First Experience of US Healthcare

On Thursday I had my first experience of the US healthcare system as I have been in the US for four months and it was time to find a primary care physician (known as a GP in the UK). Kat added me to her coverage when I emigrated so it was just a matter of choosing a hospital and a doctor and making an appointment. Continue reading “First Experience of US Healthcare”

Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November

Early on Friday morning I was getting ready for work when I heard a commotion in the kitchen; our house cat Sammy had somehow managed to pull a bird through a slightly open window. The bird was duly dropped on the bed and as it hadn’t moved I thought Sammy had killed it so I got the shock of my life Continue reading “Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November”

World Peace is None of Your Business

This week my two year Permanent Resident Card (Green Card) arrived in the post. I arrived in the US in early July so it wasn’t exactly processed quickly but it’s here now and that’s the main thing. It arrived with a leaflet titled “Welcome to the US; A Guide for New Immigrants” which would have been useful the week I’d actually arrived, but that’s bureaucracy I guess. 90 days before the expiration of the Green Card I can apply for a ten year one and in a few years time I can apply for citizenship if I  want. The jury is still out on that decision, but I’d probably go for citizenship as otherwise I’ll have to deal with USCIS every ten years and as a citizen I’d be able to vote and feel more involved in life here. The good thing is that I’ll be a dual citizen and able to live in either the UK or US.

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The funny thing is that right now I feel like I inhabit some strange middle ground between British and American. I am still British obviously and always will be but my future now lies in the US. It’s been strange as an expat watching the Scottish Referendum and wanting to contribute to the discussion but almost feeling like I can’t because I no longer live in the UK. For what it’s worth I think that Scotland made the right decision but the whole referendum process has opened a can of worms. I feel it’s only fair that Wales and Northern Ireland get the same benefits that Scotland gets now and that Scottish MP’s have to stop voting on English issues (the West Lothian question) and England needs it’s own devolved parliament, like the other parts of the Union. What irritates me is SNP supporters saying they want to be “free”, if Scotland wasn’t free then the UK government would never have allowed a referendum; contrast the UK’s stance with that of the Spanish government, who say there will be no referendum for Catalonia.

I feel like the world is totally screwed up at the moment and when people moan about the US or UK government I think how would you feel if you lived in Egypt, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq et al? The grass isn’t always greener, no government is perfect but I’d much rather live in the UK or US than in many other countries. Do I agree with action against ISIS? Yes I do, if even Iran and the Gulf States find them extremist then they definitely need to be tackled with the agreement of the other regional powers. I’m not so sure about Syria; Assad is a nasty dictator but history shows that when you overthrow one of those you leave a vacuum for something worse; see Saddam, Gadaffi for recent examples. I despise Putin for his messing with the Ukraine but we in the west can hardly talk about invading other nations without reeking of hypocrisy. The best thing that we can do is give the Ukrainian government better arms so they can defend themselves against the Russians.

Does anyone else feel powerless with all the events happening in the world right now? I’ve just finished reading an excellent book by Max Hastings on the origins of World War I. I’m more than a little worried that in a century people will be looking back on our political elite and making similar judgments about our time. That’s if they have the luxury of education and aren’t fighting endless wars caused by overpopulation and the effects of global warming. I leave you with the rather accurate lyrics of Morrissey from World Peace is None of Your Business. They are enough to make anyone think.

World peace is none of your business
You must not tamper with arrangements
Work hard and sweetly pay your taxes
Never asking what for
Oh, you poor little fool- oh, you fool

World peace is none of your business
Police will stun you with their stun guns
Or they’ll disable you with tasers
That’s what government’s for
Oh, you poor little fool- oh, you fool

World peace is none of your business
So would you kindly keep your nose out
The rich must profit and get richer
And the poor must stay poor
Oh, you poor little fool- oh, you fool

Each time you vote you support the process
Each time you vote you support the process
Each time you vote you support the process
Brazil and Bahrain
Oh, Egypt, Ukraine
So many people in pain
No more, you poor little fool
No more, you fool

Two Hundred Years Of Peace?

This week apparently marks two hundred years since British troops captured Washington and burnt down the White House during the War of 1812. An eagle eyed reader would notice that 1812 was in fact 202 years ago but the war dragged on into 1814, proving that both nations couldn’t end conflicts quickly even then. The British Embassy in Washington tweeted about the anniversary of the burning and managed to bring the conflict into the news. The tweet by the Embassy featured a picture of a White House cake with the caption “Commemorating the 200th anniversary of burning the White House. Only sparklers this time!” A number of US Twitter users were offended and two hours later the Embassy issued an apology although offending Twitter users is not the most difficult thing to do. When I shared the story with my wife she threatened to dump our tea into the toilet when she got home, so I hid it just in case!

The Controversial Cake!
                                    The Controversial Cake!

This story made me realise that there are a lot of things that I have yet to learn about the history of my new country. The War of 1812 is not very well known in the UK, mostly because a grumpy Corsican with a dodgy hat and a penchant for invading other countries was stealing all of the limelight in Europe so the Napoleonic Wars are considered more significant. We all know about the Revolution and the Boston Tea Party but latter events are rarely mentioned in the UK. The United States tried to invade Canada and the British tried to invade the south and both failed. After two and a half years of war little changed and more British and American soldiers died due to disease than military action, which suggests that either shooting or medical care was pretty lousy at the time, or perhaps both. During my research I found out that as the British burnt down the President’s home, they also ate his dinner which must have added insult to injury! Neither side really lost as the Americans didn’t take Canada and the British didn’t stop American expansion into the west, although it has been noted that sadly Native Americans were the real losers of the conflict.

