Strange American customs.
Please don’t misunderstand this post. I am having a wonderful time here and am feeling increasingly 'at home' in all kinds of ways. I have started to look on one o’clock as an unconscionably late time to have lunch, and the other day I almost caught myself saying ‘gotten’. There’ll be a good deal of un-learning to do when I get back to Cambridge.
I have also observed a variety of things that could well be exported to the UK. American showers, for a start. But also some social norms. People in Berkeley at least appear to have a healthily instrumental attitude to email. So, of example, you get an invitation to dinner by email. You cant make it, and you reply by email to decline. That’s the end of the exchange.
People in Britain just cant let go. The simple “Can you….”/“Sorry I cant . . .” message almost always gets dragged out, with no-one quite being able to end the conversation. “Never mind,” replies the inviter, “we’ll have to have you another time, perhaps when our daughter Lizzie is over.” “Oh marvellous,” will come the next answer, “I would so love to see Lizzie… “ And on and on. It’s as if it was somehow impolite to let it drop. A bit of American business-like practicality would save us hours.
On the other hand, there are some things I haven’t got my head around. The restaurant doggy bag, for one.
As most non-US readers probably know, in many US restaurants, if you don’t eat all your food you’ll be asked if you want it boxed or bagged (to take home, that is). On the surface a great idea. It minimises waste, and allows you leave food that you are too full to consume, without looking as if you don’t like it. So when the waiters at my local Chinese, the King Yen, ask me if I’ll have what’s left of my Mongolian Beef boxed, I always feel I have to say yes.
The trouble is I’m not quite sure what you do with it when you get it home. Obviously you cant eat it straight away (else you’d have eaten it in the restaurant). So you put it in the fridge. I can tell you by the next day, the Mongolian Beef is looking pretty tired and the enthusiasm for heating it up again has definitely waned – and it gets put in the trash, So what exactly was the point? Or is ‘doggy bag’ meant literally? And you’re actually meant to feed it to the animals? (But what dogs like Chinese food – except perhaps Chinese dogs . . Or curry for that matter?) Guidance please!
But there are some even stranger things than that. One of my students assured me that in the US (or in the Bay area at least, or maybe just in Berkeley), it was the custom for women using public or restaurant lavatories to operate the flush with their feet – if it was at a reasonable height. It seemed extremely unlikely to me, and strongly suspected my leg was being pulled.. But when I went to the ladies’ rest rooms of the bar in which we were having this conversation, sure enough there were the scuff marks around the flush.
Can anyone confirm?