This is likely to be one of the last of the "US Survival Guides" that you'll see on this blog; I hope that the previous two posts were both informative and entertaining. For now, I'll wrap up a few final key points that should be noted either whenever planning a trip to or immigrating to the United States of America.
Needless to say, I am by no means an expert on the subject, I only speak from my own personal experiences. Always keep in mind though that human beings are by their very nature, dynamic and versatile and thus so too are their practices, customs and culture in general. It is thus quite likely that many of the feelings and sentiments expressed on these pages, will be very different given the passage of time thus rendering this guide quite useless.
On that very same note, Trinidad and Tobago's culture is one of the most dynamic cultures I know of, and it is quite likely that after having lived here in the US for 8 long years, I too may need a guide like this in order to re-integrate into the trini lifestyle when I eventually return.......................but that's another story.
Alrighty then, let's get started..............
Taxes not included
One of the mild annoyances that I encountered early on was the fact that the prices of products, goods and services, did not include any form of taxation at all; the taxes were added in as a nice, little, nasty, surprise "fuck you" only when you got to the register. Grocery shopping all of a sudden started to feel like an advanced calculus class. Not to mention the fun little fact that different states often had different rates of taxation that often also varied depending on what you bought, I often had to walk with a calculator just to figure out exactly how much I was spending.Back home, the price on the shelf, was exactly the price you paid.
To compound the problem, states like New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania (last time I checked) do not levy taxes on certain items like clothing, electronics (I think), etc but still place taxes on food and grocery items. I could imagine you'd need a PhD in economics and accounting just to read your Walmart receipt. Here's a bright idea guys, why not include the tax on the price tag? It would at least save us the "Ta daa" moments at the cash register.
Incoming calls cost you.
This one was a bit of a shocker when I first moved here, maybe I'd been spoiled by TSTT/Bmobile. Case in point, a cousin of mine moves to Pittsburgh and is pretty excited about her nice new cell. Not wanting to spend much each month and not being much of a talker, she opted for a low-cost 250 minute per month, talk plan with her friendly, neighbourhood cell phone company. Feeling rather pleased with her accomplishment, she called me up to brag.
My first thought on hearing the news? AT&T is going to rape you ( no lube). See, unbeknown to my darling cousin, in the US, minutes are deducted, not only for calls that you make, but also for calls that you receive as well. An honest mistake I suppose seeing that in Trinidad, all incoming calls are free, my cousin figured that she would have been okay as long as she didn't make calls. She promptly switched to a more appropriate 900 minute plan. Personally, I use an unlimited talk/text/data plan so I never have to worry.
But while we're on the topic, if like me, you happen to...............you know, not be from here (USA), it might be useful to know that
IVR is the devil
I'm guessing that many of you have never heard the term IVR, but it's really just short for Interactive Voice Response. I'm also pretty sure that you've never heard that phrase before either but I am pretty sure you've been affected by it. IVR refers to the "pleasant" and extremely "user-friendly," voice-prompt system that you normally encounter every time you call customer service.
Even the whole concept of a voice prompt system is a little weird to me because at home, a call to customer service normally yields one of two things: a busy tone or a real, live person. It's still like that today too because I called the RBTT Independence Square Branch help line just a few months back and a real person picked up......I was in shock.
But anyway, generally speaking, the IVR voice systems seem to work fairly well with one key but very important exception......................the damn thing does not seem to work very well with foreign accents. I don't care where you come from, whether Trinbago, Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica, Ghana, Nigeria, etc, if you have a foreign accent, I can just imagine what your IVR experiences are like.
Hello and welcome to Friendly Company, Inc.'s automated voice menu system, please listen carefully.
Fuck, here we go
Please say your full name
I'm sorry, did you say Frederick Hinds?
Did you say Angela Lansbury?
No......lord grant me patience
I heard James Robertson
What confounds me is the fact that the system easily recognizes any one of a dozen or so different American accents with no trouble at all whether it's the southern drawl, the Texas cowboy, or the New York/Philly twang.
And speaking of accents
..............a friend of mine once asked me to identify common pick up lines that I have used in the past. In response, I told him that I never really had to use pick up lines as virtually anything I said seemed to suffice. Now before you begin to think of me as a little cocky, allow me to explain. Once in the US, a trini male's most lethal weapon is his accent; very often I never have to think of what to say other than "hi."
Case in point
Trini Male: Hi, could you tell me how to get to...........
Charming American Female: my house? I've got condoms*
Trini Male: Good Afternoon ma'am.
Charming American Female: I don't know what you just said big daddy but keep talking.*
Charming American Female #2: Oooh that accent's sexy, say something, say anything.*
*results not typical
Too often have I seen people "fresh off the boat" as they say, having never left their homelands their entire lives, only to arrive in the US for the first time and lose their accents within days/weeks. It is all well and good to want to fit in because believe me, it is tough to communicate when you sound the way we do...........but it's worth it (trust me).
Your accent is your identity, it is your link to your culture, it is what sets you apart from those around you (unless you live in Brooklyn or Ft. Lauderdale, then no one gives a shit). My wife once told me that one of the first things she fell in love with, was my accent (though I beg to differ but that's another story); half the time she has no clue what I'm saying but she loves it anyway.
As time goes by and modern society and technology change, I am beginning to find that many of the problems I'd encountered in the past are no longer major issues. I vividly remember having to stick two iron pots, Golden Ray, sorrel, mauby, cheese, roti skins, etc into my traveling bags each time I made a return trip from home. Nowadays, I can find just about anything I need in many local groceries including the previously tough to find Shandy. Now all I need is to be able to find cascadura and good black pudding (I said good, not the crappy ones), I'll be all set.
I know that I raised a pretty big stink in this post regarding voice prompt systems because they really really do stink for foreigners but as of late, I have to give credit to companies like Bank of America that at least give us the option to go touch tone only instead of voice. I also have noticed improvements in the voice recognition systems themselves that allow me to speak almost naturally (almost).
But anyways, I just realized that there are few more topics that I would still like to touch on so there is probably going to be a "US Survival Guide - Pt. 4" so stay tuned.