OK so both countries speak English, despite my best efforts as a pusher of the Gaeilge.
And we Irish are very familiar with American tropes from TV & movies (I mean the pictures) etc. Irish people recognize the cowboys and the gung ho heroes; the Hollywood rom-com and the rural landscapes and the urban cityscapes. Both of us can tell a burger from a fish; both are broadly Christian, both are broadly democratic; both of us have a love / hate relationship with our institutions (banks / politicians / police etc.).
Indeed one of the inspirations for this 4 state road trip is our apparent familiarity with our two countries … divided by a common language (our own Shaw, I think).
But there are differences as well – oh yes! Indeed there are. Some of these are obvious of course, but … some are a little puzzling:
- Plugs and sockets. Voltage & DVD regions. PAL and NTSC TV formats. Obvious and boring. But important if you’re thinking of purchasing electronics.
- Some words – when we came to the US first many moons ago, we couldn’t quite make out this fanny thing. They mean bum.
- Americans drive on the right rather than the left. To be fair so does most of this planet – we’re the oddballs in this instance.
- Most American cars are automatic.
- American roads have yellow lines in the middle and white at the edge. Who knows where to park? Most also have a mile marker every … so often.
- Americans drive on parkways and park on driveways.
- Some US highways not only allow cycling, but have cycle lanes extending hundreds of miles.
- The US is still not metric even thought the Dollar was metric well before Ireland & the UK. Everything in the US is in feet & miles; in ounces (beer – where is the pint?) and gallons (petrol); in Fahrenheit and (please fill in last example of your choice).
- Time zones: most of our 4 state road trip is 8 hours behind Ireland & GMT. But Utah does not observe daylight savings time and is therefore only 7 hours behind in the summer. This means as you travel from say Arizona to Utah, you have to change your time by one hour. To put this in context, Monument Valley and Lake Powell are in both states.
- Credit cards: Now we’re sensitive to this issue as we are currently enduring a credit card problem ourselves. But it is a bit ridiculous that the US seems to have little or no chip ‘n pin. Almost all transactions involve taking your precious – I mean your credit card – away from your eyeballs and signing a piece of paper like it was the 20th century. The exceptions are when no signature is required at all – we’ve paid for gas (petrol), coke and other things with only a single piece of validation – the credit card by itself.
- We Irish lock and latch our doors by turning switches clockwise – this unlocks American doors.
- Where you can smoke in the US is … well we’re not sure yet. We think individual states have their own laws.
- Satellite radio, in particular Sirius XM seems to be widespread in the US and provides crystal clear sound and a large variety of stations (the Comedy Central, E-Street & Elvis channels are getting heavy use in Suaimhneas) even in areas where there is no mobile phone reception at all (ideal for a slasher movie, methinks). Ireland’s nearest equivalent would be the radio stations we can pick up as a by-product of satellite TV. But those dishes would never fit on cars. Any Irish use DAB radio?
- Irish news on TV & radio at least makes some effort to be “fair and balanced” (US Fox News hilarious motto). US news is extremely biased one way or another (mostly one way, to be honest).
- The US people are much divided in a way that seems to an Irish point-of-view as between the far right and the somewhat right. What Americans call socialism would be regarded as middle-of –the-road in Ireland (health care, gun control, race relations etc.)
- Rendition flights!!! There I said it. One invented, the other facilitated. In both case all in the past of course.
- The US is scared of invasive quagga and zebra mussels – we’d just overfish and eat them all. Or start a festival during the Gathering for that specific purpose.
- Real, dramatic poverty – linked to homelessness and mental health issues – is far more visible in the US. Ireland keeps them hidden … well, OK then … Ireland has pretty alright social protection for the most part.
- And I have to finish off with TV ads … aaarrrggghhh!!! I’m glad I brought my laptop with a few movies on it. The worst thing is US TV provides the world with some of the best quality TV on the planet – think ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘The Sopranos’ (RIP James – nearly wrote Tony there – Gandolfini), ‘Star Trek’, ‘Hill Street Blues’, ‘The Wire’, ‘Treme’ etc. (We’re living the ‘Breaking Bad’ landscape at the moment.) But the ads / messages / commercials actually ruin the viewing experience. Small wonder producers / distributors / stations taking a different approach, such as HBO and NetFlix, are making such inroads. And why are almost all the ads for some form of “health” product (with multiple, and I mean multiple, side effect warnings) and insurance?
I’m sure we’ll come up with a few more examples as we go along. In the meantime … has anyone else a good difference?