Monday, 15 June 2009

Little house in the big woods

Well, the title is probably slightly misleading, but forgive me, I am a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books about her pioneering family. House no 9 isn't that little, and the woods are not that big, but it IS very wooded around here and although we didn't arrive in a covered wagon, but an ageing Dodge, moving here does feel a bit like being a pioneer arriving in Indian country.

We've been in the house five days now, and have spent most of them out shopping for our new home in true American style. Shopping in the US is, I am realising, very different to shopping in London, where you might schlep into Oxford Street on the tube, dodge raindrops in your way in and out of shops, grab a quick sandwich from Pret and lug your heavy bags home again. Or you might drive, and spend hours finding a parking spot, pay a small fortune on the meter, and then realise it's about a mile's walk from the actual shop you wanted to go to. Or you might go to Ikea, but that would be a nightmare beyond contemplation.

Here, you roll up in your car, park in a simply immense, free, parking lot, enter a huge indoor mall, with every shop you could possibly want under the sun, a choice of about 50 restaurants (half of which seem to be Japanese - luckily the Littleboys have unexpectedly decided they love chicken teriyaki), and carry your bags a few yards back to the car. All of which makes it immensely tempting to buy, buy, buy. The Doctor has already treated himself to a huge new set of non-stick pans to cook with, while I have indulged in a shiny new laptop, at which I now sit. The Littleboys have ended up with some gimmicky, overpriced electronic Chinese toys we picked up in the mall, including a mouse that runs around squeaking - the kind of impulse purchase we never would have made at home. No wonder American consumers make the world go round.

I guess the major difference is that everyone expects to drive everywhere. The Doctor is taking the train to work at the moment, but when he went to the Long Island Railroad station to ask about a season ticket, the guy at the booth was astounded. Although people commute from here into Manhattan, they clearly don't commute to two stops down the line. "Why don't you just drive?" he asked. "It's so near...."

No-one can believe that we don't have two cars. (Actually we don't even have one, as we we have been forced to borrow, rather than buy, the Dodge, due to not yet having NY state driving licences. This heinously irritating saga probably merits another whole blog post so I won't bore you with it here...). And yet here we are incredibly near Main Street, with most of the amenities you could want within walking distance. We can actually see the local wine shop from the top of our bedroom window - a definite plus in my book. I know the US auto industry is in decline, but I can't see them becoming a non-car culture any time soon.

But another of my first impressions is that everyone is incredibly friendly. From the postman who just now knocked on my door to introduce himself; (although he corrected me when I called him the mailman; it's 'carrier', apparently, so as not to be sexist. Yes, like pigeons); to the neighbours who invited us for an impromptu bbq laast night; to the garage owner I had to phone about the Dodge (don't ask...); to our landlady, who had laid on everything to make our moving day easier, including food in the fridge, soap, towels and two bottles of local wine. Some cynical Brits say Americans are just being fake when they're so friendly, but I must say, people seem genuine. The only time I ever exchanged words with my London postman was when I had to chase hin down the street for misdelivering the post to the wrong door yet again - and all I would get was a sullen grunt.

Anyway, enough of my wittering. Fellow blogger Expat Mum has suggested that I pose a question every week to be answered by fellow Expat Brits/American bloggers. I have many, so will start with one that has already intrigued me.

Q. Do Americans have baths? No bathtub that I've been in seems to have been designed with a bath in mind. The one in this house has an amazing shower, but when you try to run the taps the shower simply pumps out as well, so stuck it is in the 'shower' position. Some of the motels we stayed in didn't even seem to have plugs you could put in for a bath. The Littleboys like their bath, but I'm wondering if I should be training them to have showers....

15 comments:

Iota said...

Showers are the order of the day. Houses have baths (and modern houses often have big fancy ones with whirlpools etc), but I'm not sure people use them - except for their dogs.

I noticed that in women's magazines, there's never any advert with a woman lounging in a bath, or any article about pampering yourself in a bath.

They don't know what they're missing. A bath and a cup of tea, or a bath and a glass of wine. What more could a woman want?

Good to hear your news. Sounds like you're having fun.

And that thing about being 'genuine' - these people are not asking to be your best bosom buddies, or to share your Christmas dinner with you, or be written into your will. They're just asking to be casually friendly, and for you to reciprocate in similar manner. What's not genuine about that?

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

No idea about the Americans, but I have learnt to always carry a universal plug with me here. Even the smartest places, with the swankiest baths never seem to have a plug. They don't know what they are missing. When do they read anything? We put the plug in, spray the shower around and evenutally a bath acceptable to the small boys appears, and do they love the amount of water that gets sprayed around. One of the highlights of travelling in their opinion...

