Friday, 17 December 2010

Crossing the road

In UK/IE, we cross the road wherever we feel like it.

In California, it's very rare to cross the road at a place that isn't a junction or otherwise marked crosswalk.

It's even part of the law: here they have this thing called "jaywalking" which is actually *illegal*. Seriously.

In UK/IE, jaywalking isn't illegal itself. The thinking is that the roads are mostly there for people to walk on, and only incidentally for cars to drive on. (Needless to say, in the USA, the reverse is true!) It can be an offense to be, like, obstructing traffic or something, but crossing the road at arbitrary places isn't itself illegal. Especially if there's nothing coming.

Anyway, in UK/IE, roads are much narrower, so crossing the road is safer and more tantalising. In California, the roads are so darn wide, and there's so much more traffic, you just wouldn't dare.

*Plus*, in CA, people don't *expect* you to be crossing the road. If you cross the road before a juction, even though cars are mostly stopped, you're going to get *creamed*. People think nothing of driving past a row of parked cars. Pedestrians springing out just *doesn't* *happen*.

In UK/IE, it's totally normal to cross away from a junction, weaving between cars as necessary. I mean, it's dangerous, sure, but it's done. And when you're coming up to a junction you drive really slowly just in case. Especially if you're cycling and going between two rows of traffic.

Anyway. A little difference!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

You ain't there yet...

One big difference between UK/IE and California that took a while to get used to (and I'm not even sure I'm used to it yet) is the prevalence of roads with dividers and what it means...

Lots of roads here are very wide, and have lots of lanes. Four lanes in each direction isn't uncommon, three is commonplace. And there's usually a divider along the middle of the road.

One thing this means is that crossing the road on foot is a Big Deal. People just don't cross the road at arbitrary places: they go to junctions. (Here in California drivers really stop for people. They seem to be really serious about it. But anyway...) This is totally different to UK/IE where folk cross the road wherever they want - usually at junctions, but really wherever it suits. But that's because the roads are *so* much narrower.

Another implication of the wide roads with dividers is that if can see your destination on the other side of the road ... you ain't there yet! If there isn't a wee path in the central reservation to cross into the place your going to's car park (and *everywhere* has its own car park, except maybe in The City!) then you have to drive on to the next junction and do a U-turn.

Which leads me to another implication of these wide roads: U-turns are *totally* normal. Because of these central reservations, you pretty much *have* to do U-turns often. And the roads are wide enough to support it.

Many junctions have two lanes turning left. (We drive on the right in California...) You can usually do a U-turn in the leftmost one. But sometimes there's a sign saying you can't. That usually means if you try to, some other car will have right-of-way and you'll get creamed.

Anyway, U-turns are really rare in UK/IE. The roads aren't wide enough, so it wouldn't be practical, but in general it just doesn't happen. Instead, there are roundabouts, which are good enough. I quite like roundabouts - they're a great idea so long as everybody knows how they workd. (Hint: don't stop!)

A little difference!

Monday, 6 December 2010


In UK/Ireland, flour with baking soda mixed into it is called self-raising flour.

In California, it's called self-rising flour. (Note the missing 'a'.)

Truly a little difference!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Use of "km" in car ads

Something I find amusing to see in car ads here is what "km" means. If you see a car with "47km", it means it's got forty seven thousand (k for kilo) miles on it. Funny, huh?

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Winter in California

It's late November in California. (In other places too.) And winter is here. It rains a bit, it's unpleasantly chilly. We put the heating on sometimes. I only wear shorts when I'm cycling (which I don't do anywhere near as much.) I'm thinking we should buy a second car so I can drive to work without haggling.

Contrast this with Ireland where it's below zero for *way* too much of the time. And people get up before the sun does. I don't miss that so much.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Car rant

Our Mazda MPV annoys me. We've flattened the battery maybe five times now. It's starting to get silly.

It's always something we've done wrong: like leaving an inside light on, or not closing a door properly or something. But ... but, between us we've got, like, well over thirty years of driving experience, and we've had more flat batteries in the past three months than in all that time. It can't *just* be us, can it?

And while I'm on the subject, bottom-of-the-range cars in the US really do lack the most basic things: our car doesn't even have a trip counter. It just has one mileage display. One. That's it. I've never owned a car that didn't have a second, easily resettable one. Now I do. I like it, it's a nice car, and in the US it's fairly small (at home it'd be pretty big though!), but it's kinda basic.

(Update 2012-08-14: the battery thing was easily fixed by just replacing the battery. And the car does have a trip counter. I just needed to press a button. Duh. It's still a pretty basic car, but we like it more and more as time goes by.)

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Netflix changing their pricing model

Netflix are changing their prices. Our $8.99 a month (I know!!!) service is going up to $9.99 a month. That gets us unlimited streamed videos and one DVD at a time.

At the same time, though, they're introducing a $7.99 streaming-only service.

About. Time.

We'll probably watch a few videos from DVDs, then go streaming only. (Alternatively I'll figure that $2 a month isn't totally off the wall to get hold of those movies that I really want to watch but that aren't available for streaming yet. And so many really, really good movies aren't. The Godfather movies. Anything with Matt Damon in it. Disney stuff...)

Wednesday, 24 November 2010


It's Thanksgiving on Thursday this week. We have some friends coming round - all with children - so it should be good fun. One of them is American, so she can tell us what we're doing wrong!

We're going to cook a Turkey. Stuff it. Make gravy. Cranberry sauce. They're going to bring all sorts of interesting things too. Should be great...

Once I figure out what Thanksgiving is, I'll post about it here. Needless to say, nowhere else in the world knows what Thanksgiving is: it's a US-only thing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Return addresses

I was in a US post office for the very first time today. Something I noticed was a sign on the wall saying "Your letter must have a return address." The word "must" was underlined.

Now, I've always found it slightly odd that folks here in the US like to write their address in the top left corner on the front of envelopes when they post them. I don't much like the convention that you are *expected* to do it: I like privacy. But it doesn't bother me hugely. I still do it. But I always thought it was optional. And the internet thinks it is. But not this post office: that word "must" was underlined. How odd.

I should have asked about it!

Instead I just posted a letter, bought some UK stamps (for 98c each) and some US stamps ... they must've been about 50c each, maybe a little less. (I don't have the receipt handy.)

They call them "forever" stamps: they're first class stamps that don't have the price on them, so they don't "expire". We've had them in the UK for, like, forever.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Amazon and sales tax

One of the (many) reasons people buy from is that they don't charge sales tax.

