Ed. Note: If you haven’t read my encounter with US Customs when returning to the country, read it here. It was a very eye opening experience to say the least.
I landed at the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport at around 7:30 a.m. a week ago today. I had a 30-minute delay at customs, but quickly found my way to the rental-car area where I was to pick up a car for the 12-hour drive home – Sherry (my lovely wife) had made the reservations with Alamo. After my experience with the customs people, I was expecting everything to require a little extra effort. On top of that, I was tired and a little stressed out so my patience was wearing thin.
After entering the car-rental area and realizing that I was not on the 1st level as one would expect, but on the 3rd level, I finally figured out that the Alamo rental area (on the 2nd level) was below me and not above me as I had initially concluded. I got into the line and the first thing I realized was North Americans are very loud, and to some degree, obnoxious. There were a couple of people (Ecuadorians) from my flight in line with me and they had obviously become aware of the same thing and were having a conversation about it in Spanish. Additionally, most of the North Americans were so preoccupied by their cell phones that they were not aware it was their turn to approach the counter and had to be called multiple times. When they finally realized it was their turn, they were obviously annoyed by the interruption. Had I been in a better frame of mind, I would have found it humorous.
Finally it was my turn and my customer service person was an older gentleman named Frank. He looked over my reservation and said that the car my wife had reserved was probably not going to be comfortable for a guy my size and upgraded me 2 sizes for $10 per day which was I found to be very generous – maybe the day would turn out OK after all.
I got to choose my own car and I chose a sporty Mazda 3. Prior to leaving the US, I drove a 2007 Honda Element which doesn’t have many bells and whistles. This Mazda, on the other hand, was decked out and I had to refer to the instruction manual to release the emergency brake (a little button not a hand lever like you would expect) and to turn the car on because there were no keys only a key FOB that unlocked the doors and trunk. Apparently this key FOB is also the key and lets the car know that you are close enough to push a button which starts the car as long as your foot is on the brake pedal. I am sure most modern cars start in a similar fashion, but it was new to me. Everything else about the car seemed standard and I pulled out of my parking spot to begin my journey home. My path was blocked by someone loading luggage into their car. They had pulled the car out of the parking spot, blocking the road out of the garage, and decided to load their luggage and mill about. I sat there for a minute or two before I gently beeped the horn at which they all turned at and looked at me, annoyed, as if to say “can’t you see we’re loading our car”. Finally, they moved out of the way. I had not noticed it when I lived in the US full time, but there is an obvious feeling among North Americans that “everything is about me”. This is one of the biggest differences between t Ecuador in the US.
Finally I found my way out of the parking garage and on to I-95 North. I was surprised at how much traffic there was on a Sunday morning. I settled in for my 12-hour drive and before I could get the car up to full speed, I encountered another thing I had forgotten about – someone driving slow in the “fast” lane. After a mile or two, traffic dissipated enough so that I could go around them (because the obviously weren’t moving over). As I am passing the slow car, the driver turns to me with this annoyed look on his face like I am the one driving like an idiot. I wish I could say that things changed as I moved further north, but it was much of the same the entire way.
I am certain these things happen every day and when you live here you probably just get used to them. But, having been out of the country for 2 years where I didn’t drive at all, the self-centered habits of North Americans were especially obvious and equally annoying. I am certain that, after a week or two, I will be slip back into the North American frame of mind. In the meantime, I wonder how the Ecuadorians on my flight are faring. Welcome to the good ole’ US of A.