Monthly Archives: August 2014

Mystery month

Americans like to do things their own way. Forget the rest of the world. I blogged already about the American way of telling time. Well, Americans also like to do dates their own way. A fish doesn’t know the water, so yet again this is something I wasn’t even aware of until I moved abroad.

American children are taught to write dates in a month / day / year order. And generally children do what they’re told (and then they grow up into adults). Well, it turns out in classrooms in many other countries in the world (including the Canada and the UK), children are instead instructed to write dates in a day / month / year order. WHOA.

This leads to a lot of confusion. Think about it. What is 06/10/2013? Is that June 10, 2013? Or October 6, 2013? Well, the answer is, it depends – on where you are. This initially wreaked havoc on my personal filing system and records. Because, over time, I subconsciously migrated from writing dates in the US date format to writing dates in the British date format. So, when I saw a date written in my own hand, I wasn’t even sure which system I had used. D’oh.

Eventually I got into the habit of writing out the dates completely, as the French do, with the day and month clearly enumerated as such: 8 avril 2013 (or 8-April-13 or April 8, 2013). Yes, it’s longer to write out, but it saves you time down the road when you’re trying to figure out whether those accounting records you meticulously kept for yourself mean that you bought the stock on January 11, 2009 or November 1, 2009.

To confuse matters further, other countries follow  a year / month / day format (2009/11/1). If you think about it, the American system makes the least sense of all of them, because the units are neither in descending nor ascending order. But, I learned long ago to stop trying to apply logic to many things.

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Filed under Communications, Practicalities

Online shopping

Consumerism at my fingertips in my pajamas, mouhahaha.

Consumerism at my fingertips in my pajamas, mouhahaha.

My family were early adopters of the internet, thanks to my geeky father, who was a computer engineer at Hewlett Packard in the 1980s and 1990s. We had access to the internet in our house as early as 1993. And yes, for the record, we also had a Commodore 64 (which we used to play Paperboy, of course) and my earliest memories of using a computer meant STARTING MS DOS… C:\>_

I was also an early adopter of online commerce. As an enterprising cash-strapped teenager in the late 1990s, I used to make extra money for myself by selling on eBay all the random unused things from our closets, shelves, and attic… books, CDs, video games, and clothing. I must have made around $500 that way… a hefty sum when you’re 18 and yet to earn your own salary.

That was back in the day when eBay was still edgy and people were afraid of buying things online – they would nervously ask, “But is is secure to enter your credit card details on a website?”  Well, a lot has changed in the decade I spent living outside of the US. Nowadays online shopping is not only accepted, it’s the standard. And I’ve gotten sucked right into it.

Before I left the US (for the first time in 1999, and again at the start of 2005 after a one year stint in New York in 2004), I mostly sold things online, on eBay and Amazon and Half.com (which was bought out by eBay in 2000). Since returning to the US, I still sell things online, but now I also BUY things online. What things? Like, everything.

Not only have I gotten into online clothes shopping, but I also buy all of the most random stuff online. It all started when I needed an American-size three-ring binder to organize my American-size papers. I went to buy it at CVS and a 3″ binder cost $10.99. More than a tenner, just for a silly binder? No way.

So instead of buying it at CVS, I went home and looked it up on eBay, and realized I could order it for under $7, shipping included for free, delivered to my doorstep. Later, when I remembered that I also needed a hole punch and  a stapler, rather than go out to the store to buy them, I also ordered them on eBay, for a combined total of under $7.

During my period of initial excitement, which resulted in a flurry of low-value purchases, I did learn one important lesson: avoid ordering items from China. I ordered a stainless steel tea ball for brewing tea – for the grand sum of $0.95 – but it has a tendency to stick shut (I’ll need to replace it by buying a new one, which I’ll do online of course). I also ordered a beautiful flowing white satin dress from China, which turned out to be the crappiest, cheapest, worst fitting piece of sh** I have ever tried on in my entire life. So, I now limit my purchase to US-based sellers.

Long live online shopping! Now let me move over the to the next tab in my browser, eBay.com…

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Filed under Consumerism, Shopping

Coupons

Save $3 when you spend $5... magic.

