Monthly Archives: January 2015

Not good-bye

I'll miss you, Americana!

I’ll miss you, Americana!

I am so sad to tell my readers that I need to take a hiatus from my Home Strange Home blog. For the very good reason that I am… going abroad again. Yes, really. After just under one year in the US (I started this blog at the end of January 2014), I am once again leaving (those who know anything about me are probably not surprised).

I have accepted a promotion at work to take an eight-month assignment in South Africa and Botswana. So, I will be back! And, I will surely have even more reverse culture shock to freshly blog about upon my return. In the meantime, enjoy America for me.

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Instant banking

Please, no more forms, just take my money!

Please, no more forms, just take my money!

One thing I love about living in the US is how easy it is to get things done here. After nearly one year back in the US, I’m still continuously pleasantly surprised by how convenient and functional everything is. The stores are always open, the customer service is so smooth you barely notice you are parting with your money, things almost always happen when they are supposed to happen, and if not, they’ll make it up to you with a smile, an apology, and a freebie.

One perfect example of this is opening a bank account. I recently opened a checking account with TD Bank. It couldn’t have been easier: I just walked into a nearby branch, told them my information, and voilà, I had an account. They even printed a debit card for me on the spot (but if I wanted checks, I had to order those to be sent to me in the mail). I don’t think I even needed to go into a branch in person; I could have called and opened an account over the phone.

For whatever reason, opening a bank account seems to be much more of a hassle in other countries. Indeed, it can be an uphill battle. In many countries, you need to supply a proof of address in that country in order to open a bank account.

In the UK, I remember struggling to provide this when I first arrived; I didn’t have any utility bill or council tax bill to show, given that I was only renting a room in a shared flat (moreover, I remember being confused and incensed to see that on the list of “valid forms of proof of address,” one of the items was “UK bank statement”… go figure).

In France, during my academic year abroad in undergrad, I made repeated harrowing visits to the bank, clutching onto various slips of paper and struggling to navigate the Byzantine account opening requirements and face the sour-faced clerks in my broken French. I never understood why it was so difficult to get the bank to agree to take my money. 

 

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Public drinking

No need to hide.

No need to hide.

When I first got back to the US in January, I flew into Los Angeles and went to visit a friend in San Diego. He had recently graduated from his Masters degree, and his family and friends were throwing him a big graduation party which I attended.  After the speeches had been made and the parents and relatives had gone home, I stayed on with him and his girlfriend and friends for the after party. I helped grab the bottles of champagne he had received as graduation gifts, and we hopped in his car and headed off to the bar.

As my recently graduated friend turned up the music and drove off, I pulled out one of the bottles of champagne and uncorked it, then went to take a swig from the bottle before jubilantly passing it around. But my party mood was cut short by my friend barking at me, “What are you doing? Don’t you know that’s illegal?!”

Oh, right: open container laws! D’oh. I had forgotten.

In many states in the US, it’s illegal to have open containers of alcohol in public places, including motor vehicles. In the UK, you can buy a six pack of beers at an off-license (corner store), then crack open a can and start drinking from it as you step outside the shop. In the summertime, London’s parks are full of boozing picnickers. In the US, on the other hand, you might catch people “brown bagging” 40 ounce bottles of beer in a flimsy attempt to conceal the fact that they’re drinking from an open container of booze on the sidewalk or in the parking lot. Classy.

Similarly, American motorists in most states aren’t allowed to drink alcohol while driving, nor are their passengers allowed to have open containers of alcohol inside the vehicle. That’s not actually the rule in many countries – in the UK and New Zealand, for example, it’s legal for passengers to consume alcohol in a car; indeed, it’s legal for the driver to drink while driving, so long as they’re not over the blood alcohol limit.

I’d gotten so used to drinking on the road – indeed, what is a road trip without knocking back a few cold beers? – that I’d forgotten it wasn’t allowed state-side. (I’d also forgotten about getting carded for looking under 21.)

Oops. Fortunately when we arrived at the bar, we found a dark quiet corner of the parking lot to polish off the bubbly…

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BBQ

How about a blood sausage?

How about a blood sausage?

Over the summer (yes, that was a long time ago) I was invited to a few barbecues at friends’ places. It brought me back to the barbecues I used to have growing up in Connecticut: slap a few homemade hamburgers and packaged Oscar Meyer beef franks on the grill, top it off with some ketchup, yellow mustard, and relish, and voilà. A simple affair. The barbecues I was invited to this year were similar, grilling up only the basic hot dogs and hamburgers, and serving the usual chips and dip on the side.

I only realized after going abroad that this is a very American version of BBQ. Or rather, a very northeastern American version of BBQ – I’m sure the Texans and southerners and mid-westerners are up to something altogether different. What I, as a New Englander, had always known as a “barbecue” was in fact a pale imitation of what I saw other people putting on elsewhere…

In Britain, it was all about the juicy sausages and shish kebabs; in New Zealand, I ate grilled shrimp for Christmas dinner; the Australian “barbie” featured lamb and steak and prawns; in Tanzania, I devoured mishkaki (“Swahili shish kebabs”) from roadside vendors; and the South Africans – probably the world masters of the braai – left no meat group unrepresented on the grill, the crowning joy being the saliva-inducing spiral of boerewors (sausage).

Somehow the hot dog and hamburger barbecues of my childhood are no longer so exciting. I think I need to dedicate some time to exploring all the American styles of barbecue… any recommendations on where to start?

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