Sunday, October 3, 2010

What's crossing the Pond these days?

Mike's gallavanting around northern France at the moment and without a computer (he says) so it's just me, Expat Mum this week.

I'll take this opportunity to update my US/UK knowledge if you don't mind.

This past week, a friend in the UK commented on "how very American" it is that I have a dog lady who takes my energetic dog off a few days a week. Dog lady has an exercise centre/center where Dusty can run and run (I can't even let her off the leash in Chicago), and she works on some basic obedience too. (I've blogged about it here if you want the long version.)

I tell you, it's BIG business here. Not just dog walkers, but doggie day cares and doggie fitness centres/centers (oh forget it, I'll alternate the spellings). And about a mile from me there's a new Pooch Hotel which would put the Hyatt chain to shame.

It got me thinking about other "very American" things and wondering which ones have crossed the Pond.

Self-service checkouts? They are all over the place here and I did notice them at larger shops in England this year. My question -  are they better than the American ones? I fall for them every time - "Oh, let's not stand in line" I think. Twenty minutes later I'm arguing with the robotic voice that I have, in fact, placed the damn bananas in the bag. There's a reason they have an employee specifically for self service assistance. It never works.

Drive-through banking? Again, all over the place here but I can't recall seeing any in England. To be fair, I don't go in for much banking in England, not having an account, so I'd be interested to know.

Mail trolleys/carts? Gone are the days when postmen/mail carriers lugged huge sacks over one shoulder. (To this day I can see our poor family postman humped over to one side carrying that thing down our street.) Chicago mail carriers push the stuff around in a wheeled contraption. It has one handle at the front and two huge bags on either side. No heavy lifting whatsoever. What about UK posties?

And still on the mail subject - there are lots of domestic mail boxes in the US and relatively few doors with letter boxes/slots. No one I know in England has a mail box though. However, if you fancy one, there are several companies that sell them, including this little number which I think is rather fabulous. Anyone?

And finally, one thing that, tragically, doesn't seem to be wending it's way from the UK to the US is the brilliant restaurant hand-held device that waiters use to both take your order and process your credit card. None of that farting about putting your card in the wallet, having the waiter take it off somewhere and doing god knows what with it, then bringing it back for your signature (which they never, ever look at anyway). If you look at this trade website you'd think they were everywhere, but here in Chicago where there's practically a restaurant for every resident, I have yet to see one. (I do admit I need to get out more however.)

So, - you cosmopolitan bunch you,- have I missed anything? Fill me in.


  1. Well, many posties do have a wheeled bag like you described and I remember reading in Friday's Guardian that Leicester had the uk's first drive in bank back in the sixties (though I personally have never seen one).

    Only thing that leaps to mind just now is SillyBandz, I understand they are a big craze in the US and a few of my daughter's friends have those.

    One thing I wish would cross is Advil - those liquid ibuprofen pots are the only thing that will help my migraines, which i get rarely but painfully, but in the UK you only get 16 for the same price as 80 in the US. If anyone I know is going to the US I always ask them to bring back a pot of them...sadly I have just finished my last ones and no friends travelling any time soon!

  2. Isn't Ibuprofen available as something else in the UK? I'm sure it is but I always get that and acetominifen mixed up. (I know Paracetamol is the equivalent of one but dare not state it, as it would definitely be the wrong one.)

  3. When we were still living in England, an American friend came to stay and we invited some other friends over for a BBQ. Our American friend proceeded to tell everyone how she was missing her dog but it was OK because the kennels had 'Happy Hour' every evening for the dogs. Everyone was speechless and couldn't think of a polite thing to say! They do like to spoil their dogs over here!

    I loathe self service boys always want to do it and then it all goes wrong and we all start arguing. Hell on earth!

  4. I used to work in a pharmacy, so here is the line on painkillers:
    There is a brand in the UK which produces liquid ibuprofen (Nurofen), however as with most pharmacy medicines, you can't seem to buy them in packs bigger than 32, and only ever one pack at a time.
    Paracetemol is the equivalent of acetominifen.

    I've never seen a drive-through bank and, as far as I can tell the only things with a drive through in the UK are McDonalds and car washes.

  5. I'm wondering why chip'n'pin credit cards haven't made it across the Pond from Europe.

  6. The self service tills are horribly tempting, but this morning (dazed and confused as it was the morning)I found myself slotting a £10 note in to the slot marked coupons, because the correct slot beneath it had "Notes out", as opposed to 'Notes in'! written upon it...

    Is it me?! x

  7. When we lived in Clapham, there were definitely several local 'dog ladies' and it seemed to be a thriving business.

    Jen - you need to buy generic ibuprofen when in the UK - not the branded types such as Nurofen - as this is much cheaper.

    One thing I like about my bank here is that you can pay a cheque in just by scanning it in at the ATM - you don't need an envelope.

    Having said that, that's about the ONLY thing I like about the bank here....