The 1812 declaration of war against the United Kingdom. Nowadays countries just attack each other!
The 1812 declaration of war against the United Kingdom. Nowadays countries just attack each other!

A little more delving into the history of the two nations reveals they almost fought a war over a pig! In 1859, ambiguity between the ownership of the San Juan Islands that lie between Washington State and British Columbia almost led to conflict when a Irishman’s pig ate a American farmers potatoes on the island, leading to the farmer shooting the pig. When the British authorities threatened to arrest the gun happy American (nothing has changed right?) the American settlers called on their military for protection. Soon enough 461 American soldiers were faced by 5 British warships with the troops from both sides trying to provoke the other to open fire. Fortunately when news of the standoff reached Washington and London both governments decided that fighting a war over a pig was not the brightest idea and decided to negotiate with a boundary being agreed between the two nations. Presumably the pig was delicious. You can read about the standoff here   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pig_War

Nowadays the closest there is to a war between the two countries is arguing about healthcare and the spelling and pronunciation of certain words. I would like to state that in my opinion, colour and flavour are much better with a u and that autumn is more elegant a term than “fall”. My wife would disagree of course but such differences are what help to make Transatlantic relationships so much fun. The next time someone complains that the US and UK are too close and always invade other countries together you can point out that the British burned the White House down in 1814 and that the two nations nearly fought a war over a pig. Don’t say that I never teach you anything!

People Aren’t the Same Everywhere

There’s a certain type of person who likes to bring every type of electrical gadget they own on holiday. Tablet, smartphone, laptop, ear hair remover, blender, you get the idea. The main purpose of this is to irritate friends and family by sharing as many photo’s and updates about their vacation as they can and to act like they are still at home by ignoring their partners and browsing Facebook until their roaming data bill resembles Greece’s budget deficit. They then inevitably moan about their phone bill online when they get home. I refer to these people as Travel With All Technology types or “TWATS” for convenience. The airport shops that sell travel adaptors for 600 times the normal retail price exist solely for these people. I would approve of these shops for this reason but they have the same policy towards selling water.

This morning I was looking (I have to apologise to my wife I just looked at the shaver I didn’t shave) at my rather ludicrous current combination of American to UK adapter with a UK plug on top and my shaver adapter on top of that and it made me wonder why these things have to be different. There is only one species of human but we have managed to create at least a dozen different designs for getting power from a socket. How the hell can we ever have world peace if we can’t agree on a single plug design. Of course the reason for the differences is that when these plugs were created not many people travelled and they certainly didn’t take their appliances with them, so compatibility didn’t matter. On my US-UK plug adaptor it says for temporary use only which I find reassuring. Is it going to blow up after a month once it’s decided that it’s no longer being used temporarily or will it give me a year?

Luckily there is a way around different sockets, but it's clunky.
                 Luckily there is a way around different sockets, but it’s clunky.

There are many other things that differ between countries, for example ways of measuring temperature. The whole world now uses Celsius, except the USA and those other global superpowers Bahamas, Belize,the Cayman Islands and Palau. Most countries changed from Fahrenheit to Celsius in the 1960’s and 70’s as part of metrication, but the US held out. So if you ever find yourself confused while on holiday in the USA (or Palau- is that even a country?) a handy guide is 

  • Fahrenheit to Celsius: Subtract 32 and halve the resulting number.
  • Celsius to Fahrenheit: Double the number and add 32.

although it isn’t accurate to the nearest degree the higher the numbers you are dealing with it will at least let you know whether you should wear a t-shirt or a coat. I’m gradually getting used to Fahrenheit but when people say its a ninety degree day I still have a quick vision of being nearly boiled alive.

Another thing that can be confusing is driving. Most people know that the US, like 65% of the worlds population drives on the right, in contrast to the UK where they drive on the left (as everyone who has been to Paris knows Parisians fall into a third class, they drive wherever they please). So when you are in a country that drives on the “wrong” side until you adjust you run the risk of being run over at every crossing. If you find the idea of driving on the other side of the road crazy, then spare a thought for drivers in those countries that have a land border with a country that drives on the other side of the road, How confusing must that be to drivers, as the photo below shows!

The change of traffic directions at the Laos–Thai border, prefer to switch from right to left! (Source Wikipedia)
The change of traffic directions at the Laos–Thai border, prefer to switch from right to left! (Source Wikipedia)

I guess my opinion about all these differences is that they make the world a more interesting place. Travelling and visiting new places is much more fun when everything is a little bit different. Of course this can be irksome for some; the builders of the Laufenburg Bridge between Germany and Switzerland were left embarrassed when the two sides didn’t match up. It turns out sea level is measured from the North Sea in Germany and from the Mediterranean in Switzerland. The 27cm gap was doubled instead of reduced to nothing by error leading to a 54cm gap that had to be corrected (http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27509559). Turns out even the Germans and Swiss make mistakes, although I expect they blamed each other. Have you got any examples of amusing differences?