Culture shock shocker!

(I’m not even going to apologise for the delay between posts – there are only so many crap excuses I can come up with, and it’s starting to feel a little pathetic, even to me!)

Now that we’ve survived our first US Christmas, I thought I’d have a little chat about the “culture shock” thing.  I must admit, it was something I never thought would be an issue – after all, I was at university in Sweden in 1997/98, I lived in Australia for 4 years, and I’ve seen enough American movies and sitcoms to give me a pretty good idea of the lay of the land.  This should be a doddle, right?  Right?!

You’d think

Mostly, of course, it has been pretty straightforward a move for the Pepper family.  But there are definitely some massive differences between life in sunny, laid-back Brighton, and life in the huge, sprawling space of the Pacific Northwest – some great, and some not so much…   So, to name but a few:

  • You have to drive everywhere.  It’s a strange thing for me to get used to, having lived in a city as small as Brighton, where I would never contemplate taking the car into town (mainly because I just could never face the traffic or parking nightmares), and rarely took the bus (um, because it was smelly and carried passengers who rambled on in loud voices about how high they were…at 3 in the afternoon!).  Evie and I walked wherever we needed to go, and there just weren’t many places we couldn’t get to on foot.   But now, in our part of Redmond at least, the car rules.  We haven’t spotted a bus stop anywhere near us – I suspect the nearest might be the Park and Ride, 4 miles away, on a road with no pavement – and as for walking…I’d be going for 0.8 miles before even getting out of our housing estate, let alone finding somewhere to actually walk to!  Which is probably why we had to indulge ourselves and fill the driveway with some pretty little hunks of metal with wheels:

Oooh, pretty!

Mine is the beast on the right, and my husband drives the hairdresser’s car.  Zoom zoom!

  •  Speaking of cars…you can “Drive Thru” pretty much anything here.  I’m not just talking McDonalds or Taco Bell – I mean, anything!  There are drive-thru ATMs (that’s cash-points, to you and I), pharmacies, laundry services, coffee shops and even post boxes.  Yep, you don’t even have to get out of your car to post a damn letter!  It may well go some way to explaining the rapidly expanding waistline of the “average American”, but I’ll be the first to admit – easy access to a grande, decaff, non-fat cappuccino when you’re stuck driving round aimlessly with a snoozing toddler in the back seat?  That’s awesome!!!

A little cup of heaven, straight to your car window!

  • I can’t not mention the language issue.  Yes, we all speak English…or some version of it, at least.  And yes, we’ve all watched enough TV to know that trousers are “pants”, pavements are “sidewalks” and Americans have this odd habit of omitting the U from  “neighbours”, and sticking a random Z in “socialising”.   That’s Zee, not Zed, by the way.  Zed’s dead, baby.  Zed’s dead…   But, despite knowing all this, it’s still insanely hard to remember in the middle of a conversation, when you have an impatient toddler climbing your leg, and a brain-zapping baby in your belly.   I finally managed to get to the hairdresser last week, and despite knowing full well that I wanted “bangs”, I just could not stop going on about how I like my fringe to be cut.  I spent ages looking for tights in the department store, before remembering that I had to ask for “pantyhose”, and I always forget that Evie’s mode of transport is a “stroller” and not a pram.  And who knew that searching for coriander will prove completely fruitless, unless you know to enter “cilantro” in the search bar of your online grocery order?  I’m sure it’s one of those things that will soon come completely naturally, in the same way that I still talk about picking up stubbies from the “bottl’o”, after too many years of being well acquainted with the local offie / liquor store (see?  Confusing) in Australia.  In the meantime, I’m just going to have to get used to that “huh!?!?” look that I’m becoming so familiar with, and hope that Evie picks up the lingo quickly enough to act as translator for her embarrassing old British mother.

Who knew?!?

