Culture Shock and Double Cream


As some of you will know this trip to the US is very different to the last one. Wheras last time we were going out all the time spending the days in museums, art galleries and theatres, and the nights in good restaurants trying to teach the two skiddles which fork to use, this time the closest we have been to going out has been McDonalds.

It has been a good thing though, interesting and challenging. For my part with my girl in her new job leaving at 7am in the morning and coming home at 6pm at night, and the kids gone from 8 to 3, its meant that I had to get to grips with a very different Oklahoma. I have kept myself busy enough, or at least I did initially, trying to keep the place clean, and cook a variety of things, but I have noticed some “differences” which have not helped in my plight to become a domestic god.

Whipped cream

Whipped cream

For a start, some of my world famous recipes, have not gone according to plan. In fact they have not gone according to plan so much, that now both the skiddles and my girl are a little… well i’d like to say worried but the truth is that they’re more scared than worried. And whilst I accept that some of it has been my fault, most of it hasnt been. Say for example just the other day when I made a peach desert. I wanted to top it off with Evapourated Milk, a delicious, thick and sweet liquid, that goes nicely with a spongy cake type thing. Imagine my disappointment when the stuff that came out was much more like UHT (which they have never heard of over here). It was very hard to explain how it really does taste better in England! Luckily we had some “Whipped Cream”… Whipped cream over here comes pre-whipped in a margerine tub, for you to spoon out!

spaghetti i think

spaghetti i think

The other day I was cooking some sticky lemon pork, which went well,

bad rice

bad rice

but the spanish rice…. this is rice boiled in chicken stock and tomatoes didnt go so well. For  a start, I spent a good half an hour trying to figure out how to use the can opener, then the rice I used turned out to be quick cook rice, and so went very squidgy by the time I had finished with it. Then there was the spaghetti… now i know what youre thinking… how can you get spaghetti wrong, well two things happened. First the tin of tomatoes I had turned out to be tomatoes and chillis. Now, I am sure that skiddles the world over are fussy. I remember my mother fighting with me over fussiness when I was younger, and my girls skiddles are no different. They took to my “chilli” bolognaise like cats to water… it was not pretty. It didnt help that when I asked how much spaghetti to use, my girl, not realising it was a big pack, told me to use the lot, which then overfilled the pot, until they went all sticky and starchy!

spanish tortilla

spanish tortilla

Then there was the spanish omelet (or tortilla) which I made with green beans (cos I didnt think the kids would like spinach), but apparently since I called it a tortilla, and so they expected a flat mexican pancake, and i gave them a thick eggy omelet, they objected to!

In fact the only thing that seems to have gone down okay is my salad dressing, and even that has a limited success. I have noticed that the kids have taken to “adding salt” to everything I cook now, not cos it needs salt but because that way they cant taste it, and they can turn to mommy and claim “its too salty, can I throw it out”!

cool

cool

Now speaking of Mommy for a little moment… Mommy started off by backing me up. “you must try it”, “Its all food”, “children in Africa would love to eat this”, but as the weeks went on, I noticed she started having “A full lunch with the boss”

So I have started to feel more and more deflated, and its not just in the cooking department either. Take for example the toilet cleaner, which comes as a powder that you leave in the toilet bowl for a while before flushing it. Except flushing it at the wrong time, or putting too much powder in the bowl (especially with such a high water mark on the loo) meant that the foam would flow over the lip of the toilet and may have covered the toilet floor and I may have had to spend a while cleaning it. erm…. but thats not all, even their floor cleaner proved to be too tricky. Instead of having a simple mop and bucket, which everyone and his grandma could deal with, they have a “swisher”, a strange device that looks like a mop with a button push cleaning fluid ejector half way up the stick….  Now how was I supposed to know that you needed to put a sheet on the bottom of the thing.

Enough said…. There are things I could have done better, and there are things I have been plain unlucky with. All this is part of the culture shock you get when you come here for any amount of time. I was stunned the other day whilst watching the american version of who wants to be a millionaire that I couldnt get past the first three questions! How was I supposed to know the lyrics to some childrens song!

The truth is that the US might look a little like England, might feel a little like England, might even talk english, but it aint England! No double cream, no clotted cream, no sugar in chocolate (the chocolate here is horrid!), no hot tea, no back bacon, no mature cheddar, no branston pickle, no curry and no crusty bread.

Not that Im saying England is better, just different. And the US offers so much more….. pazazz.  It surprises you with its never ending supply of drinks, the swimming pools, basketball nets and tennis courts connected to each set of apartments, its free telephone lines in other countries when you get a new local contract.

heheh

heheh

The US shows how the customer really can be king, it floods you with a million special offers and a billion freebies. Sometimes though its hard to look past the BOGOF’s and the Open Days and see how you are being manipulated. Its hard to see that the cheap fuel given to you in one hand means a divisive and unethical manipulation of the international market on the other. Sometimes you feel like you are living in a fantasy, and you just cant imagine people living a different way. Its easy to “expect” things and after a while I have found myself questioning service instead of stoicly putting up with it like we do in the UK.

I can see why they often appear to us as brash and demanding. Its just what they expect over here, but wheras we suffer everything with a good dose of cynicism, they have none and blindly believe what is told to them. I was astonished to see that President Obamas speeches are used to advertise bad debt companies, can you imagine Gordon Brown appearing on a British Beef advert!

