Sunday, July 15, 2007

culture shock

For the first time upon coming home, I am experiencing culture shock.

Yes, I know. I've gone all Euro.

Like yesterday, we went to a restaurant, and when we were almost done eating, the waiter dropped off the check on our table. I had a brief flash of absolute righteous anger, like "How rude! How dare he just leave the check without us asking first!" It took me about 30 seconds before I remembered, oh, yeah, that's how that is done here. It's not rude, it's called service. But in Europe, a waiter would never dare leave a check without the customer asking first, as it might imply that the customer needs to hurry their meal.

And then, also, I noticed when going through security in Houston to get the flight to Austin, how FAST Americans are in the security line. I mean, no bullshit, they've got their bins and baggies all ready, shoes off and computers out, way before they are up for the security, and the lines go FAST. At least, this one in Houston did. I had a hard time keeping up. In Europe it's more of a dawdle, I get so annoyed when people get up to the security check point and THEN take off their jackets and stuff and act all like "What? I have to give you my purse for you to check?" D'oh! So chalk up one for American efficiency. I did notice a vast improvement over all in check in, immigration and customs in Houston at IAH airport. Kudos to them.

However, I was very confused by the machine that sold cell phones I found at the airport. A vending machine for phones? WTF? This was made doubly confusing by the fact that I needed to buy a top up card for my T Mobile sim card....and there was not one place anywhere in the airport that did so. I can buy a phone but no minutes? (And I was totally out of time on my phone and so could not receive even a text message.) That was very culture shock for me, as in Norway you can go into any 7-11, Narvesen, kiosk or convenience store and top up your phone in about 2 minutes, and even if you are out of minutes you can still receive calls and messages.

But here, in the US, they do the whole cell phone thing completely backwards and you have to have a contract, etc. And to find a top up program that is pay as you go is apparently very difficult and to my knowledge only T Mobile does it, with any decent coverage on a GSM network. The guy I talked to at T Mobile when I finally DID find a place to top up my phone was very knowledgeable about the US vs Euro phone systems and he said the US is completely backwards and is the only country in the world that charges you for both calling AND receiving.....which sucks ass. You should not have to pay to receive a call. The US is way behind the rest of the world in cell phone technology, they are hampering their pwn progress with these byzantine rules. (And yes, I am very annoyed the iPhone is tied in to AT&T as it makes it completely useless for me. Dammit.)

Another big difference between Europe and the US is customer service when shopping. Generally, in Europe, when you go to a shop you might be greeted and after that the most you will get is a brief "Let me know if you need help". And I have found, if I DO need help, it's efficient, not overly friendly, but you generally end up getting your needs met. Today, at one shop I went to, this sweet but obviously over trained young girl followed me around, chirpily giving me advice on EVERY FUCKING thing in the store, offering suggestions on what to wear with this or that, to the point that I actually just left because I just did NOT WANT THAT MUCH HELP. I mean, really, honey, I am twice your age, and have been dressing myself successfully for YEARS. I know you want to help, but I managed to do quite well before I met you and will probably do so again, so while I appreciate the help, if you see me HIDING behind a dress form so that you won't see me and help me more, then maybe it's a sign that you should bugger off.

That being said, I did have some nice chats with other people today. That's another thing that doesn't happen in Europe, you don't do chatty talk with folks you don't know. Texans are experts at 'fake nice' as one girl I met called it. You know, that person you meet in the bathroom or shop or whatever is your best friend for like, 5 minutes, then you never see them again? Fake nice. Though it's not really fake, as I genuinely like talking to people, but in Norway it's considered a bit shallow and unnecessary to spend time chatting to someone you won't be seeing again. Here in Texas, it's a high art. I got stopped about 4 times today from people commenting on something I was wearing. And it's not that I looked all that great, it's just that people here DO that sort of thing...if you see something on someone you like, you tell them. I complimented three people myself just this afternoon.

Oh and haha...I got carded when I was buying wine. I was all (simper giggle simper) "Really? You want my ID? How sweet!" The check out girl shrugged and said "Yeah, we have to card anyone under 40." (bubble goes POOF) Well, at least I still look under 40...right?

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