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So many questions, so few answers…


A few questions about the USA that are hard to find answers for.


“Because there are two types of cheese, string-cheese is one of them…” – Woman explaining to her elderly mother why the cheese section of the supermarket was so large.

We have been in New York for a month now and each time we’ve relocated to another country this year I’ve written what we have liked and haven’t liked, enjoyed and haven’t enjoyed, and some general observations after a month of living there, be it India or Germany. However, this time it’s going to be different.
I have written several times about the positives and negatives of life in the United States during our first couple of weeks here, but there is something else that needs to be addressed; The countless unanswered questions. Every day Anna and myself find ourselves asking “Why….?”, but can not think of a single plausible reason besides the fact they just want to be different. There are things we were prepared for before our move to New York, such as the different vocabulary and spelling, the refusal to adopt the metric system, their insane paranoia about everything and even more insane portion sizes in restaurants.

But there were a ton of things we weren’t expecting. Sure, some of these are quite fickle, but they can make day-to-day life a little confusing until you adapt. Please don’t think of this as a ‘hate’ post or think we’re having a bad time, we’re just confused by everyday things, such as:

  • Why do all electrical goods run on a different voltage to the rest of the world?
    It’s not just the plugs that are different, the voltage is, too. All electronics here run on 110 volts, which means we can’t use them in any other country unless we buy a converter, which isn’t a particularly safe option, either. We have just finished furnishing our apartment, but when we purchase anything electrical we have to get something we can either sell or dispose of next July without breaking the bank.
  • Why is all of the money green?
    I was already aware of this, but I didn’t realise how difficult it made things. You really need to look carefully at each note when you’re spending money and it’s even harder after a few drinks. Almost every country in the world has notes of various colour, as opposed to extremely similar shades of the same colour. I asked a person I was drinking with about this and his response was, “It just looks better, more formal”. I’ll take function over form any day of the week. I realise that the money in Australia looks like it was designed by the offspring of Ernie Dingo and Elton John, but at least if I need to find $20 I just pull out an orange one, rather than a handful of green ones and check out the numbers.
  • Five cents on the left, a dime on the right.

    Five cents on the left, 10 cents on the right.

    Why are 10 cent coins smaller that five cent coins? And why doesn’t it say “10 cents” anywhere on it?
    Logic would dictate that if you had two objects made of the same material, the larger of the two would be more valuable. Not in the good ol’ US of A. If you take a look at the picture to the left, the smaller coin is worth twice as much as the bigger coin, they just forgot to write it on the coin. I guess we’re just expected to know how much a ‘dime’ is worth.

  • Why isn’t sales tax ever included in the price?
    If it’s a large purchase, you’re never really 100% sure how much it will cost you until you get to the checkout, or you just plain forget it is necessary. I needed to buy some screws to put up a shelf so I went to the hardware store and found them for 99¢. Perfect, I gave the guy a dollar, but then I remembered sales tax. Oh yeah, that makes it $1.08, going to have to break a twenty…
  • Why are the ‘Enter’ and ‘Cancel’ buttons on ATMs reversed?
    We both keep instinctively cancelling transactions and it is really frustrating.
  • How is tipping an appropriate way to earn a wage?
    I understand it is supposed to encourage good service, but it is such an archaic payment system when it is just expected. It’s confusing and difficult to know what’s expected and to calculate it, because if you get it wrong you will get called “an asshole” quite loudly. It’s even dumber when a suggested tip is calculated and printed on the bill/check. Just add it to the total. Or, even better, just increase the minimum wage. Why should I be expected to pay you a dollar for each beer you pour me, that’s your boss’ responsibility, not mine.
  • Why do service staff keep checking to see if I’m “doing okay”?
    I was doing fine, but each time you ask me I get slightly more irritated, which may eventually affect your tip. And surely you can’t be that cheerful all of the time.
  • Why are rich people usually thin, but the poor are generally fat?
    Historically, it’s always been the reverse. I guess it’s because fruit and vegetables are more expensive than junk food. Six dollars for a container of berries or 10 nuggets for $1.49 (plus sales tax) and why buy a can of coke for a dollar when you can get a dozen for three dollars, which is also the price of two bottles of water? Okay, I guess I managed to answer this one.
  • Why is cheese orange?
    I absolutely love cheese, so I find it disturbing when you go into a supermarket and see that most of the cheese is orange. This is how it comes in some restaurants, too. Also, cheese should never come in a can, but that’s another option here, as well.
  • Why is the letter ‘H’ silent when at the beginning of words?
    It’s “a herb”, not “an ‘erb”.
  • Why does everything move the opposite direction?
    To turn on lights I need to switch them up to, what has been for almost 36 year to me, the ‘off’ position. The same if you need to turn something or unlock it, it has to be the opposite direction to what I’ve always been taught.
  • Why don’t the living rooms of apartments have ceiling lights?
    When we were checking out apartments we noticed they have no ceiling lights in the living room and a lot of them had none in the bedroom, either. Ours has neither. We asked around and friends, family members and real estate agents all agreed that this was par for the course.
  • Our little liquid buddy.