It's a feature of the US tax systems (and interstate commerce in general) that a state can only collect sales tax from companies that have a significant presence in their state.

Amazon mostly studiously avoids having a presence in states with a sales tax. The upshot is that for residents of California (ie. me) if you buy from amazon, you save 10% over buying in a shop. Obviously other considerations will often apply: convenience; whether amazon actually *is* cheaper; etc. But isn't it neat?

In the EU, on the other hand, companies that sell above a certain threshold (about a hundred thousand euro, possibly only to consumers) into any EU countries have to register with the VAT authorities in that country and collect VAT in that country for stuff sold into that country. BUT, if you sell to a vat-registered _company_ in a country you're not vat registered in, and they tell you their VAT number, you don't have to charge them [your country's] VAT. If you're registered in their country, of course, you charge them their country's rate. (They'll "claim it back" (or, rather, deduct it from the payment they make of all the vat they in turn charged) anyway, but they get cashflow advantages this way.)

This inter-country VAT system, incidentally, is seriously abused ("carousel fraud", I think it's called) for some items like computer memory and mobile phones. So, of course, the system is constantly being tweaked to make life harder for everybody. (Because that's what governments *do*. Sigh.)

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Our bins (and rubbish in general)

We get our rubbish picked up once a week. We put the bins out on the kerb ("curb") on Monday night, and the bin lorry comes on Tuesday.

It's really cool: the driver doesn't get out of his lorry. An arm comes out of the side, picks up the bin, and empties it into the inside of the lorry. You have to leave the bins with the handle towards the curb, and a bit of space between them.

I think the same lorry takes both the recycling and the landfill waste. I'm pretty sure they go into separate halves of the lorry.

We have three bins: a great big recycling one (it's a bit bigger than normal-sized bins at home); a small landfill one (it's the same size as half-size bins at home); and a great big garden waste one. (I must find out if we can put food into the garden waste bin. And no, we don't compost. But the waste company surely does.)

In Northern Ireland, waste disposal is part of your rates (property tax).... every bi-week they come and take away one or other of your bins: recycling (and garden waste, during the summer) one week, and landfill the next week. The bins are about the same size (big, but not *quite* as big as big bins here.)

Bins here are wheeled, and the binmen in NI have to manually wheel the bins over to the arms at the back of the bin lorries.

One cool thing about NI is that there are lots of municipal dumps you can take arbitrary stuff to and dump it. They have lots of separate skips for different stuff (wood, batteries, paint, cardboard, metal, flourescent tubes, clothes, bottles, cans etc etc), and skips for just landfill waste. And they don't charge. It's a pretty great system. Also, if you've got too much waste than will fit in your landfill bin in two weeks (or if you forget to put your bin out!!!) you can just bring a couple of rubbish bags to the dump. Phew.

I don't know how people dispose of arbitrary stuff here in California. Mostly they have yard sales, as far as I can see, but ... they must have to go to the dump *sometime*. I must find out.

We pay about $30 a month for garbage charges. The company that handles it is called West Valley Recycles. They're a pleasure to deal with.

Friday, 19 November 2010


When you buy bottled water, or soft drinks, or beer in californaia, there's an extra tax you have to pay called CRV. Normal countries (and, indeed, many other states in the US) have a system of deposits.

If you're buying cheap bottled water, than it's a lot, proportionally. But if you're buying expensive beer, then not so much. It's *five cents* a bottle/can. (Apparently it's ten cents for big bottles, but I've never bought any of them, as far as I know.)

CRV is *like* a deposit, except you don't bring empties back to where you got them from. Instead you bring them back to these dedicated depots. And you queue for half an hour, and eventually they weigh your stuff and give you some percentage of what you're entitled to.

I don't actually know this first hand though: I haven't actually *been* to one of these places. I figure it's not really worth my while. I should go, but I don't. We don't use that much stuff with CRV, anyway: we don't drink much coke, I don't drink *that* much beer, and we don't drink much bottled water. So we just put all that stuff in our recycling bin.

Of course, the UK doesn't do anything like this. The US - California anyway - is *way* ahead of the UK and Ireland when it comes to recycling! (Assuming you think that recycling is a Good Thing - which I mostly do, even when it's economically wasteful. (What can I say? Green is the new religion.))

Oh, there's no CRV on wine. Result.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Sales tax (and VAT)

In america the price you see for things isn't necessarily the price you'll pay at the checkout. They almost always add sales tax at the checkout.

Plus, the sales tax varies depending on where you're buying from. There's probably a state component (most of it), plus a local component.

In california, sales tax is *about* 10%. I think it actually varies from, like, 9% to 9.75%, but I just figure it's about 10%.

It makes sense to advertise prices ex tax for several reasons:
1. A multi-outlet chain couldn't advertise prices if the prices would be different in all their stores
2. Taxpayers think it important that the sales TAX be as prominent as possible, to avoid people taking it for granted. After all, it's *them* taking *your* money.

This contrasts with the UK, where VAT (which is *like* sales tax, but not the same) is always included in the price for sales mostly to consumers. (Stuff that's mostly sold to businesses can be advertised with the exclusive-of-vat price.) The VAT rate is the same throughout the country, so the "don't know what the price will be" argument doesn't make sense.

I'm torn: on the one hand, I like the convenience of the UK. On the other, I like the fact that Americans constantly bristle about tax. If you ask me, they don't bristle enough, but any bristling is good bristling.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Cheap wine in walmart

Walmart sell a brand of wine called "Oak Leaf". It is, of course, Californian. It tastes really nice. I don't know if it's on special offer or what, but it's $1.97 a bottle.

There's a Merlot, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Shiraz. Me, I prefer the cab sauv, but I suspect that I wouldn't be able to tell them apart in a taste test.

(I definitely wouldn't be able to tell all *three* apart in a blind taste test - three-way taste tests are practically impossible.)

(I also have a suspicion that they're all the same - just different labels.... ;-)

Local wine, tastes great, dirt cheap. Isn't that fantastic?

Oh, they have some white wines too, but I can live without white wine.

To be honest, I prefer to drink beer. But did I mention the wine is $1.97 a bottle? Decent beer costs about a dollar a bottle when on special offer, more when not. I mean, I don't want to sound like a student who has just discovered The Crescent, but ... well, I guess I'm a wine drinker now.