  8. Can't believe I forgot the chip & pin thing. I was roundly slagged off a few years ago for saying that my credit card had been turned down for lack of the chip and pin. Obviously the critics (American tourists) had never ventured outside London. It happened even more this summer although on several occasions I was able to tell the sales assistant how to process the card, after having spent half an hour in a small gift shop while the assistant rang her boss about it.

  9. Adding on to the chin&pin discussion, they now have some card readers in London where you don't even need to enter your pin, you just tap your card and it reads it and debits your account (super quick but not great if a theif gets his hands on your card!)....

    I'm not sure about the rest of the US but I'm from NY and wish the subway had the equivalent of an Oyster card rather than those flimsy Metro cards.

  10. Most other American cities with subway systems do indeed have smart cards now, NYC is just weirdly backwards that way. Even Boston has them now, and they were still using tokens only when I went off to university in 2001.

  11. Dressing dogs. Here they all seem to have coats and jackets, and I'm sure you can buy a whole array of Halloween costumes for the poor pampered things. Perhaps it's a weather issue, but I think most self-respecting English dogs make do with the coat they grow themselves.

    Here, mailmen often have rounds that are designed so they don't have to walk at all! They have right-hand-drive vans, and leave mail in communal mail boxes - a whole stand to serve a few streets. They don't have to leave the driver's seat, but can post items in the relevant boxes just by leaning out. Why walk when you can drive, might just be our state motto.

  12. Weighing in to the drive through debate - have to add the Aussie twist they may not have drive through ATM's but they are fabulous on the drive through bottle shops (Off licence) complete with browse and express lanes and there is also a local drive through dry cleaner giving a whole new meaning to tossing one's clothes out. In Rye, NY I used to love the fact our post lady (Sharon with the most fabulous nails I have ever seen) used to collect our post as well as deliver - struck me as a mark of a civilised postal service.

  13. Nappy valley girl, natwest in leamington spa has a machine which scans your cheques, I love it too! Natwest in rugby still has the envelope slot, so I guess only busier branches have them?

  14. er, here in Canadaland we have chip and pin cards/machines in a high percentage of places now AND portable c.c./debit card machines in restaurants. We also have those bleedin' self service checkouts and you described my experience perfectly - that's why I boycott them every time. They are awful and just a way of stores charging us more so they can cut down on staff! Boycott 'em all I say.

  15. Catriona, it never occurred to me that the postal service wouldn't take your out-going mail as long as they were already delivering mail. I guess I just figured they all do it.

    I love self-service check-outs. It is frustrating though if you go to several different stores and they all have a little different check-out system to learn.

  16. One or two of my neighbours have outside mail boxes. Maybe it is catching on but the majority of English don't have them.

    I wish there were some people who would pick up rabbits to take to the rabbit boarding. There are quite a few boarding places for them but they are on the outskirts and no good for anyone who hasn't a car.
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  17. My dog goes to doggy day care one day a week. He loves it and it gives me a break from the endless walking (theoretically he's Son's dog but somehow most of the care falls to me).

    Hello to Jen - I live near Rugby and my son goes to school in Leamington. *waves*

    I'm sure we have those portable restaurant chip and pin machines, tho I don't think they take orders here. Maybe at Frankie & Benny's they do...

  18. I was excited about the self service check outs but now I have mixed feelings. Something usually goes wrong and I either have to call an assistant or I get into a stew (or sort of tell someone off).

    I wish there were more drive thru's here. I found a drive thru post box near my daughter's school and nearly sang Halleluja. I hate trying to find where to park then run to a post box.

    I was told the reason there are no chip and pin in the states is something to do with the lack of a national banking system. I think my source must have meant something slightly different as you can use chip in pin in Europe. I think.

  19. Working backwards -
    Mich - I think the whole credit card safety issue is less prevalent here. They barely match your signatures when you present one, and I have used my husband's before, signing my own name and no one said a thing. Chip N Pin is probably just too much hassle.

    MM - I know. I found a baby hedgehod two summers ago and it took days to find somewhere to take it.

    Michiganme - Love those out-going mail carriers, bless 'em.

    Catriona - I remember seeing a drive-thru liquor store in Dallas when I first moved here and thinking "eh?" Up the road here, we have several pubs that will valet (park) your car or give you a discout on the nearby parking lot. Fabulous!

    Iota - "puts down fleece Cubs dog coat and slinks off".

    Tanya - they did introduce a credit card here that you could hang on your key chain and just flash it over a scanner to pay. I thought it was a brilliant idea until I realised that if someone finds it, there's no questions asked and they could run around town using it. There don't seem to be many around so I'm assuming not many people were that impressed!

  20. Out ' the sticks a lot of us have outside mail boxes.

    Postmen/women..have Postman Pat vans but still walk post around.

    Drive in banks? Nope but would quite happily drive 'em over with a bulldozer (or two).

    Chip & pin: yes - but places don't care that whole world can see your number. In Holland they have special screens to guard against it and you can see those on Lidl stores here.

    Self Service machines in supermarkets - yes! even in Haltwhistle. Agree 100% with Clippy on that one.

  21. There was just an article in todays paper about the credit card scanners and they are supposed to be coming to the U.S.


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