Life on the wrong side of the road

Being an American base, things are obviously set up to the default conventions of life in America. The menu, recreational activities, the way the base is constructed, units of measurement, slang and the like all contain several things that are out of the norm of what I am used to. One of the things I was looking forward to was expereincing American culture, albeit in a removed, unusual environment.

The food we have contains many things that America has exported to the world (or taken from somewhere else and made more mainstream) – the hot dog, the hamburger, pizza and the like. With a basal metabolic rate that is higher than normal given the cold, one of the nice things about living here is that you can eat these things with less guilt as it is still possible to lose weight without being overly milatant with a diet.
We have a good supply of specialty cheeses from New Zealand (kikorangi blue, cumin gouda etc) that get brought on special occasions, which are fantastic, and for which I am always excited. For day to day meals though, the options are ‘American’ cheese, an unnaturally orange rubbery cheese with a industrial flavour. Or we get ‘Provolone’, which is considered to be a nicer option, but still seems somewhere between the tasteless budget brand cheese slice available back home, and the plastic that lines it. When you melt it in the microwave, it doesn’t bubble like normal cheese as the fat separates out, instead just adopting an amorphous shape, outlining the object it overlies. With no block of colby or tasty in the fridge to slice a chunk off, my marmite supplies I shipped down to myself may well last better than I was expecting!

There are several things on the menu which I need a bit of coaching through.
“Whats for lunch today?”
“French dip.”
“What’s that?” (me thinking it was some kind of french stick with side of dips and sauces to put on it)
“It’s a beef sandwich…”
It turns out, a ‘french dip’ is a pastrami and cheese roll, that comes with a onion broth, ready to be dipped into. Not what it seems from reading the menu!

The differences between tomato ketchup and tomato sauce are lost when I try and explain the subtle but important difference! It was with tredidation that some of the crew tried marmite on toast.

Then there is the baked good conundrum. Biscuits are like buttery savoury scones. And cookies aren’t biscuits. And scones are a relatively unusual concept. And Pavlova doesn’t exist, until the chefs kindly whipped some up for dinner on the day of my birthday. The chefs do a stirling job of baking here. The low atmospheric pressure warps all of the standard recipes for making bread, cakes and the like, as the rising qualities of yeast and baking soda do not function in a normal way. Despite these challenges, we still get a steady stream of fresh bread, cakes and muffins on a daily basis.

Also with nothing but a frozen wasteland for over 1000km, there are no mould spores in the air to innoculate anything, nor is there flies or other insects to worry about. We are down to the final remnants of our supply of ‘freshies’ – fresh fruit and veges that arrived over 2 months ago. Oranges are the last vestiges of anything non canned, and although they are a bit shrivelled and rubbery on the outside, they have lasted over two months here, in addition to the time it took to get there him. Quite remarkable really!

The consensus around food norms don’t just seem to clash with my own upbringing. A serial issue, and the source of much consternation, is the ongoing debate about which part of the pizza is the crust. Is it purely just the bit around the outside, or is it surface of the pizza that the topping is layed on? Ongoing polarising discussions have been ranted over to the stage where the topic has been banned from the galley. Only to be replaced by the debate about whether comic book movies qualify as science-fiction, and therefore can be screened on Sci-fi Saturday in one of the TV lounges. For the record, pizza crust is just the outside, and the bottom is the base, and comic books are definitely not sci-fi. They are their own category. Batman and Alien are not in the same genre…

Some of the traditions have been a fun novelty to experience. The Superbowl was a big deal, especially as the predominance of Colorado residents on station, due to several of the contractors being based there, meant there were plenty of supporters of the Broncos. We don’t have access to any television broadcasts, unlike McMurdo Station that gets the Armed Forces Network, which is also broadcast to all American milatary stations spread across the world. A copy of the game had to be hand delivered by one of the final flights we received in early February, with everyone avoiding all news outlets and contact that might give away the result for the 24 hours it took between the game being played and us receiving it. The galley was packed as everyone hoed in to a superbowl special of stuffed fried jalapenos, chicken wings and mozarella sticks. The victory went to the Broncos, although not in graceful or emphatic style, but at least the majority were happy with the result.

The college basketball NCAA competition has recently wound up. Back in the US, it is one of the biggest gambling events and a souce of much lost productivity as people try to pick which of the initial 48 teams will make it through to the sweet 16, and on to the final. Those that followed it down here had their picks (without the gambling), so I thought I’d throw my name in the hat. The competiton is considered a relatively even playing field with lots of outsiders beating top seeds in the competitions history. My last place in our ladder however proved that it doesn’t all just come down to chance, and if you just pick colleges based on their names, rather than a knowledge of the teams, you are destined for the wooden spoon. Maybe that’s why I’m no good at winning money at the races either…

Luckily we don’t have to drive much down here, otherwise my tendancy to hang left may prove to be an issue. I obviously knew that Americans drive on the right(wrong) side of the road, but for some reason I did not extrapolate that to passing people on tight staircases, or hallways. After a few awkward encounters, I quickly realised the folly of my ways.

Several other things took a little bit of getting used to. All light switches are flipped upwards not downwards to turn on. Temperatures (something that is talked a lot about down here) are variably quoted in Farenheit or Celcius, mass is measured in pounds not kilograms and distances are in yards or miles. Their rules of Pool are bizzare. I have introduced some of them to the superior game of Billiards, with the failings of my memory not being held to account for no-one is anywhere the wiser.

And the week on a calendar and for book-keeping starts on Sunday and finishes on Saturday. The term week-end must have been lost when being shipped across the Atlantic centuries ago! Our work week here is 6 days a week, with 15 minutes worked every day, that allows us to have a two-day weekend roughly once a month. Our day off is Sunday, but when the second day falls, we take the Monday off, as it allows our days off to line up better with the weekend in the USA, which are just under a day behind. The two day weekends are scheduled to fit with the American public holidays, which will be things to look forward to. Thanksgiving is after we will be off the ice, but July the fourth will be something to look forward to biggest. I hope we have a copy of Independence Day somewhere!

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2 Responses to Life on the wrong side of the road

  1. Noel says:

    Hi Hamish. I’m sure I recognise the orange cheese you speak of. It’s the one that’s just two molecules short of being plastic, (great I imagine in your environment) and you see it all the time in a Big Mac.

    As to the Broncos well I’ve been a fan since ’81 but for the opposition Chargers. (Your mates will explain) Anyway having that interest in NZ in 81 was just like being in the Antarctic in terms of coverage, so anyway I can relate to the issue. I did hear that this year some of the games are going to be broadcast on Twitter so that might be an option that will bring some joy to many.

    Whatever the USA has many great obsessions and football is definitely one of them. Enjoy!

  2. Richard and Jacqui says:

    You are eating too well if you are having French Dip. If you have Provolone, get the chefs to make you a Philly Cheesesteak sammie. I don’t know who you are working with, sounds like a bunch of tree huggers from CO, that call the base of a pizza a crust. I think they are taking the piss out of you. I bet you got taught how to play 9 ball? You should use those Green Backs to buy you some Velveeta…….

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