Oh, it gets better: there's no CRV on wine. I can think of lots of reasons why not, but my guess is that the folks who write the laws (and those who lobby for them) drink wine, not beer. Plus, wine is probably Big Business in california, and beer isn't.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Crisps v Chips

I think I'm just old, but I find it kinda cumbersome to mentally translate betwen "chips" and "crisps" here in the US. I have to really think about it every time.

At home, obviously, chips are potatoes sliced up and fried, and crisps are potatoes sliced up and ... hang on! No, chips are potates cut up into rectangular-ish chunks, and deep fried. And crisps are potatoes cut into wafer thin slices and deep fried.

Crisps are made by Tayto. (By law in Ireland, 50% of your crisp intake must be Tayto.) I like Cheese & Onion. Also Salt & Vinegar. I can't stand Ready Salted. There are all sorts of poncey flavours like "balsamic vinegar and dead sea rock salt from the time of Jesus". Nah.

There are also abominations (albeit very, very tasty abominations) like Pringles. They're not made from sliced spud. Rather they're made from re-formed mushed spud. Nice, but weird.

Chips are what you get in a chippie. With fish. Or in a chinese restaurant. (I know!!!) They're great with salt and vinegar. (Or mayonnaise ... I'm weird!) Again, they should be made from directly sliced spud, not reconstituted mush. Also, they should be fairly chunky. Not the skinny waif chips you get in McDonalds.

Anyway, here in the USA, crisps are called chips. And chips are called fries.

Chips (I'd call them crisps) are mostly similar, but there are much more of the re-constituted mush variety (like pringles) than "normal" crisps. There's a brand/company called Frito that does reasonably good crisps. (They call them chips.)

I haven't really had fries (I'd call them chips) here. Maybe with a burger sometimes. They're usually very good. They're often made from directly sliced spud. They're often reasonably thick.

Oh, sometimes you see places advertising "Fish and Chips", which is what you'd expect. Must try that sometime!

I don't eat much in the way of either chips or crisps, so I'm not bothered.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Range (petrol)

Something I find funny here is that cars have hardly any range.

Our Mazda MPV, for example, takes about $50 to fill up. And it'll do about 300 miles before it needs filled again. I don't know about you, but that seems crap to me.

I mean, it's totally logical: cars here are just less efficient than at home, but in general they have the same size petrol tanks.

My car at home - a petrol Stilo - did something like over 500 miles between fills. Our Alhambra the same, maybe over 600 sometimes.

Really efficient cars - like the Prius - get tiny fuel tanks.

It's probably a feature...

Thursday, 11 November 2010


Coupons are big here in the US. In the UK/Ireland, coupons exist, but folk as a rule don't use them so much. They're just not part of the culture.

In the US, it's quite normal to collect coupons too use when you do your grocery shopping. Stuff can be cheap, but name brand stuff usually isn't. If you just go into a random supermarket here and buy your usual stuff, you'll pay well over the odds. A membership card, coupons, and only buying things when they're on special offer all contribute *much* more to savings than they would at home.

I think there might be funny laws here in California about coupons. There are funny laws about everything else. (Honestly, it constantly amazes me that people start businesses in California!)

Saturday, 6 November 2010


In UK/Ireland biscuits are a national treasure. Readily available, cheap, flippin' delicious, varied, suitable for dipping in tea, and sweet.

Here in the USA, those things are called cookies. They're ... different. It's not possible to go into a normal supermarket and buy a packet of e.g. hob nobs, or something like that. Cookies are ... well, they're lovely, but they're differnet. They have chocolate chips in them. They come in a bag. Or a see-through box.

In the USA, though, *biscuits* look a bit like mashed potato. And they're savoury. And made with flour. I have yet to try them, but I intend to the next time I see them on a menu.

Friday, 5 November 2010


It looks like the word "gravy" in UK/Ireland means something different in the USA.

At home, gravy is *brown*. It's usually thick, but might be a bit runny. It's made with the juices of beef (or chicken, or whatever) leftover in the pan, heated up, maybe with onions (aswell or instead), reduced, wine added, cornflour, that sort of thing.

Or you could just buy bisto granules. That's what I do. And add it to the juices. Makes it extra rich. Also I follow the directions religiously, so it's nice 'n' thick.

Here in the USA though, it looks like gravy means a thick, creamy sauce. The photos on the front of the packets looks like somebody poured cream sauce over their steak.

I'm sure it's lovely, but it's not what I'm looking for!

They also have stuff called "brown gravy", which is more like what I'm after. And in one supermarket I found some classic bisto, but it's powder, not granules, so it's a bit of a pain to make.

Thankfully the boys Auntie was visiting recently and brought us some bisto granules. Yay!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Duvets v Comforters

In NI/UK/Ireland, we call them Duvets or maybe Continental Quilts.

In California, they call them Comforters.

Funny, huh?

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


Recently the US has passed a healthcare reform bill. I can't claim to understand it, but from what I can tell, it makes a fucked up system worse, if that's possible.

One of the things it does is *forces* you to have health insurance. If you don't have health insurance, you have to pay an extra tax - several thousand dollars a year, afaik. That's just insane, but there you go.

One good thing (I think) it does though is make it illegal for health care providers to refuse you cover if you have pre-existing conditions. (I mean, who doesn't have pre-existing conditions?!) I'm not sure if it lets them charge you an outrageous premium for this.

(I could be totally wrong about all this. In fact, I probably am. If you can picture an authoritative source on all this ... I am not that.)

I've said it before and I'll say it again: one of the many absurdities of the american healthcare system is how it's all called "insurance", even for the most routine healthcare things. Do you take out "insurance" against having to service your car?

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


As far as I can tell, there are two types of health insurance here in California: PPO and HMO.

HMO is most like the NHS - you have a GP, they are your gatekeeper for health care. If your GP approves something, they'll sort it out. If they don't approve, well that's too bad.

The alternative is the PPO. Here you don't have a GP, and you have to pick what doctor/whatever to go to whenever you need something. Roughly, you'll pay 10% of the cost (which will be expensive!) if it's "in network" ... that is, somebody approved by your PPO provider ... and 30% of the cost if it's "out of network".

There are other things that help make this work: you can set up a "Health Savings Account" and pay money into it before tax. Then you can use that to pay for the more routine parts of your health insurance.

Oh, of course, there are other possibilities. You could pay for everything out of pocket.

Generally it seems quite odd to me that everything to do with healthcare is called "insurance" here, even for stuff that is fairly routine. It's like your house insurance covering having to paint your house or clean your windows, or your car insurance covering new tires (sic) and even petrol.

