Thursday, December 27, 2012

Libraries are for Public

Does the word "library" make you yawn? It did have this effect on me, before it changed in 2006.When I came to the states for the first time in the summer of 2006 I was a poor exchange student, working at MacDonald's and not even owning a laptop. My friend and I were looking for ways to stay in touch with the families and were told to go to the nearest public library and ask to use computers with internet access. At first I thought it was just some kind older lady that was letting young foreigners like myself use those library computers. In fact, the lady working there was very nice and patient, but I was wrong about the rest, which I   then discovered.

Ever since that summer american public libraries have had a warm spot in my heart. Not only do they provide a computer and internet access to pretty much anyone who can show an ID, the convenience of selecting, picking up and dropping off materials is still exciting to me.

Back home only weird and old people go to libraries. I am not talking about students, they don't do it by choice. Otherwise there's nothing to do there, most libraries are dusty, smelly, boring. And who reads paper books these days anyway? Just going through the library catalog is exhausting and is a very good test for your nervous system. 

Not here, though. You can browse entire library catalog online, I've challenged it several times by entering queries sort of as a joke and every time there would be at least a dozen of results. Oh and should I mention that there are not just your standard paper books, there are audiobooks, music, videos, magazines, encyclopedias? You find what you want, place a hold and tell them where to send it, sit back, relax and wait for the doorbell to ring. Well, not really, you still need to drive to the library to pick it up, but that's nothing if you think about how much time you saved already. They will send you email notifications when the materials are ready for pick up and 3 days before you need to return them.

Wait, and the best part? It's all for just $3 initiation fee (or something in that range). In other words, it's all completely and absolutely free. That's a definition of an exceptional public service, if you ask me. I am fascinated, if that's is not yet obvious. 

When was the last time you went to a library? Do yourself a favor, check it out.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Because I didn't grow up here

many things don't mean the same to me as they do to most Americans. This includes cartoon and film character references, toys, foods and clothes. I've had situations where people impressed by my "almost-perfect" English cannot believe I don't understand a word or its meaning.

I can carry on a conversation about American healthcare and foreign policy for hours, and then a PEZ candy comes up and I look all lost and shake my head, asking "What is PEZ?" The usual reaction is "C'mon, you know what PEZ is, you're just joking, right?" No, I was not.

Another episode that comes to my mind happened shortly after I moved here. A girl was telling me about this famous singer, who all boys had a crush on and most girls wanted to look like. I put my smile on and was nodding in agreement having no clue who we were talking about. Not because the singer is not popular, just because she's not that popular in my country and I normally don't listen to that kind of music. That singer's name was.... Taylor Swift. Ok, you can laugh now, I realize how shockingly ignorant I must have looked then not knowing who the princess of country music was.

So don't be surprised if someone tells you they never had marshmallows, peanut butter or played with yo-yo in their life. As unbelievable as it may seem to you, many things in the United States are not global-wide and universal :)

And here some other references most foreigners have not heard of if they've never been to the states:

cheese sticks
Rachael Zoe
Mike "The Situation"
Thanksgiving (duh)

Shocker, I know.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Food: The Complications

And by food complications I don't mean the side effects of overeating or any other fun symptoms of food poisoning (when you think about it, this is a very wrong definition, how can food be poison, but that's another story). What I mean by this post title is how simple things like ordering food here can be made too complicated.

Now I imagine that you, native English speaker, have no clue what I'm talking about. Let me explain myself. For the longest time I've had this fear of places like Subway or Chipotle for one simple reason: too many choices. Yes, they do have a menu, but it's being disregarded most of the time, allowing you to "build" your own sandwich, burrito, bowl. I've come to appreciate this opportunity with time, but I still remember the days I was terrified I'd be asked a question and would have no idea what I was expected to answer.

Imagine not knowing the difference between the choices, and being confused just by most names. Now think about the line of people standing in front and behind you (and feeling like they are all staring at you right this moment and silently laughing at you guessing which planet you came from). And here you are, required to give the answers to the questions you're not even sure you heard right. Humiliating and terrifying, all at the same time.

