When I was living in Ivory Coast for the first half of last year, I was one of two Americans living in this town that shared a land border with Nowhere. The other American was quite happy to have been the only American there prior to my showing up as it allowed her to constantly flex her “insider knowledge” of well, whatever. For instance, when sharing a ride from Abidjan to Abengourou, we passed through an equally uninteresting town called Adzopé. Halfway through the town, she called out a gas station stating, “Best place to buy Coke. The. Best. Place.”
For those unaware Coke is located in the Fucking Everywhere Province of Africa and a gas station is not the best place to buy it. Those would usually be bulk supply depots where you can get it for 1/3 the price of a gas station if not less. Needless to say, when I would call her out on such silly statements, she liked me less and less as I challenged this bizarre “inside knowledge” she thought she possessed.
Back around the world in San Francisco, the office that I work at has its parent corporate office in Europe. The Europeans will pop in a lot and every day that one is here, there is a diarrhetic flow of words coming out of the mouths of the American colleagues as they lead them about, telling them all the “best” places to go in San Francisco. Not only are all these places listed in the first page of any guidebook worth its salt, but the people giving this advice (which they will always cite as being a place that “only the locals go to”) don’t usually live in San Francisco. Needless to say, when hearing several times a week that visitors absolutely must go to Cafe Blah Blah (I think that’s in SOMA) or Club Hoodahoo (Lower Haight) or Park Whathafuck (Mission, but it’s like obscure), it gets painful to listen to as the advice is not good and ultimately it’s going to leave a sour taste of San Francisco in craw of those who visit.
This need to push insider knowledge when one is not actually an insider (or even if one is) is something that I can only believe is part of the National Insecurity from which Americans have on loan, a great wealth of their pathos. Insecurity is what makes us buy SUV’s, huge houses, and an endless array of crap that we don’t need lest we fall behind and be deemed a lesser American that Mr. & Mrs. Jones over there.
While I have given up on anyone giving a damn what I wear or the weird fact that I don’t own a car and/or gun (or car with a gun mounted to the roof), I am having to learn to keep my mouth shut more and more unless someone’s insipid insider knowledge is directly affecting something I’m doing. Seeing as how I’m generally contrary to just about everyone’s opinions from parking, to mobile phones, to Chinese food, I’ll ultimately end up in constant arguments lest I disqualify the fragile knowledge that a fellow American is trying to impart on me, which of course, they believe no one else knows.
Such is the case from a few days ago where a friend who was visiting had a local heavily recommend House of Nanking. Now, House of Nanking sucks. Let’s revisit this in case the title of the article and that sentence didn’t stick: House of Nanking sucks. The food is abysmal. The service is non-existent. The prices are the highest in all of Chinatown. Yet, it’s always packed so people assume that it’s good. I’m convinced that 9 out of 10 people who recommend it either a) have never eaten there or b) don’t really know what good Chinese food is, albeit I’m not sure I know either.
I have indeed eaten at House of Nanking. I used to work across the street for Francis Coppola and went there a couple of times until my former boss (not Francis, he likes Hunan Homes for some reason) and I got rancid pork and never went back. We did end up going to Chef Jia which is next door. No one ever listens to me about it, I guess as it’s usually pretty empty. It is leagues better than Nanking though and 1/3 the price.
But, why is Nanking so much busier? If you listen to the tour buses that go by (which having worked across the street for three years in the past, I have listened to many times) they all proclaim, “The best Chinese food in the city!” Likewise, guidebooks generally write it up as a “must eat” (although this is changing) in Chinatown. It’s all this general buzz about it that makes people keep going there as obviously these people who are paid to have the inside scoop must know and if I repeat what they’ve said, then I too must have the inside scoop. Suffice to say, don’t go to House of Nanking. Just look at the reviews on Yelp, sorted by date and read only the San Francisco reviewers. Anyone who recommends it does not have the inside scoop and be wary of all other recommendations.
But, beyond this, who then has the inside scoop? That is a lame topic to which there is a simple answer: no one person. Sure, the people who sift through paperwork filing at a City Hall will know the newest place to come out, but in truth no one knows everything. I have friends who will tell me about one thing at one place that’s great. I trust them, primarily because I ask them, but also because these are places near them that they go to and they’re not trying to cram the knowledge down my throat. People who reel off these lengthy lists of places to see, eat, and drink are the most clueless. They’re just hunting around, spewing out their lists in the hope that someone will take the bait and allow them to feel as if they have some self worth beyond going home and watching reality TV all night.