Sounds like you are having a lovely time. So pleased that everyone is being nice, what a difference that makes. How Americans ever settle in Britain I'll never know!

Nota Bene said...

how's the accent coming along?

Tara@Sticky Fingers said...

Love hearing about the differences between our two countries.
And it's brilliant you've had such a warm welcome.
I recall we visited the Keys and the baths had no plugs so we had to improvise and use a pair of pants to block up the hole long enough to fill the bath up!
And bizarrely the word verification is 'filbath' - what are the chances of that!

Molly said...

Hello -

I've been a total anonymous reader of your blog for ages since I stumbled upon it - I'm an American who lived in Nappy Vally for 4 years so I liked hearing stories of my old neighborhood. And now I can give advice on life in America!

Anyway - we do have baths often, it's just that actual plugs are rare as there is generally a built-in stopper. Usually there is a little lever just below the tap, or on occasion (like at my parents) you actually press on the metal covering over the drain, and that will block it. Good luck! Nothing nicer than a lovely relaxing bath.

Molly in Chicago

Potty Mummy said...

Shall I send you a universal bath plug? I mean, I'm all for showers but everynow and again, it's great to shut the door and at least pretend you're not going to be interrupted for the next 20 minutes or so....

nappy valley girl said...

Iota - I think the attitude is great. Why not be friendly? It makes life a lot more pleasant for everyone.

Brit in Bosnia - it is indeed a problem I've encountered in Europe, too. Baths must be a very British tradition.

NB - apart from my neighbour not understanding my pronounciation of 'garage', fine.

Tara - loving the pants solution!

Molly - hello, and glad to hear you've been reminiscing about Nappy Valley through my humble blog. I do know the little lever you mean (took me about a week to work it out after we arrived in Brooklyn), and it does indeed work in my bath. However, still can't turn off the shower when running the taps! Maybe New Yorkers prefer showers?

PM - agreed. Preferably accompanied by a nice glass of wine and a good book.

A Modern Mother said...

I have baths, but I'm not typical. My mother has baths, every once in a while. So there is at least one person in the US that has a bath ocassionally(in between using the shower).

mothership said...

Children have baths in the US but not that many grownups like to lounge in the tub and relax - that's why they're all so shallow and uncomfortable.
You can buy plugs in the drugstores or those flat, round rubber things which actually work pretty well (looks like a pancake) and then just soak.
I would have your landlady sort out the stuck shower/faucet option.
Keep posting questions! We love answering them.
And yes, the mall FORCES you to buy.
Wait until you get a Costco membership and just go in for loo roll and some fruit and come out with a jungle gym and a lawnmower..

Expat mum said...

I'm with Molly on the bath plugs. Those rubber ones on a chain are rendered pretty useless in many baths as the plugs (metal) don't actually come all the way out. They are attached on the under side by some incredibly complicated enginerering, so even if you think they're not working very well (which they never do) DON'T on any account, pull too hard. Once you have it in your sweaty palm, you'll have to call a plumber out to get it put back in again.
Sigh!

nappy valley girl said...

Susanna - ah, but the 'every once in a while' says it all. The fact that showers are very superior here to in the UK also says a lot.

Mothership - well, the Doctor has managed to sort it out using superior strength to mine, and a hand or iron. It still doesn't feel like the kind of bath you want to sit in, though. As for Costco, tell me about it. (Although here it's Stop n Shop). I got the store card today so it's all downhill from here...

Expat Mum - sounds frightening. Maybe I'll stick to the shower then....

Danish Girl said...

Hi My in laws live in Port Jefferson, LI. If that is near you my MIL is a very good person to get to know. She is the chair of the chamber of commerce and a Lion and very friendly in the American way.

nappy valley girl said...

Hi Danish girl, unfortunately we're not very near Port Jefferson, although we did stay there for a few days earlier this month and it is a lovely place - in fact the picture you currently see at the top of the blog was taken there. We are a good hour's drive away, so probably not much chance of getting to know your MIL. But thank you anyway!

Iota said...

I was about to take umbridge (on Americans' behalf) about Mothership's comment about them all being shallow and uncomfortable because they don't take enough long relaxing baths, but I realised she is talking about the baths, not the people!

Laura McIntyre said...

Its always such a treat to see you have posted, i love reading about your big move. Hope you are all settling in well, and enjoying your showers :)