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...