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On my last trip to the US, I was daring enough to bring four of my Moscow friends along with me. Actually, let me rephrase that – initially I invited them to come along with me, but the trip slowly, but surely turned into a touristy adventure, with me at the helm as the tour guide.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t want to spend my vacation visiting cities I’ve been to countless times and endlessly translating menus and signs. However, the trip turned into an interesting experiment and I got a chance to see America through the eyes of real (non-immigrant) Russians.

It was interesting to observe them. They noticed things that seemed trivial to me, ignored things that seemed interesting and often surprised me.

Here are some of their comments…
1. All the restaurants, bars and clubs close too early. Night life in Moscow doesn’t start until about midnight, but here all the clubs are closed by 2am. Why isn’t alcohol sold between 2am and 6am? Do authorities really think this action will prevent excessive drinking or violence?
2. You can’t smoke anywhere! There is a sign in Santa Monica (3rd street promenade) that forbids smoking even on the street! Moreover, there is a posted “no smoking” sign as you cross the parking lot and head toward the beach (also in Santa Monica).
3. You can’t drink outside. The bartender refused to cell us a bottle of Champaign, when he realized we weren’t going to drink it in the bar! He didn’t sell us the bottle, even when we told him that we wanted to drink it in our hotel room, but all the corner stores were closed by this time.
4. When we visited my mother’s house, the guys asked for slippers. My mother said it wasn’t necessary because the carpet doesn’t get dirty. Throughout the night, one of the girls kept exclaiming, “I feel so strange – walking around the house in my shoes…California is so clean that even white carpet doesn’t get dirty”.
5. We drove from LA to San Francisco. After our ride, one of the guys commented how during the entire ride, we didn’t see any accidents on the road. In Moscow, everyone drives so crazily, you see an accident at least once a day.
6. The guys were constantly reminded that they lacked linguistic abilities. Apparently, every time they went into a store or were sitting in a restaurant (without me) someone would inevitably start talking with them. Everyone asked them where they were from and started a conversation for no apparent reason. And during our last breakfast in the US, one of the girls told me not to translate for her and that she has learned her order and she is ready to do it herself. I smiled and leaned back in my chair. The waitress came over. The girl said “Omelet with bacon and cheese and a cup of coffee”…she said it beautifully, but the waitress (naturally) had more questions – What kind of toast? Would you like cream with your coffee? Would you like hash browns or country potatoes, etc, etc etc? The girl said that in Russia, the waitress would just nod and walk away…but not in the US. Everyone wants to "chat"!
7. The guys made me spend an hour of my time, driving around LA looking for a street that would take us close to the damn Hollywood sign! I couldn’t understand why it was so important to take your picture so close to the letters, but I was told that apparently that sign represents America in their minds and that they couldn’t leave LA without taking this picture!
8. They loved the fact that in Vegas, you can put $10 into a poker machine (next to the bar) and receive free drinks (including Cognac and Tequila) for as long as you have at least those $10 there. They thought it was the best thing in the world. The extravagant world-famous Las Vegas buffets, on the other hand, (which personally always amaze me) got a barely warm review.
9. I don’t know what kind of weather they were expecting (may be a constant 75 degrees), but they kept commenting on the weather. San Francisco was too cold…Las Vegas was too hot…LA was OK, but colder than they had anticipated. One would think they came from a place that has a constant 75F, a nice warm breeze and lots of sun. Moscow has the worst weather…don’t get me started!

They loved the trip. We had a good time. We saw the sea lions at Fisherman’s wharf. We took a helicopter ride over Vegas. We went on the Jurassic Park ride in Universal Studios. We dangled our feet in the ocean in Santa Barbara. But next time, I am going somewhere exotic on my vacation…Cambodia or South Africa…I want to be a tourist too!

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