Everything is in stark contrast to the NHS, which Just Works. (Except when it doesn't, or when it works slowly.)

Monday, 1 November 2010

Health Insurance - HMO

I'll hopefully end up writing dozens of posts on health insurance and how the healthcare system in the US (well, California) differs from the NHS, but let me start with this:

We're with Kaiser Permanente. It's called a "HMO", and an HMO is fairly similar to the NHS.

You pay yer money every month. (Mostly, my employer pays. It's, like, $8k a year or something for the family. Yikes.) You have a doctor, they're exactly like your GP. If you need something, your GP is the person you go to. If you try to bypass your GP, you'll have to pay for it totally yourself.

Of course, if you have to go to the ER ('cos that's what they call it here!), that'll be covered. Probably. We haven't had to yet. If we did, we'd probably go to the Kaiser ER, since it's not far away from our house.

In the UK, of course, the NHS is pretty much free, and you won't have any nasty financial surprises. I really love the NHS, I reckon it's one of the greatest things the British have ever built, possibly *the* greatest. It definitely has its flaws, but it's still amazing.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Jim Beam

It turns out that American whiskey (Jim Beam, since you ask) is surprisingly pleasant. Much cheaper here (in California) than Jameson and Bushmills.

I'm on a quest to find the perfect whisk(e)y. A friend, Dermot, has in the past gotten me bottles of a f***ing *lovely* old bushmills. It's my current favourite.

But I'm still hunting.

It turns out that Laphroaig tastes like Jameson after it's already been through me. Twice.

Jameson is alright. It's not the fancy old bushmills, but it's alright.

And Jim Beam is a bit like Jameson. It's got a slight hint of the smokey pishy taste that's in Laphroaig, but it's totally drinkable.

Still hunting.

Saturday, 30 October 2010


Here in california folk really care about baseball. Especially now, with the SF Giants in the "playoffs". I'm starting to pick up some of the excitement, and I'm absorbing some of the rules. By osmosis.

We'll go see a game in a week or two somewhere. Probably not the SF Giants though. Maybe a more "local" team. Whatever there is in San Jose.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Crossing the road ("street")

In NI ... and Ireland/UK in general, there is no law against "jay walking" per se, so it's normal to cross the road wherever you want. In practice, though, sanity tends to mitigate against just walking into traffic.

But one thing people do at home is weave among cars that have stopped at lights. It's why you don't drive fast alongside a row of stationary cars: somebody might just pop out and you'd hit them.

Here in California, though, *nobody* does that. Crossing the road among cars would be ... insane. People just don't do it. Not at all. Cross at the crossing.

Of course, there are specific laws against jay walking here, which probably counts. But also the roads are much wider, so you've so much further to go. But the big one is probably that nobody expects you to do it, so driving fastish alongside a row of stationary cars isn't so insane here, so folk kinda do it a bit, so you'd stand a non-trivial chance of getting creamed. Which would be bad.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

House prices and property tax

When you buy a house here in California, the sale/purchase price is a matter of public record. This is quite different to UK/Ireland, where the purchase price is totally private.

The house we're currently renting though, last sold for about $620k. About seven years ago. (Wow!)
It's probably worth a bit more now, but it's totally academic.

You can find all this sort of information out through

But that's not what this blogticle is about: what's interesting is the property tax.

The property tax on this house is about $8400 a year. My goodness. As far as I can tell, the main chunk of the property tax will not be more than 1% of the assessed value of a house. If you buy a house, there's an assessed value right there.

Soooo, if you buy a house, figure on paying 1% of the purchase price in local taxes every year for ever more.

Thanks to the famous (Reagan-era?) proposition 13, though, your property tax will not rise by more than 2% a year. So if you never move house, that 1% of purchase price is going to increase every year by 2%.

But still ... one percent. Ouch.

The lesson for me is that suddenly I don't feel *so* bad about the rent on this place: nearly a quarter of it goes in local taxes! (Unfortunately, of course, I don't get to deduct these against my income tax. Such is life. I guess that's why I "should" buy a house here. Aye, right.)

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Drying clothes

In Ireland, every house has a washing line out the back. Or, at least, *some* method of drying clothes when it's a "grand drying day". Many houses have "tumble dryers", but not all. And using them, although it is convenient, feels slightly wrong. And if the weather is even slightly conducive to drying clothes outside (which, I should point out, it rarely is), we prefer to dry clothes naturally.

In California, *nobody* dries clothes outside. I think it's considered Just Not The Done Thing. Which is ridiculous in a country where it never rains (I'm typing this on the first miserably proper wet Irish-Summer day of the California winter). So everybody - including us - dries their clothes indoors. Oh well.

In fairness, dryers are very good. Our dryer here is much better than our dryer at home. Not sure why. Maybe because it's a lot bigger.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Washing clothes

Washing clothes is different here in California compared to Northern Ireland.

Washing machines are much bigger here. You can put a lot more clothes in for a given wash.

They use a lot more water too (at least, I think they do), which is odd for a country where you have to pay through the nose for water.

Washing machines here in California don't heat water on the fly: they just assume you have a constant supply of hot water. In the UK, all new washing machines are cold fill: it's basically impossible now to buy a dual-fill washing machine. (Which is annoying if you have solar hot water!)

And they're much quicker: a wash here takes less than an hour. Maybe a lot less. Washing machines in NI will run for, like, three hours if you let them.

And I don't know if it's the washing powder or the time taken, but washing machines here just don't get clothes as clean as they do at home.

I miss our washing machine in Dromara.

Monday, 25 October 2010


We get the San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle delivered at the weekends. One of them comes thursday through Sunday; the other, Friday through Sunday.

I think it cost $20 for each of them for, like, three months of subscription.

The only problem is we get huge volumes of newspapers and ads to wade through every week. There's lots of duplication, and we just end up putting most of it straight into recycling, and reading some of it.

I really miss newspapers in the UK: fantastic selection in every garage/newsagent. Newspapers is definitely one of the things the UK does really, really well. But one doesn't tend to get, like, *overwhelmed* by newspapers like what happens here. I guess subscribing to newspapers is odd and weird in NI.

It's a shame they're dying. I miss The Times' crossword. (On physical paper, of course.) I miss the letters page in the Times. Also the Irish Times. I hope they'll all still be alive if/when I get back.

I don't miss the belfast telegraph.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The power of craiglist

Craigslist is fan-f***ing-tastic, so it is.

