Half a year ago yesterday, I stepped off a plane in the United States.
It's been an eventful 6 months, as can be seen from reviewing my blog, and I thought I'd summarise the top 10 things I like and dislike about living in this country as opposed to Australia.
Ten things I like about living in California:
Plenty of sunshine
Love the sunshine. It was a bit wet in winter and early spring, but I'm told that it should be pretty much rain (and cloud) free for the rest of the year. Daylight saving also helps make enjoying the copious amounts of sunshine easier, it doesn't get dark until well after 8pm.
The public transport options, particularly in San Francisco are vast
Particularly in San Francisco, your options for getting around the city are huge. You've got the BART, the Muni (which covers about three distinct forms of public transport in itself), and the VTA overhead electric and petrol powered buses. Elsewhere in the Bay Area, you've got the Caltrain, and VTA light rail and buses.
You need never darken the door of a petrol station. Everywhere has pay at the pump (with plastic of course), and the pumps all have the automatic latch, so you don't even need to stand at the side of the car holding the handle while it fills up.
This was a big change, coming from Canberra, which has a love affair with pay and display parking. Even the multi-storey and underground carparks in the downtown areas are free.
Pedestrian crossings that countdown
No excuse to get skittled because you thought you could make it in time. You known exactly how long you've got before you'll get mowed down before you step off the side of the road.
The postal system
Saturday delivery. Every mailbox is an outgoing mailbox (just put the little flag up).
Right turns on red
This is a real time saver. I can't see why Australia couldn't adopt this for left turns. The only downside is you can spend so much time looking to your left for a break in the traffic to dart out in, that you miss your green arrow (but that's what the guy behind you and his horn is for).
Corporately run rental apartment complexes
Instead of having an apartment complex where individual landlords own each apartment, the entire complex (and they tend to be larger) is owned by a mega-corporation that employs half a dozen people to maintain it and run it as a business. The upside is they tend to have better facilities, an onsite office (great for receipting packages delivered during the week), onsite maintenance (some places even have a service-level agreement). This offers some economies of scale that you wouldn't otherwise have.
At least the perception of a low cost of living
I haven't done the sums, and it's probably partially because the bills come monthly instead of quarterly, but all the utility bills seem fairly low and reasonable. Dollar for dollar, petrol is also cheaper, even though it's jumped a dollar a gallon in the time we've been here.
Of course, one must take a balanced look at these things...
Ten things I don't like about living in the United States:
Not a big fan of the notes. I miss the one and two dollar coins, and the distinctiveness between each denomination. I figure that vending machines over here must be so much more expensive because they have to have a note reader, and even then, the treasury decides to produce some new oddball note that half of the readers don't recognise... I blame tipping. If there were no tipping, the utility of one dollar bills would diminish enormously.
The government bureaucracy
As my blog records, I haven't exactly had a smooth run with the system over here...
The banking system
The banking system in general is woeful by comparison. The cheque (or check) still reigns supreme, whereas it's nearly obsolete in Australia. There's no such animal as BPay (and oh how I miss it). In fact, the equivalent system here often involves the bank cutting a cheque on your behalf and mailing it to the biller. How ridiculously antediluvian is that? Oh, and I miss vaguely decently authenticated electronic payments. I've been at cafes were I've paid by credit card, and haven't even had to provide a signature. Given that the credit card is actually a debit card, it's pretty disturbing how easily someone can clean out your bank account.
I'm so glad that when they introduced the GST in Australia, they required by law that all prices include it. Most prices here don't, but the occasional food outlet does (like Subway for example), so it's sufficiently confusing that you can't budget for how much you're going to actually fork out.
The ATM fees are more in your face. Instead of the bank charging you a fee at the end of the month for every transaction conducted at an ATM that isn't theirs, the ATM itself tacks on an extra amount to the withdrawal and effectively skims the money. I've seen fees as high as $5 a transaction, but $2 is fairly common. It's kind of weird seeing an ATM withdrawal of $42 on your bank statement... So having a bank account that doesn't charge you feeds for non-bank ATM withdrawals is all well and good, but it doesn't stop the ATM from charging you.
Inaudible pedestrian crossings
Oh, the number of times I haven't been paying attention and missed the walk light at a pedestrian crossing... In some places, they do make noises like birds, or talk to you when you can walk, but they're definitely not the norm.
The road surface
For the highways, they seem to have gone for quantity and not quality, or they're too busy to take offline to resurface. Either way, the road surface quality is pretty poor.
Everything is loaded with sugar. Absolutely everything.
Light beer is low calorie, not low alcohol. I miss Australia's concept of "standard drinks". Makes it very hard to drink and drive responsibly.