Sunday 20 May 2012

This year's observations about America

TUESDAY: I'm back at work after a visit to the United States. My lunch is one of my tuna sandwiches made with yogurt instead of mayonnaise and spiced with capers, cumin, and fresh thyme. It's good brain food for contemplating some of the interesting facts I discovered about America -- or at least California -- during my 3-week stay in the Los Angeles area:

1. SWEETENERS. I was surprise to discover that most cafes and restaurants offer at least 4 sweetening solutions for one's coffee or tea. In the tabletop dispensers, alongside the sugar packets, are packets of not 1 but 3 artificial sweeteners, all seemingly colour-coded so one may not be confused with another. The pink packets contain Sweet 'n' Low which is saccharine-based. For those who are afraid of developing some sort of rat cancer if they consume too much saccharine, there are blue packets of aspartame-based Equal. And if one wants to avoid the calories of sugar as well as the remote possibility of developing cancer or fits, there is Splenda in yellow packets which contains the sweetener sucralose. It's feasible that some more upscale and natural-foods-orientated cafes would also offer packets of brown sugar and of honey, which would provide 6 different ways of sweetening one's coffee. With all the already-existing options for ordering a coffee -- Americano or espresso or cappuccino or latte or macchiato; short or tall or grande; single or double shot; wet or dry; with room or without; with chocolate sprinkles or without; to drink in or to take out --this additional complicated choice, should you choose to sweeten your coffee, makes this popular breaktime beverage a bit of a minefield. Will workers now need their 15-minute breaks increased to 45 minutes simply to allow a good half hour from the time one orders their coffee to the time one is actually drinking it?

2. DOLLAR BILLS. For the past few years I've been using a wallet I purchased in the UK, so I never noticed how awkward American dollars are. I recall them being the same colour and size regardless of denomination, and I remember them being narrower than British notes. But I never realised they're actually longer as well. This fact required me to fold up the ends of my American bills to fit into my British wallet, further confusing the one-dollar-looks-the-same-as-twenty-dollars issue. As a result, whenever I paid cash for something, I had to pull the entire folded-up wad out of my wallet, unfold it, and examine the bills, making me appear to be either a wealthy entrepreneur who always has a wad on them or else like a foreign tourist. I don't need to explain which I felt the most like...

3. CHICAGO CATERING. I discovered this problem the last time I flew from Terminal 3 at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, and I was reminded of it again this time before I caught my domestic connection: this terminal is not veggie-friendly or even light-eater-friendly. As one has to purchase their food on American domestic flights, with an extremely limited menu of options, it makes sense to buy your meal before you get on the flight. But nowhere could I find a small vegetarian or fish sandwich to purchase. So once again I had to hope that whatever the "snack" offered for sale on the flight would suit my diet.

4. FEMALE SPORTS FANS. Female American sports fans tend to talk very loudly in a masculine manner and bob around a lot. In contrast, female British sports fans don't seem to feel the need to act this way, unless they happen to be loud masculine bobbing types.

5. CUSTOMER SERVICE. The staff at the innovative grocery chain Trader Joe's are even friendlier and more outgoing than the staff at the UK supermarket chain Asda. And the depressed and preoccupied staff at my local two Co-Ops don't hold a candle to the self-obsessed life-hating rudeness of the staff at my mom's local drugstore Rite-Aid.

More observations next time...

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