Life in America

Indecent Conversation

What I like about the USA is the diversity of people you see there. The following short and weird conversation took place a couple of years ago. I wrote about it on my blog, but was shy to publish it not just because of the conversation itself, but also because of what went through my head at the time.

One day at Starbucks, I sat on one of those big tables that seat about six people. I was working on my laptop. A middle-aged woman sat on the opposite side of the table and as soon as she opened her laptop, she started a conversation with me:

Woman: Are you writing a book?

Me: No, I am working on my dissertation.

Woman: I am writing a book. It is difficult to concentrate in public, especially when you are writing something inappropriate.

Me [not paying attention what she meant by inappropriate]: What is your book about?

Woman: It is a novel like Fifty Shades of Gray. My husband told me to write about the events that happened when we went to Las Vegas and Reno.

Fifty Shades of Gray was the bestselling book at that time. Actually, it was a phenomenon not just a bestselling book. Everybody was talking about it in America. I did not read it, but one of our lab mates during our weekly meeting told us what it was about for whatever reason. As I mentioned, the book took unprecedented publicity.

Of course, after she said “It is a novel like Fifty Shades of Gray. My husband told me to write about the events that happened when we went to Las Vegas and Reno.” My brain, sort of, switched off because I cannot recall what she said next or even what I said.

My conservative self felt uncomfortable and I did not want to hear any more. Because of the way she dressed and how open she was about the content of her book, I was afraid our conversation may lead to something I do not like. I thought she might invite me to go with her, we will meet her husband and I will be involved in a Ménage à trois (I learned this from Seinfeld). I thought they wanted materials for their book and this will be it. All this went through my head, seriously. That is why I don’t recall what she said after she mentioned Reno.

I looked at my watch and said, “I have to meet someone. Nice talking to you” and I had the fastest exit from Starbucks. All these weird thoughts popped up in my head without even reading Fifty Shades of Gray. What thoughts would I have had if I read it?

This was one of the weirdest conversations with a stranger I had.

Life in America

A list of things I miss about living in America

It has been about a year and a half since I came back from the States. I live in Irbid now, the second biggest city in Jordan. There are things that I miss and others that I don’t miss about living in America. In this post, I will list what I miss, in no particular order, and leave what I don’t miss for another post:

  1. Public libraries and bookstores. In Irbid, we have only one public library (or maybe two, I heard) for the population of 1.7 million. Since I came back, I went to the library once but didn’t stay. The library is very small, ugly and looks exactly like any third world government office (see picture below).

    irbid public libraryA picture taken from Irbid Municipality Facebook page with the caption “The first inventory in ten years.” This picture is couple of months old. The library is one floor only. Inventory is done manually.

    The situation of bookstores in Irbid is no better than the public library. We have few of them with hardly any good book to buy. One can go in and out of a bookstore in ten to fifteen minutes maximum including the time you browse some books.

    In short, Irbid is not for the book lovers.

  2. Enforced traffic laws. In the USA, traffic follows first-in, first-out and right-of-way law. Here, no such thing. Right-of-way is for the most aggressive driver. The road rage you hear of in America is a joke compared to Jordan. No one here stops at a stop sign or respect any other driver. Every Jordanian driver believes the road is his only and no one else should drive behind, beside or in front of him. Hence, no one uses his or her turn signals. The sound of horns and double parking are the norm.
  3. Smoke free coffee shops. Couple of months ago, the first Starbucks opened in Irbid. I was so excited for the news then. Unfortunately, it is not a smoke free place, although it is inside a mall. Jordanians like to smoke no matter when and where. We do have “No Smoking” signs in some places but they are as useless as the “Stop” signs.
  4. Obstacle free Sidewalks. Yes, it is true. We don’t have them. If exist, sidewalks are reserved for street vendors or cars parking on them.
  5. Clean streets. Read this.
  6. Central heating. Except for the 1% population, all other Jordanian households use space heaters. Hence, during the winter you never feel warm enough. You think twice before going to the toilet.
  7. Garbage disposal. One of the best kitchen inventions. Anyone knows what other countries install garbage disposal in their kitchens as well? Lucky them.
  8. The luxury of flushing toilet papers. Our sewer system can’t handle them. Enough said. Ewww.
  9. Easy and cheap access to swimming pools. In a country with such water scarcity, swimming is not cheap. Not cheap at all.
  10. Cheap stuff. Almost everything in the USA is cheaper than in Jordan except for labor. Clothes, restaurants, entertainment, electronics are all cheaper than here. Nevertheless, you pay way less when you need someone to fix your car or your plumbing.
  11. Easy and convenient lifestyle. In general, life in the States is easy. You can pay all your bills online. You can shop online for almost everything. You need lumber cut into specific dimensions, paint and tools to build a coffee table you can buy all from one place. Yes, just one shop and it is called Lowe’s. I know Americans landed on the moon but the fact that they have such store is equally significant.
  12. Smiley faces. I don’t know what is the deal with Americans and smiling to strangers but I love it and I miss it.
  13. One of a kind customer service. If customer service in Europe is considered not up to the American standard then in Jordan it barely exists. Businesses motto here is “the customer is never right.”
Culture · Life in America

What is in my BLT?

