Home bound, Oh my!

I am home. Or am I?

I have finally returned to the United States with no immediate plans to leave. What a novel feeling it is. Now.. for the culture shock. Notes from my first week, in no particular order:

American drivers are overly fond of their car horns. Yes, so are drivers of many countries. But living in the UK, there honking the car horn is specifically frowned upon, I underestimated how accustomed I have become to the relative quiet. Oi. My poor ears.

– I have options after 7pm on Sundays! What a joy it is to come back to the overly commercialized country of USA. Sometimes having businesses open late and on every day is a huge convenience. Especially when I’m in a limbo stage of no permanent home right now.

– Sticker shock. Oh, how affordable and reasonable cost of living in the US of A is! Truly. If there’s anything I appreciate about the goods market here, it is that there is a general level of quality assurance in the products, which, frankly, is worth paying for. So I looked forward to what I believe are more reasonable prices, especially compared to the UK.. until the sales taxes. Sheesh. Include them in the price label, is that too much to ask for?

– Supermarkets. I got lost. I admit it. On my first trip, running errands for my mother. I was so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of products in the aisles and the choices!

Stay tuned. I am only one week in…

American Culture Shock # 2498734: Tipping is expensive

Americans have the tendency to tip. A. L.O.T.

In Asia, tipping is not standard. Nor required. Large institutions that cater to Westerners (not just foreigners but specifically Westerners) often automatically add an 10% service charge, after which you are not expected to even leave the change. In some countries, people get offended when tipped. Yes, I am speaking of Japan.

In Thailand, we round up. To the next five for small charges. In restaurants, regardless of the size of the bill, be it 10,000 Thai baht or 100 baht, we tip the person, not the bill. So usually 20-60 baht. The tips generally get pooled together at the end of the day and split evenly across the staff.

So, tipping in the States felt excessive. It used to be 10-15%. I’ve noticed it uptick to the point many people start at 20%. Whoa. What do you start with?

American Culture Shock # 334587: Smart Phones

I’m going to be popping out a series of these post, as an expat returning to America for the first time in a long time. It’s been 15 months since I stepped on America soil. And it’s been far too long.

Observation: Smart Phones are the rage now.

No, I’m not surprised. Logically, I knew the release of the iPhone was going to open up the market. But considering that the US lagged way behind many industrialised and even many developing nations in mobile phone markets because the sorry dinosaurs of cell providers came with so many restrictions.

The reality hit me hard, though, when I find myself trying schedule dinners with friends. It’s like the good ol’ phone tag and SMS-ing is obsolete. No one calls or texts to follow up or to confirm with plans. They just email. They got so used to people having smart phones that they assume I had email access on the go.

And here I am, dragging my ol’ (not really old, FYI) laptop from hot spot to hot spot, trying squeeze time between work, meetings, and errands to sit down at a wifi access spot to log on and check my email. I have a cheap pre-paid cell plan that charges for web browsing and a strangely rare sighting of a flip phone.

Yes, I can get Internet at the hotel. I refuse to out of principle- Internet access should not be charged at the exorbitant rates in large hotels like mine. Yes, I can pay for the data plan, even if it’s on a day-by-day charge. Why spend the money just to look for email?

So people who used to limit their Internet access to the office when they decided not to expend on a home DSL line now have 24/7 access to email. The metro is now surprisingly devoid of loud talkers as everyone silently checks their email on their phones.

I knew I was living a different life overseas. Yet, to completely miss out a trend, especially as an engineer, is somewhat disconcerting. So, friends, just pick up the damn phone and hit the dial button when coordinating with me, please!

postscript: This is post # 300 in this blog!!!