“Because there are two types of cheese, string-cheese is one of them…”
– A 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.
Why are 10 cent coins smaller than 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 years 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.
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 only 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.