[Sample conversation]
Corn or flour?
Black or pinto?
White or brown rice?
Grilled or fried?
Mild, medium or hot?
What kind of bread?
Which dressing?
How would you like your burger/steak cooked?
What kind of pasta would you like?

That's why I'll always love the good old McDonald's where the ordering process is easy as "Hello, number 3 please" :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Party Scene

This weekend I had an honor and pleasure of attending my friend's wedding, and when it was over the younger crowd decided to go out and keep the party going in one of the Hollywood nightclubs. This reminded me once more why I absolutely hate going to out to so called "fancy" night clubs preferring them to the good old pubs and lounges.

Let's break it down, shall we?

The line. It all starts here. Most clubs create ridiculously long lines by letting small groups of people in every 5 to 10 minutes. Do they think that it makes their club look more "cool" and "exclusive"? Wrong thinking. Most people by now have discovered this is just the strategy and it honestly drives people away, myself included.

You finally get in. And you see the empty dance floor! Seriously, if you get into a club around 10 or 11 pm you will see very few people dancing, if any. That makes no sense, considering you had to stand in that long line for like 30 minutes just to walk in and see the half-empty place...

The dress code. Yes, I am a girl and I like to wear pretty dresses and high heels. But sometimes I just don't feel like wearing a mini-whatever, or I would rather wear flats because I actually came to DANCE. Back home we had this thing where they wouldn't let you in unless you wear a designer or a brand-named piece of clothing. It was stupid and made many people who couldn't afford such feel insecure and "not cool enough".
Here I feel I have to look certain way (tight, short, high and revealing would be the words to describe the look) to be allowed to get into most places.

The prices. This depends on where you go, but on average, alcoholic beverages in the clubs are not cheap commodity. I'm not even mentioning the bottle service, aka the total rip-off...

The verdict. I wish I traveled more and knew how the whole nightlife is happening in other places in the world, but one thing I can say for myself is that the above mentioned factors significantly decreased my desire to go out and spend a Friday or a Saturday night at a club. Too much stress and hassle over a couple of hours of drinking and dancing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Restrooms are not for Rest

I remember my first week in the states. It was a small town in South Carolina, over 100 degrees outside and I was walking with my friend when we noticed this sign outside a restaurant:

We both were puzzled because:
a. why would a restaurant have rooms for rest? and
b. why would they have to warn everyone that you have to be a customer to rest in those rooms?
I know, I sound silly now. But I swear these were our thoughts. 

For all those years I've been learning English by British books, the "rooms for rest" were referred to as W.C. , toilets or lavatories, but never ever did anyone tell me before I came to America that they are called "Restrooms" or "Bathrooms".

p.s. Did you know that in Canada they name them "washrooms"? Oh the beauty of living and learning! 

I'm telling ya, it's fun to be a foreigner :)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Want to Become a Millionaire?

How many times have we all heard the good old: "I came here to chase my American Dream". blah blah blah


Sometimes I disregard my own ideas as "too trivial", "too silly" or just because "someone must have already thought about this before me". Then you see another start-up becoming the new it thing and you are amazed at the courage and the risk those people took to make their dream come true. With that said, here are some examples of things that changed the world (or at least they had an impact in America), which had all the chances of being laughed at before they became big.

Example #1. In 1960-s Dr Spencer Silver had an idea of a "low-tack" pressure sensitive adhesive. His colleague Art Fry combined the adhesive with the paper. The result was a random product that was completely ignored for many years had become "a staple" in any office environment and more - the fun, handy and "how did people do without them?" Post-It Notes.

Example #2. I've got no facts on this one, but something tells me this was invented by a clean-freak, perfectionist housewife who loathed the daily ritual of removing her pet's hair from her husband's suit every morning before he would head to work. I'm not sure how she came up with this, but the Lint Roller was invented. If that's not true, I don't care. That's my story and I'm sticking to it (yes, like a lint to a roller).


