America, A Review

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A couple of weeks ago, I travelled to the USA for SxSW, or South By Southwest, to meet my new coworkers at Automattic as well as help out with the WordPress booth. After a week of SxSW, The Wife joined me as we travelled to San Francisco, to experience California. Here’s a brief travelog.

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Prior to visiting (this was my first time in the states), I had my share of prejudice about America and in particular Texas — prejudice mostly attributed to a previous president — and sure enough everywhere smells like barbecue and trucks are as big as they come. But the one bulletpoint to take away from the presentation that was Austin was that everyone was profusely friendly and mindblowingly service-minded. I’ve always been a fan of American culture, but I’m now a fan on a whole different level. I knew these guys could put a man on the moon, but I’d somehow overlooked what such a feat does to a nation. I didn’t hear the words “I can’t do that” during my stay. Still not a fan of trucks, but I’m now a fan of their drivers.

On that note, damn those roads are big. I’ve never experienced a 5-lane one-way road before; sure enough, that’s the norm here apparently. They also tow cars:

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That’s pretty funny. But necessary, I assume, with the vast amount of cars that are here. I’m glad we got a rental car, it’s absolutely necessary. I also now understand why my US team-mates wish me “safe travels” whenever I announce in our team chat that I’m about to bike home. Because there are no bike-lanes here, and if there are they aren’t elevated like the sidewalk is. USA is not a bike-friendly country by any stretch of the imagination.

On that note, my new co-workers make up the most concentrated pool of talent I’ve ever encountered. Plus they’re super nice:

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Whenever these guys aren’t busy posing for photos, they’re being awesome. Seriously, it’s hard to say this without offending every previous company and colleague I’ve worked with, but I’ve never met this level of talent, maturity and niceness all in one company before. Which is why I guess such a distributed company can work, I guess — it doesn’t matter if you’re right next to each other if you can’t communicate. Suffice to say, these peeps make up the sweetest bunch.

As do Texan donuts:

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Zoom right in — it’s high-res. Watch how the light is reflected off the melted marshmallows and fudge candy.

I didn’t finish the donut in the picture. I’m not worthy to call myself a Texan yet, though I did kinda enjoy these bacon-laden sugar glazed donut holes (from the by-the-way totally awesome Automattic party — that Matt guy sure knows how to throw a party!):

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Aside from the Automattic party, I’m ashamed to say I really enjoyed the IE9 party. It was like entering the near future while enjoying great free drinks and good music.

What to take away from SxSW, by the way, is the following: RSVP as many parties as you can, and go to as many as possible. Screw the panels. While good (especially #stopling), the parties brought more networking opportunity than any other offer SxSW had on its table. Additionally, Beluga was pretty useful to stay in touch with the group. It’s actually the first time one of the social apps have been anything but annoying to me.

I tried working on my sugar-intake skills on the rest of my trip by stocking up on milkshakes, the best of the rather large bunch being this one:

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San Francisco was pretty awesome. Very nice climate. The rain made me feel right at home:

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Fortunately, it only rained a couple of days which we spent at the aquarium, shopping, and at museums such as the Computer History Museum:

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The days when it wasn’t raining were absolutely gorgeous, and there were enough of these days that we managed to spot all kinds of mindbogglingly beautiful nature around San Francisco:

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Seriously, I thought we had it all figured out in Scandinavia with our awesome nature. But those Muir Woods redwood trees are absolutely incredible. Just looking up at them is almost spiritual.

As a whole, this America visit was a raging success. As big as the trucks are, as lacking in bike-lanes the cities are, as ridiculously non-yoghurt the yoghurt is, as verbosely spelled out as the street signs are, as exhausting the ranch dressing turkey highrise sandwiches are, the bottomline is simply as black as the night without the stars. Google Maps navigation can spell out the street names here. There are elephant seals, redwoods, donuts and friendliness. It’s a winning combination.

27 thoughts on “America, A Review”

  1. Andy Skelton says:

    Come back any time. It was great to see you. 🙂

  2. Sune Fengel says:

    As obese as a trip to America would make me, I cant understate enough how jealous I am that you where there, and under those circumstances! Hope to go to N.Y late this summer myself, on a shopping/gourmet food spree.
    Welcome home.

    1. Joen says:

      Andy Skelton,

      Thanks buddy, it was a pleasure to meet you as well! Look forward to it again.

      Sune Fengel,

      I don’t think you’d gain weight on such a trip. I lost half a kilo and trust me I didn’t pull any punches. I think it was the days of walking around exploring that balanced things out.

      Appreciate the comment buddy. We’ll meet up soon enough and I’ll give you the nitty gritty details.

  3. Ah, California. Looks like a great trip 😀

  4. Martin says:

    Sounds like you had a great time. No matter what anyone thinks of America, it definitely makes an impression. Sorry I didn’t get to you see in person this time. I’m sure you’ll make many more trips here — after all, you have a whole other coast and the vast middle to explore.

    1. Joen says:

      Sounds like you had a great time.No matter what anyone thinks of America, it definitely makes an impression.Sorry I didn’t get to you see in person this time.I’m sure you’ll make many more trips here — after all, you have a whole other coast and the vast middle to explore.

      It’s certainly not my last time, that’s for sure! Two states down, 48 more to go.

  5. Ian Stewart says:

    Joen, it was awesome getting a chance to meet you in Austin but … they don’t tow cars in Denmark?! When a car breaks down do mechanics fix the car on the spot? Is it pushed to the nearest mechanic’s shop? Left to become public art?