Save $3 when you spend $5… magic.

Americans love to save. And what better way to save than to spend? Using coupons of course! I am in the process of moving into a new apartment (yes, you will see me at IKEA this weekend) and, as part of that move, I signed up for the USPS mail forwarding service.

I was very impressed that USPS (a) gave me the option to register online for my mail forwarding, (b) offered me the service for free, and (c) as an added bonus, emailed me a “mover’s welcome pack” of coupons to moving-relevant retailers such as Target, Pier 1, Verizon, and Budget rental. Sweet.

I giddily printed them all out, satisfyingly cut them along the dotted lines like a kid in arts and craft class, and proudly tucked them into the file-folder compartment of my wallet. It reminded me of my childhood, when I used to accompany my mother to the grocery store (good old “Super Stop & Shop”). She would inevitably have a chunk of coupons culled from that weeks’ flyer sheets, which always came nestled in the newspaper (that was also back in the day when we used to get a lot more post).

Nowadays of course most coupons don’t even require printing my CVS coupons are sent automatically to my CVS card, and most coupons are read directly from your smart phone. But Americans still love coupons as much as always. Coupons were invented in the US in the late 19th century (first pioneered by the Coca-Cola company) and 48% of American consumers today use coupons (a higher figure as compared to other countries in the survey).

So, let’s get spending! I mean, saving.

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Filed under Consumerism, Money, Shopping

Candied apples

Does this count as one of my 5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables?

Does this count as one of my 5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables?

One of the highlights of my recent trip to the mall was the opportunity to consume one of my childhood favorites: candy apples.  AKA candied apples or (outside of the US apparently) toffee apples. It’s a tart green granny smith apple, dipped in red sugar candy coating, and impaled with a stick inserted in the core as a handle.

I have memories of eating them growing up, especially in the fall season, at Halloween or those traveling amusement parks that would come to town. I also remember there being a scare – in true American fear-thy-neighbor fashion – that some unspeakably evil neighbors had hidden razor blades inside seemingly innocuous candy apples and handed them out to unsuspecting trick-or-treating children. I think it was nothing more than an urban legend, but the fear of poisoned candy was forever branded on my impressionable child’s heart. Having mom cut your candy apple open for inspection was just not the same as crunching that delightful bite directly from the stick.

The apples for sale at the mall were actually caramel apples, not candy apples. It’s a similar idea, but the apple-on-a-stick is rolled in caramel instead of red sugar coating. But these weren’t your normal caramel apples either. These were caramel-apples-on-steroids that had collided with the candy bar rack at the drug store and ricocheted back into your face with diabetic force.

The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Company – a chain I had never heard of before this visit – has evidently taken caramel apples to the next level. Only in America: in addition to the “basic” candy apple and caramel apple (which no one seems to actually order), it serves up caramel apples coated with M&Ms, caramel apples covered with Snicker’s candy bars, English toffee caramel apples, nut-coated caramel apples, rocky road caramel apples, and a so-called “cheesecake apple.”

AND, my personal favorite, my over-the-top-caramel-apple-of-choice, was the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Caramel Apple. Yes, you read that correctly. An apple, covered in sticky caramel, then covered in crumbled up Reese’s peanut butter cups, then covered again in chocolate. Yes, it was as awesome as it sounds.

When I ordered it, the clerk asked me if I wanted it sliced up into pieces. I don’t know how you would possibly manage to eat it without getting it cut, because otherwise you’d have to bite through a one inch thick layer of candy and caramel to even get to the apple’s skin.

That apple made me immeasurably happy. But, it was somewhat offset by the sadness I felt at the fact that: (a) I was the only customer standing in line that was not visibly obese; (b) The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Company had a loyalty card with promotions like “buy four apples, get the fifth free”; and (c) most of the other customers had the loyalty card, were clearly regulars, and were buying multiple apples.

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Filed under Food

One coffee with milk (and waste)

K-CupI drink a lot of coffee at work. (Actually, the words “at work” could be removed from that sentence.) But, sadly, the office doesn’t have a coffee maker with a pot full of warm brewed coffee, or a waitress that comes around and refills my mug.

