Clearly, I should have written one of these posts every day – it’s been a week packed full of new knowledge and “oh! really?” moments – but I haven’t really had the brain space or the energy. So here, in no particular order, are some of the things I’ve learned in my first week living – living! – in DC.
– American universities are very strict about everything. If I misattribute a quote, I could get kicked out of university, and thus (in my case) the country. Essays – known as “papers” – have to be written under very strict formatting guidelines. There are several variations of these, all known by three initials, like the TTF or the RDQ (well, making up those, but you get the idea). And, despite the fact that I am an adult and paying a lot of money to attend this course, I don’t get to decide whether I go to a class. If I miss more than one, I need a very good excuse, and probably a doctor’s note.
– Americans really do drive everywhere. So, for example, say they are going out for dinner less than 10 minutes’ walk away from church. Rather than leaving their car at church, walking with everyone else, and then walking back to the car afterwards, they might drive the two minutes to the restaurant and faff around with parking.
– You must always carry ID. Because a) if you’re foreign, you could be stopped and asked for immigration documents at any time. And b) if you want a glass of wine with lunch, or to get into a pub, and you are only 34, you have to prove that you are old enough. And c) If you buy something online at BestBuy and opt to collect it in store, they also check your ID. But there’s no such thing as an identity card here – or at least not one that foreigners can have. Belgium wins on this one. A driving license is the nearest equivalent but since I don’t have one, I have to carry my passport around with me everywhere. I have to say that I find it odd to assume that everyone has a driving license (we do this in the UK too, where we for some reason think that carrying around ID would be an infringement of our civil rights, but are perfectly happy to use driving licenses in much the same way). Losing my passport would be an administrative nightmare – my Canadian friend and I agree that there should be some kind of ID card for non-immigrant visa holders, even that we have to pay $50 for. (Look over here, Government! Way to raise money without increasing taxes!)
– When you pay by card at a restaurant, you hand over your card and they whisk it away. If you’re in a group, you write on the bill how much you want to pay. I think we used to do this too, a long time ago, before the mobile pay terminal thingies. Also, often when paying by card no PIN or signature is required. Which I find slightly unnerving.
– There is corn fructose in everything, and it serves no purpose other than making you fat, and pleasing the corn lobby. Another reason to reform campaign finance: so that the power of these kinds of groups is drastically diminished. I’ll be drinking water a lot rather than diet coke here, but that’s probably a good thing.
– American TV channels endlessly repeat the same programmes several times during the day. I’ve lost count of how many times Piers Morgan is on CNN per day. But this has obvious benefits: the other day, I missed the first 10 minutes of a programme on MItt Romney. But that was no problem – it was on again straight after it finished, so I was able to plug the gap in my knowledge.
– Every shop has a loyalty card. They all work in slightly different ways and many of them seem to involve printing coupons. Someone could make a killing inventing some kind of device pulling them altogether, or just a Nectar card equivalent.
– Ikea sells the same stuff here- of course- but it is repackaged for American tastes. For example, I couldn’t just buy a sheet for my bed. The pack also contained a second sheet (which, were I American, I would put under my comforter) and pillow cases for my non-existent sham pillows. So, I have lots of extra sheets and pillow cases, if anyone wants them.
– So many people here have fascinating jobs and interesting stories to tell. Not just the working on campaigns and the like, but all kinds of things. People often assume you don’t want to know, though. They say “I work for the Federal Government”, which sometimes is code for “I can’t tell you more”, but sometimes means they have the kind of job that you desperately want to hear about. Luckily, it’s okay to ask further questions till you get to the heart of which Congressman they work for and what it is exactly they do for them. At least I hope it is!
There’s so much more – this is a fascinating place – and now I really am wishing I’d updated this blog every day. Another thing on the to-do list, maybe…