I should have written this post ages ago, but life and stuff happened. So here it is now.
Back in November I visited America for the first time ever, it was aw-some. Most people I hear going to the US always go to NY, but NY never really fascinated me. Instead I always thought that if I would visit the US, my first destination would definitely be California to meet the hippies, the Silicon valley and the sun. However, my first destination was quite unexpected but just as interesting. Since my brother had exported himself to the US I thought that was the perfect time to pay him a visit and discover America. That’s how I landed in the “Tough City” as I will always remember it, aka Chicago ♥.
The other dimension
Going to America, more than to any other part of the world is really special and weird because you already know a lot about the American culture before setting foot there thanks to movies, tv shows, and the global broadcasting. I had the impression that I was stepping into another dimension where everything I had seen on screen would suddenly surround me. I have to say I was a bit stressed about this idea. All the paranoid scenarios nurtured by the movies suddenly became a realistic possibility. I tried my best not to freak out too easily.
Fortunately, this had the positive effect of astonishing me when I realized that the people there were actually very normal. Unbelievable. Not only were they normal, but they were all also incredibly nice. Well, at least everyone AFTER you actually manage to pass the customs and border protection check at the airport. Until then, it’s true you’re not very welcome despite all the “Welcome to America !” gif-like banners and videos.
“Welcome to America !”
Particularly, I remember the border and security lady who interrogated me. That really lived up to my expectations of the American paranoid movie. She welcomed me with “Hi, show me your papers”. I showed them to her, and she continued as she was reading them “What is this? I don’t understand this address. Explain it to me.” “(Waaaahhh freak out land already !!!!) Hummm, it’s my brother’s address…” I said. (very suspicious look). I could tell, she was frying me on the spot. I was already picturing myself between the four walls of a tiny grey room with the agents digging through my backpack. She would not stop, and believe me her face was really scary, she said “What does your brother do here? How long has he been here?” I then did my best to explain that I was just coming to visit him on holiday. Then only she let me go. The experience before leaving France was of the same kind but it rather amused me. Before leaving I got asked very weird questions like, “Did you pack your own luggage?” “Where?“ “Do you carry any weapons?” “Where?“, stuff like that, amusing. The border lady : not amusing – at all ! Well, she really did her job well. Of course I understand why it’s the way it is given past and recent events. Welcome to nowadays.
So to clear the air, what was my brother doing there anyway? Well, if I really must say, he went there to live the start-up dream by joining the Excelerate labs accelerator of Chicago. Now you know all of it, I promise. It was really interesting for me to discover such environment. I was very impressed by how Americans take technology really seriously, they just get it. The Excelerate labs is hosted in the huge 1871 open space where people can just show up and work spontaneously and collaborate. It’s really great. “A place where you can come and work spontaneously”, I just love this concept. I’m impressed because such space is not common in France, especially a place that big with all the resources, energy and people you need to achieve your projects. “A place where people are motivated to achieve their own project” wah, very cool. Digging further, after we visited the History museum of Chicago, I learnt what 1871 stood for. In 1871, there was a great fire in Chicago, but the Chicagoans rebuilt the city really quickly after that, driven by the “I will” motto. 1871 stands for this drive of building things really quickly driven by passion. That was the tech part of the trip.
Airports and UI
Well, almost. Of course there is always a UI part in anything here. So this is another one of my far fetched observations.
As I was running around airports, almost missing my plane in Boston, I managed to unveil a UI principle : if at any point of your navigation, you feel the need to ask a human being for the information you need to move forward, then the UI is bad. I experimented the different airports systems to get travellers to their plane. Nowadays, it’s possible to bypass human beings to get to your plane, everything is automatic. You check in online, then you just come to the airport, follow the signs and take off. The problem arises at the “follow the signs” step. Some systems are really badly implemented, you always need to check with a person around because you’re not sure, and 95% of the time that person is busy. As a result : you waste your time waiting for them to be available when this could have been solved with a simple sign. I lived in real life what also happens online to get from point A to point B. If at any point you need to check with someone or as an equivalent, a search engine, then the UI of your application is bad. I’ll save that for later.
In parallel of my holidays I loved learning about the history of America and of Chicago. I was not aware of the symbol that Chicago was, with all the struggles against slavery, then the struggles against discriminations, then Al Capone & Co, then the Bulls. I understood Chicago was highly political, no wonder why Obama comes from there. That’s why for me Chicago really is the “Tough City”, everything that comes out of it is plain Solid, I will always remember it that way. Whenever I need to toughen up a little, I will have a thought for Chicago from now on.
So, all in all I liked this first encounter. I’m surprised that the people were very normal. Except maybe, ah I forgot to mention, I went there on Halloween. So actually wipe everything I just said, it was really freak out land ! Halloween in the US is really coconut. It’s one of my best memories. We went to a bar, and I saw the best outfit EVER for Halloween : at the back of the bar Jesus was drinking beer and kissing a blond girl ! The whole bar applauded him. Way to go, J ! I’ll never forget him, his image is tattooed on my mind. Ah Jesus. I can’t possibly detail all my trip here. But this was the gist. Here are the highlights ;) [slideshow of my own] :
My tops :
- the unlimited soda
- the huge pancakes
- the hot chocolate that always comes with free extra
- history museum
- second city comedy show
- the chicago bulls
- university of chicago / obama’s neighbourhood
and many more.
When I came back to work, I brought M&Ms for my team, and the American in my team said “Aaaah I appreciate that you brought back the traditional food of my country, I missed it, thank you.” :-D. I have so many stories about this trip in my mind, it was really a good trip.
Next steps : California, San Francisco, Boston, Texas & Alabama.