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Preconceived Notions, Courtesy of Your TV

For people who aren’t able to travel or just don’t want to, watching television is a way for them to see what it’s like in locations both simple and exotic. But how authentic are these depictions?

I wondered this while my brother-in-law’s parents were in town, visiting from Switzerland. This wasn’t their first trip to the U.S., but the things they wanted to do were typical of a tourist. One of the places they wanted to visit was Hollywood, where they could see the Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, etc.

Hollywood on television seems glitzy, glamorous and exciting. In reality, it’s dirty, sketchy and kind of gross. I am honestly terrified of some of the people who dress up like characters and bully you into taking pictures with them – for a price. It was their vacation, though, and they wanted to see it, so my sister obliged. We did gently warn them beforehand that it wasn’t going to be quite what they expected.

Growing up, for our family vacations we always seemed to go to the same places. Because I’m from Southern California, a lot of the time we would go on short local getaways, to San Diego or Palm Springs or Santa Barbara. Beyond that, we’d go to the Toronto area every August to visit family and Sedona, Arizona in October to visit my great aunt and uncle. I knew what to expect because I’d been to those places a billion times.

I thought I knew what to expect when I went to New York City for the first time. It was 2004, I had just turned 20, and we were going to be there for a long weekend. I watched Friends, Seinfeld, Sex and the City, all those shows, so I was going to be totally prepared for what I saw!

Not quite. Obviously I was aware that the landscape was filled with skyscrapers, but I wasn’t ready for how claustrophobic I felt walking down the streets, surrounded by these massive buildings. I didn’t know how weird I would feel on the subway, trapped underground in a dingy car hurtling through hundred-year-old tunnels. I also wasn’t ready for the extremely high prices for everything.

I didn’t really go to NYC expecting my visit to be like an episode of Seinfeld, but it did feel a lot different from what I had witnessed on television and in movies. Because television reaches so many people, these depictions can really alter how people look at things. I know that throngs of young women moved to the city with the hopes that they would be the next Carrie Bradshaw, which freaks me out because she’s a fictional character from a fictional show. What made them think that they could emulate such a fanciful life?

So tell me, who was shocked to find L.A. was nothing like Beverly Hills, 90210? Who went to Connecticut and thought Gilmore Girls portrayed the state accurately? I’m interested in hearing if your expectations came true or fell short.

By Catherine

Catherine is a Southern California based freelance writer, whose work has appeared in everything from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly. The highlight of her life (so far) was being featured on MSNBC for a story she wrote on Hello Kitty wines...she knew one day her love of all things HK would come in handy.

8 replies on “Preconceived Notions, Courtesy of Your TV”

I can’t wait to go to Boston someday. It’s funny that you mentioned Cheers, because the guys that created the show went to my Southern California university (which is also in my hometown), and based it on a bar here. I guess they did a good job of making it feel like the east coast!

I’ve been to LA once in my life, for only two days. I asked if we would see celebrities; my hardened CA friends told me not to be such a wide-eyed provincial (my words, not theirs), as it’s not as if LA is just swarming with famous people, right?

Well you know what? We saw LOADS of famous people. Well, four or so. But in one night that’s quite a lot of celebs! My stereotypes: confirmed.

In high school I got to go to a conference of sorts and see different monuments in DC. When the bus let us off one morning in a random spot, the tour guides didn’t really do anything. We all thought we were just standing around waiting for some walking tour to start or whatever (the trip had been pretty well scheduled and organized at this point so it was weird…). Well, we just kinda hung out, goofed off and talked about the prior day’s trip to FINLAND! (the embassy.) Turns out, we were actually next to the gd White House. None of us had any clue – it didn’t help that the tour guides said NOTHING. It is far smaller than what I had ever imagined in my head. Far Smaller.

I only really got to see it for a bit because when I did finally realize where we were, it was time to get back on the bus. (The Smithsonian is still just as cool if not more cool than it is made out to be. I could live there.)

Also the Hoover Dam is beautiful. The pictures aren’t detailed enough to show the real style and intricacies of the architecture. Everyone must see it. (my art-deco heart was soaring)

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