Saturday, June 23, 2007

Things I've learned in America

Obesity: It must be hard to not get huge here. A lot of people carry a lot of weight. The meal servings are enormous. I had a salad for lunch one day and it was so big I ate half and had the other half for dinner.

TV: Not much on. I feel we get the best of it in Australia anyhow. At night it's all ads for junk food and diet pills. Thank goodness for the Discovery and History channels.

Radio: Mostly "golden oldie" stations. Thank goodness for NPR (National Public Radio), it took me a while to find the local one as the bedside clock radio couldn't separate it from the stronger station next to it. Shops are full of satellite radio receivers which look cute. Analog radios in stores have a note on them saying that analog radio will be replaced with digital within a few years. I couldn't see any digital terrestrial receivers on sale.

It's a great pleasure to hear "A Prairie Home Companion" live on air instead of just the monolog excerpt we get via the podcast.

Walking: For my first few days here, I just tried to walk everywhere. It's really hard, the place is built for cars. In the end I hired the smallest car I could, a Ford Focus.

Driving: It's easier to drive here than in Sydney. The traffic is slower and the lanes are wider. There are excellent left turn lanes, clearly marked. You can turn right though a red light, which saves a lot of time. Even though I'm driving on the other side what what I'm used to I got used to it very quickly. Saw some great arrow traffic lights that change colour. I guess aside from the visual cue of the three lights we could just have one big LED light.

The pedestrian crossings are smart too, if the traffic lights are green your way and you push the crossing button the pedestrian light will go to walk if there is enough time to cross. Even better you often get a count down showing how many more seconds until the lights change so you can judge if it's safe to run.

Cars: are huge, as my colleague Ben pointed out recently. I don't think it's just because some people are big. Folks don't realise that all those big bars on the front of the vehicles don't save lives, quite the reverse. Having said all this, I've seen a lot of hybrid vehicles, not just Toyota but also Honda.

Navigating: While I don't find numbered streets very memorable, the system is starting to become clear. Here in Bellevue, roads running North/South are Avenues, roads running East/West are streets. The huge house numbers are actually a coding that includes the leading digits of the cross road. So 12345 would likely be close to a cross road called 123. I guess there's an assumption of no more than 99 houses on a block.

Shops: Home Depot has totally copied Australia's "Bunnings". Shopping malls are just huge. I even felt like driving to other parts of one, and I like walking! The staff are often rather robotic with a small collection of phrases ending with "have a nice day". If you talk to someone they are really nice. I think the training in customer service must value form over function in some dreadful way.

The local supermarket is Safeway and there is a club you have to join or you pay a much higher price on many items. (The amount varies a lot between products). I looked at the form and it seems you need a local address and you will give up your contact information for this money.

Seems like a very large proportion of shops have signs up saying they are looking for staff. Is there high turnover or something?

People: Really nice when you get to talk to someone. Quite different to the government from what I can tell. The folks I shared an airport shuttle with apologised for their leader. I chastised them for voting for him.

Coffee: Well Starbucks anyway. Unbelievably weak compared to what I'm used to. All bad milk froth. I asked for a double strength tall (which is really small and even then pretty big) to which they said it was already a double, so I got a quad strength, and that was weak. In the end I bought and "french press" (plunger) and find that the local coffee tastes pretty good.

Cheap wifi at coffee shops is a really good idea. Tons of people use it. In the morning there is a queue for the coffee and all the tables have people with laptops doing work on the internet. I don't know why we don't have more of this in Australia. It seems like the whole city is bathed in WiMax for $30 per month for 768Kbps or $37 per month for 1.5Mbs.

Anyhow, I've had a great time but miss the family. I hope I haven't put on too much weight...

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