Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of England-land

Summary:A naive English student goes to New York, and gets amazed by everything shiny, bright and colourful, and writes a blog about how bloody brilliant it is.

Zack Whittaker is in New York City.

...and don't I know it. For those who haven't already realised, the title is a slant on the "Borat" film where a Kazakh journalist visits the United States to bring back beneficial cultural understandings for their government. For me, it feels rather similar, except to my fellow generation of students.

Now I fully understand some of this is blatantly obvious to many who live, work and breathe the city but for myself, who has now written for US-based ZDNet for just over two years, has never been to the place. But as I sit here in Times Square, just opposite the "Good Morning America" studios (which, to have a live broadcast so close to the viewing public is incredible in my eyes), I am writing this on a blanket of free wi-fi access.

The lights are startling. At just after 9am this morning, though the sun is out (though hidden by a mass of high-rise buildings), the lights of every building wall around me is dazzling even in broad daylight. Flashing lights, news tickers, giant LCD TV screens, Blackberry advertisements as the "Good Morning America" broadcast finishes, and static signs which offer the latest products; it feels like the technological heart of the world.

Apparently it is Internet Week in New York, presented by Yahoo! of which this free wi-fi is being provided by, which frankly surprises me that it's not only just a week but that it isn't a constant thing. It's like Piccadilly Circus on steroids, and without the free Internet access.

Even the NYPD stall on West 43rd and 7th Avenue has bright, neon flashing letters - which somehow seems inappropriate for a police department, yet culturally fitting to the environment I am in.

There is a culture shock. Everything seems to be super-sized in one way or another. The buildings are taller, the advertisements are more obvious - but the mobile speeds are incredible to what I am used to, and the Internet access just feels like a blanket that I can't avoid. The ability to stay connected is far easier here than say, a major city in England like London which forces you to register charges and have subscription services to their products.

Yet, on the other hand, for those who know me and - granted, for many of those who don't - know that I have Tourette's; a condition which causes involuntary tics and in my case, the shouting out of obscene words or strange noises rather loudly. How many people have even batted an eyelid? How many people have challenged my condition? How many people have laughed? None. Not even the idiot guy at Border and Immigration, who just for the record have absolutely no personality or sense of humour.

Because let's face it, if you're going to ask me how I paid for my trip even though I'm here for purposes of tourism, of course I am going to say "funded by the discount sales of knock-off Russian nuclear weapons". Turns out that was the wrong answer.

Though my dreams of meeting the man who made me who I am today; the man who started my career and changed this one student's working life potentially for ever, are shattered. He would have to pick the one week I visit to shoot off to the other side of the country.

I guess Ryan Naraine and Mary Jo Foley, along with a few other CBSi staff will have to suffice then, won't it?

During rush hour, though everyone is rushing from one place to another to get to work, there is a calming feeling around the place. Because if you look for a second and just take a moment to really look, there isn't any rushing. People are taking their time, listening to their iPod's or on their phones, meandering from one side of the street to the other. I could describe it as a rather calming yet equally daunting feeling; daunting because you feel it could change at any minute, yet you know from a benchmark of being here that it won't.

I have just bumped into three English women sat at the next table and had a good "chin wag" (talk) about where to go and what to do. Even in this vast, densely populated space, you'll find people of all cultures and backgrounds which makes it far more interesting to be in.

Even the pigeons here coo in what sounds like an American accent. Baffling.

So in short, it doesn't matter who you are or what you do in this city. I know New York isn't a full representation of the country it's in, just as you shouldn't expect London to be an accurate representation of England. Though I am an odd person to say the least and I feel safe and comfortable here, and the technology is just beyond anything I have seen first-hand before.

It can only be described as a super-sized experience, and I will most definitely be having fries with it.

Topics: Legal, IT Employment

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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