    1. Joen says:

      Ian Stewart,

      Well sure they tow cars, if you’re stuck in a broken car you pay out of your noise to get the car transported to the mechanic. But it’s voluntary. You don’t get towed from parking violations unless in extreme cases.

  6. Matt Thomas says:

    It was really fascinating to see your perspective on two of America’s coolest cities. Let me know when you’re ready to take on New Orleans. 🙂

    1. Joen says:

      Matt Thomas,

      You just say the word. I’ll visit New Orleans any time. I love everything that’s come out of that place.

  7. Chris says:

    Verbose street signs?

    As for “bike-friendly” that can depend on the city. I understand Portland, Oregon is pretty bike-friendly. But, by and large, you’re on your own. That, of course, never stopped me from doing 25 mile rides along major highways. Hehe… Just be sure to get well off the road if an 18-wheeler is coming by at 70 mph lest you be sucked under and spit out. Not kidding.

    What’s interesting is the surreality of the places you visited. Austin during SxSW and San Francisco during… well any damn time really have to be two of the most surreal locations in the States. Next time go to Wisconsin for a state fair or something. That’s where we keep the really insane foods.

    1. Joen says:

      Chris,

      Verbose street signs?

      Yes, spelled out, very elaborate, such as “Yield on green light”. Let me find some examples.

      No parking any time, US:

      Denmark:

      Yield, US:

      Denmark:

      Do not enter, US:

      Denmark:

      Do not pass, US:

      Denmark:

      My bias makes me prefer the euro way, but which way is the more usable I have no opinion of at this time.

      That, of course, never stopped me from doing 25 mile rides along major highways. Hehe… Just be sure to get well off the road if an 18-wheeler is coming by at 70 mph lest you be sucked under and spit out. Not kidding.

      Not kidding indeed. You sir, are insane.

      What’s interesting is the surreality of the places you visited. Austin during SxSW and San Francisco during… well any damn time really have to be two of the most surreal locations in the States. Next time go to Wisconsin for a state fair or something. That’s where we keep the really insane foods.

      I’ve already promised once that this will not be my last trip. I’ll enjoy a trip to Wisconsin more than you think, I’m sure.

      1. andper says:

        Chris,

        Verbose street signs?

        Yes, spelled out, very elaborate, such as “Yield on green light”. Let me find some examples.

        I so understand what you meant with this verbosity of street signs as I had similar thoughts during my trip around Florida last year. Generally I perceived instructions (not only in traffic) over there to be somehow more laid out in front of you, more simplified. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just so interestingly different. 🙂 Glad someone pointed it out. 🙂

        1. Joen says:

          Generally I perceived instructions (not only in traffic) over there to be somehow more laid out in front of you, more simplified. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just so interestingly different. Glad someone pointed it out.

          Yeah, I heard some mumblings about the American Disabilities Act being in part responsible for the verbosity; some people suffer from symbol blindness, apparently.

  8. Nicole says:

    Glad you enjoyed your visit to Texas! Believe it or not, Austin is one of the more bike-friendly places around here. I’m not supposed to say this (my school’s big rival is located there), but Austin’s a pretty awesome place. I’d definitely recommend New Orleans, too; just got back from visiting there myself.

    1. Joen says:

      Nicole,

      I’ll definitely visit Texas again, and with not one but two New Orleans recommendations, that place is quickly becoming the next on my list.

  9. Chris says:

    The do not enter sign I get. The yield sign as well. After all, they’re supposed to be universal. But, the no parking sign. I’d be breaking the law a lot in Denmark. In the US you see variations on the no parking sign. They all look like that but there could be a child sign attached listing times when you couldn’t park in that area. Also, some streets are no parking on the left side on Mondays and then no parking on the right on Tuesdays. Can depend on trash pickup.

    The passing sign for Denmark would just be something I’d make fun of. “Oh, so.. only red cars on the right? That’s a bit specific isn’t it?”

    Really though, as far as passing goes I just check the stripes in the road.

    1. Joen says:

      Chris,

      Right. It’s way more complex than these signs alone of course. As you mention there’s stripes on the road, plus we do have extra parking signs not mentioned here. But also we have to learn these in traffic school, so as much as the “red car” can look ridiculous, it’s kinda ingrained.

  10. Lori says:

    Joen, it was such a pleasure to meet you and Rukiye! I love reading your impressions about your first trip to America. Hopefully there will be many more trips in your future!

    1. Joen says:

      Lori,

      It was a delight meeting you as well, Lori. I can’t wait for my next USA trip!

  11. Levi says:

    Sounds like a fantastic trip! Very jealous of it all, especially that milkshake.

    1. Joen says:

      Levi,

      Thank you. It was so yummy.

  12. Seriously, it’s hard to say this without offending every previous company and colleague I’ve worked with, but I’ve never met this level of talent, maturity and niceness all in one company before.

    My feeling exactly. 🙂

  13. Levi says:

    I’ll have to try make it to SxSW sometime in the future if you ever go again, I can finally meet the fuzzy guy from that cold place.

    1. Joen says:

      Levi,

      Or, I go to Australia. That’s an option.

  14. Ranjani says:

    Looks like you stopped by Gourdoughs! Delicious, isn’t it? 🙂

    1. Joen says:

      Looks like you stopped by Gourdoughs! Delicious, isn’t it?

      Gourdoughs, yes! And yes it was absolutely fantastic.

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