Instead, the coffee comes from a Keurig machine that makes individual cups of coffee, brewed one cup at a time. You place a “K-cup” (filled with coffee of a flavor of your choice) into the brewer, which punctures the foil lid and the bottom of the cup and forces hot water through the coffee inside, immediately brewing you a single serving of coffee.

What is the obsession with individual servings in America? I feel guilty every time I make myself a coffee, because I know that plastic cup is going into a landfill somewhere afterward, along with all those napkins and plastic utensils.

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Public pajamas

She looks like she just rolled out of bed. Quite literally.

She looks like she just rolled out of bed. Quite literally.

One of the many things I have been readjusting to state-side is the American dress code (or lack thereof). I’ve learned it’s okay to wear baggy, ill-fitting clothing comprised of far too much fabric, and conversely to don short-shorts that use about as much fabric as a handkerchief.

Well, another thing that appears to be acceptable in America is wearing your “house clothes” (the comfy sweat-pant/T-shirt combo that you would normally reserve for couch-potato-ing and ass-scratching) out of the house, or even better than that, straight up wearing your pajamas in public.

I remember when I was living in the UK, around 2010, the whole pajamas-in-public thing became an issue. Tesco, a large supermarket chain, had to ban patrons from wearing pajamas while doing their shopping, for fear of them offending other customers. At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve heard that in more fashion-conscious countries like Italy, women get dressed up to the nines just to go to the corner shop and buy salami.

A good friend of mine from New Zealand told me that’s it’s also common down under for people to pop to the store for milk or cigarettes without bothering to change into a proper outdoor outfit. I really hope that one day someone goes to the department store to shop for pajamas while wearing pajamas… deep.

But regardless of whether pajamas are acceptable public attire in the US (debatable), for sure workout clothes are. My neighborhood is crawling with chicks wearing yoga pants and sports bras and guys wearing running shorts, even when they don’t appear to actually have done/be doing any sport. Gym clothes are just something you wear, regardless of whether or not you’re going to the gym. Just like pajamas can be something you wear, regardless of whether you are going to bed or not.

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Filed under Clothing, Etiquette

Shopping malls

What, you mean this isn't your idea of a fun Saturday outing?

What, you mean this isn’t your idea of a fun Saturday outing?

I went to the mall on Saturday. It was a a whole production, a full day out. My friend, who has a car, drove us out of the city, along humdrum highways, out to the soulless suburbs that housed the sprawling outlet shopping mall. The occasion was: (a) tax-free shopping day in the state of Virginia, and (b) a dire need on both his part and mine for fall clothing (prior to the shopping trip, my wardrobe literally consisted entirely of dresses – I owned one pair of pants).

My day at the mall brought back memories. “Going to the mall” was an integral part of my suburban youth in Connecticut. In high school, teenagers would hang out at the mall on weekdays after school finished. On the weekends, I’d tag along with my Mom to the mall while she did her shopping. It was the thing you did. What else, after all, was there to do in the suburbs?

I forgot how overwhelming the mall can be. A throbbing mass of humanity slowly ebbs through the mall like blood through arteries, except the arteries are artificial tunnels lined with bright shiny distractions and broadcast with muzak, and the blood clots up around corners and on escalators. And the flow slows down for strollers and toddlers and a troop of teenagers and that wobbling obese person in too-tight jeans who struggles to walk from Auntie Anne’s pretzels to Bath &Body Works and is blocking your access to the exit when you really need to get out NOW! Okay, calm down and breathe…

And then there is the food court. The food court is the pumping heart of the shopping mall beast. All those suburban blue-jean blood cells fixed onto plastic swivel seats in between the greasy smell of heat-lamp Chinese noodles and the pepperoni pheromones of Sbarro’s fat triangle pizza by the slice and the sweet cinnamon scent of Cinnabon. My slow loop of the food court reveals a falafel sandwich as the only remotely healthy food item. And there I am, another blood cell, eating my falafel, chomping chomping chomping, before continuing my circuit of the tunnels of consumption, buying buying buying.

I now own six pairs of pants total.

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Filed under Clothing, Consumerism, Food, Shopping