Check it out:

You can (I imagine) sell anything you don't want with moderate hassle.

But you can stock your entire house with furniture and suchlike very cheaply.

And it's the only way to buy a car.

I *heart* craigslist.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Nice baps!

Something I miss about NI is being able to buy nice bread cheaply.

There are lots of wee bakeries around that sell crusty baps, lovely and soft on the inside. Mmmm. We used to live opposite one on the Antrim road - just past Duncairn gardens. (It's one of just a handful of things I miss about living in North Belfast...)

And then there are supermarkets, which sell baguettes and flippin' *lovely* breads. Even though these are half-baked before they get to the supermarkets, they're still darn fine. But the point is that they're all pretty cheap.

Here in California, it *is* possible to get hold of decent bread, but it's darned expensive. But even half-decent bread - par-baked, moderately tasty, with an ingredient list that isn't outrageously long - is hard to get and Not Cheap.

And I miss going to the supermarket an hour before closing and buying all the bread that's marked down to less than half-price (and freezing it). They don't seem to do that here.

Hmmm, I see a theme in all the things I miss about NI: anything I prefer about NI, I only miss it because it's dearer or slightly less convenient here. :-)

Friday, 22 October 2010

Smelly cheese

Something I like about Northern Ireland - and the UK and Ireland in general - is that you can go into Sainsbury or Tesco or whatever and expect to buy smelly cheese without paying the earth.

Cheeses like Epoisses, a half-decent Camembert, some Brie, some Pie d'Angloys, some Stilton, some Danish Blue.

One of those - I think it's the Epoisses - quantum tunnels its smell through tupperware and the fridge and pervades your entire house. (Thankfully it doesn't taste like it smells; it tastes divine.)

Of course, France is better for cheese, but your average UK supermarket is Good Enough. And the point is that it's not that expensive.

And it's a lot better than California, where unless you go to really fancy places (like Whole Foods), where everything is seriously expensive (they call it "Whole Paycheck"), you just can't get decent cheese.

Supermarkets - if they have anything like that, they might have a naff Danish Blue, and maybe a Brie or a Camembert ... but they'll have no smell and they'll be as hard as a rock. And if you just buy them and ignore them, they don't age gracefully: they just get harder. Ridiculous.

It's something I miss, that's all: NI is just better than California for cheese.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Car insurance - limit of liability

I wrote a couple of days ago about insurance in California v Northern Ireland.

One important difference - a consequence of how different people have different limits of third party liability - is that your insurance company really, really wouldn't want you to tell the other party in an accident what the limits of your liability is.

The question doesn't arise in NI.

I note at this point that drivers in California are far more civilised on average than drivers in NI. (Who are sometimes f***ing insane.) It's probably cultural, a product of the cold northern climate or something.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Papers please

One of the cool things about living in the UK is that there is no requirement that you be able to prove who you are. You don't have to carry an internal passport, an ID card, your driving licence etc.

(This will probably change at some point. One person's Fundamental Human Right is another's Technical Legal Loophole.)

Here in California, you're required to carry your driving licence with you when driving. You're also supposed to have proof of insurance and proof of ownership of the car. Or something like that: I keep a photocopy of something in the car, the registration document I think.

I also have a notion that you're supposed to carry identification at all times in the USA even when you're just walking. I don't know how true this is in theory, but of course it hardly matters at all in practice.

I also suspect that as a foreigner, I should probably have my passport with me at all times. F*** that - losing it would be far too big a hassle. Anyway, I don't look Hispanic, nor do I live in Arizona. (I'll rant about the outrageousness of that some other time, once I can write about it without wanting to smash things.)

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Car Insurance

I'm sure I've written about this before, and I'm sure I'll write about this again, but car insurance is just *different* between California and Northern Ireland.

One difference is who is insured to drive: in NI, the only people insured to drive your car are the people specifically listed on the insurance policy. If your spouse isn't listed, they're probably not insured in NI.

California is different: basically anybody who has your permission to drive your car is insured. Also, family members are insured even if they don't have your permission. (At least, as far as I can tell!) This is better.

Another difference is what you're insured to drive. In NI, if you have comprehensive cover, then you're probably insured to drive other people's cars third-party-only. (That is: if you crash their car, you might have to buy them a new car.) If you only have third-party insurance in NI, then you probably aren't insured to drive other cars.

If you hire a car in the USA, interestingly, it seems that you don't need to take out insurance from the hire company: your normal car insurance covers you. Let's just say that this doesn't happen in NI.

Another cool thing about California: my insurance policy says something like "if you buy another car, and all your cars are currently insured with us, then you get thirty days insurance on the new car until you have to tell us about it."

Another difference is that in NI, if your insurance premiums scale quickly with the "powerfulness" of your car. What's that? You've got a three litre V6? And you're under forty? Ffffffff, s'gonnacostya.

In California, it seems that engine size and powerfulness have little impact on insurance. I mean, I imagine a Corvette is more expensive to insure than a Civic, but it's nowhere near as extreme as in NI (where there could easily be an extra zero!)

One good thing about NI (at least, I *think* it's good) is coverage: insurance basically has infinite liability to third parties. I mean, it's usually a couple of million pounds' limit. Or thereabouts. So basically infinite. Once you have insurance, you're *insured*. Done.

California, not so much. The legally required minimum of third party liability is $35k. So if you cause an accident and somebody needs to spend some time in hospital, and/or they have a nice car, then you're in trouble. Most people with something to lose get higher third party liability coverage!

I have a suspicion, that if you wanted e.g. $2m of third party liability coverage, then the extremes of premium that are more common in NI could start to appear in California. That is, maybe premiums are so closely clustered here because whether you're in a Toyota Corolla or a Nissan Supra, you're about equally likely to cause $30k of damage. But maybe you're much more likely to cause $1m of damage in the faster car. I don't know.

More of the same on insurance later...

Monday, 18 October 2010

October Rain

It's raining today.

The weather forecast earlier in the week said it would rain today, but I just laughed. Yeah, right.

Turns out it was serious.

But some perspective is in order. Here in California, it's almost late October. October!

And it's rained properly for the first time since spring.

I found myself feeling a little bit chilly. Exactly like a (normal) wet July or August day in Derry, Donegal or Dromara. But - get this! - I then noticed that I was damp (from being out walking in the rain), I was wearing shorts, and nothing on my feet. And I was feeling a little bit chilly.


