When I go to a new area I take it all in. For me everything is important to get to understand the feel of a region. The buildings, the characters walking by, everything. What kind of businesses are in an area is another big one. From each of these details I begin to build an image the the area as a whole. When you zone in on just one thing, you may have a distorted picture. Every aspect of a town or community is a piece of a puzzle, without it all together it doesn’t make much sense. Go to a city virtually anywhere in the world and you will find an overabundance of McDonald’s, KFCs, Taco Bells, and all the other mega chain restaurants you would find in America. You should also look at the small time vendors and keep an eye out for more local places. I’ll never forget when I first arrived in Costa Rica a naïve member of my party stated that it didn’t “look like another country.” I’m not sure what he expected other countries to look like (he had never left the US), but I’m sure it wasn’t the overabundance of American chains that we saw. It sure “looked like another country” to me.
I actually did a really interesting sociology project where I hung around my state capital of Olympia and took notes about what I observed. For those of you not from Washington, Olympia has a reputation for being a Bohemian oddness magnet. Very different from my town, very different. When I observed pedestrians, restaraunts and other businesses, and numurous other factors I would say that the stereoptype of the town was enforced strongly. Many people think that all stereotypes have no basis in truth, but shame on them for making such oversimplifieng assumptions.