Wednesday, March 04, 2015

View from the Farce Side: 9 Things This British Expat Loves (And Hates) About America

As an expat with 15 years (and counting) experience of living in America, as I continue to explore the differences between our two nations, I try to cover what is a diverse gamut. Through that process it has become obvious to me that as much as I love the home of my birth, England, there are some things about living in America that are just, well, better. And then there are some things that are just…I’m not certain I can categorize them as ‘worse’, as such, but they are somewhere between ‘quite annoying’ and ‘playfully antagonizing’. But I am smart enough (just about) to recognize that the discomfort these things cause me is really more about me. I didn’t grow up with them, they don’t jive with me culturally, but more than that they just don’t seem to make any sense to me. Even with repeated exposure, they never appear more logical. They’re like an itch that refuses to be scratched. 


In the interests of balance though, as I mentioned previously, there are absolutely some things about America that I find revelatory; things that are so genius yet so simple, that seem so clearly brilliant they deserve a palm to the forehead every time I encounter them. So, in the interests of calibration - so you can get a sense of who I am and where I’m coming from in the unlikely event that I ever get asked to write for this website again - here are just a few of the things I find most irritating, and most inspired, about America.

1. Postage Stamps
Top of the list because self-adhesive postage stamps are THE SINGLE GREATEST INVENTION since water! Seriously, why would any nation put its citizens through the torture of having to ingest half a ton of adhesive glue a year (my rough, entirely unscientific estimate) simply for the purposes of affixing postage to an envelope? America doesn’t. It makes stamps sticky for you right off the roll! Oh yeah, they’re on a roll too!

2. Paper Money - all the same size and colo(u)r 

And then, once they got done perfecting the postage stamp, great American minds went for a lay down and seemingly slept through the ‘develop the best, most interesting, most helpful paper currency you can’ session. Bugger.

3. Drive-throughs 

This is a bit of a double-edged sword for me. On the one hand, America’s desire to make life as easy as possible for its populous is heart-warming. The proliferation and variety of drive-throughs stateside is staggering. I personally have seen, in addition to all of the usual fast food suspects, drive-through liquor stores, glass repair stores, banks and drug stores (think drive-through Boots), and even a drive-through heart replacement surgery. That last one is possibly made-up, but only possibly. It could happen. The reason I have a love/hate relationship with drive-throughs is because of how widely they are abused. When the drive-through line at Chick-fil-A snakes clear around the building 3 times, park your car and walk in, you lazy git! It’s going to take you a day and a half to reach the drive-through ordering speaker, whilst the cashiers inside are probably dusting their registers and perpetually rearranging napkins. So cut the umbilical cord, my American cousins! Trade your truck engine for your own legs occasionally! Come on, you can do it! Actually, ignore that suggestion. It’ll slow down how quickly I am able to get my food order. Carry on.

4. ‘One Hundred Fifty Thousand’

We’re missing an ‘and’ here. Please replace immediately.

5. ‘Weather’

This term is used gratingly - even by diploma’d meteorologists who should know better - to exclusively describe inclement weather, i.e. snow, rain, heavy winds, etc. It’s nonsense. Sun is weather. Rain is weather. A mild day with very little going on worthy of report is weather. It’s ALL weather, people!

6. Substitutions

America doesn’t only provide opportunity for just about any substitution that you wish to make to any meal, they encourage it. It’s almost a challenge, of sorts. Go on, order that Cobb Salad and then change out the bacon for fish sticks, the egg for artichoke, lettuce for newspaper clippings, and can I have a mouth-wash dressing, please? On the side. In a vase. Certainly, sir.

7. Smoking
Mercifully, there is far less of it going on here in America than back home. It’s so nice to not have the faint smell of stale nicotine permeating restaurant upholstery.