    Our little liquid buddy at home.

    What’s the deal with toilets?
    They are so small, yet so deep! Also, they don’t have buttons to flush them, they have these weird handles. Public toilets are even worse and anyone who knows me knows how much I hate doing a number two in a public toilet. The cubicles here have gaps in the walls that allow you to inadvertently make eye contact with a stranger during your most personal moments. Also, they are generally situated right next to the urinal, thus if I am taking a leak in the urinal and I do anything but stare straight ahead I can see over the wall! Basically, if you want to know how it feels to be a man taking a piss in a public toilet in Manhattan, think of the uncomfortable feeling of being in an elevator. Now imagine that, but you’ve also got your junk in your hand.

  • Why is there such a high percentage of crazy people talking to themselves?
    Over the years I’ve quite often seen people talking out loud when there is nobody around and thought “That person’s talking to themselves”, only to later realise that they were using a bluetooth headset and I didn’t just think it, I actually said it aloud, therefore making me the crazy one. However, there are so many crazy nutjobs here ranting to themselves extremely loudly and they clearly can’t afford phones, let alone bluetooth headsets. Each time we see one, which is several times a day, Anna or myself call “Bluetooth” so the other can try and spot them, too. It’s a fun game.
  • Why are there so many commercial breaks on TV?
    They cater to several demographics, too, the main one being “The stupid”. Almost all of the ads are either for junk food, beer, medication, cars or lawyers. The medication commercials are hilarious if you aren’t a paranoid hypochondriac, with most of them advising you to “Ask your doctor for [insert name here] prescription medication”, followed by a one minute spiel of possible side-effects, with one of the side-effects most commonly mentioned being “Suicidal thoughts and actions”. Generally, it is the doctor’s job to tell you what medication you need, not the other way around.
  •  Do New Yorkers understand that Italians invented both pizza and pepperoni?
    I saw an article written in TimeOut New York that said “There is nothing more New York than pizza”. Do you think TimeOut Florence would write “There’s nothing more Florence than the NFL”? When you ask someone if they’ve had pizza in Italy, they will generally say something to the extent of “I don’t need to to know it wouldn’t be as good as Noo Yawk‘s”.
  • Why does everything need to be ranked? And what’s with the overuse of superlatives?
    Everything here claims to be “Number 1” or “The Best”. Magazines and TV shows constantly have the Top 10 everything.
    “So, what is a superlative?”, I hear you ask. Well, here is a quick English lesson:
    – An adjective describes something: “Australia is a big  country.”
    – A comparative compares two or more things: “Canada is bigger than Australia.”
    – A superlative tells you the highest rank according to the adjective: “Russia is the biggest country in the world.”
    People here use superlatives for everything; The biggest, the best, the longest, the most expensive, the list goes on. There are three pizza shops near my house that claim to have the best pizza in New York, but that is statistically impossible. Ask anyone about anything and they will tell you where to find the best. People here need to learn the difference between “The best” and “My favourite”. Also, being the best in the USA doesn’t necessarily mean the best in the world. I definitely preferred my pizza in Italy, although the one here are nice, as well.
  • Why do forms for official government documentation have numbers instead of names?
    I came to New York as a dependent of Anna and need to get a work permit before I can get a job. If only it were called a “work permit”. Instead, I need to decipher this (and, yes, that is their help page). If you can’t be bothered opening the link, here is the lowdown:
    – Because Anna has a J1 visa and I have a J2 visa, I first need to fill out Form I-765, give a copy of Form I-94, and a copy of my last EAD if available, plus two photos. If I want to receive notification electronically I need to fill out Form G-1145.
    Doesn’t this make a little more sense?:
    – Because Anna has a work permit and I don’t, I first need to fill out an application for a work permit, give a copy of my arrival card, and a copy of my last work permit card if available, plus two photos. If I want to receive notification electronically I need to fill out e-notification application.
  • Why are college athletes treated like celebrities?
    They are nothing more than students with an extra-curricular interest.

