Friday, February 5, 2010

US Survival Guide - Pt. 1

Planning on migrating to a different country? The US perhaps? Well here is a little guide I've put together that should help ease the transition because believe me when I tell you, culture shock is no joke. Eight years in and I'm still feeling the culture whiplash. Hopefully by the time you're done reading this, you'll have a better idea of what to bring with you, what to leave behind and most importantly, what to expect when you get here.

What do I pack?

I'm not going to get into the obvious items like clothing, toiletries, electronics etc; frankly, if I'd had to itemize those for you, you probably have more problems than you think. This is simply going to be a listing of some of the things you take for granted at home but will likely have a tough time finding in the States. As time goes by though, I've found that a few of these items have started to pop up in groceries. (like pigeon peas, Shandy and Chubby)

- DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT leave Trinidad and Tobago without a pack of curry in your bag (pray it doesn't burst in the bag). I do not care whether you know how to curry or not, believe me, you are going to learn.

Pholourie Mix - see previous comment

Iron Pot - a big one, leave all your cds and bullshit behind and make sure that you have room for this.

Naparima Girls Cookbook - I cannot stress this enough. I happen to have the original pink one that was published back in the early nineties but I also have the latest full-colour edition (the recipe for oil down is conspicuously absent).

Matouks, Grace, Swiss - Are you familiar with these brands? No? well you should be. I highly recommend a quick trip down to HiLo or TruValue and grab anything made by Matouks.......I'm talking ketchup, mustard, pepper sauce, guava jam, shoe polish (joke), tomato paste, if Matouks makes it, go get it.

Why you ask?
Don't they have ketchup in the States?

Yes, ketchup is readily available in the US but you will quickly discover what I'm talking about the first time you attempt to use US-made ketchup and mustard on your hot dog.........your friends and family would suddenly be wondering what the hell happened to your eyebrows.

Simply put, ketchup and mustard that are designed for the American palate, are much too acidic and are quite strong and bitter tasting when compared to what is produced for consumption in Trinidad.

Oddly enough, pigeon peas is readily available so I wouldn't worry about packing too many cans of those.

Maggi Cubes, etc. - again, if it says Maggi on the pack, just go on and get it.....Maggi Cubes, "Season-up de pot," Cock flavor (lord) or whatever, just get it.

Coconut milk powder - please don't plan on bursting open any dry coconut on your driveway, your neighbours will probably call the police who unlike back home, tend to show up the same day/week/month, often within minutes. Save yourself the trouble (and embarrassment) by stockpiling packs of coconut milk powder.

Golden Ray - No..................your pelau will never ever taste as good as your grandmother's but a little Golden Ray certainly helps.

Snacks & Cereals - Sunshine Snacks should be your best friend so I highly recommend that you get everything......Frosted Flakes, Nutty Flakes N Honey, Zoomers, Cheez Zees, Cheese Stix, the works, etc. While you at it, load up on red mango, chiney mango, Bourbon Biscuits, Bobby, tambran balls, chili bibi and don't forget your Diana Powermints and dinner mints. You probably won't see these things again for a long time (unless you're moving to Brooklyn) so a sizable stockpile is highly recommended.

Just a point to note, Trinidadians seem to have a higher tolerance for all things sweet and salty than their American counterparts, which is why I've recommended all of the above snacks. The US public is extremely health conscious and thus their salty snacks like Cheetos, Pringles, etc will never quite taste as good to our Caribbean palates as say Zoomers or Cheez Zees. The same goes for the sweet stuff; when I ran out of Sunshine Snacks' Frosted Flakes, I switched to the Kelloggs brand only to find myself having to add several spoons of sugar to it.

Moving on.........

Now that we at least know that you're not going to starve to death, it might be time for me to lay down a few ground rules regarding acceptable behaviour. Ideally speaking, there are a few habits that we as Trinbagonians have picked up over the years that might do more than just raise an eyebrow or two (jail probably) if done in the US.

Ground Rules

Do not kill the wildlife - You cannot kill and/or eat (well not in public anyway) any wild animals that happen to find themselves on your property; civilized people apparently get their meat products in a grocery or something. Be prepared for traffic that is due entirely to a flock of geese deciding that right then was a good time for a nice stroll across the public roadway instead of fly. I couldn't imagine us having this problem back in Trinidad, the geese know's like they're asking for a one-way trip to a pot on Caura river.

Do not urinate openly in a public space - I'm almost embarrassed that I have to mention this but yes, trinis do happen to have an unfortunate habit of relieving themselves where convenient even if it is in public......public walls, public street corners, public parks, trees, bushes etc. This is frowned upon, so please, if you really have to pee that badly, just find a public restroom, believe it or not, they're usually clean and normally rapist free.

Do not attempt to cross an Interstate on foot - for one, this is illegal, and secondly, it will probably get you killed. This is not the Churchill/Roosevelt Highway, and lets face it, we don't even have that much of a good track record running across a two-lane highway. With all the people that are killed each year even crossing the Beetham, what makes you think you can time a run across six lanes? Enough said, it's dumb, don't do it.

Do not attempt to fit more people into a vehicle than the vehicle is designed to accommodate - simply put, if your vehicle is designed to carry 5 people, then there is no reason why you should try to fit 12 people in there; you're just asking for a ticket (which American law enforcement are more than happy to write for you).

Do not drink while driving - while it might be commonplace back home to have a beer in the car with you while coming back from a riverlime, beachlime, fete, church, etc, such behaviour will land you in prison (with a suspended license) over here. In fact, any alcohol in the car, whether the driver was drinking it or not is going to lead to problems.

Don't plan on drinking in public either - I always wondered why American "rumshops" were called "Package Stores." I'm beginning to believe that it has something to do with the fact that if you plan to drink it in public, you'd better keep the brown paper packaging handy. It is unlawful to openly consume alcohol in a public space.

Do not send your children to purchase alcohol/cigarettes/porn for you - "Grandpa sent me to get his puncheon" simply does not work in the states. It is illegal to sell alcohol, cigarettes, M-rated movies and M-rated video games to minors......bummer.

Speed Limits signs are not just elaborate roadway decorations - pay attention to the speed limit signs, they're not that hard to spot, they are large, white and say "Speed Limit" on them. Some trinis have a habit of driving as fast as the car will go but such behaviour is frowned upon and will usually earn you a ticket........or a ride in the back of a police cruiser.

I take it I've given more than enough food for though in this, the first segment of my survival guide. Check in with me next week for more.