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A British Houseguest’s Guide to the American Home
Brits who first arrive in the U.S. often have a false sense of security. Not only do we all speak the same language (ha!), but the houses are pretty similar too. Well, a word of warning fellow Brits — it all looks very familiar — until you attempt to do anything.
First off, many homes have air conditioning, which comes with its own set of unspoken rules. Resist the urge to throw the doors and windows open at the first hint of heat; American air conditioning (called A/C rather than air-con, btw) will be one step ahead of you and in full throttle. Opening a window is therefore akin to leaving the fridge door open and will be met with variations of “What? Are we trying to cool down the whole neighborhood?” The question “Do you want the A/C turned down?” actually means, “Do you want this room to be even colder than it is?” since turning A/C down refers to the temp rather than the ferocity. When you wake up in the middle of the night, with chattering teeth and an ice-cream headache, resist the temptation to turn the A/C off. The room will become Hades Revisited in the blink of an eye and the A/C then has to work even harder to cool it back down.
Homes in the States often have screens on doors and windows and I have to say, nothing beats British visitors and screen doors for pure entertainment. The tendency is to forget about them and bounce straight off when trying to enter a house; one poor guest hit my screen door so hard he grazed the end of his nose and bore the scars for a week. Just a note though, as a guest, one surefire way to drive your American hosts crazy is to leave the screen doors open.
And if you want to drive yourself crazy, try switching off a ceiling fan/central light combo when you go to bed. Basically, the fan can be controlled by the regular switch on the wall or by a chain hanging from the fixture itself. The lights above or below the fan are also controlled this way, and often by an additional switch elsewhere in the room — next to the bed, for example. You have more chance of winning the lottery than of both light and fan simultaneously coming on when you first hit the wall switch, and thus begins the dance.
Usually the fan goes on, but not the light, which means you have to walk to the center of the room and pull one of the chains; the chain you pull will turn the fan off, but you won’t notice till you’re back at the wall switch and the blades have begun to slow down. Now you can’t remember which chain you pulled so you go back and pull a few at random. Something activates the light, so now you have a light on but no fan and you’re not quite sure which chain you pulled to turn the light on. (It often helps to have a two-man team at this point — one at the wall and one pulling the chains.)
Incidentally, some homeowners also use their ceiling fans in the winter to push warmer air back down into the room. As this useful website explains, the blades should move in a counter-clockwise direction in summer and clockwise in winter.
Many kitchen sinks contain a handy dandy waste disposal, down which you can throw all your food waste and prevent it stinking up the kitchen. Make sure to check that it actually is a waste disposal before you do this, as some sinks have large plugholes masquerading as disposals. Not everything can be tossed down there mind you, so here’s a useful list of do’s and don’ts. The main thing to remember is to run cold water when disposing of food, and keep it on for 30 to 60 seconds after you’ve finished. Without wishing to state the obvious, never put your hand down there until it’s switched off and the (very sharp) blades have come to a complete stop. Also, if you hear an odd, clanging noise coming from the depths of the disposal, switch it off immediately — they tend not to like forks and other hard objects getting in there.
Oh, and the banging noise coming from the kitchen in the dead of night? Probably the ice-maker in the fridge.
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