Well, these are all of the questions that immediately come to mind and for the most part the answer to about 90% of them is ‘money’. However, over the course of the next eleven months I am absolutely certain there will be a sequel to this post.

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About Dr. Tan's Travels (96 Articles)
My name's Tim. I'm a freelance writer and former ESL teacher from Melbourne, Australia, who taught in Daejeon, Korea for six months in 2007 and, until February 2015, had taught in Singapore for seven years. My wife, Anna, is an ophthalmologist. Between March 2015 and July 2016 we spent a month in Pondicherry, India, three months in Bonn, Germany, and 12 months in New York before returning to Singapore, all for training and work placements for her. The reason I wanted to keep this blog is because I suffer from epilepsy and have a terrible memory, therefore this would be a great way to help me remember our travels. I will do my best to keep it updated and even continue writing now that we're back in Singapore, but there is one problem; I have a pretty severe phobia of anything medical.

14 Comments on So many questions, so few answers…

  1. Yea, sounds like you have it all figured out. Maybe we should just change everything in America to match the rest of the world, wouldn’t that be unique. With all of your brilliant ideas maybe we should just dump the whole “Constitution thing” and appoint YOU President for life!

    It seems your long list of “likes and dislikes” in America contains much more “dislike” than “like”, other than the NY Pizza you mentioned (which was also listed as not up to your standards) I didn’t see much mention of anything you actually “like” about America.Makes one wonder why exactly you chose to ask permission to come here in the first place. (You know, the whole “Visa” thing)

    In truth, you sound like the oh-so typical Euro-socialist whiners that flock to The United States of America by the millions every year. Having traveled a bit myself, I can tell you that your criticisms and “suggestions” for the betterment of the entire United States of America is pretty much a verbatim regurgitation of the socialist propaganda you have been spoon-fed. Australia, England, Beijing, it’s all the same, almost like listening to a recording. Devoid of anything original, much less individual.

    So I welcome you to enjoy the many benefits that The United States of America does provide during your short visit here. Many rugged individualists who had original ideas and beliefs built this Great Nation so you and many others could come here and criticize to your heart’s content. We even fight and pay with American blood for you and the world to have that right, but I reckon we’ll be keeping most of the things you listed under “dislikes”.

    Especially the “different” part.

    Like

  2. Oh I did in fact pay close attention to your opening paragraph, in fact it was that paragraph which prompted my response for the most part.

    As to answering your questions; If I was so inclined, I could easily answer each question replete with historical and technical references and citations, (If technical “answers” are what you seek, there’s this thing called GOOGLE) but I reckon I’d be wasting my time and my breath. I’m pretty sure you are well entrenched into the indoctrination you have been immersed in your entire life.

    Would you actually value the answers given by an “insanely paranoid” American who “refuses to adopt the metric system” (to the utter shock of the entire world!) and stands in direct opposition of most of what you espouse? I think not. Somehow, I don’t think it was “answers” you sought at all when you posted this public display of irreverent ignorance. In truth, I actually doubt that you are even aware of how offensive and detached from reality you actually are. In my not so humble opinion, your ignorance precedes you. Attempting to persuade you of anything else, would be an exercise in futility that I will not bother to undertake. As I said, I’ve seen and heard this all many times before .

    But I will bother to remind you of this much; I kinda figured even the mention of “paying with American blood” would be enough to preclude any further typical Euro-socialist whining from you on this matter. I gave you an “easy out” but instead of bowing out gracefully, you chose to repeat the patterns that make you so obvious to everyone but yourself. But I’ll accept your typical back-peddling rhetoric (Definition: language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience, but often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content.) and diversion tactics as proof of my point.

    Whether you intended to or not when you posted this entry, you have insulted an entire Nation, the very Nation you are a GUEST of. While you have the right to do so here in The United States of America, (which I and others fully support) you make a fool of yourself by publishing your ignorance on a worldwide platform. In essence, I am doing you a good ol’ “Yankee” favor.

    Somehow, I doubt you’ll see it that way. But take it as you will.

