7 things every Aussie gets wrong in the USA
"Are you scared of this country?" the customs officer asked me.
I'd got flustered during my passport check on the way into the US - apparently so awkwardly that I'd raised suspicions. (Either that or she was just messing with me, but I wasn't game to laugh just in case.)
"No," I answered, as confidently as I could muster.
But the fact is, visiting the US does make me anxious. You see, I'm a terrible tipper.
It's not that I intend to be, but being Australian, the whole concept is foreign, and maths was never my favourite subject, so calculating percentages is a chore at best.
I hadn't been to the States in 12 years but still shudder when I remember the moment I woke in a start after a night out in New York, suddenly realising my maths was all wrong and I'd left not a generous tip, but an insulting one.
Twelve years on I was, at best, a bit rusty in all things American.
In case you're like me, here's a cheat sheet of seven things that Aussies tend to struggle with in the US.
It's people like me who give Aussies a bad name when it comes to tipping. And it's not just calculating the appropriate amounts to add on to a bill that I struggle with.
It's knowing who to tip, and how much.
This time I was determined to get it right, I arrived with a wad of dollar bills in my wallet and had tried to do my homework on who to tip.
Thank goodness for Uber, which has thankfully made things a little easier by suggesting appropriate amounts for drivers in the States (unlike Australia, the app has a built-in tipping function in the US).
Last time I was in the States I was staying in hostels. This time it was hotels, which brings in a whole new range of who-to-tip questions. Thankfully, my travelling companion sorted the tip when my suitcase was accidentally delivered to her room.
Then came the question of housekeeping. According to the guides I'd read, leaving a few dollars on the pillow each morning with a "thank you" note was the done thing. I remembered, all apart from one morning.
But when I confessed my guilt to my fellow Aussie travellers, I was met with a mix of sympathy, confusion and shock. One said he'd been coming to the US for decades and never tipped housekeeping. Our discussion had just blown his mind.
Another had gone to the trouble of noting the number of housekeeping staff servicing the hotel room and leaving the equivalent number of $1 bills to ensure it was easily divided.
Next time I visit the States, hopefully they'll have invented an Uber for room service.
2. LEFT AND RIGHT
Roads: right hand side. Footpaths: right hand side. Escalators: right hand side. Your brain knows it, but your feet will need a reminder at some point. Oh and if you're driving, accept you're going to wind up with the windscreen wipers going when you want to turn a corner.
You might be able to hazard a guess at converting miles and inches to kilometres and centimetres but calculating temperature conversions in your head is a serious skill. Whatever you do, don't get excited if someone tells you it's going to be 33 degrees.
4. THE NAME OF YOUR DESTINATION
Think you're heading to San Fran? Wrong. Call it that when you're there and it'll put you clearly in the embarrassing tourist category. And don't even think about trying out "Frisco", you dag. It's SF to locals, or just plain old too-many-syllables San Francisco.
5. ORDERING FOOD
In Australia an entree is a smaller version of a main. In the US it's, well, a larger version of a main. And a biscuit is NOT the same as a cookie. A biscuit is pretty much a scone … but if you're thinking it'll come with jam and cream that's a whole other lesson.
Flat whites don't exist, and if you order a latte, you'll sometimes randomly get served an entire bowl of milky coffee. You could just get over your coffee snobbery and deal with the traditional American filtered coffee.
You could always consider a DIY job, using Starbucks and McCafe brews that are apparently so popular people actually buy those brands' ground coffee to make at home.
And don't even think about ordering tea. You might get iced tea, you might find a variety of intriguing flavours but not a regular breakfast tea, and it'd be cream you'd get with it, not milk.
Before you storm out of the cafe and head back to your hotel room to brew your own cuppa, remember it isn't as easy as it sounds. Electric kettles pretty much don't exist in US hotels. Nor do they exist in most American homes, where stovetop kettles are the norm. Apparently cups of tea just aren't, well, everyone's cup of tea.