Trying to Understand the Natives

This afternoon whilst in a meeting I was handed a piece of writing work on a table of scenarios for flaring. Technical, and with a requirement for it to be succinct, the reason given was that the head of the job was “foreign”; This was not said with malice as it was he who delegated it to me. He is Chinese origin and struggles with typing and speaking clearly which, to be honest, is something I struggle with too. The point I made at the meeting was, to a little polite laughter from the room, “I’m foreign too, you know”. Badoomtish.

The funny thing is that I really do feel it now and again that I am not from here. I mean, apart from the fact I know I am not from here, there are the differences and changes in the way things are dealt with over here that befuddle and confuse me at times, but also amuse me and surprise me in equal measure. Obviously, this sort of culture clash has been tread many a time when it comes to comedy and the transatlantic difference are nothing short of cliché, but a few are quite interesting from my personal perspective.

The one that has caused me the most confusion is the sudden lack of brands that I know, or that I trust. A few years ago I randomly blogged about my search for a recognizable brand amongst a place that has none, the eventful trip ended when I went to McDonalds. In the US almost everything is franchised, branded and sold out but the sheer wealth of these brands is nothing short of shocking. For example, in the UK if I want some fast food I can grab a McDonalds, Subway, KFC and Burger King. That’s pretty much it, save for a Wimpy, A&W or some other random choice. In the US, even if I limit it to a burger joint (and if you know me, that’ll be most cases) to McDonalds and Burger King we add Whataburger, Smashburger, Sonic, Wendy’s, Five Guys, Buger Tex, Jack in the Box, Applebys and Harveys. Add to that incredible list Taco places, burrito places, coffee places, sandwiches places, ice cream and pancake houses, and a million and one one of non franchised places, you can suddenly see not only why groceries are more expensive but also why the people here are constantly eating out every night.

When I came to shopping for groceries that was okay – I just stuck to the non name branded milk, eggs and bread, and when to brands I kind of knew like Kelloggs and Oscar Mayer. I am still discovering where and when to buy certain types of food stuffs, and namely where to get them. But it’s not just food – beer, clothing, electronics, medicines… almost all of these are suddenly different in ways I probably would’ve guessed, but would have been unable to prepare for.

All that being said, this is by no means a problem. In fact, I am taking it in my stride, enjoying having quite a lot of new places to eat and new beers to drink. My most recent culture clash is the sudden realization that I still use Britishisms and Scottishisms in my speech. The confusion around the table when I said “Torch” rather than flashlight, explained what a Theatre is (not a cinema) and forgetting to say “garah-agé” instead of “gar-age” causes me no ends of humiliation as the natives point and laugh at me.

It says a lot for North American culture when I understand them and everything they say when we were here first, huh?

PS: Tim Horton’s is simply incredible and, if I needed any more, another really good reason to end up living in Canada.