Turns out that autumn ("fall") here is a *lot* like summer in Ireland. (Only it gets hotter here, and doesn't rain as much.)

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


We've had *something* pulling tufts of grass out of our front law recently.

I initially thought it was the kids. So I asked them. They had no idea.

Then I thought it might have been a dog. But there's been no sight of a dog.

Next I thought of a cat: but I haven't seen one.

All the while, the problem's been getting worse.

Finally, we've figured out the problem: we saw some *crows* yanking up tufts of grass! Crows!!!!

So we've put up a sign outside the house that says feck off crows!.

Ah, seriously, K has put up a tinfoil scarecrow tree thing for now, while we try to figure out other options. (If that doesn't work.)

Monday, 11 October 2010

Online banking - transfers to arbitrary accounts

I use smile for internet banking at home. Mostly they're grand.

In the US, I'm with wells fargo. They're not so good. There are some cool things, like scanning your checks (sic) for you but for online transfers, they're a bit naff.

First, as far as I can see, to transfer money to the UK, I have to pay a visit to the branch. In person. Sheesh.

Second, as far as I can see, to transfer money to the US, I have to pay a visit to the branch. In person. Sheesh.

It's not completely terrible though: if I just want to transfer to a *person* (as opposed to a business), it looks like I can do it online. And if I want to transfer to another wells fargo account, it looks like I can do it online. But for businesses - even those with US bank accounts - fuggedaboutit.

It's all a little bit last century. So I'm on the lookout for a bank with better online transfer fu.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Specialty license plates

One cool thing in california is custom license (sic) plates.

As far as I can tell, you can get whatever you want on license plates, provided it's not already taken. And you pay for it. Isn't that neat?

My favourite is a VW Bug (we would call it a Beetle), with the license plate "FEATURE":
...although I haven't actually seen that.

There are lots of funny ones: "FOR MA STF" is one we noticed recently, on a big 4x4.

Anyway, it looks like specialized plates cost, like, $50-$100 up front, and $40-$80 a year thereafter. (Still seems like a waste to me, but it *is* cool.)

This is, of course, in complete contrast to the UK way of personalizing registration numbers, where you have to squint really hard. In this world, a 5 is an S, 13 is a B ... or maybe an R, 2 is a Z, and so on, I is a one, O is a zero (of course), 7 is a T ... it's just lame.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Getting tags from the DMV

I posted off the form (with payment) near the end of August to get new tags for our car. (The old ones at the end of August.)

It's now early October and they haven't arrived yet.

They haven't even cashed the check yet!

I could go to one of the their offices ... but it could take hours just to talk to somebody who can't help me.

I could ring them, but I'll be on hold for at least an hour ... and will probably end up talking to somebody who can't help me.

In the end I checked their website again and it says (something like) "if your tags haven't arrived within eight weeks, contact us again.".

Eight weeks???!!!!

But it also says that if you get hassled by the police for not having up-to-date tags, it's ok: so long as you sent off payment for the tags, you're covered.

Gotta love it.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Tesco and supermarkets in California

One of the things I used to really like about living in the UK was the supermarkets, especially Tesco.

It's probably just me rather than something inherent to UK supermarkets, but in my memories, of all the things you can get in tesco, they're all reasonably cheap, nothing is egregiously overpriced.

Here, there are lots of different supermarkets, and they all seem really *expensive*. Sometimes, outrageously so.

I do reckon, though, that it's probably just me. I'm used to getting the sorts of things I'm used to getting, and those sorts of things are just expensive here.

Things like smelly cheese, nice bread, butter, cheap natural yoghurt.... I'm used to them being dead cheap in Tesco and Sainsbury. Here, there not. Well, butter isn't *too* expensive (but I suspect "grass-fed" butter is. I mean, what? Anyway, that's a rant for another day.)

I imagine people moving from the USA to the UK have the same problem: the things they're *used* to are expensive, and they haven't adapted to liking things that aren't out-of-this-world expensive yet.

I'll get there. And the move back to the UK - if and when - will probably be much more traumatic! (e.g. But But But Mars bars are only supposed to cost 25p???!!!!!)


It has just rained.

It's early october here in Silicon Valley [0], I still wear shorts most of the time, we still have our summer duvet on our bed, and it still gets lovely and sunny and warm when the sun shines.

Yesterday was a cloudy, slightly chilly day. And Irish person (like me) might wonder if maybe it was time to put on long trousers, or maybe socks.

(Of course, the natives are all commenting out how *cold* it is. Bless.)

But yesterday it rained. It was just a slight smattering. Irish people would hardly notice. The ground had a slight smear of water on it after the "rain" had passed.

Apparently this is what winter is like. Chilly, often not sunny, warm during the day, occasional rain. It sounds just like the season I used to call summer!

[0] I imagine it's early october in other places too...

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Netflix is down

As I write, netflix is down.

We use netflix for most of our tv watching. We have an "app" built into our TV (in hindsight, I should have got a cheap TV and a Roku box!) for netflix, so that's where most of our TV comes from.

For $8.99 a month, we get one physical DVD at a time through the post, and as much streamed stuff as we can watch.

I'm a *big* fan. I'm mildly annoyed that it's down right now, but we'll live.

I'm sure streamed movies ... whatever you want, almost ... will arrive back home soon enough, but I bet it'll cost, like, £24.99 a month or something outrageous like that. Sigh.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Suburban parks

One of the things I really like about living here in California is the parks: there are maybe four or five parks withing *walking* distance of our house, and tons within driving distance.

And they're all great: any one of them would be an exceptional park at home.

They all have tables and barbeque thingies (and you can bring your own), lots of green space, people walking dogs or playing volleyball, and (most importantly) swings and climbing frames and slides and whatnot.

One in particular near us (called Jack Fisher park) has a water play thingy: fountains and jets and the like. Great on a hot day.

Vasona park, not walkable but trivially driveable, has a big lake, and you can hire boats. (Or, I guess, bring your own.)

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Price of gas (petrol...)

I filled up the car last night. It's a minivan with a three litre (liter!) petrol engine. A V6. (It's a 2005 Mazda MPV. It's silver, since you ask.)

It seems to do about twenty mumble miles to the US gallon. A US gallon is a bit over 3.5 liters. So that's, what, six miles to the liter? Ouch.

A car like this would be unthinkably expensive to run at home. At £1.10 per litre of petrol, it would break your heart. But here, it just doesn't matter.

I guess the upshot is that it costs about the same to drive a mile here in a normal car as it does to drive a mile in a normal car at home in the UK.