  • Baked beans.  Oh, Heinz, please come and teach these people how it’s supposed to be done!  I can hardly bear to even put this down in words, it’s just so awful… they….they….they make them with bacon juice and brown sugar!!  I don’t even want to think about what exactly “bacon juice” means, but seriously, you do not want this stuff poured over your scrambled eggs in the morning.  In fact, I don’t know what you would want to eat this stuff with.  Except, of course, Evie loves them.  She can devour a whole bowl in no time, and still demand “More?” when they’re all done.  But it’s hardly surprising she loves them – they are pretty much canned in liquid sugar!  In fact, many foods here taste strangely sweet.  Bread has a surprising sugary after-taste to it, as do many of the pasta sauces.  It’s strange – but I suppose it’s a good incentive for me to stop buying the jars and work harder on releasing my (very well hidden) inner domestic Goddess, and make everything from scratch.  Now…what are the chances Heinz will give me their recipe?

    Oh yes, and while we’re on the subject, and still vaguely in the festive season, I ought to note that mince pies are an entirely English thing (apparently), so not only did I have to cope without M&S or Mr Kipling to keep us satisfied in the last few days, I had to make my own damn mincemeat as well!  And no, you can’t buy suet either.  Or if you can, you clearly need to know people who know people who know where to shop.   Thank goodness for Nigella and those naughty people who upload her recipes for free on t’internet!

Homemade and fabulous, darlings!

Not exactly worthy of a photoshoot, but tasty & delicious nonetheless!


Of course, there are a million other things I could talk about, and probably will in the coming months, as we get to know (or puzzle over) our new home a little more.   I haven’t mentioned the hundred channels of crap TV and how much I’m missing Eastenders, or the really actually quite good radio, the airwaves filled with Nirvana, Soundgarden and Death Cab for Cutie.  I’ve not managed to comment on the lack of availability of diesel at the “gas stations”, or the fact that car salemen will proudly boast that a car is capable of “up to 21 mpg on the freeway”.  And I’ve not moaned once that even Cadburys tastes odd here, and Hersheys smells like vomit.
But I must say that despite all the oddities I’ve mentioned, things definitely aren’t worse here, or in Brighton.  It’s simply…different.   More different than I could ever have imagined or prepared myself for, I think.

On the other hand…if the weather wasn’t to my liking in Brighton, and I really fancied seeing a bit of snow on Christmas Eve, there wasn’t much hope of jumping in the car and going to see this in less than half an hour, was there?


Sorry – I had to get my smug shot in here somewhere!


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2 Responses to Culture shock shocker!

  1. Anita says:

    Hey Kerst – I could totally join you in the rant about language differences. I’ve been in N America now for 8 yrs and still struggle to remember to say stroller and elevator, and then when your Brit freinds visit you and you DO remember to say those things, they laugh at you and think it’s hilarious…..LOL. You just cant win 🙂 When I had some mates over last year I noticed that apparently I have picked up some americanisms I wasnt aware of, to my freinds mix of both delight and disgust, such as watching TV “shows” instead of programs, and going to the “movies” instead of pictures etc. I think we can rest assured that we are now to be considered “entertainment” on both sides of the pond…..! You’;ll soon get used to blank expressions………and learn to just laugh about it when you get home, after the frustration subsides – ha! Cant wait for more updates .HAPPY NEW YEAR to you and Damyan and Evie and “bun”!!


  2. Madeleine says:

    Kerstin! I took a little peek around your blog after it was linked on FB the other day… I’ve been nodding my head the entire time, and snorting with giggles too. SO much of this, I relate to, believe me (after 3 years here, I still can’t go near American baked beans – thank god for Costplus World Market). I initially rolled my eyes at drive-thru ATMs but have since embraced them.

    As you might see, I’ve done the expat blog thing too. I keep it off FB though (shhh!), as I have family members who don’t ‘get’ blogging and are pretty dismissive of it – so I figure, lucky them can miss out on mine 😉 Anyhow, it’s nowhere near as witty as yours. I’ll be back to read more (I’ve only read a little so far)!


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