The Odd Thing About America is…

So one question that a lot of Americans ask when they first find out you are an ex-pat living here in the States is “what’s been the weirdest difference you’ve noticed living here?”

I don’t know if this is an honest curiosity, borne out of the fact that a lot Americans have not traveled outside the states, or just a thinly-veiled way to fish for compliments – expecting me to answer “well, mainly just how totally AWESOME everything is!”.

I am not going to waste time here discussing the obvious oddities – walking and driving on the wrong side, the inexplicable aversion to using the letter ‘u’ after an ‘o’, or why there is a completely different color coding scheme for the flavor of potato chips.

Let me home in on a couple of little differences that make America (or perhaps it’s just New York) truly foreign to me:

#1. Every bathroom in a bar or restaurant has a sign – often multiple signs – stating “Employees must wash their hands before returning to work”.

Now let’s just acknowledge, right from the get-go, that this is very sound advice indeed. I have no qualms with my minimum-wage burger-flipper or friendly waitress-hoping-to-be-an-actress both having squeaky clean digits.  On the contrary, I rather like the idea.

But do we really need a sign, people? I mean what backward, out of the way rock are we scraping restaurant staff from under if we have to remind them that we don’t want their poopy hands bringing us our mojitos?

And the real trouble is that, by exclusion, the sign seems to suggest that if you are NOT an employee, well, hand hygiene is really a personal choice. And sadly I have seen many a fella exercising his perogative and going straight from knob to doorknob without so much as a quick wipe on the back of his jeans.

(This is why you should never eat peanuts from a bowl on the bar. Anywhere. Ever.)

#2. While we are in the toilet (where all good humour resides) let’s discuss the water. Forget whether the water flows backwards in the northern hemisphere, I am more intrigued by just how much water there is in the average Yankee crapper.

I mean, the thing is half full for cryin’ out loud. Is there really a need for all that water in the bowl? Are you only doing your business in there, or does it double as a porcelain wading pool for the kids to play in on a summer day?

#3. I am just gonna throw this one out there – What the fuck is with supermarket bread?

When you buy it it’s not even fresh, but then by some freak of nature (aka preservatives) it maintains that same state of semi-staleness for eternity.

I accidentally left some on the shelf when I went to Europe for 16 days and when we got back it had not changed one iota. Not a speck of mould, not a touch drier. That should have been a hazmat situation requiring the CDC’s advice, but instead I just had some toast.

It’s like mould is scared of American bread or something – I think I’ll leave a spare loaf in my shower cubicle to prevent mildew.

#4. So while we are on the subject of expiry dates… Let’s discuss milk.  In NY like most places, milk typically states an expiry date on the bottle. Weird thing is, if it says “sell by May 20”, then it will say underneath (slightly smaller) “in NYC by May 17”.

Ummm.. Say what exactly? It goes off 3 days quicker in NYC? (Maybe it also pays the stupid city tax, so can’t afford to be here a day longer than necessary.)  

Now, I realize they may be trying to account for the lower refrigeration standards and slower delivery process in the city, but when you first arrive, this seems mighty weird! I mean I know how New Yorkers feel about people from Jersey, but seriously… selling them milk that’s past its use by date is a pretty underhanded tactic!

#5. It’s hard to know what you can and can’t do in this country, because most regulatory signs are merely taken as a polite suggestion.

If the pedestrian light says don’t walk, but you can get far enough onto the street that the car will have to give way or else hit you, you walk.

If the sign says no parking, but you figure the traffic cops checked this street yesterday so won’t be back today, you just park anyway. And on streets where it says “don’t honk” you can barely read the sign over the noise, let alone hear anything.

It’s so bad that on some major streets the official city parking signs literally say “Don’t even THINK of parking here”.

Which gets me to wondering, if people don’t follow any signs in this city, then how do I know if my waiter tonight really washed his…..? Ewwwwww, I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.



3 Responses to “The Odd Thing About America is…”

  1. clightnirish Says:

    #2 – As Coleridge said: Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink. Those bathtub toilets present an important danger – splash! Seriously, should we have to line the dunny with bog roll every time? I mean, what is it supposed to be, a fucking instant bidet?


  2. Netty Says:

    Upon my first trip to the US I too was confused with my first visit to the ladies… did I brake the toilet??? Why is everyone else OK that the water keeps on rising up after they flush… Good lord, I’m not even out of the airport and I’ve embarrassed myself by flooding the place.

    Another is that the “entree” is the “main meal” and the “appetizer” (with a “Z” not an “S”) is what I would call the “entree”. What topsy turvy world decides to make the Entree the Main? In my country the entree as the main just means your not that hungry so want a smaller serving.

    And acknowledging that most Americans have not travelled outside of their fair land, therefor = extreme naiveness, for the record… most Aussies live in completely habitable cities and built up areas.. not in the “outback” somewhere shearing sheep, shielding our babies from Dingoes, and throwing a ball to our pet kangaroo. Frankly if I saw a roo in my back yard I would be frikkin AMAZED! It would probably make the local news paper as a surbuan confused roo.

  3. […] privilege.  (The whole process is faster if done in NYC, because milk goes off two days earlier, remember!) Then just name it with this simple formula “COLOR+FRUIT=froyo joint”. You know the […]

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