Posts Tagged ‘toilets’

Divided by a common language …. and other similarities

14th December 2010 by Helen

It’s one of those classics isn’t it?  As if I couldn’t remember the old tomato/potato song, I had it quoted to me in a queue in Subway by a seven year old the other day.  And my poor old spell-checker’s going crazy at “the gray color of the water in the harbor”.  All made worse by Paul lapsing into a fake American accent every five minutes.

So, after 4-5 months in Central Asia, and not having forgotten ‘home’ of course, I’m still marvelling at the differences here in the big US.

We’ve already got used to asking for the ‘rest room’ when we think toilet.  I’m still a little conscious of saying ‘gas’ instead of petrol or fuel, and ‘bucks’ instead of dollars.  It caused some confusion when I asked for boiled sweets at one Alaskan service station – seems I should have said ‘hard candy’, although that product hardly exists here compared to the quantity of soft candy on the racks.  And what looks deceptively like Werther’s Originals on the packet, trust me, isn’t!!  Finally, after trying some medicinal and unsuckable wint-o-greens and mouth puckering fruit sours we found one type of fruit flavoured boiled sweet (or should that be flavored?).

In the meantime we are learning to call WiFi ‘wireless’ and a hoover by its technically correct term, ‘vacuum’.  While we have learned to call the torch by its American name ‘flashlight’, we haven’t yet worked out what to call our head-torches.  We’ve been through the misunderstandings between lorry and truck and secretly marvelled at hearing the words faucet and sidewalk.  And we’ve wandered round malls instead of shopping centres.

In the meantime we’re switching back and forth between Centigrade and Farenheit like old pros.  One of the advantages of advancing age is being old enough to fairly painlessly remember and understand Farenheit.  Converting US gallons (not the same as the old UK gallon of course) to litres is going to take a bit longer I think.  At least the road signs being in miles is familiar, even if signs saying “1500 feet” is more of a challenge having got used to the British schizophrenic combing of miles and metres.

one of those big trucks

one of those big trucks

But I couldn’t talk about America without mentioning size.  Taking three days to drive the length of one Interstate, and crossing three times zones, puts the M1 & M6 into perspective a bit.  And there are conurbations the length of the circumference of the M25. I finally understand why American tourists ‘do’ London in a day, and England in a fortnight.  Why wouldn’t they?  The Microsoft office complex in Seattle alone is, for those who know it, some six times the size of the Pfizer site in Kent, or the size of any small town in England.  Landscaped and well maintained, with it’s own shops and gymnasium, it looks for all the world like a utopian housing estate consisting entirely of five storey apartment blocks.  Yet this is an estate inhabited only by day, when 80,000 workers populate this town within a town.

As Brits we have images of huge plates of food and chronic obesity.  Well, sorry to disappoint but while obesity is a problem for some it’s nowhere near as bad as news back home would suggest, at least not in the areas we’ve seen so far, and the healthy eating message has had an impact on meal sizes.  Even so, it is stunning just how many fast food joints are competing for trade.  Wendy’s Denny’s, McDonalds, Subway, Taco Bell, Burger King, all jostle side by side with other smaller and lesser known chains, outnumbering other businesses by two to one in some places.  None are full and it’s common to find there are more staff than customers much of the time.  Have we only passed through at the ‘wrong time of day’ or is this an impact of the recession?  We wonder how these businesses still survive.

Even the serviettes are bigger here, commonly as large as the largest in the UK.  We laugh as we think of the café staff in Central Asia carefully cutting off the edges of their already small serviettes to create four even smaller ones!  Bizarrely however, the only thing we’ve found smaller here is the squares of toilet paper.