I) BLT

If you do not eat pork, do not order your food naively as I did once when I was in the US. The first time I went to a sub shop there, I ordered a BLT without knowing what a BLT is. I thought BLT is the name of the sandwich not short for what is in it. It turned out BLT is short for bacon, lettuce and tomato.

A Muslim MD friend of mine likes to tell other Muslims about his theory, which is if they lived in the USA for ten years they had eaten a whole pig. May be an exaggeration but indeed it has some truth.  Many food items contain an ingredient that came from pigs. Even products you may think are vegetarian like bread, cake mix, or cheese are not 100% vegetarian. Click on the picture below to learn more about vegetarian food that is not 100% vegetarian.

Source: http://domesticfits.com/2013/12/26/ten-weird-things-that-are-not-vegetarian/

I learned to be specific when I order my food and explicitly mention what I do not eat. It is normal to order a salad to find bacon bits sprinkled on top. I once went with friends to a mom-and-pop Greek pizza restaurant. We ordered a big vegetarian pizza. For some reason our order took too long to come. After close to an hour an old woman (probably the owner) came with our pizza topped with pepperoni. She apologized for the delay and told us she added the pepperoni because we were patient.

II) How to buy a sandwich in three different countries

There is an interesting post on reddit about what non-Americans who have been to the USA find weird. This post is a year old and now has 36770 comments. I wanted to write about it last year but didn’t get the chance to do it. I will one day because it is really interesting and I love subjects with cultural differences. Anyway, there was a comment related to ordering food from a funny British guy. Here is his comment:

“Buying a sandwich was utterly bewildering the first few times.
For example, in the UK a typical exchange between me and sandwich guy might go like this over the period of 30 seconds:
Me: “Can I have a ham sandwich please”
SG: “White or brown?”
Me: “Brown”
SG: “Any salad or sauces?”
Me: “Lettuce and mayo please”
SG: “Here you go. That’ll be £15 million, and your car and your house.”

Similar exchange in the US, over ten minutes:
Me: “Can I have a ham sandwich please”
SG: (over-enthusistically) “Sure thing, Sir! Which of these two thousand varieties of bread would you like today?” (None of which qualify as bread, but that’s another subject…)
Me: “Oh, er, not sure really. That one please”
SG: “Sure! That’s a multi-grained-crap-tasting-full-o-sugar-shit-fest-foot-long-sub-roll. Do you want enough ham to sink a battleship, or would you prefer just enough to make you shit like a bear for an entire week?”
Me: “Erm, I’ll go for merely enough to induce meat-sweats for 8 hours, thanks”
SG: “What kind of cheese are you after?”
Me: “What have you got?”
SG: “Montery Jack, Jack-o-Lantern, Jack of all Trades, Tastes of Jack Shit, Chilli-Jack, Rubbery-Jack and Jackie Chan.”
Me: “No Cheddar then. I’ll go for Monterey Jack”
SG: “Gherkins Pickles?”
Me: (confused and overwhelmed by all the choice) “Can I just have the sandwich now?”
SG: “Sure! I just need to know what else you want on it. Jalapenos?”
Me: (exasperated): “No, thanks but re…”
SG: “…Olives? Cucumber? Lettuce? Relish?”
Me: (eyes glazed over): “No, thank you, it’s fine as it is”
SG: “Toasted, roasted, basted? Mayo, coleslaw, salt or pepper?”
Me: “No, thank you, really, the sandwich is fine as it is, please can I have it now before I starve to death?”
SG: (confused) “Sure thing! Here you go. That’ll be $0.000000001 please””

Everyone who visited the USA agree about the top-notch service in all kind of businesses, especially in the food sector. Employees at restaurants, coffee shops and sandwich shops are professionals, friendly and super nice. However, I have seen some of the nicest employees at a sandwich shop become irritated when a foreigner orders a sandwich. Foreigners spend much longer time when ordering a sandwich. They are not used to being asked all these questions for a sandwich. On the other hand, Americans are used to the plethora of variety of food. An American will enter a sub shop and place his order in the fastest and most smooth way possible. A foreigner might go to Starbucks and hears a woman order “Triple Venti Sugar free, Non fat, No foam, extra caramel, with whip caramel macchiato. Then pour regular coffee down the side with 2 packs of raw sugar and a stir stick on the side. Please.” I spent twelve years in the USA and I could never get over how people order drinks like this at Starbucks. Even with such complicated order some Americans will return their drink because one of the many things they requested is missing or overdone.

Here is how we order a sandwich in Jordan and the rest of the Arab world:

Me: Can I have a falafel/shawerma sandwich please.
SG: Okay.

I wrote before how complicated it is to order food in the USA. You can read about it here: The culture of ordering food