Example #3. Slimming underwear, Shapewear, Spanx. Call it whatever, it's still the same - a clever underwear that makes you look skinny. I have no doubts it was another smart woman's creation. It's not really an innovation, corsets have been known for centuries, but bringing the idea back to life was certainly a great one! Again, not that noone else even though of it. Someone just brought it to life and voila - an unstoppable trend and a hugely successful business was born.

Example #4. Foam clogs now known to almost anyone as Crocs are a very recent "baby" invention, which is hard to believe looking at the number of people sporting them all over the state. Most likely you won't like them at first site: they are shapeless, goofy and absolutely not cool. But wait till you wear them. They are light and weather-proof. These days they've improved significantly and come in a variety of colors and styles. I own a pair and I love them.


Do you have an idea that you are too ashamed to voice? Don't waste your time, speak out. You live in a country where dreams come true, after all :)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Bed Talk


Sometimes I'm wondering if Americans have any clue about how complicated their system of dressing a bed is. If you're scratching your head going "What is she talking about?", let me help you by taking a closer look to American vs  The World.

1. In the US beds and sheets come in sizes: Twin, Full, Queen, King and Cal-King (no idea why Jack and Ace got left out). Back where I'm coming from we just have at most 2 different sizes for sheets, and they would fit almost any bed you could find in the country. They are just Standard, so to say.

2. Pillows. In the USA they are rectangular, back home they are square. In America they have square pillows as well, but not for sleeping, they are mostly used as decorative pieces and often called "cushions".
But wait, it gets even more complicated when it comes to a "pillow cover". There are pillow cases that you are supposed to sleep on and shams, that are NOT supposed to be slept on, they are, again, for decorative purposes only and are often matching the duvet cover or comforters, which we'll talk about next.

Now if you think about it, in order to NOT be sleeping on shams, you should either have two sets of pillows on your bed, or you should put a sham on and off every morning/night. Sounds like a little too much work to me...


3. Duvets and Comforters. I'll be honest, to this day I'm trying to figure out why it has to be so complicated. Ok, so the comforter is basically a blanket that you also use as a bed cover. This is where a flat sheet comes into play, when you use it as a bedding, laying between your body and a comforter. Duvets. They are beddings and blankets in one. It is basically a comforter, but much thinner and stuffed with feathers and it comes with a pocket inside, so that you can put in an extra blanket if you'd like.

If you ever wanted to know how we do it European style, I'd tell you that we only have one type of blanket, that is called exactly so, it can be stuffed with polyester, cotton or feathers, and it would still be called "A Blanket". It doesn't have to look pretty because it's dressed in what you call "a quilt", which is not. It is more like your duvet, a simple cotton cover with a pocket inside, but with no additional stuffing. Think of a giant pillowcase for a blanket. That's how we do it!

4.  Flat sheet vs Fitted sheet. I'm telling you, there's hardly any foreigner who came to the USA for the first time and didn't have a question "What is a fitted sheet and what do I do with it?" I'm glad at my first job as a housekeeper they taught me all about it, otherwise I'd have to ask people at Target to give me a crush-course or something... Oh, and when it comes to folding it, it's a whole other story! I' glad I found this video at Martha Stuart YouTube channel. It seriously made my life easier. Watch it if you haven't. You'll be forever grateful for Martha Stuart.

How does the rest of the world live without fitted sheets, you ask? Easy, we just use your "flat sheets" to cover a mattress, tucking the ends under it. Takes you about 1 minute, no kidding.

I'm not even starting on all those roll pillows, bed skirts etc. If you follow all the rules of bedding and use every single item in your bedding habits, your bed will end up looking like this:


Seriously, people, how can you enjoy a bed like this unless you are a member of a royal family?

Saturday, March 31, 2012

It Blows me Away


Before I begin to mumble on this matter I have to add a disclaimer that I will be speaking for the places I've been to. They are South Carolina, Florida and New York in summer time, and California all-year round.