Despite innumerable laws and signs telling you what you can and cannot do, the ever invasive ‘safety’ and ‘protectionist’ messages so common in England are not so common here.  The speed camera, where it is found, is still called a speed camera, not washed in the nannying term ‘safety’ camera.  However, the huge and punitive fines for speeding ($1,000) promote safe and defensive driving.  Sure, you can expect any American to tell you there’s lots of bad driving here, but so far we’ve not seen it.  It’s rare to be overtaken when you are already driving at the speed limit and tailgating is almost non-existent.  Fines are doubled when incurred in areas of road works, and if you should hit a road worker you have an automatic one year prison sentence and $10,000 fine.  The responsibility to drive safely is not to be taken lightly then.

It’s great to pick up on the sense of community spirit and national pride here.  To be American is to be proud to be American.  Everywhere you go are signs supporting the military.  Even in little ways, like half price or free coffees for serving military and veterans.  Don’t assume that means people support the wars, they don’t.  People seem more interested in and aware of politics here.  Perhaps that’s why they recognise is that it’s not the men and women doing the job who make the decisions.  To wear the uniform is largely to be respected here.

For a little trip down memory lane we stop at the drug counter in the supermarket, or at the drug store (chemist), and gaze in awe at the smallest bottles of aspirin which contain 50 tablets.  No protectionist fears here on that score!

To end my first impressions of America: Imagine coping with public toilets after so long in Central Asia.  All gleaming porcelain and private cubicles.  Toilets that flush as you open the door.  When you leap back at the shock of that happening you inadvertently lean on the sink and trigger the automatic hand soap dispenser and water gushes from the ‘faucet’.  As you swing round to see what’s happening your coat tails set off the hand dryer.  After fleeing in initial fear you creep back in to find the bizarre instruction to put your toilet paper down the toilet and not in the bin next to it.  Sitting gingerly on this monster that seems to have a mind of its own you are alarmed when it flushes just because you sit down, shift your weight or stand up.  And then flushes yet again as you walk out of the cubicle.  And not just a little flush, but a great grasping, vacuum inducing force, pulling the contents of the pan down, down, down and away.  Who needs colonic irrigation?

Nearing Vladivostok

13th October 2010 by Helen

Nearing Vladivostok we began to see the evidence of moving from the countryside towards the city.  The garages are more westernised with neon lit price lists, fast food outlets along the roadside, and obviously more developed road systems and buildings generally.

However there are some fascinating contradictions.  Russia has an obsession with cement (the word ‘cement’ is often plastered huge across banners over the road) and it seems virtually everything new is built from it, yet on the outskirts of cities such as Vladivostok, these concrete edifices to modern building techniques are skirted with the old traditional wooden houses.  Whether concrete or wood though, Russia has perfected the art of making new buildings look semi-derelict even before they have finished building them.  Often we have strugged to decide whether something is under construction or being left to decay.

sit or squat?

sit or squat?

There has been another contradiction I must mention, for mention it I must!!  Whilst Paul has despaired of my apparent fascination with the vagaries of the toileting in this part of the world (and I have curtailed my blog comments on this in deference to his sensitivies), I hope you will fogive this picture.  Beyond the caption I am speechless to describe this further.

Fairfield guesthouse in Tsetserleg

19th August 2010 by Helen

Sunday 15th August / Monday 16th August / Tuesday 17th August

Sunday 15th – took a bit of a day off today.  Much relieved to be able to

Fairfield is popular with travellers - including Kev & Karen with their unusual looking transport!!

Fairfield is popular with travellers - including Kev & Karen with their unusual looking transport!!

deposit our washing in the laundry, I went to church with Mark & Gill.  It was of course in Mongolian but Gill translated the salient points for me, while Paul stayed at the guest house doing some writing.  After lunch with Mark & Gill we enjoyed a walk through the town and a relaxing evening pottering around.  Fairfield guesthouse is warm, clean and well maintained.  Indoor toilets, hot showers and the option of a full English breakfast make this definitely worth a stop-over.

Monday 16th – Tuesday 17th – spread our time between wandering round town and the market and sitting in the internet centre.  A really slow connection that keeps breaking down and old computers with small processing capabilities have turned what should have been some easy jobs into a bit of a marathon.