Saturday, September 5, 2009

Little things

I've been in Florida for just over a month now, and while it's easy to focus on the big differences (huge thunderstorms, palm trees everywhere, people talking in strange accents, and everything being so much bigger), it's often the small things that make all the difference.

Take light switches, for example. They're all upside down. Down is off, and up is on. Well, the ones on the walls, anyway. The ones on lamps are strange twisty things instead of clicky pushy ones, which requires way more digital dexterity than I can manage last thing at night.

Now, coffee. We all know Americans are coffee experts. So, you want a cup of coffee. You boil the kettle, then you... uh, hold up there. The kettle? They don't have kettles here. If you want hot water, you boil up a pan of the stuff on the stove. If you're really classy, you can get an old-style kettle for the stove, like my great-grandmother used to have. You can go to Wal-Mart and choose from one hundred and sixty-three different models of coffee machine, but they offer precisely one type of electric kettle. They have machines for just about everything else in the kitchen, but not for making hot water. Weird.

This, my dear American friends, is a kettle...

... this is a piece of antiquated steam-age technology.

If you really want to confuse them, use a 24-hour clock. You'd have thought, given how militarized this place is, that they'd all understand what time 1645 is. But no. Seventeen hundred hours, sure, you can probably get away with that. But most of the time you're best off sticking with 12-hour clocks.

And then there's driving. Most of my driving in the US has been in California, and it's not quite the same here. As Maus pointed out, in Florida, they drive on both sides of the road. However, I haven't been brave enough to try that yet, and I'm sticking to the right for the time being.

Let's start with speed limits. As my instructor pointed out to me regularly, the speed limit means the maximum you can drive at. It doesn't mean you have to do that speed. And ever since I got pulled over for doing 32mph in a 30mph zone, I've always been seriously careful to stay below the speed limit. not on it. Here, though, it basically means that's the required speed. And since you don't get prosecuted until you're 5mph over the limit, the required speed is actually somewhere between 3.5mph and 4.5 mph over what it says on the sign. Drive at the speed limit, and you're likely to find yourself hauled over for driving suspiciously, holding up traffic, un-American activities, and anything else they can think of. 5mph over, and you're a dangerous lunatic who deserves to be run off the road. Since the speed limit changes every couple of hundred yards, the age of the computer-controlled car with sensors that know the current speed limit and adjust your speed accordingly cannot come fast enough.

No this isn't a local sign, but I loved the pic.

I was also fairly rapidly introduced to the concept of the "California stop". They have these STOP signs all over the place, which I've always understood to mean that you slow right down, pause, and then take your turn before proceeding. Not so in Winter Park, apparently. That's a California stop, and it's Bad. Very, Very, Bad. Here, STOP means STOP. Come to a complete halt, recite the Lord's Prayer under your breath, and then move off. Failure to stop at a stop sign is a monumental vehicular crime, the magnitude of which can only be compared to mowing down a crowd of school kids and war veterans in the midst of pledging allegiance to the flag during a Sunday church service on a site of national historical significance, and then smashing into a state memorial. Or hijacking the mayor's personal golf cart. Roll through a stop sign and it's Stop, Do Not Pass Go, Go Straight To Jail, Do Not Collect $200. Well, pay $200, or $400 if they feel like it. But you get the idea. And why do they have such odd amounts for parking fines? At the Winter Park Village, if you park in a handicapped space, the fine is $212, except in the space nearest the door of the shop, where it's $213. That makes sense. Don't park in that space, honey, it's an extra dollar if they catch you. Riiiiight.

Speaking of golf carts, though, the Winter Park police ride around in them. This is a country club city, so they fit in well. And in Orlando itself, they have bicycles. That's cool too. Up the road in Seminole Country, whoo-boy, that's a whole different story. The Sheriff's Department got a load of money from Jeb Bush a few years back, and they spent it on buying tanks. Yup, I said cops in tanks. Run a red light in Seminole, and you can have a 76mm shell up your tail-pipe and 5000 rounds of machine gun ammunition in your gas tank in under 3 seconds. (Actually, that might count as quite a big difference between here and England.)

And why, for God's sake, why is all the money the same size? It makes life so easy to sort your cash out when the notes are different sizes. I keep thinking I've got down to a small stack of dollar bills, and then I find a twenty in there. Or else I'm rifling through, hunting for the fifty I've lost in the middle of them.

Mind you, some things are considerably more complicated than they at first appear. I've just about got my head around the fact that courgettes are zucchini and aubergines are eggplants. Except, apparently, in posh restaurants where they're courgettes and aubergines. I guess it's like fancy restaurants in England where they give things French names, so you feel stupid if you don't know the foreign words. "Would Monsieur care for some pommes frites with his poulet avec fromage?" Uh, yeah, cheesy chicken & chips will do fine, thanks. Fries. Whatever. Oh, and there's a Science Center and an Arts Centre. See, it's classier in English. But they still don't understand if you ask them to hold the tom-AH-to. It's tom-AY-toes or nowt.

Still, I seem to be surviving well enough.

Seriously, though, you know what's really different? Not having goddamn CCTV cameras everywhere you go, on every street corner, every road sign, every shop, and every public building, recording your every move and keeping tracks on everywhere you go. Now that, I like. A lot.


catastrophegirl said...

yeah, i'm soo glad moved away from FL before they got the tank.
you'll adjust eventually, although that's not necessarily a good thing.
on an unrelated note, i was unpacking today and found a dress your beloved once borrowed from me to dress up as queen titania.

IceAxe said...

Well the dollar bills may well be the same size, but at least they're clearly differentiated by colour. Oh. Wait. They're not are they?

Another difference I've noticed is the phrase "I could care less". In Britain we say "I couldn't care less" (being a very selfish nation) meaning that it wouldn't be possible to express a lesser degree of concern. I've thought long and hard about which is the correct expression, and I think the Brits have it... unless I'm missing something?

But for me the biggest difference is the fact that in the US you can walk down the high street wearing your pants. In the UK, you'd be arrested. :)

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