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How I've Changed Since Coming to the US
As anyone who has ever moved knows, there are always changes to undergo when you move from one place to another. Whether your move is down the street to a new house, to another part of the same country you live in, or to a completely different country.
Ever since I can remember, I've loved to travel. When I was a child I would dream about going overseas and seeing the world. When I was 18 I got the opportunity to travel with a friend of mine, Susie. We went to Australia on the Oriana and it was a great experience. I ended up living in Australia for a year or so in a place called Newcastle. I returned to New Zealand and found a job where I worked happily until a year or so later when another friend of mine, Janette, called me to say that she had booked a trip to Europe and would I like to go with her. It didn't take me long to say I would! We did the big OE and I ended up staying in England for about a year. Once again returning to NZ where I worked in Auckland for a few years before returning to England for another year, and eventually heading back to NZ to have my eldest son, Timothy.
Moving to America I knew would be different than it was for me when I went to Australia and England those times. For one, I knew that I would probably be returning to NZ on each of those previous trips. With this trip I wouldn't be returning (according to most people around me though, my marriage wasn't going to last and I would be back with my tail between my legs ... I sure hope they're not holding their breath for that to happen!!) as I was marrying the man of my dreams and I had no intention of going back to NZ except for holidays and eventually maybe having a retirement home there - if we were fortunate enough to afford one in our later years.
When Timothy and I moved to Alabama we knew we would only be staying there for a few weeks before our next move to Albuquerque. It was exciting at that point, I had never been to any of these places in America (in fact I had avoided America on my previous travels) so it was all very new. Other than the difference in accents and some of the things we said it was in general very similar to being in NZ.
Before I tell you about some of the differences, I think I should tell you a little bit about how I perceived living in New Zealand to be (and still do to a certain extent). New Zealand is a wonderful place to live and grow up. It is a relatively protected part of this big world. People (in general) are friendly, considerate and willing to help. For example, NZ is one of the very few places in the world where hitch-hiking is still done. It took me a while to get used to driving past people in America that were hitch-hiking as picking up hitch-hikers is considered a dangerous thing to do here. Along the same lines, in NZ if someone is broken down on the side of the road then more often than not, someone will pull over and help you. I still recall my husband's look of horror when I told him that I had stopped to help someone who had broken down on the side of the road. He made me promise I would never do it again, and still to this day it's difficult for me to drive by anyone that is stopped on the side of the road.
So onto the differences.
One of the first big differences to me was the driving on the opposite side of the road - I'm not going to go into the politics of which country is right or wrong, I will just say that we drive on the opposite sides of the road. I adore driving - if I can get behind the wheel of a vehicle, I'm there. In NZ I sat my truck/trailer license and fulfilled a dream I've had since I was a little girl of driving 'big trucks'. For me one of the things that took the longest to get used to was the left hand drive and the right hand side of the road driving. Several years after arriving in America I would still go to the right hand side of the car to get in and drive ... realising of course what I was doing I would make out that I was putting whatever I was carrying at the time into the passenger seat, but it definitely took some time - just years of doing the same thing took a while to get out of. I still vividly recall driving down a one way street in Great Falls, Montana. I was on the left hand side of the road and there was no other traffic around. After going for several blocks I had a split second panic attack that I was driving on the wrong side of the road as I had no other cars to get my bearings off ... thankfully I saw another "One Way" sign up ahead so a heavy sigh of relief was in order. It's amazing how long it takes to get rid of habits that have been learned over 25+ years. When I went back to NZ in 2004 I was surprised how quickly I got back into driving a right hand drive car and being on the other side of the road again. One helpful hint that I learnt through this (and it's so simple that when I was told about it I could have kicked myself) is as long as your driving wheel is in the center of the road, then you're on the correct side of the road. It may sound stupidly simple, but I honestly hadn't thought about it like that before.
In NZ you don't tip for service. It's a given that you get good service (supposedly the higher class the eating establishment, the higher class of service), and from my few dinners out I always received great service. When I first arrived in America to meet my husband I was actually too scared to go out to dinner in the hotel I was staying at because I didn't want to offend anyone by not tipping correctly. For years I didn't like to go out to dinner without my husband because I was worried about not tipping correctly. There are different ideas on how much you tip, but only once have a tipped less than I usually do, and that was a quarter for THE WORST service I have ever received. I waited for 45 minutes just to be served, I had to ask other waiters to get drinks for my party and at the end of my dinner every dish we had used was still on the table. I saw my waitress twice the entire 2 1/2 hours we were there (the service was also slow) and she was rude each time. Someone had told me that you don't NOT tip - they think you just forgot - in order to get your point across about bad service, you leave a small tip - hence my 25 cent tip. I also felt like leaving her a note to let her know how she had 'ruined' my evening out with friends because of her pathetic attempt at service.
