Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

My 2014 Year in Blogging

My blog was viewed about 8,300 times in 2014! Not too shabby.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for Home Strange Home, which you can view by clicking below.

Click here to see the complete report.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A jug of coke

I was looking to slake, not drown, my thirst.

I was looking to slake, not drown, my thirst.

DC is baking hot in the summer. I love it. But sometimes I get a little thirsty as I beat the hot pavement blocks. So I stop into the 7-11 or corner shop to buy myself a can of diet coke and quench my thirst.

The thing is, there never is just a can of diet coke for sale. Inevitably, the fridge is stacked full of those large 20 ounce bottles of soda. Why does everything have to be so BIG?

Who drinks that much soda? Even if you wanted to drink 20 ounces of soda, it would likely go flat before you reached the bottom. You’d have to chug it. And it is so unpleasant – for the drinker and for the environment – to drink from plastic. Eww.

I really miss drinking soft drinks from the reusable glass bottles that are commonplace in Africa. I swear the coke tastes and feels better in a bottle. Given the choice, I’d choose in this order: (a) bottle, (b) can, (c) plastic.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Every home needs a kettle

The most magical appliance I ever met.

The most magical appliance I ever met.

I just made myself a cup of tea. I did so by boiling water in a metal kettle on the stove top (or on the “hob,” as the Brits would say). While I enjoy the old-fashioned nature of this exercise, every time I do it, I miss the white plastic electric kettle I had in London.

The electric kettle is the most useful, practical, and efficient kitchen device that every single British home has by default and uses on a daily basis and that no American home seems to know exists and lives perfectly happily without. Ignorance is bliss.

But, once you’ve had an electric kettle, you can’t go back.  It is a life changer. I don’t understand how most American homes survive without it. When my parents made tea, they would put a tea bag in a mug, fill the mug with cold water, and stick the mug in the microwave. If a British person saw that, they would cringe.

After I had been living in the UK for a few years, I tried to persuade my mother of the value of an electric kettle. She was not getting it. So I decided to buy her one as a gift. I made the mistake of purchasing it in the UK and shipping it to the US. Because of the different voltages in the two countries (the US is 110 volts and the UK is 220 volts), the kettle wouldn’t even bring the water to a boil.

“It doesn’t work!” she said. I swear, Mom, it is a very useful device, it just isn’t the right voltage. My attempts at persuading my mother were clearly not working. It’s like when you take a group of friends to your favorite restaurant and that ends up being the one night you get bad service/food. I swear guys, this restaurant is normally excellent, I don’t know what is going on tonight.

One explanation I’ve heard for why American households aren’t as likely to have electric kettles is that Americans drink more coffee than tea. So, while for the Brits an electric kettle is an indispensable device for their ritualistic tea consumption, for Americans, an electric coffee maker makes more sense as a staple household appliance. And indeed, most American homes do have a coffee machine;  I use one every morning to make my coffee. In British homes, on the other hand, I infrequently saw coffee makers (at least not electric ones; some people would have manual French coffee presses).

My counter-argument to all this is that electric kettles aren’t just for making tea. They are designed for quickly and easily boiling water, for all its myriad purposes. It’s so much faster to boil water in the electric kettle and dump it into a pot (to make spaghetti, for example) than it is to slowly wait for water to boil in a pot on the stove. I’m telling you, American readers, just get an electric kettle. You will never look back.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

More napkins, please

Shhh. I think I can hear the environment dying.

Shhh. I think I can hear the environment dying.

One major peeve of mine which has gotten pet a lot since I returned to the US is gratuitous wastefulness.  I’ve already written about excess packaging, the proliferation of disposable utensils, and individually wrapped products.

Well, I feel like paper napkins deserve their own post. It seems I can’t go to any lunch place without ending up with ten more napkins than I ever needed or wanted. Unless if I spill something, I don’t see why I would need more than one napkin per meal. Maybe two at most.

And yet the default allocation seems to be at least five napkins per customer per meal. Your bagel sandwich comes in a paper bag stuffed full of paper napkins; your salad is served to you on a tray with a pile of napkins on the side; and even if you order just a drink it is sometimes given to you with a napkin (?).

And the saddest thing is, once these napkins have been given to you, it is as though they have been “used,” even if you never touch them. You can’t shove them back into the napkin dispenser. So what do most people do? Throw them away. What a waste, all the more terrible for its sheer pointlessness.

Whenever possible, I try to stop people from giving me napkins in the first place. But many times, it’s unavoidable. In that case, I keep the napkins and bring them home to use at the house in lieu of purchasing, say, paper towels. Or, you could do like people in the developing world do, where they can’t afford wastefulness – not use any paper products at all, and simply wash your hands before and after the meal.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Basket of fried fun

Fried = fun.

Fried = fun.

One evening I went with a group of friends to a local dive bar, the sort of place where pitchers of beer are cheap and college students are abundant. We were all a bit hungry, so we had a look at the “menu,” which consisted of about five items: fried chicken, fried fish, french fries, onion rings, and mozzarella sticks. (Notice the common theme: FRIED.)