8. Pavements

I suspect this is more or a west-side-of-America thing. The eastern side of the country generally encourages you to walk (unless there’s a drive-through window available, obviously), but every state west of the Mississippi (that I’ve so far visited, at least) doesn’t appear to want to waste precious concrete on pavements, not even in neighbourhoods. Remember how you’d get over to your mate's house as a kid? Walk or ride your bike, ether way almost always on pavements (at least until you got a bit older), right? Here in Colorado it seems your options are to drive (which is problematic if you’re still in elementary school) or take your life in to your own hands by walking in the street and dodging everyone else who’s driving.

9. Sales!

Proper, bona fide, huge savingsy-sales! I’m talking 70% off, then another 50% off, then a further 130% off, AND if you buy one you get another one half off! No, FREE! Amazing! Back in England, I remember queuing for hours outside of, well, not naming any names (cough, cough, Next, cough), to fight my way through a melee of crazed, rack-attacking hordes to secure the purchase of a lurid orange jumper two sizes too big for me simply because it was on sale - at 10% off. I was an idiot. Still am - I’m just an idiot with more money in my pocket now, and an even more extensive range of lurid coloured jumpers.

Based upon the incomplete and imbalanced list above, I could see how some might conclude that I consider America riddled with flaws, when quite the contrary is true. I love this country, truly, madly, deeply. The reason I poke fun at its oddities (as I see them) is exactly because of how sincerely I adore it. I feel comfortable teasing America in a manner that I wouldn’t any other country (aside from England) because at the end of the day America is not only my home now, it’s one of my best friends. Admittedly, it’s that lazy friend who won’t get out of his car to collect a burger, makes me dodge traffic in my own neighbourhood, and irritates me with his constant (on purpose?) misuse of meteorological terminology - but, man, does he have the absolute best postage stamps! Love you, ’Merica!

Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for the past 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer, hiking and biking when the weathers good, and when the weathers rotten writing blog entries that he hopes will amuse and entertain. Mark can be followed on Twitter @melchett. Some additional examples of his writing can be seen at the csindy.com.

7 comments:

June Simpson said...

Love your observations :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, June, that's very kind of you to say - Mark :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,

Sorry to wee all over the thing you love most about America but you've clearly been away for too long! Postage stamps over here are now very much very sticky as well! I haven't licked a postage stamp for yonks as it were!!

Smoking - again you've been away too long. Smoking ban. No smoking anywhere public unless it's outside. No smoking outside if on train platforms. No smoking with kiddies in your car. All tobacco products have to be covered from view in shops. You must have heard about all this though surely?!

You can definitely have the Sales thing though! Nothing upon nothing has changed there. The Black Friday thing (is that right?! Anyway I'm sure you know what I mean) was tried over here end of last year. Never has there been such a half arsed sale effort since, well.., the boxing day of the previous year! :-)

Belle

Mark said...

Hi Belle,

Thanks for reading my article, and for your insightful comments. I absolutely sit corrected on the stamps front, although they STILL don't come in rolls back home! ;-)

Also, though I would agree that smoking restrictions have certainly been tightened up in the UK (yay!), all that means (judging by the latest stats) is that fewer people are getting through more cigarettes nowadays. I suppose the fact that they aren't chain-smoking their way through life in restaurants any more now though is a blessing!

Thanks again for taking the time to read my piece!

Lauren Howell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joshua Gaude said...

I have a rule I use for drive throughs. Four or less cars, use it, five or more, go inside. I saw someone on TV do a (more or less scientific) experiment to see which was faster.

Mark Andrews said...

I am so glad I found your blog. I am an expat and have been living in Richmond, Virginia for the past 16 years. I love these observations. Of course, after living here for coming close to two decades my wife tells me I am losing my British accent. I have caught the 'when in Rome' syndrome and now use a bunch of American words and pronunciations. Anyway, interesting point on "pavements." Here in the 'burbs of RVA, pavements (or sidewalks--incidentally the pavement is actually the road surface) are few and far between. I have to take my life in my hands to walk to the local grocery store. A quart of milk (can't really find pints here) of milk (1 quart being two pints) isn't worth dying for. Gosh - there are other things that drive me crazy about American culture but equally things I absolutely love and really miss them when I'm in England.

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