Their belief in the polarised one side or the other system is quite astonishing. Not just republican (tory) and democrat (labour), but Dallas Cowboys or Pitsburgh Steelers, No guns or you must have a gun or Jesus or the Devil. Everything is black or white and there is no voice for shades. And the language is so confused that you sepnd half your time trying to work out what you are supporting (or not). Pro-life or Pro-choice… which one believes in abortion? If someone talks of euthanasia, another person talks of death camps.

uh??

uh??

Since I’ve been here I’ve heard arguments that Darwin caused World War II, that Gravity is gods way of keeping us on the planet and that the US of A have won every major war since the war of independance. Mostly told by nutters that have no place singing on street corners, and yet they do.

I have had a discussion with my future father-in-law that said that the americans saved “your butts” in Granada. If you dont know what happened in Granada, I advise you to look it up and see what the text books say. I had to aquiesce since I didnt know the subject, but I must have done enough, because a revised edition was handed to me the next time I spoke with him, and therin lies another great thing about the US.

She might not be pretty but she brings pure joy!

She might not be pretty but she brings pure joy!

When they do realise, accept, appreciate they are wrong, they really do something about it. Service is incredible, in every regard, like when the kids ordered some drinks the other day and the waitress brought them over, but the kids started crying telling us they wanted a different drink. In England you would die of embarrassment and tell them to shut up. In england the waitress would huff and groan and charge you double. In the US the waitress told us no problem and came back two minutes later with the new order at no extra charge. Or the way that my girls steak was not cooked well enough for her so they asked her to remove the baked potato, so she had something to eat, whilst they cooked it up, and then they gave her ANOTHER baked potato with the newly cooked steak. This was not special attention, this was common practice.

I went to the school the kids are at again. I had gone several times last time I was here, and I had to pick something up here this time. The staff remembered my name, allowed me to sit in their office, offered me a tour and a drink. There is something incredible in that level of commitment. And believe me, its not just to me they offer it, its with everyone.

I hope that my life here doesnt make me forget my cynicism. Doesnt stop me questioning the facts I am told about the world. I hope I keep doubting everything, and looking for my own answers. More than that, I hope that I keep pushing my new family to see the rest of the world, to recognise what they consider as being normal or passable actually is incredibly good in any other country. I hope I can bring a little realism to their lives, as in my opinion everyone needs to know how they have it good wheras others have it bad just because they happened to be born in the wrong country.

spoilt?

spoilt?

I have alwasy been greatful that my parents did that for me, that they forced me to eat things I didnt like as a child, forced me to sit through things I was bored at, and forced me to try speaking languages when it was much easier not to. I hope I can help do that because its a start to being a more understanding more sympathetic person. To appreciate that things are good here, in part because they are bad somewhere else, and that things covered overnight but not put in the fridge is what millions of people with no fridges do every single day, and perhaps we shouldnt worry so much about the germ that got away, and that maybe a few germs can make us stronger not weaker.

That wasting food/fuel/energy/plastics/boxes may not be a crime, but it is a sin, in that it is a crime of priviledge that both sides of the pond are guilty of.

flu pack

flu pack

In the US at the moment they have adverts for “Swine flu packs” these include tissues, cold medicine, headache pills, muscle pain pills, face masks and hand cleaning gel. They are aimed at children, in fact such is the panic of swine flu that schools are regularly closing their doors for days at a time to stop the spread. We are talking about swine flu here. On the grand scale if things, swine flu is not a big killer, its not even killed as many people as measles did last year. According to statistics, your child is more likely to get run over going to school than they are from the swine flu they are very unlikely to get at school. And its that kind of manipulation that scares me. When you are swamped with it, then its hard to see the truth.

After all, how many in the UK were worried by asian flu, or the millenium bug. We all fall victim to this crazy manipulation caused by newspapers and media looking for sensationalist stories to catch the attention of a scared public. And I’m in the heart of it. Right here. I dont want to succumb to it, and  hope I never do significantly. Its that part of me that I worry about the most though. That part of me that forgets how ugly hard and real life can be elsewhere, when we have it so good, that even our homeless people have somewhere to ask for help if they are prepared to. I’m reminded of Alan, one of Dorchester’s tattooed drunks that recently was given a home to live in. After years and years of choosing not to accept help he finally gave up, saying that his tramping days are over and thanks for the retirement present.

I’m thinking whilst it is good to see the old stallwart walking home every night, what people in Sierra Nevada or Pakistan would have thought of the choices he made. What the young innocent girls of the Surinam, raped by men who have aids because a witch doctor told them that was the only cure, would think of it. What Indian children of 8 years old would think of it as they climb up giant rubbish tips in search of some tin to sell. I wonder in fact how much money those same children would make over here in the US in one year climbing up the mountains of trash over here.

As a conclusion, and I’m sorry this is so long, I want to say that the US is a wonderful paradise of opportunity, where the best really is appreciated and demanded, but I just want to see a little piece of the other world. The world of poverty and hunger. When I was a child I saw Barry Norman on a kids tv show. The nations favourite film reviewer at the time said that to be a film reviewer, a good one, you had to watch an awful lot of BAD movies, to know a good one when you see it.

I think thats good advice for me now, and for everyone.

~ by eggplantinspace on October 1, 2009.

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