It’s approaching midnight on Sunday as I write this.
To stay awake I have late 90’s dance music cranking through the headphones (a representative and appropriate example).Tomorrow I will be up at 0530 to go through another week of classes and work. They weren’t lying when they warned us that the first weeks would be tough. The last week has been an overload of information, so much so that I’m living in perpetual fear that the new information has pushed out existing important knowledge, and that tomorrow I will have forgotten how to tie my shoelaces.
The reassuring thing is that all of us are in the same boat, every fellow student I’ve talked to feels the same way. It’s not that we’re dumb, it’s just that we’ve been thrown in the deep end.
In fact, to hell with swimming, we’ll build a yacht instead.
Anyways, this could be a blog about the blurred cycle of lectures, assignments and late night study sessions, but instead it’s about time for part two of the culture shock extravaganza.
The stress of the past week has started to knock me out of the “honeymoon” period and into that phase of being at odds with the differences between here and Australia. Hopefully it’ll pass quickly, if only because with all the work there’s not time to focus on the culture shock. But here’s a few differences that I’ve been noticing.
The Shock of the Shock, Part 2:
(Part 1 is here)
In Texas? You can virtually forget it. The apartments have no recycling service at all, leaving my housemate Jack to gather it all up in a box each week and cart it to a nearby recycling center (an act of kindness for which I am very grateful). But having specific bins for recycling, let alone having the problem where they get filled up to overflowing whilst the normal bins are empty (i.e. my old apartment in Canberra)? Nowhere close. Someone could/should be making a lot of money off of that.
So apparently all liquor stores close on Sunday. Which just happens to be the only day of the week where I have even an hour to go shopping for important staples like whisky. Not that I can really afford whisky (financially or mentally, not with this amount of studying), but it would be nice to know I can kick back with a Sunday Scotch when I need one. If it weren’t for the fact that supermarkets are allowed to sell beer and wine every day of the week I would have gone loco by now.
“How’d you find it?”
Apparently that’s taken literally here. More than one conversation has gone along these lines:
Me: So where did you go on Friday night?
Them: Oh we went to this new bar on Henderson.
Me: How’d you find it?
Them: Well, it’s on Henderson, so it was pretty easy to find. [looks at me weirdly]
Apparently the interpretation that “How’d you find it?” could mean “What were your impressions of it?” is not an American thing. I’m sure there’ll be plenty more of these. We can call them “blog fodder” phrases.
The Metric System (or the lack thereof)
This one was particularly prominent this week, as one of our case studies for homework was about a drinks company, so naturally we were calculating quantities in units of ounces and gallons and fathoms per furlong or whatever crazy made up units they use here. It made simple calculations unnecessarily complex and generally incorrect.
Seriously, the only two countries left in the world that haven’t adopted metric at least to some extent are the USA… and Burma. The mind boggles. So much mental energy wasted trying to convert yards to inches (apparently you multiply by 36, except on Tuesdays where it’s 37). By comparison centimetres per metre is simple. Multiply by 100. The “centi” is a dead giveaway. Working in millimetres? The factor is 1000. Amazing huh?
Look, whilst I recognise that economically it would cost a signficant amount of money to switch a population the size of the USA to the metric system, not doing so will cost even more in the long run. It’s not like the population is getting any smaller.
On a similar issue, all my documents won’t print and need to be reformatted because the default size for paper is A4, and here the Letter format is used. Now to be fair, A4 doesn’t bear any resemblance to any metric quantity. But the mathematics of it are amazing nonetheless. Fold it in half, and you have A5 size paper. Put two pieces together, you have A3. It scales perfectly because of the Lichtenberg ratio. From a graphic design standpoint it’s perfect since everything scales evenly.
But since A4 is unheard of here, all my documents are now in the wrong format for the printer. That and none of the handouts I get in Letter size will fit in my A4 size folders. Cue grumpiness.
Cheques (or Checks – I could do a whole entry on spelling differences…)
Seriously, 1950 called. They want their banking system back. I’ve written more cheques in the past month than in the rest of my life. Again, complexity of economic system, large population, blah blah blah. Just upgrade. Your wallet will thank you.
I am only going to say this once, so listen up.
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP IS NOT SOMETHING THAT GOES IN BREAD.
Actually, amend that:
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP IS NOT SOMETHING THAT SHOULD GO IN ANY FOODSTUFF. EVER.
I could kill for a decent sourdough loaf right about now. Or a Turkish loaf. Or any bread that doesn’t taste like it’s been dipped in sugar. It really ruins the taste of the Vegemite...
Okay, okay, I’m really sounding negative here. But hey, culture shock can be positive right? It’s not all bad?
You’re right. It isn’t. Here’s some positive culture shock. It more than counterbalances the minutia above (1 minutium = 2.617 millithings by the way).
Thank You Notes
They’re ubiquitous. Every guest lecturer, every contact we make at functions, every potential friend that gives you their details, they all get a thank you note (or email). Sometimes even handwritten on fancy stationery. Always personalised, always sincere. It’s the done thing here. I may even write a couple of them after this blog entry is finished.
It’s beautiful and respectful. It’s a habit I really want to make permanent, even if it scares the hell out of the Australians when I get back home. I just need to get hold of some fancy stationery.
If someone sneezes, you say “Bless You”. I grew up doing that (thanks Mum (Mom) and Dad), but in Australia it’s hardly practiced. Not even a sly “Gesundheit”.
Compare that with what I see in lectures here, where a single sneeze provokes a chorus of response. Even the lecturer will stop mid sentence and respond. It’s amazing. Yet another manifestation of the niceness of the people here.
Texans are thankful. Everybody practices great manners, and always goes out of their way to thank you for even the little you may have done. The aforementioned thank you notes are just one little manifestation of it. But it’s everywhere. Gratitude is a way of life here.
And on that note, I’m trying to embrace gratitude. Yeah, there are a lot of differences here, and yeah, I’d love to not have to constantly convert to and from imperial units, to be able to buy Scotch on Sundays, and to eat savoury bread. But in another way I’m thankful that I get to step outside my comfort zone and discover these differences.
Now if you don’t mind, it’s time to get to bed. I’m thankful for the opportunity to sleep, even if it’s only for a few hours.
Observations on music, coffee, and the occasional controversial thought.
Copyright © Gerard Atkinson 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the owner is strictly prohibited.