United States

You already have an opinion about America. But which America is it? Which of the 50 states will you find it in? Which of the thousands of Hollywood films are you thinking of?

America combines a great variety of cultures - everyone is an immigrant of sorts, from the Austrian Governor of California to the French Statue of Liberty. It's the Big Country, and takes a couple of weeks just to drive across. So if you don't have much time, having an idea which places you want to experience is important.


Bernard Shaw famously declared that Britain and America were two countries separated by a common language. You will regularly come across different pronunciation and some English words are used differently or not at all (‘chemist,’ ‘boot,’ ‘jumper,’ ‘rubbish’). Everyone has a fanny and will frequently be told to sit on it. Failure to pronounce American English correctly will not offend. Proprietorial attitudes to English will.

Subtler areas of communication can be difficult. If your sense of humour gets through American customs, it may still have problems. Americans are more literal. In the average small town, the Stars and Stripes fly above many houses, and 92% of the population believes in God (Fox TV Poll 2004).


A nickel is 5 cents, a dime 10, a quarter 25. As of August 2006, you can get about $1.90 to the £. $1.30 is roughly equivalent to the €.


From the freezing winters of Minnesota, to the earthquakes in Californian deserts, and from the drizzle of Seattle to the dry heat of Texas, the key word remains 'variety'. So check the forecasts carefully before you find yourself in a Floridian Hurricane or an Alaskan snowdrift.


You could list American attractions and be mistaken for naming famous musicals. From its skyscrapers to the subways, this country cries out to be looked at. Outside the cities you can find Native American reservations in every state. Cattle driving and rodeo competitions are common in cowboy country. Different cultures have centres spread around the country and it’s worth checking which are celebrating, and when. The Calle Ocho Hispanic Heritage Festival in Miami, the Bonnaroo Alternative Music Festival in Tennessee, the Sundance Film Festival in Utah are all major landmarks in America's cultural calendar.

The USA also boasts countless areas of outstanding natural beauty: Yellowstone, the Painted Desert, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Grand Canyon cannot be over-praised.


All the familiar labels are here. Generally products cost a similar amount in dollars to what they would cost in pounds in the UK, at least outside of the big cities, so there are plenty of good deals. Cigarettes are an exception and most alcohols will be cheaper at duty-free. CDs and DVDs are often released earlier in the US, although American DVDs and videos will not play on most UK systems.

The legendary mall culture in America means that you can do much of your shopping in one place. And catch a movie, go to the dentist, re-mortgage your house and buy firearms, for that matter.

In contrast to the UK, where a customer's word is legal proof of purchase, stores in America cannot give refunds or exchange goods if you do not have a receipt.


No one city in America has the same monopolies and influence that London has in the UK, so for the different centres of various cultures, pick your spot carefully (see individual city guides). Going out anywhere you should take some ID. You could be 60 and look it and still be turned away. As a result, underground cultures are more popular, but can not be accessed by any formal routes, of course. New York, particularly Brooklyn, is always host to exciting new scenes, LA is always host to hardly any.

University towns cannot guarantee the same vibrant bar life we have in the UK; most students are too young to drink legally (the official drinking age in all states is a prohibitive 21). And if you are carrying alcohol in public areas, keep it in its brown bag.


Car-ownership in the major cities is low, and yellow cabs cheaper than their black cousins in the UK. Parking can be tricky and expensive. Fuel is cheaper, and America is filled with larger cars, although recent fuel problems are leading to a reverse in this trend.

A federal limit of 0.08 blood alcohol concentration now applies, and younger drivers are forbidden from evening driving in most areas. Laws change from state to state, and it is wise to be alert to differences (cf. www.infoplease.com/ipa). Generally, drivers are obliged to have minimum levels of insurance, (cf. www.iii.org/stateautolaws).

There is a much more legalistic mentality to America. There is not the same onus placed upon personal initiative that there is in the UK - no matter how much you may try to encourage it in your highway patrol man. Speeding fines can be paid in a number of ways, including on-line, but it changes in different counties of different states. If you want to contest or investigate a fine, www.paynofine.com offers help and a list of contact details for all the states.

Food and Drink

Are you interested in eating at the best Italian restaurants? Perhaps French haute cuisine? Or do your taste-buds take you further: Israel, Vietnam or China? Whatever your preferred munch, the odds are it's available within a few New York blocks. Americans fancy they have brought the world to them, and to a certain extent that's true. With its remarkable immigration history, it has made the foods of many cultures its own. The US could claim 5 of the top 15 restaurants in the world (Restaurant Magazine, 2005) and this motherland of the pizza still sells the best slices for a buck fifty on street corners. Vegetarian preferences are increasingly well catered for.

Yet you won’t find many of the World's top 15 restaurants once you get in to the middle of the country. This is hamburger world, club sandwich country. Everything with fries, and portions to keep truckers driving for hours on end.

Tourist Information

The USA has no official national tourist website, but you can find a directory of state tourism sites at www.towd.com. Unofficial sites such as www.usatourist.com aim to give you a greater overview.

All car hire locations in United States