The love for air conditioner in all those states (and something tells me it is pretty much like that in the rest of the states, but that's just my guess...) has no limit. People wouldn't rent an apartment and would not even consider buying a car if the AC is not functioning well. As much as I hate the stuffiness and unbearable heat, the use of AC sometimes turns into abuse.


Here are some places where I wish people took it easy on the air conditioner:

Greyhound Bus. Did you ever have to spend a night on a bus? I did/ It was a torture. I was freezing to my bones and the driver refused to turn it up because "it was above the standard temperature". No word on who sets those "standards"...

Beer/Dairy Isles in Grocery Stores. Seriously, I can never concentrate on finding the product I need. I just grab whatever catches my eye and run away to the bread isle. It's so much warmer there.

Most Office Spaces. A lot of people happen to spend 40 hours a week sitting in a chair under a blowing vent. I happen to be one of those people. I hate it. Again, there are "standards" that do not allow to set a temperature a little bit higher and it is against the rules to seal the vents with tape (we've tried and got a warning". Cozy sweaters and cover-ups have become my best friends at work.


I guess it all depends on the personal metabolism and body sensitivity. But looking at peeps that wear short-sleeved tops and flippy-floppies in at a 50 Fahrenheit temperature gives me chills. Literally.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Whatta Hef?...


I noticed that in many houses people aren't used to taking their shoes off. It always surprises me how careful people here are about disinfecting all the counters and surfaces, covering toilet seats and washing+sanitizing their hands over and over throughout the day. However, they can and actually do walk around the house in their street shoes, sitting or even laying down on couches (regardless of the color).


Slippers are used just as a fun a cozy accessory to fancy up while at home, especially for females. I can hardly remember any male having his own home shoes, except for Hugh Hefner (hence the title of the post), of course! :)

I remember being back home and watching Hollywood movies, constantly mocking the scenes where the actors were in their shoes lounging on a white sofa. Turned out, that's exactly what's happening in real life here. But again, may be it's just the houses I've visited and may be it's because it's California and it's always sunny here and people barely walk on the streets, spending most of their time out driving their cars so their feet don't get covered with dust, mud and all kinds of other dirt as much. Or may be it's just the common rule that seems totally normal to folks here and seems so careless and "not-making-any-sense" for me, a foreigner lost among millions in the City of Angels.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Traffic fines are no joke

Yes, and I've got the proof.

I recently received this letter with a ticket for $479 US Dollars for "Failure to Stop at Red Light". I was angry and surprised and disappointed and had many other mixed emotions at once. I'll guess I'll have to break my Piggy Bank early to pay for my mistakes...

What a good lesson to learn not to mess with the rules in the states, especially on the road. The karma/camera will catch you.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Can You Buy a Cow Online?...


In America, you probably can :)
Is there anything you can NOT do online? Really, from checking in for the flight to checking out books at the library. From paying you bills to adopting a puppy. Need to make or cancel an appointment? No problem. As long as you have internet access, you're covered for most of the everyday life scenarios.

I'm not even mentioning online classes available at each campus. Who am I kidding? You can even earn a degree without leaving your couch. Which is pretty awesome, to say the least.


I get it, there are certain concerns and compromises involved. At the end of the day, there's a price for everything. In this case, the price is giving up some amount of privacy and security. How do I know noone is going to hack my account and use my personal information? Well, you don't... You just have to accept it and be at peace with it. And tr not to think about it. At least not until it happens (heavens forbid)

We also become chronically lazy by getting used to having nearly unlimited control under our fingertips. With that comes annoyance, like "What do you mean I can't do it online???" And also total dependence on it, almost like addition, internet-ism of sorts. But what if (heavens forbid again) there's no internet connection? Just imagine one day of a global internet blackout. Sounds like Apocalypse,  doesn't it? But that's another story.

For now I'm enjoying my honeymoon with online addiction. It brings a little wicked smile to my face every time I find out what else I can do online. Like listen to the astronauts on the space station? Not sure why I might need it, but I think it's pretty amazing.