Washington Evening Journal
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Some ways that we’re weird
Message for you, Sir.
Whenever I have a chance to talk to someone who’s from another country, I like to ask them about their impressions of America. What did you expect to find when you got here? And how is this place different from your home country?
Sometimes the answers to these questions make me appreciate the luxuries I take for granted. For instance, I’ve recently become interested in finding out why so many countries don’t have screens on their windows. You just let the bugs into your house?
Other times, these conversations open my eyes to American practices that are kind of weird, maybe even a little backward. Though the United States is a rich and technologically advanced country, there are some simple changes we can undertake to make our lives easier.
Most people know that the United States uses a different system of measurement from the rest of the world, which has largely adopted the metric system, devised in France in the late 18th century. In fact, there are only three holdouts who still use the imperial system (miles, cups, pounds): the United States, Liberia and Myanmar. Everyone else has gone metric.
I find the imperial system most annoying in the kitchen, especially after I left college and started doing more cooking. I’m constantly, to this day, having to look up conversions between the various units of measurement in the imperial system.
There are three teaspoons in a tablespoon, two tablespoons in an ounce, eight ounces in a cup, 16 ounces in a pound …. where’s the pattern here? This is madness! Let’s measure everything in grams and liters so we can save our brainpower for the difficult task of not burning the mac and cheese.
When we see the price of an item listed in a shop or a restaurant, we know that’s not the price we’ll pay at the cash register. That’s just the amount of money the business will receive when we buy it. It doesn’t include the sales tax, so you’re forced to do a little arithmetic in your head to know what the “real” price will be when you pull out your wallet.
My understanding is that this practice is unusual in most of the rest of the world, where list prices already include the sales tax. Why is America different? There are a number of possibilities, such as businesses wanting to advertise the lowest possible number they can, and the fact that sales taxes vary from state to state and even city to city thus making it cumbersome for businesses to set a standard price at all of their stores.
Gaps in the stall
Have you ever been in a public bathroom stall and wondered why there are such large gaps between the door and the frame? I have, and I always assumed they just had to be that way. Maybe the door hinge really needs that extra space. Well, it turns out that these gaps are an oddity to a number of foreign tourists who say their own public bathrooms are not like this at all, and that they feel American public restrooms offer little privacy.
I’ve done some research online and haven’t found a satisfactory answer to this one. I understand how it’s easier to clean the bathroom if the door doesn’t go all the way to the floor, but I still don’t understand the mystery of the gaps. If anyone knows, please let me know at email@example.com.
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