk in you sign a legal disclaimer – well I guess nothing unusual about that.   Then you walk up to a counter and get your child issued with old saws, hammers, nails and screwdrivers, paints glue and various other miscellaneous items and then they go off and do what they like!

The whole place is made from bits of wood stuck together, and feels a bit like something out of Stig of the Dump.   There are old barrels the kids can climb in and use to roll down a small hill, as well as all sorts of junk that they can basically do anything with.    Its completely mental, but guess what the kids love it, and although we had a few hammered fingers no mortal injuries were caused!

Still trying to pluck up enough courage to use the ‘drop off’ option, and leave them to cut each other up for three hours! (Particularly given our friends got charged around $1000 for the EXCESS on their health insurance for a visit to hospital for a cut toe)…. We don’t know how lucky we are to have the NHS!

At first glance some things here do seem mad, but I’m learning to get curious and understand whether perhaps we are just as mad in different ways.


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