joi, 28 mai 2015

Greetings and Successfully Ignoring other People

Before moving to the USA, my wife and I took a house hunting trip. During this trip, we staid at a hotel. The first days after moving here we also staid in a hotel before actually moving into our apartment. 

What surprised me during our stays at the hotels was the fact that in the elevator, on the hall-ways everyone was saying hello and wishing us a good day.  

At first I perceived this as annoying, particularly because Americans say hello by asking "How are you?". This apparent question, is in fact a form of greeting and nobody expects and answer; in fact nobody wants a honest answer.

After several "How are you"s and "Have a good one" (meaning have a good day), I believed that this is the social norm around here. From a certain point of view, it's kind of nice since it gives an impression of living in a polite society.

After we moved to our apartment which is in a relatively high building (14 floors) equipped with 4 elevators, things went differently. We were the weird people who said “Hello” and “Good bye” or “have a nice day”.

Apparently, the social norm in the building(s) where we live is to completely ignore other people, even if you come across them on the hallway (people who live one or two doors away from you) or in the elevator.

In the Netherlands there was a joke that you live in the most densely populated country in Europe and you don’t know your neighbors. That was partly true, but here things are even worse. Here if you say hello or hold the door for someone, you’re the weird one.  

luni, 18 mai 2015

Crossing the Street in USA

Crossing the street might seem like something very intuitive in any country, particularly in one in which cars go on the same side as in your country of origin. 

In my own experience, this was not the case... and the cause was the traffic light for pedestrians.

I have seen traffic lights with timers before, but these ones work oppositely as I expected. 

The countdown in red numbers actually means that you can still cross for N seconds. 

In Europe the same countdown would mean that you cannot cross for another N seconds.

The red hand tells you to not cross, whereas in Europe the same message is transmitted through a standing man. 

The "green light" saying that it is OK to cross the street is actually white and is illustrated by a walking white man.

In Europe the walking man is green, hence the green light.

Quite interestingly, the traffic lights for cars are exactly the same as in Europe...

marți, 12 mai 2015

Beer in the USA

I'm a great beer lover and the five years spent in The Netherlands taught me that there is a lot more to beer than I previosly thought. 

There is a joke in The Netherlands that living there has the huge advantage of being able to enjoy Belgian beer without having to do with Belgians.

When we moved from Romania to The Netherlands, five years ago, I had a very distorted image of beer. At the time, there was only one kind of beer in my country of birth - 5% alcohol, pilsner recepie (pilsner is a type of lager) and it came in half a liter bottles and cans.

In the Netherlands the variety of beer was huge: Lager, Ale, Trapist, Wite, Weisener, fruit flavoured etc. etc. 

During one of our early shopping trips, we went to the supermarket and bought one bottle of each beer. During the following days we (mostly I) tasted all of them and found some that fitted our tastes. 

One particularity about beer in The Netherlands is that Heineken is a regular mid-level beer. In fact, many Dutch people consider it quite bad.

After moving to the US, we wanted to replicate the one-of-each beer shopping endeavour. But this didn't happen as we expected since the smallest unit one can buy in a supermarket is a six-pack of 350ml bottles. At some shops you can make your own six-pack with one of each, though this applies only to some beers.

There also are variety packs with more beers from the same company, though usually these are of at least 12 bottles. 

In the past days, I have been tasting beers from the US and Mexico... and the conclusion is split:

There are good beers, particularly ales and there is the rest which goes from bad to terrible.

These three beers taste like crap... They are so bad, that they can't be enjoyed even if they are drank with the bucket.

Bud Light has made it on TV... watch the video, particularly after minute 2.15.

On the other hand, there are some good beers particularly from Widmer Brothers and Blue Moon (the white one).

I found Hefe to be a very good white beer. Though, I can't not think that somehow someone wanted to make it sound like Leffe.

Up to now, I haven't been able to find a decent lager... well, soon I'll start thinking that Heineken is a good beer :)

luni, 11 mai 2015

Shopping in the USA Part 1

As we moved in Virginia less than a week ago, we went shopping for basic stuff, particularly food. 

Most people outside the US know of Wall Mart as the biggest retailer in the world. That's all true, but the actual experience at Wall  Mart is very different from what I expected.

I expected Wall Mart to be something like Carefour in Europe - a gigantic mid-level highly diverse supermarket (hypermarket). Wall Mart is more of a super-sized Aldi (in the Netherlands) or Penny Market. It's an oversized low-cost / low level supermarket.

The place that resembled what we expected from a hypermarket is Shoppers. There are also Harris Teetter which is a premium supermarket and Trader Joe's which, after a short visit, looks like a bio-healthy-(a bit snobish) oversized grocery store.

In all our shopping experiences in the past days, there were some things that surprized us. 

First, the prices for food in Virginia are roughly double than in The Netherlands (where we lived for 5 years). 

Second, food packs are similar to condoms: the smallest size is "Big". Whereas the smallest condom size is named "big" in order to not offend the buyers, the food packages in the US are litteraly big, huge, irrationally oversized etc.

In the Netherlands one could buy half a cicken breast for a meal of one. In the USA you have to buy half a dozen (6) cicken breasts, because that is the smallest pack. Maybe it's four, not six?

The regular carton of milk is half a gallon (1.9 Liters) while in NL the standard ones are of 1l and 0.5l.

It's not wonder that there is an entire industry on producing and selling preservation solutions. This includes freezer bags, oversized fridges (our current fridge is about 3-4 times larger than the one we had in The Netherlands and twice as large as the one we have in Romania), vacum machines, vacum bags and vacum pots.

Third, the extremely high content of added sugar and salt (sodium) made us change our purchasing criterias. In The Netherlands and Romania we usually chose based on price, quantity and brand. In the US, however, we have to choose based on the contents of salt, sugar and fat. The fat it's relatively easy to avoid because, in most cases, it's quite obvious which product has more fat. 

The thing with sugar and salt is that they are added to products that one would not expect to find them. For example, we found a yougurt that resembled more diluted sugar than a dairy product. In a portion of 170 grams there are 26 grams of (pure) sugar. 

It was similar with milk. Yesterday we wanted to buy ham... at most hams are full of salt.

Fourth, the bread... for us it is more of so-called-bread, since we couldn't find a decent bread in the supermarkets... yeah, i know... we are a bit snobs when it comes to bread and coffee, but we are Europeans, so it's a matter of different standards.
In very brief, the bread that gets close to European bread is horribly expensive - 3-6 USD for a bread. Therefore, we decided to make our own bread...

vineri, 8 mai 2015