Monday, December 17, 2012

Peculiarities of America

It may be one of the most influential cultures on earth. As I've travelled around, people ask me what I think of it. My answer, hesitatingly at first, was just "Random". It took me a while to figure out exactly what I meant by that, but I am coming closer to enlightenment. Here are just a few of the things I find extremely random about the USA. Not necessarily bad things, mind you, but things that make me go "huh?" or just make me laugh.

I have been enjoying the placenames. Back home we have the English ones and the Maori ones. A few others scattered, but that's it for the most part. However, over here... crazy hotch-potch of English, Native, and European - the latter largely with very bad pronunciation so that if I say it how it reads as an actual French or German name, no one will know what I'm talking about.

  • Many of your streets are named by numbers and letters instead of meaningful words.
  • House numbers are incredibly high with gaps between, running to the thousands even on short streets.
  • It often costs money to receive a phone call.
  • You name your radio stations and TV channels with random strings of letters.
  • Your flatter areas are infested with water towers - resembling a peculiar combination of a UFO and a mushroom.

  • Recycling and composting are almost unheard of.
  • Nearly nobody walks anywhere, ever.
  • You pay your waitstaff a pittance and rely on the generosity of the public to tip them.
  • Food is so cheap that it's easy to overeat, but woe betide anyone who gets sick.
  • It's not uncommon to get a sweet dessert on your dinner plate beside the main course, and call it salad.
  • There is so much water in your toilet bowls that it may cause unwanted incidents. And dual flushing might as well belong in the next century for all I've seen it here.
  • Dryers are in every house and are used for every load of laundry.
  • Lightswitches flip the other way.
  • Contrary to what I've always been told, it is not rude to refer to someone as "he" or "she" (while they are present) as  opposed to using their name.
  • All but one or two of the places I've laid my head are within hearing of trains. Yet passenger networks represent the least portion of rail traffic and of my 20+ cross-country hops, only four were by train (and it would have been my first choice!)
  • You have so many fast food chains that it's impossible to keep track of them all.
  • Your 4-way stops and right turns on red lights? They terrify me.
  • More than once I've been befuddled by your shower fittings. I've had cold showers. I've had showers under the bath tap because I couldn't figure out how to make the water come out of the shower head. Why didn't I ask for help? Well, perhaps I was in a public hostel, or perhaps I was already in an unsuitable state of attire...
  • Kettles are a rarity. I've had to make my morning cuppa in microwaves, saucepans, coffeemakers and stovetop whistly things. Oh, for an electric kettle sometimes...or a "jug" as we call it back home.
  • Your drivers are definitely wilder in the West.

So how do these things differ from home? In New Zealand...

  • House numbers progress directly from one to the next, either odd or even, without missing any out.
  • Incoming phone calls are always free, no matter your provider and plan.
  • Everyone recycles. Everyone composts. And everyone hangs their laundry on a line, mostly like the twirly one at right. I don't even own a dryer, and there's seven people in my house :P
  • The same minimum wage applies to all jobs, including waitstaff, and tips are not welcomed.
  • We can count our fast food chains on one hand, pretty much.
  • And I suppose we must have water towers occasionally, but they're rare enough to be an oddity. Hills seem to eliminate the need for long-legged tanks.

But of course it isn't just the peculiarities that I've been noticing. There's a lot to like, too! Here are some of my favourite things:

  • Self-serve yoghurt ice cream bars (like Orange Leaf - yum!)
  • Hot homemade pumpkin pie with ice cream (thank you, Chila!)
  • Mexican food (can't get that at home unless I make my own)
  • Meeting writer friends (of course!) including nearly all the people I publish at Splashdown Books, and their awesome families...(waving at Lili!)
  • Train trips. There's nothing like watching the country roll by all day.
  • Buying stuff off Amazon with free shipping!
  • Being with Kat when the first shipment of her new book arrived.
  • Meeting lots of lovely dogs and cats. I want a dog now.
  • Romaine lettuce (Oh the flavour! WHY have I never eaten these at home??)
  • Costco chocolate truffles (THANK YOU Jan and Dan for the introduction!!)
  • Whale watching in San Diego while hundreds of dolphins cavorted around the boat (Yay Caprice!)
  • Incredible restaurants. I know I said above that it's way too easy to overeat, and it is, but the food is still beyond brilliant. Cases in point: Cheesecake rangoons at the Mongolian grill, and mango ice cream at the Indian buffet.
  • Seeing the Espresso Book Machine in action in Portland, Oregon. It downloads the file (of a published book) for printing and creates a complete bound paperback from start to finish in under five minutes. What a buzz to see MY book pop out of that thing! (Click the image to see the full diagram)


  1. Obviously, I'm not going to tackle all of these, but I have to say that *I DO* recycle. And in Florida hanging clothes out to dry? In this humidity??? :P

    As for the address numbers and radio station letters--I'm as lost as you are :).

    And four-way stops...they don't scare me but they annoy me because so many people have no clue what to DO at them.

    We do have the best restaurants!

    And it was pretty dang cool getting my books while you were here! :D

  2. My other big thing is tax! In New Zealand the price on the shelf is the price you pay, no having to guess what the mystery figure at the register might end up being! (I've been informed this is because the Supreme Court decided that making companies incorporate tax into their prices is unconstitutional - really?!)

  3. This is a very insightful post. I've been to the US but would always love to. I think Australia is more like NZ in most of these points.

  4. Grace, fascinating post! I'd love to see one of those expresso book machines in action :) It makes me wonder if the book department in stores is eventually going to look like a photo lab, with customers sitting in front of computers to order their books.

  5. Really interesting and well written blog, Grace! I agree with many of the things you said re the ways the US is different from how things are in Australia as well as NZ, but I loved it there as well the couple of times I have visited.