Sunday, April 15, 2012

Home, the stranger.

I just got back a couple of days ago from visiting friends and family in No. California.  I hadn't been back to CA in two years, or so.  Of course, that's not such a long time, but, strangely, it felt as if I had been gone longer.  Things I used to know how to do without even thinking about them were a struggle to remember like buying gas.  The rental car I was given was a bit of a clunker, so, on the second day of my trip, I went back to the rental place to exchange it.  I had to fill the darn thing back up with gas lest I be charged some penalty, so I went to the nearest gas station before hitting the highway.  Turns out I've never paid for gas with a credit card before.  Duh.

So the card I brought with me on the trip is a debit card that also functions as a credit card which is good because I couldn't use the darn thing as a debit card as it isn't connected to a 'five digit zip code'.  I had to figure out (at 5.30 in the morning) how to successfully ask how my card could be charged like a credit card for an amount that filled the tank, even though I didn't know how much gas that would be.  The woman behind the counter kept asking, 'Ten dollar?  Twenty dollar?  Thirty dollar?  Forty dollar?' over and over.  While I repeated, 'I don't know how much gas I want.'  This exchange probably could have gone a bit smoother had I been speaking to someone who spoke a bit more English than just saying dollar amounts and had I fricking clue how things were going to work with the card.  I left this gas station sans gas with a wee headache mounting and headed on down the street to a competitor.  The second station was staffed by not only more than one person, but more than one person who spoke English quite well.  However, the patience the main woman behind the counter had for me was a bit thin as I had forgotten the number designations of the different types of gas there were at the pumps.  'Do you want 87, 91, or...?' she asked.  I said something like, 'Oh, whatever you normally give people.'  I just blanked out on what those numbers meant and tried to bluff my way through it.  She muttered something under her breath which may have been Urdu for 'dumb-ass'.  I felt stupid.  Maybe she didn't believe me when I had prefaced the whole interaction with 'I'm from out of country, so I'm not sure how I can use my debit/credit card here.'  While it's true that I don't live in the US, I am from the US, so it probably seemed to her that I should just KNOW what to do in any scenario while home visiting.

In addition to forgetting how to correctly 'tank up', I also forgot that personal space is judged differently back home than it is here.  I went with a friend to see the JP Gaultier exhibit at the de Young in  GGP.  The exhibit was, for a Tuesday afternoon, fairly packed with admirers.  My buddy, MRO, and I were swept along with the rest of the gawkers from bustier to bustier.  Interestingly, the Madonna-themed wall wasn't swarmed so I found myself standing in front of her 'Blonde Ambition' tour costume, spacing-out on the conical-shaped breast bits for some time.  When I did finally move on, I had to contend with some camera-happy visitor who was more shooting the exhibit than looking at it.  I misjudged the space between the two of us, so, when I walked past, found myself shoulder to shoulder with her.  In LDN, we both would have hit shoulders, said nothing, and moved on.  In SF, this American photo freak stiffened up her body, made passing around her all the more difficult, and said, 'Say excuse me!  Say excuse me when you hit someone!'  Thanks for the lesson, teach.  How 'bout you do the same?  Oh, and put your fucking massive camera away at a packed out exhibit and have some sense of those around you as well.

Speaking of personal space, I had the most difficult time figuring out if people were queuing up, or just milling about the coffee counter as there seemed to be about five feet of space between the guy in front of me and the couple in front of him at this snooty, 'third wave' joint in SF.  (Queuing up in LDN can often feel like you're about to be groped from behind as people stand so closely together.)  Thinking better of queue-jumping for a four buck latte, I broke the silence by asking him if he were in line.  He said he was, but didn't want to crowd the people in front of him.  I made a sort of lame joke that came out something like: Screw 'em!  Let's charge the counter!  It wasn't funny, but it got the guy to move up a bit, and, fortunately for him, away from the cultural misfit that is me.


  1. Ewww what a nightmare (sorry) But I would have snapped some neck bones had they treated me like that. Not that I can say much, being as I've never lived anywhere else. BUt yea, Americans are total asshats, as you know. Now the crowding thing. I must admit I do hate being pushed against and groped and the whole personal space thing. But I make sure to keep myself from those situations. It's more of a sickness I guess!!! :) Love the post!!

  2. Thanks, D! We take being bumped into quite personally back home. Sometimes that could be justified, and sometimes not. -hope all is well!


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