Friday, July 14, 2006

A State like no other

When I moved to this corner of Suburbia in 2001, I noted so many differences between this place and other states I'd lived/traveled in, I thought they should offer a special course to aid new residents to assimilate into their culture. I started searching Amazon for a book on the topic, as surely I was not the only one seeing how different this place was from the rest of the United States.

My background? Not a stay at home country bumpkin, no sir. As a foreign language teacher I had spent my life studying foreign culture. I came to appreciate the differences between American and other ways of life. I understood how others live, even thought very different from my American lifestyle. I have travelled to [pause to count] 9 other countries and 43 of the 50 states. I have lived in the South, West, Midwest and Northeast. I have no problem operating under the "when in Rome" philosophy when abroad. But this was the US. Why did I feel like such a foreigner in my native country?

In 49 states this is how we operate:
-we have full interchanges at every exit on major 4 lane divided highways (usually called Interstates). You can get off to eat, shop, get gas etc and re-enter the road at the same location.
Here you can get off and you can only turn around and go the other direction at some interchanges.

-we store shopping carts inside the store, not out in the rain, cold, snow.
Here you have to get a cart before entering the store.

-on most large roads, we have a middle safety lane for making a left turn (we call it the turning lane)
Here you have a lot of 2 lane roads where drivers turning left have to block the lane they're in, or you have a long concrete barrier down the center that prevents a left turn at all. (one native called the turning lane the" chicken lane." People here do not trust it.)

-we don't pass on the right because it is illegal. (I am sure some drivers nationwide do, but it is not common practice.) Most roads are not paved on the right to allow this anyway.
Here people do it all the time and the shoulders are paved. They do it everywhere - even in intersections.

-we have fundraisers for charitable causes
Here they do that too, but they also do public begging -approved by municipalities for the beggers to station themselves at red lights to just ask for coins from passing cars. I have seen this a few times only for some horrible cureless disease. Here they do it for a local baseball team's uniforms or a high school chess club to go to a regional competition.

-we have wide checkout lanes in stores like Target, Walmart as well as at grocery stores
Here we have teeny narrow check out lanes in grocery stores. Makes getting food out of cart difficult. You can't walk around the cart for any reason.

- we have tons of 24/7 gas stations
Here you better not run out of gas after 10 pm - no station is open

- we have ice cream parlors and they stay open year round
Here, they all close from September through May

- we can ask the bill to be split by the waiter in a restaurant and refills on coffee, tea and soda are free
Here, forget separate checks. You better be good at math and have cash.

-we have drive-thru ATMs at most banks and many other drive thru businesses (dry cleaners, etc)
Here, no dice. You have to get out of the car and walk inside. Not convenient for a mom with kids in thr car.

-we sit at bar to drink and we run a tab (settle up at the end) or we pay by the drink
Here you pay for the first drink and are expected to leave your change on the bar all night.

Doesn't it sound so old fashioned? It was like moving from one state to 1954. And my city isn't population 342 - a cornfield with one traffic light. It is a midsize metro area with burbs sprawling from a downtown. Does it have good things about it? Yes. Can I live with it? Yes, for a while. But it is so unlike the other [pause to count] 5 states I have lived in. Other "foreigners" I meet notice the same weird stuff, too - it's not just me.

If all that sounds familiar, you probably live there, too. We should just secede from the union so people who come here don't try using their knowledge of American culture to get along.

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