Eating out in America is such a common thing, a little different from how I perceived New Zealand dining out to be. In NZ it's an occasion when you go out, you reserve your seats, you get dressed up (according to where you're eating out of course), and it becomes a night out. When you eat in a NZ restaurant you aren't hurried like you tend to be in America (because there are other people waiting to be seated). However, you don't get some of the stuff you get here. Generally NZ menus are a la carte and you don't get free soda refills like you do in America. I was amazed at how often people go out to dinner in America - most families I know eat out (or order in) an average of once a week, when I lived in NZ I would dine out maybe three times a year?! There are definite pros and cons about each of the countries, in my humble opinion anyway.
Not only do you tip at restaurants here, but you tip at other places. I had been in America for nearly a year when I was in Phoenix and my sister-in-law, Cindy, was perming my hair (she is the only one I trusted to perm my hair). We were just having casual conversation and she was telling me about her job (she was a cosmotologist - does hair, makeup, nails etc) and how she tried to bank all of her takings, living off her tips! I still remember my horror at that remark and I asked her if you were meant to tip hair dressers and she was shocked that I even asked. I had been going to a hair dresser regularly where I lived at the time and I had never even THOUGHT of tipping, and if you don't tip in America it's an insult and the last thing I wanted to do was to insult my hairdresser as she was a lovely young lady. The next time I went to have my hair done, I explained to her about my conversation with Cindy and then apologised for not tipping her, thankfully they had a 'No Tip' policy in their salon so I didn't feel so bad after that. However, once my sister-in-law passed away I decided that I was going to do my hair as I find it difficult to understand having to pay for the haircut itself, and then having to tip on top of that. I daresay that's just because of the surroundings where I was raised.
These days when I'm unsure as to whether you tip or not, I actually ask. That is something that has definitely changed about me - when I first got to America I would have been too shy to ask things like that, nut in order not to insult the person, I will ask. Over the years I have had discussions with many people about tipping pros and cons - I prefer the non-tipping obviously, but I've gotten used to tipping.
I consider myself a relatively good cook - nothing fancy, just everyday normal food. When we eventually moved into our first 'permanent' home in Great Falls Montana (after living in temporary homes for nine months) I really wanted to make my husband a nice 'kiwi' meal. So I got out one of the recipe books that hadn't been lost in the move from NZ and proceeded to go to the grocery store. After walking around for 20 or so minutes trying to find several of the ingredients I decided to ask for help. I approached the lady behind the deli counter (they cook there so I thought they would know where to get ingredients in the shop), I asked her where I would find the icing sugar - I received a blank look. When I tried to explain to her what icing sugar was, she either didn't understand my accent, or she had no idea what I was talking about. So icing sugar was off the list (by the way - icing sugar is confectionerary sugar), then I asked her where the cornflour was - yet another blank look. Another explanation with no successful conclusion (this is called cornstarch). I was beginning to feel a little downhearted - one more try though - pate and pastry. To the pastry she pointed me in the direction of the refrigerator where I found shells of pastry - not quite what I was looking for and since the poor woman didn't even know what pate was, there was really no need for me to buy the pastry anymore. I returned home in tears - silly really but I had been so looking forward to making my husband a kiwi meal. I found out during the course of the next week that there was only one shop in town that carried pate and they only had it in store around Christmas time. At that point I went online and got recipes from there to save the hassle of trying to find it in shops!
Still on the subject of food (yeap - I love my food, you just have to take a look at my hips to see how much I love it!!), when we moved from Montana to Maryland I had figured out most of the differences between the countries and what they called their foods (though other peoples help as well as stumbling on things). So we moved to Maryland and I went shopping - only to find that quite often the brand names are different in different states. So I then had to figure out the brands that I liked and didn't like - no biggee really, but just another tiny hassle whereas in NZ they are generally the same brands throughout the country.