And there was one mysterious item on the menu: “Basket of Fried Fun.” Of course I had to order this. It turns out all of their menu items are served in a plastic basket lined with grease-blotting paper and no utensils (your hands are your utensils). The “Basket of Fried Fun” is simply such a basket containing a (delightful) combination of all of their fried food offerings, piled into heart-attack inducing bundle of joy. Yes, it was fried, and yes, it was fun. Only in America.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Freon breeze

Now which one of these best simulates 5 degrees below the outside air temperature?

Now which one of these settings best simulates five degrees below the outside air temperature?

It’s a beautiful spring day, sunny and warm. A lovely day for a drive. You hop into your friend’s car and as he/she pulls out of the garage, you’re looking forward to that fresh breeze blowing in your face as the car rolls down the road, working up to a wind that whips your hair as you hit the highway on-ramp. 

WRONG. Try rolling up all the windows and flipping on the air conditioning. Because why would you want to be exposed to a temperate outdoor climate of 72°F when you could recreate an artificial 67°F inside a closed box? Why enjoy a comfortable natural outdoor temperature when you could be a bit goose-bumpy at the flick of a switch? 

Americans love air conditioning. In their houses, their offices, their shopping malls, and especially their cars. Many places in the US become excessively hot and muggy in the summer, and you don’t want to be sweating buckets – I get it. But I feel like the excessive (ab)use of air conditioning is a typically American practice. It becomes a default action – Step 1: get in your car, Step 2: turn on your air conditioning – even when it’s totally unnecessary.

How about we give mother nature a chance?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Apples getting the egg treatment

To protect my sensitive skin.

To protect my sensitive skin.

I’ve been spotting lots of odd things in the produce section of my supermarket. Not only do all the fruits and vegetables look frighteningly perfect and alike, but they also seem to be adorned with an unnecessary amount of packaging. This seems to be increasingly common practice in the US.

To me it seems like fresh, uncut fruit and veg should not have any packaging. I mean, correct me if I’m wrong here, but don’t most agricultural products come with their own natural built-in packaging? Like, um, a banana has a peel. An avocado has a skin. A nut has a shell. A cob of corn has a husk. And look how nicely grapes are already bunched together by mother nature.

I don’t really get why an apple, which has a skin protecting its flesh, needs to be encased in a plastic orb like a delicate egg. Frankly, when I shop for apples, I usually don’t even bother to put them in a plastic bag; as long as the cashier can weigh them at the register, I see no reason why they can’t get thrown directly into my larger shopping bag, along with the box of cereal and bunch of carrots.

I’ve (mis)treated my fresh foods in this way many a time and I’ve never lamented the lack of packaging. It is only certain delicate fruits like raspberries or strawberries that need to be encased in a punnet. For most other produce, it seems to me like an absurd environmental tragedy to take what is normally a completely biodegradable product and make it into a waste-producing product.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Photo ID, please

I can’t count the number of flights I have taken; surely it must be in the hundreds after all my years of traveling and living abroad. But one thing is for sure: the vast majority of these flights were international flights. Because I left the US when I was 18, and since I traveled very little before that – an occasional visit to grandparents in the Midwest, or a childhood visit to Disney World – I had only taken domestic US flights a handful of times.

For me, I’ve always associated getting on a plane with going to another country. When I lived in London, compact and multinational Europe was at my doorstep and I’d hop on flights to diverse destinations from Amsterdam to Zagreb. In Liberia, there simply were no domestic commercial flights, so any time I boarded a plane, I was by definition going out of the country.

So every time I’m preparing for air travel, my mental check list of things to do always starts with “Do I have my passport? Check.” But the US, it turns out, is really darn big. And you can fly for quite a long time in any number of directions without even coming close to an international border.

So when I flew to Texas last month, the first thing I thought as I was packing my bag was: “I can’t forget my passport.” But wait a minute. I’m not going abroad. I’m only going to another state. Do I even need my passport? I asked my friend and she said I could just use my driver’s license. Dubious, I asked her, “Are you sure that is going to work?” She laughed at me.

I had never before gotten on a plane with just my driver’s license. Somehow it just didn’t seem legit. I mean, a driver’s license seems so much easier to fake or falsify than a passport. It surely is. But, the issue is that only 35% of Americans actually have passports. If you’re surprised by that figure, it has gone up substantially since 1989, when under 3% of Americans were passport holders, according to Forbes. That increase is due largely to the post-9/11 requirements for US citizens to have passports to travel to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda; previously, Americans could go to those countries by presenting only a driver’s license or other photo ID.

Still feeling nervous about potentially getting turned back at the airport, I decided to go ahead and pack my passport as a backup. As I shuffled to the front of the security queue, I had my driver’s license ready, and my passport in my back pocket. When I proffered my little piece of plastic in response to “Boarding pass and photo ID please, ma’am,” it worked just fine. Ha. Imagine that.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized