The five things I'll never get used to

Last updated 11:26 29/10/2012

There are screeching moments in my American life when I become glaringly aware of how different certain things are, compared with my own expectations of how they should be.

So in light of this very explainable phenomenon, I present to you today my top-5 list of things I'll never get used to in America. 

intersectionThe four-way intersection rule

I'm still finding my feet as an American motorist, and while I can imagine a day where the right side of the road will feel like... well... the right side of the road, the intersection rules here baffle me.

You turn up at an intersection and if you're alone, you can drive through. If two, three, four cars arrive simultaneously, each car can go in the order of when they arrived at the intersection. But who really pays attention to their precise arrival time at an intersection, in comparison to all other vehicles?

With even two cars at an intersection arriving at a similar time, the odds are that there will be a cautious and mild-mannered driver behind the wheel of each, unsure of who in fact got there first and willing to wait it out for the other person to take the initiative. With more than two, it becomes a shuffling, uncertain, frustrating dance, in which you can cut through the frustration and bolt, but in turn will always risk a dented door. 

boozeLiquor in supermarkets/pharmacies

In the big chain pharmacies in California you can buy alcohol. I know that CVS is a major operation, akin to an actual supermarket, but there is something odd in enabling people to pick up a dozen Budweiser and some cheap vodka alongside a prescription.

Seeing liquor in supermarkets seems hardcore for my sensibilities. I know that if you break it down, beer, wine, and spirits are all alcoholic, equally capable of damage. But at least with wine and beer there is still the veneer of it being for mealtime. I'm not sure how wholesome it is for anybody to sit down for dinner with a gin and tonic.  

Draconian identification laws when buying alcohol as an adult

In 20 months in Boston, my passport seemed to age 20 years. Massachusetts does not accept out of state driver licences, and so anytime I wanted a drink I had to take my passport. Several times I had to turn down spur of the moment offers for a beer as I wouldn't have my passport on my person unless I expected to be drinking. It is annoying not being able to buy a drink in the back half of your 20s.

California seemed an improvement on this. At first, I could take my NZ driver licence anywhere and use it as ID. But then I got denied in the weekend. California has an identification law that authorities are cracking down on stringently, I was told, that says that your ID has to state a physical description of you somewhere on it.

As the bartender explained, even my passport wouldn't qualify as proof of age under this rule. (It doesn't have my eye and hair colour on it.) Which makes no sense: I can get through customs with it, but not past a Californian bouncer?

ovationClapping at the end of movies

This can happen in New Zealand. It happened one time to me at a 2004 viewing of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 at the now defunct Wellington Rialto, which took place in the height of global anti-Bush fervour (I feel as though that admission dates me).

LP and I saw Argo on Friday night. We each liked it tremendously. At the end of the climactic scene of the movie, the cinema erupted into a cheer. (We were at a small local cinema watching it with maybe 50 others.) At the end of the movie itself, the theatre hollered again. I would say that this happens in one out of every five movies I go to here, and one out of every two good ones.

I will always find this weird. It gives me a fright. It is a nice impulse; a recognition of the fact that going to the movies is a social act that we do with strangers we mostly never address. But with no director or producer actually in the room, I find the directionless nature of the applause slightly weird.  

copsThe prevalent visibility of the humble gun

We've talked about this in more serious contexts, but on a base, experiential level I find it hard to get my head around how visible guns are here.

A police officer comes into a café for a bagel all strapped up with his gun, and is in line right in front of you with it just hanging there as though it's any old accessory. It's a little dark to have a gun wafted in front your face like that.

In the weekend, LP and I were at the movies, taking the escalator up into the multiplex. There were two overweight and bored-looking security guards, slouching against the railing in front of us. One of them had a half-drunk bottle of Vitamin Water tucked into the pocket of his cargo pants, the other had headphones on... both had guns on their hip.

One of the above scenarios is scarier than the other (shouldn't it be a given that anyone wearing cargo pants should forgo their rights to carry a deadly weapon?) but each case is, and will always be, particularly jarring to me.  

What quirks have you struggled to adapt to when abroad?  

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