I've still been extremely busy. Unlike my last fairly incoherent brain dump, this time I've been keeping notes on the things I wanted to write about, so hopefully I won't forget things.
Here we go...
- Squirrels are absolutely everywhere. They're very fast and very cute. They're kind of like possums, except diurnal. They run up trees with ease, and leap from tree to tree. It's quite cool to watch them. The damn things don't stand still long enough to be photographed (properly), and they don't let you get too close without scampering up a tree or running off. I'm told they're the number one carrier of rabies, so I shouldn't be trying to get too close anyway.
- Sales tax
- Definitely one of the more annoying aspects of consumer life is the fact that prices quoted are not inclusive of sales tax. This means you always need to part with more cash than you expect. Furthermore, there are some places (some fast-food outlets) that do quote the prices inclusive of tax, so it's really hard to know what you're in for.
- Speed limits
- I find speed limit signs to be either infrequent or harder to notice, or a combination of both. They're just a black text on white background sign. I'm used to them having the red circle. That said, no one seems to drive at the speed limit anyway.
- Canberra's a very white town compared to say Sydney, but I reckon at least the San Jose area of California blows the socks off what I've seen of Sydney for multiculturalism. You really notice it over here. I've been at the mall in Milpitas, and you can play "spot the white European" (a variation of "spot the Caucasian").
- Different responses to thankyou
- I think the fairly standard response to saying thanks that I'm used to is "You're welcome". Over here, you get "mm hmm" a lot, which is just strange.
- Fractions vs decimal
- They love their fractions. Petrol gets quoted at 2219/10, which took me a while to realise was 221.9 cents per gallon
- Alcoholic beverage labelling
- Australia has the concept of a "standard drink". I remember as a kid the advertising campaign "rethink your third drink" (or for women, "rethink your second drink"). The idea being that men could drink two standard drinks in the first hour, and then one standard drink every hour after that, and be at 0.05% blood alcohol, which is the legal limit for Australia. And every bottled alcoholic drink is labelled with how many standard drinks it is. An average beer is about 1.2 standard drinks for example. No such labelling over here. You get the percentage of alcohol per volume, and that is it, which makes self-regulating very difficult. The limit is apparently 0.08%, but I don't think I want to be driving around on the wrong side of the road at that level (or any level really).
- Christmas vs "Holidays"
- Everyone and every piece of advertising goes on about the "Holidays". Retail people are always wishing us "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". I think this is because there's a large chunk of people who don't necessarily celebrate Christmas.
- I haven't really come across tipping in everyday life as much as I'd expected, but when I think about it a bit, I'm at work most of the time, so that's probably why. The general rule seems to be to tip "double the tax", so for a bill at a restaurant, or where you get personal service, such as a haircut, you tip. But you don't tip at McDonald's, nor Subway (where I would have expected you would).
That's about all my current observations on living over here.
Tomorrow we get our townhouse in Central Park. Our air-freight was finally delivered today. (What was supposed to take about 8 days took 4 weeks). Not sure when we can expect our sea freight at this stage.
We bought a couple of mountain bikes last weekend, and if the weather is okay tomorrow, we'll pick them up and ride them home. We've found a really nice off road (as in not shared with cars) bike path, which runs close to home all the way to work. I'm really keen to roller blade to work if it's feasible, and also to cycle in.
I'm a bit disappointed to discover after we've been accepted for the place that we're right on top of a toxic waste dump (or something like that). If I grow a second head, you'll know why.
The other piece of exciting news is that the bank sent me a debit card, when they'd previously told me they wouldn't until I had a Social Security number (still no sign if that yet). This thing (the debit card) is freaking weird. It's Mastercard branded, and in some places you use it like you'd use a debit card for EFTPOS back home. You swipe, enter your PIN and that's it. In other cases, you swipe and sign a bit of paper like a credit card transaction. In either case, money is sucked out of our checking account.
The scary thing is that no one seems to check signatures in this country, and a lot of places will accept credit card payments electronically (like petrol stations where you just swipe the card at the bowser and enter the ZIP code of your billing address and that's it). Oh, and I can use this thing like a credit card for Internet purchases. What bothers me is that the level of authentication is so low, but it's sucking actual money out of our checking account, so with all the credit card fraud around, it's relatively trivial to draw actual money out of a bank account, as opposed to using someone's credit. That said, I just got the card today, and since then, it's made shopping so much easier. It's amazing how many places won't accept a foreign credit card, and I was a big user of EFTPOS back home, and this ability to use a debit card like a credit card means I can essentially continue in that habit. I wasn't looking forward to carrying lots of cash or having to use cheques.