People say gas is cheap here - it cost less than $3 per US gallon to fill up last night - but we adapt to adversity here!

Oh, octane levels: they price gas per octane level here, which somebody pointed was much lower than at home. The gas I put in yesterday was 87. Regular is maybe 90 and premium 93 or 94. I think. Can't remember exactly. In the UK, octane levels are much higher, I'm sure...

(And if I knew what an octane was... ;-)

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Sales tax when buying a car

In NI (and the UK, and the Republic of Ireland), when you buy a car second hand, you don't have to pay any taxes. So there's really nothing to stop you buying a car and selling it on: there is very little government-imposed *friction* to buying and selling cars. This is a good system.

Admittedly when you buy a *new* car, the price *includes* lots of taxes. But at least the price you see is the price you'll pay. More or less. (Assuming you don't get suckered into buying all sorts of crap by the sales fella...)

Here in California, the price you see when you buy a car is not the price you'll pay. You'll pay *about* ten per cent extra in taxes/fees. There are a few different components, but by far the biggest is the registration tax. I believe this actually goes to the county you live in rather than to the state. Which is something, I guess. The tax goes by different names in different counties, and may vary slightly in amount, but it's going to be pretty darn close to 10%.

But the thing I dislike about the California way is that they also charge this fee on second-hand car sales. When we bought our car (for $7200 or $7300, I forget which), I then had to physically go to the DMV (the topic of a future rant, possibly many) and pay them either $808 or $708 dollars. I remember that the car cost $8008 in total, even though the seller only got $7200.

(This nonsense explains why people tend to hang onto their cars more here in CA, why they have a different relationship to their cars to what I'm used to.)

Friday, 1 October 2010

Car "tags"

Every year here in California you have to get new "tags" for your car.

Your rear "licence plate" has two stickers on it: a month sticker and a year sticker. You have to get a new year sticker every year. The month sticker you keep pretty much forever.

You have to pay a registration every year to "renew your tags". This involves interacting with the DMV, which is a legendary pain.

I don't know how much it costs to renew your registration: we haven't done it yet. We bought our car a bit before the registration expired, but the seller had already renewed it. (If you don't renew it in time, there's a fine!!!)

Renewing your registration isn't hugely expensive: over $100, but less than $200. (ICBW!)

I suspect that to renew your registration you have to have proof of insurance and maybe also a smog certificate (analogous to the MOT cert at home, but far less thorough.) But you only have to start to even *think* about smog certificates when your car is a certain age.

This is all similar to the UK (and Ireland), but different: in the UK, you have to buy and display a circular tax disc in your windscreen. (Same in Ireland.) But in California, the cost of a tax disc isn't proportional to your engine's CO2 emissions in some standard test; it's a flat fee.

In the UK, you have to MOT your car every year after it's three or four years old .. in Northern Ireland, the MOT is due on the car's fourth "birthday". In Ireland (aka "down south"), you have to do the NCT every two years (I believe), once the car is over a certain age.

If you get your MOT done by the monopoly MOT testers in Northern Ireland, you get an MOT *disc*, which you are also required to display in your windscreen. (Like, WTF???) But if you get the MOT done in Britain (totally legit), you don't get such a disc, and therefore you don't have to display one. (Again, WTF??!)

In the south of Ireland, you also get an NCT disc (but I believe it's square shaped), which has to be displayed. Also, in the south of Ireland, you have to display an *insurance* disc (sic - again, it's square!) too. Thankfully in NI you don't have to do that. At least, not yet.

So cars in Britain have to display one piece of view-blocking paraphernalia: a tax disc. Cars in NI younger than four the same. Cars in NI older than four: two windscreen obstructions - tax disc and MOT disc. Cars down south: between two and three view blockers. Cars in California: none. It's better this way.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

How's it going

In the USA, it seems that "How's it going?" is actually a question, not a greeting! Weird, eh?

So a conversation, totally normal in Ireland, like...
A: How's it going?
B: How's it going?
...seems a little abrupt here.

Oh well, they'll get used to me.

In other news, "Any craic?" needs to be explained. Repeatedly.

Of course, this could all be just me.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Water bills

Something I'm finding it difficult to get used to is water bills.

The house we've rented has a reasonably big garden. Which is mostly grass. It has sprinklers. We recently got a water bill for the past two months (of summer) for $300. Aiee!

It looks like it's about $2.50 for a ccf of water ... that's a hundred cubic feet. Or 2.8 cubic meters (sic).

I have a notion that farmers and other big users of water pay about a pound for each cubic meter of water. (Ah, here's the NI Water large user tariff.) So here in California we pay about a dollar for each cubic meter. Which seems slightly more reasonable. Large users here maybe pay more. Plus, there is a standing charge too. My goal is for the standing charge to dwarf the usage charges!

Anyway, it turns out that our sprinklers were happily dumping the guts of 200 cubic feet onto our lawns and trees every night during the summer. That's $5 every night!!!

I've now learned how to tone the sprinklers down a bit! The next water bill should be much less of a shock!

Water rates - if they ever introduce them in NI - won't bother me so much if/when we move back!

PS. San Jose water are the least pleasant utility to deal with. PG&E are ok, and the garbage company is great. I *still* have to physically visit the water company to give them a deposit (!!!!) to get the water bill transferred to my name. Sheesh.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Hot weather? At the end of September?

At the time of writing (the end of septmber), we're experiencing something of a heatwave here in Northern California.

During the day it gets up to a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. That's hotter than body temperature. It's surprisingly pleasant, provided you always have the option of retreating indoors to blessed, sweet AC. (We don't have AC at home...)

But it's always pleasantly chilly in the morning: windows left open mean cold rooms when you get up.

Hot weather observations:

o You think the AC in your car isn't working very well, 'cos you're still a little hot and bothered ... until you get out of the car and The Wall Of Heat hits you.

o You might not even realise how hot it is if you go into work early (before nine) ... even if you cycle, perhaps especially if you cycle ... and don't go outside during the day. When eventually you head out to go home, you get hit by The Wall Of Heat.

o Cycling through The Wall Of Heat isn't as much fun as you'd think: it's quite tiring to cycle in hot, hot weather. Better to cycle in the chilly cool of morning.

o The children don't really mind The Wall Of Heat.

o People talk about the weather here: mostly because the summer was "funny", and "not a proper summer"; but also because this indian summer (?) isn't entirely expected.

o I'd like a swimming pool.

