There are big, obvious differences here (naturally) but there are lots of little ones that just jolt me every time and remind me again that yes, I’m somewhere foreign.
* The traffic light pedestrian crossings are all automatic. I think so far I’ve spotted maybe three that you had to push a button to set them off. That’s three in all of San Francisco, New Orleans, Chattanooga, Lexington, Washington and New York. I like it, because it means you don’t have to rush up to the intersection and try to hit the thing in time before the lights change. Also many of them across the country have a timer next to the walk man so you can see how long you’ve got left. I like this too. (Although in New York people just seem to cross willy nilly and the taxis honk their horns to complain.)
* Toilets here are peculiar and a little bit scary. Especially the ones that flush themselves. They almost all have seats/bowls about double the size of a regular Australian loo and many have no lids. This keeps reminding me of the Mythbusters and their experiments with poo particles flying onto toothbrushes. Most restaurants have only one or two toilets, each in their own separate room and often for unisex use. But Andrew tells me those which have a more conventional male restroom (we’re picking up the lingo) appear to be expecting an army of dwarves, with half the urinals at shin-height. Even in bars, where one might normally not expect any children. (Also, he spotted a condom vending machine at a truck stop in Mississippi with a sign on it preaching abstinence. But since we’re sharing a phone and I had it he didn’t get a photo.)
* Gridded cities. They are so easy to navigate! At least, once you find out the logic behind the numbering. For example, in New York the street numbers start from Fifth Avenue and then work out towards the edge of the island, with east or west added to the address accordingly. And in Washington the letter or number of the street name tells you what street numbers are on that block. And in New Orleans parallel blocks had the same street numbers on them. So nice and easy to get around.
* In Washington and New York there are words everywhere. Not ads and billboards and commercial words (though those are everywhere too) but inspiring quotes from various philosophers or notable people. The public buildings are covered in them. Even potentially boring departments like justice and commerce were made to seem exhilirating with a few bons mots inscribed on their stone buildings.