    G’day

    Like

  3. Tim and Anna,

    First, my apologies. I have not set a very good example of what a proper American actually is, and I hope you’ll allow me to attempt to do a better job now. I should have welcomed you both with open arms to America, you and your wife. I should’ve presented a more optimistic aspect of living in America and emphasized the many freedoms that we share every day. I should’ve pointed out the many benefits and differences that make America truly the greatest nation in the world. In truth, my wife and I are both very proud of our nation. Despite her current difficulties.

    I could have and should have presented a more optimistic and welcoming reply in my comments, and I still extend the warmest of welcomes to you and your wife. But I have grown very weary of the typical empty rhetoric of the blanket statements you plastered throughout your post. Furthermore, I am not known for my subtlety.

    So by all means, welcome to America! And while you’re here, take a little time to actually study and research the truths behind the foundations of this great nation. By all means, think for yourself, act for yourself, be yourself. That’s exactly what America is all about.

    But tread softly my friend, this is not Australia. And this is not England. And this is also not Beijing, China. We do everything differently here. And we don’t take kindly to outsiders such as yourself coming in as guest of our nation to benefit yourselves while you slander the very institutions that you benefit from. If you intend to “dislike”anything about this nation, make damn sure you are prepared to back it up with much more than empty rhetoric and whining woven into the guise of “questions”. As an American, I for one will be here to challenge you on that BS.

    If you take anything with you when you leave this country, I hope it is the understanding that we are clearly different from all other countries and nations of the world.

    And we intend to keep it that way.

    G’day

    Like

    • Apology accepted. When I first read your comments I was a little confused; I was clearly dealing with a rather intelligent, albeit extremely patriotic person, so it was a little perplexing as to how this could have been misinterpreted as a list of things I hate, especially when I addressed that at the very beginning, rather than as a list of things that are done differently in the USA that WE will need to adapt to while we are here.
      I’ve always been an inquisitive person and if someone asks why, that doesn’t mean they hate or refuse to accept something. Maybe there are strong benefits to using 110v on electrical products, as opposed 240v. Maybe it’s a healthy pasteurisation process that makes cheese orange, I don’t know and that is why I’m asking.

      Here is a perfect example of the kind of answer I was expecting and the kind I got:
      My wife is Singaporean-Chinese, but most of her family live in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The first time I had ever ventured overseas was in 2004 when I went to visit her family in Singapore and Malaysia. Upon visiting her Grandmother in KL, I learnt that some households still used squat toilets, something I had never encountered before and something incredibly difficult for me to use. I remember asking:

      “Why do you use a squat toilet? Wouldn’t it be easier to sit, especially when you are an 80 year old woman?”

      Now, which of these two answers do you think I received?

      1) “Because, traditionally, we have always done it that way as many Asians believe that it is a more natural position to be in and it puts less pressure on the abdomen, thus making it healthier.”

      2) “Do you expect us to renovate our bathroom just because you are staying here for the weekend?!? Typical Malaysian hate-speech, I can’t believe we welcomed you with all of that food!”

      Obviously the answer I got was number 1, the same form of answer out of the two that I was expecting if anyone actually took the time to read this blog post and comment. I am just curious, but am in no way expecting things here to be changed, I know that I am the one who has to adjust.

      One more thing; Hardly anyone reads this blog, it is mainly so my family and friends back in Australia know where we are and what we are doing. My family don’t travel internationally. Before our wedding my father had never been to an airport before! This is mainly for them so they can learn the world is different outside of their little town. Also, to quote the “So, why are we here?” section of this blog, “The other reason I wanted to write this is that I suffer from epilepsy and have a terrible memory, therefore I figured this would be a great way to help me remember this trip”.

      I appreciate your apology, however, you don’t need to be so defensive and think that people hate America, just because they question something. We are having a great time here! Last night we celebrated a friends birthday in a flamenco bar, tonight we are going to the 20th anniversary public screening of “Mallrats” with a Q&A with Kevin Smith and tomorrow we’re going to see Refused and Faith No More at Madison Square Garden. This is a great place and we’re enjoying every second of it, but sometime we just get curious about things!

      Like

  4. Lol Whomis this guy? How did he find you? I think you got yourself a pro America stalker. Lol

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can’t see what they wrote??

    Like

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. So many questions, so few answers, pt. 2 | Dr. Tan's Travels
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