Moving from the USA to Russia...?

One of the inspirations for this blog of mine was this wonderful blog about moving from the USA to Russia:

I found it, then spent the next several hours diligently reading it from start to finish. (Actually, it might have been from finish to start.)

The differences between the UK and the USA are nothing when compared to the differences between Russia and the USA.

Monday, 27 September 2010

A postbox? What's that?

Many years ago, when we live in a particular house in Belfast, we had a postbox right outside our house. Well, actually, it was the other side of the Antrim road, but the point is that it was very, very handy. If you wanted to post something, you just stuck a stamp on it and ran across the road and stuck it in the postbox.

Here in the states they have an even better system for sending out outgoing post. If you want to post something, you stick it in your mailbox, and you stick up a little red flag. Then when the "mail carrier" comes along to leave in your post, she takes away the outgoing post.

Isn't that fantastic?

There are other little differences between the UK and the USA when it comes to post. It's traditional here to write the sender's address in the top left of envelopes here. I think I read somewhere that that's because the post office won't open mail if they want to return it to sender - if the sender's address isn't on the outside, and they can't deliver it, I guess they just throw it out. In the UK, they open it up to try and figure out who to send it back to. (At least, I think they do.)

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Waving when people let you in

One little difference between driving in NI and driving in California is how people don't wave here when you let them in.

I can't help myself - when somebody lets me in (or I cut them up: the difference it sometimes in the eye of the beholder...), I stick my hand up. I've been told it's just endearingly quaint, but in a mocking voice.

That's not to say drivers here aren't very accommodating. Not at all - they're great, they'll pretty much always let you in. Nobody's going to sit blocking you deliberately for five to ten minutes and totally ignore you for that time. At least, I've never seen it.

Also, nobody beeps their horn here. Or, very rarely. In that sense, it's a lot like home.

Saturday, 25 September 2010


This is really trivial, but something I miss about home (NI/UK) is the little green and white scouring sponges you can buy in Tesco for, like, 15p for five.

Here in California, I have yet to find a source of cheap sponges like these. The only thing I've found are really expensive sponges: like, most of a dollar each.

I mean, I know in the global scheme of things it's pretty trivial. I get it.

But generally I miss shops where you can buy good quality things for trivial amounts of money in small quantities. I imagine if I went to Costco I could buy sponges for a couple of pennies each ... but I'd probably have to buy a thousand of the flippin' things!

Friday, 24 September 2010

Right turn Clyde

One obvious difference between the UK and the USA is the side of the road folk drive on. I mean, like, duh!

It takes a few weeks to adjust to driving. We've been here in California for nearly three months now, and I think we've adjusted. I very occasionally have these minor moments of panic where I think "he's coming right at me - Aaaargh", but they're getting fewer and further between.

Something I do find is when I imagine myself driving at home (ie. in Northern Ireland), especially on rural roads, I can't remember which side of the road I used to drive on. I have to really think hard. ("Well, if the steering wheel was on that side, and we have the steering wheel closest to the middle of the road, that means we drive on this side. That means I .... hey! why is he driving on the wrong side of the road?! Aaaargh. *whimper*")

Something I do like about driving here is how relaxed it is. I think it's something to do with big wimpy engines, automatic gearboxes, soft suspension, wide roads and plenty of them. Folk mostly don't rush when driving. It's not as much like a race as it is at home (in NI).

And the thing I really like about driving here is turning right on red lights: if you come to a red light, and you're turning right (that's the "easy turn"), you can just treat it like a stop sign.

Oh, and parking here is dead easy. If you can parallel park, you'll probably never really be stuck for somewhere to park. Just don't park in front of a fire hydrant, or where the curb (sic) is painted red. Or yellow. Or blue. Or where the signs say you can't.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Three kinds of schools...

In California, there are three levels of schools. (In Northern Ireland, there are two.)

First off, there's elementary school. Children start off in Kindergarten, then first grade, and so on up to fifth grade.

After elementary school, children spend two years in "middle school".

Then they spend four years in high school. (I believe the four years are called freshman, sophomore, junior and senior.)

I don't have any experience as yet about middle and high schools, and I've only got experience of one elementary school. But so far I'm really impressed. First of all, it's big. But it's good big: it's really well spaced out. They've got a huge playground, lots of big open playing fields, and loads of slides and climbing frames and whatnot.

Although kindergarten is roughly equivalent to "P1" in Northern Ireland, there's about six months difference in the cutoff dates. So children in Kindergarten are typically six months older than they would be in P1. Also, sometimes parents here will hold their children back a year just in case they would be too young. (Which is pretty much unheard of in NI - at least, I haven't heard of it.)

The level of education? The two schools our oldest child has been to have both struck me as great. I've been really impressed with the teachers in both places.

As with everything I write about, I could be totally wrong. Comments welcome.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Paracetemol (Acetaminophen)

Something I miss in America is being able to buy ridiculously cheap paracetemol and ibuprofen.

I miss being able to buy sixteen 500mg tables of paracetemol for, like, 16p. ISTR ibuprofen is twice the price, but you only take one tablet of those at a time, so it's the same price.

Here in California, it's basically impossible to find cheap paracetemol. At least, as far as I've found.

The cheapest I've seen was in (I think) Smart & Final, where they had a big jar of about a thousand paracetemol tablets for thirty dollars. Now, per tablet, that's in the right ballpark, but I really dislike the idea of buying what is basically a lifetime's supply of paracetemol in one go. I like buying the stuff in packets of 16 at a time.

Oh well, I guess I'll just have to make sure I don't get hangovers.

Oh, and they don't call it paracetemol here: they call it tylenol (which is a brand name) or acetaminophen (the generic name).

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Checks vs cheques

One cool little difference between the UK and the USA is checks: here, when you open a bank account, they give you a big pile of checks (sic). In the UK these days, a book of 50 cheques is, like, a lifetime supply, but here in the USA they actually use the darn things.

Anyway, cheques are smaller, they have your address on them, they have a space for you to write on the cheque what it's for, they have a carbon for you to keep track of what it was for and, best of all, when you lodge them, your bank lets you see a wee pdf scan of them through online banking. How cool is that?

Oh, and lodging checks is great: you go to a bank machine and feed it in. It scans it, works out how much the check is for, asks you if that's right, and lodges it. It might never been seen by another human!


We've recently moved from Northern Ireland to California. I've been thinking I should blog about all the little differences (you know, like in pulp fiction) between the UK and the USA. Enjoy...