No matter how long you’re an expat, there are certain things that you’ll just never get used to. Having lived in the States for twenty-two years now, you’d think that most things would be second nature to me. I have embraced baseball, I understand the school system, I can even say “bay-zil” without cringing, (although “tomaydo” is taking things a little too far). There are still a few things that have me shaking my head however.
Like ironing, or rather, the lack of ironing. I swear nobody irons here. When I married my American husband, the iron he had was still in the box and was actually the one he took to college ten years previously. It had traveled twice across the Atlantic without even being taken out of the box. Part of the reason for this national lack of ironing is that most people take their clothes to the cleaners. Part of the reason is also because a lot of people use tumble dryers and apparently if you’re right there when the cycle stops, the clothes come out perfectly crease-free. (I wouldn’t know as I always forget they’re in there.) It’s also partly because people don’t care about creases as much as we Brits are trained to. hereThey see no shame in walking out in broad daylight with a big old crease right down the back of their shirts. I just can’t bring myself to that, even though I know my fellow Americans wouldn’t care one way or the other.
Using a knife and fork the European way is also something I still do. All this cutting up of food then putting the knife down and eating the entire meal with a fork only? Surely that takes more time than if you were to cut and eat as you go? Or even worse, not bothering to set a knife out at all. I have actually seen people try to eat a salad with just a fork; and by that I mean trying to cut large pieces of lettuce with the side of the fork. It’s no wonder chopped salads are all the rage. Even when Americans use both knife and fork, it seems like a lot of work to me. A right-handed American cuts the food with the knife in the right hand and the fork in the left, but after cutting, puts the knife down, switches the fork to the right hand, and, with the tines upturned, scoops up the food puts it in the mouth. The fork then has to go back to the left hand and all this is repeated every time said American fancies another bite. As I said, a lot of work. (By the way, this is considered good table etiquette in the States, so there’s nothing “wrong” or “bad-mannered” about it.)
And tailgating? For those not in the know, tailgating is the utterly unfathomable hobby of going to a football stadium several hours before the game, standing around in the parking lot, BBQing food, drinking and yucking it up with other tail-gaters. Wiki gives a good description here. I know people who won’t go to a game if they can’t tailgate beforehand. It’s not so much the socializing I don’t get, it’s the fact that football season is in the winter, which in many parts of the USA is absolutely freezing. No matter. Those people are a dedicated bunch and see no problem in subjecting themselves to sub-zero temps in the name of the tailgate. There’s even an article on Ask.com about how to prevent hypothermia and frostbite for goodness’ sake!
My local football stadium, Soldier Field, has placed many restrictions on where tailgating can take place; also banning wind canopies, open fires and deep fryers from the parking lots. (Hello?) Now, if you want a spot in a grassy area where canopies are allowed, you are advised to get there by 7am – for a NOON game! As I said, dedicated.
No, there are some things this expat will never truly understand.
Toni Summers Hargis is the author of "Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom", (St. Martin’s Press) and blogs as Expat Mum.