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Stateside: A Few Of My Favourite Things

Was it a trick of the dawn's early light? The cold air? The rain-slicked streets? Whatever it was, when I threw back the curtain and threw open the window early one morning last week I was instantly back in a Taranaki childhood morning. Having come over all neuralgic, I thought I'd share the things I miss and the things I like about living in America.

What I miss

Four days off at Easter. Dairy products that taste like they come from cows not test tubes. Bread that doesn't taste like cake. (Julia Child once said: "How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex." She was either being kind or being paid by a rival tissue manufacturer.) Pies, sausage rolls, and fish and chips. Pizza that at its cheapest has many toppings instead of just a few curled-up pieces of pepperoni drifting in a sea of yellow oily glup mistakenly referred to as "cheese". What the hell - all those things were bad for me anyway.

Word things I miss

Hearing the letter 'h' pronounced in herbs. Hearing the second 'i' in the name of the metal that soda cans are made from. Soft drinks and lifts instead of sodas and elevators. The 'u' in favourite and the 'y' in tyre. A distinction between the noun and verb forms of verbs that end in 'ise' - only because I liked to show off that I knew the difference. An 's' instead of a 'z' in words like 'organisation'. EnZed instead of EnZee.

Stuff that's better here

The right-of-way laws, which - in California at least - state that vehicles must always stop for any pedestrian who is crossing at corners or other crosswalks. Obviously, if the corner is controlled by traffic signals the pedestrian has to obey those but the effect of this law is that pedestrians have the same rights as vehicles at corners - which in cities often have stop signs on all four corners anyway, with the right of way going to the first one there. In California, drivers can also turn right on a red light after they've stopped and yielded to pedestrians and vehicles in their path.

Sayings it took time getting used to

"Have a good one." This is a way of wishing someone an enjoyable experience on any occasion without inadvertently giving offence by, say, wishing someone Happy Hanukkah when they're a devout Buddhist. "You're welcome." Americans actually mean this little piece of phatic communication that takes place after you thank them for doing something for you. Since it contributes to what is a noticeably more encouraging and pleasant workplace I have had to abandon the healthy cynicism with which I first viewed it. By the way, the inventor of the Smiley Face, Harvey Ball, died this week. The sum total of his earnings from that little yellow icon was $45 as he refused to copyright it. Now that's NICE!

Things that could do with some improvement in the choices available American furniture. It is a truly frightening thing to go into furniture stores - which usually take up an entire city block - and find yourself confronted with more overstuffed items than at a bankrobbers' lootbag convention. It doesn't matter what fabric is used for the upholstery or what style the furniture purports to be, it'll be big. It'll be bigger than big. It'll be gargantuan, flashy and just plain awful. The only exception, of course, being that 4-figure leather Ralph Lauren writers chair that I'm sure would improve these columns immensely as a comfy base for rumination.

Dang! I didn't mean to be so negative about my new home. I love the variety, the opportunity, the wide open spaces - all the things countless generations of immigrants to the United States have loved. And the sweet grace of the young man from Nebraska who replied to the "Thanks for being with us" given him by a tv interviewer this morning with the words, "No problem."

Lea Barker
Easter Sunday, 2001

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