You found WHAT in your drawer?
July 9, 2009 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by this question and this comment, I'm curious to know about other things of this nature. Occurances that, to an outsider, seem completely crazy but are common in daily life in certain places in the world.
posted by MaryDellamorte to Society & Culture (166 answers total) 130 users marked this as a favorite
When I used to live in more-rural Vermont and the mailman had a package that was bigger than my mailbox and the weather was bad, he'd either come inside and leave it on the piano if I wasn't home, or one time he left a note on my door "Package for you inside grandma's car" You can leave money in your mailbox for the mail delivery person and they will either put stamps on your stampless letters or even leave stamps for you if you leave them a note.
posted by jessamyn at 6:07 PM on July 9, 2009 [9 favorites]

Flying cockroaches the size of your thumb.
posted by jschu at 6:13 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ha, being born in Russia, I should be able to think of a ton of things like that off the top of my head.

I put saliva on mosquito bites to make them stop itching and it's totally normal in my family, but when I accidentally do it in front of my friends they're like, "Kate, what the heck are you doing??"

I'll try to think of more.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 6:14 PM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Jschu, a point of reference would be helpful.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:20 PM on July 9, 2009

In rural Australia, we knew to expect that any small blue objects you leave in the garden will probably be stolen by bowerbirds. They're my favourite bird of all time, and finding one of their bowers while on a bushwalk is a huge thrill for me - I love looking at all their little blue treasures - milk bottle caps, pegs, pieces of yarn, lego bricks, all beautifully arranged.

We were also accustomed top hearing lyrebirds in the bushland near our home mimicking mechanical sounds like lawn mowers or power drills.

As kids we were also really careful about rummaging around in wood heaps because of poisonous spiders and snakes.
posted by lottie at 6:28 PM on July 9, 2009 [11 favorites]

Sorry, that's Texas (Houston area).
posted by jschu at 6:30 PM on July 9, 2009

In parts of Africa more than 15% of children born will die before they reach age 5. Not what you are looking for, I know but it is completely fucking crazy and yet "normal" to people living in those situations.
posted by ChrisHartley at 6:31 PM on July 9, 2009

My friends used to get their own pigs and raise them up for slaughter in my hometown of Wayne, Nebraska. It was a 4H thing. I suppose anybody who grew up in a farm community might be familiar with things like that, but it seems like such a fairytale thing now, having lived in a big city for years.
posted by timoni at 6:33 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

More than once in the middle of downtown Mexico City (a 10-million person, high-tech metropolis) I've walked out of a glass-and-steel skyscraper and almost collided with a donkey.

Which strikes me as bizarre, not to mention you're not helping with the whole image thing, here!
posted by rokusan at 6:33 PM on July 9, 2009 [4 favorites]

In Portland, OR, 5,000 people ride all over downtown in a non-permitted naked bicycle parade without an actual planned route, and the police block off cross streets so cars won't try to plow through, using radios to inform one another where they need to be next (I hear next year they will get a parade permit and have a planned route).
posted by idiopath at 6:37 PM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Should have linked: a bower bird's bower (they nest in the tree above, but spend hours arranging the objects in their bower)
posted by lottie at 6:38 PM on July 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

Do other places besides Alaska have enormous moose (not that there's any other kind) wandering through the city streets on a fairly regular basis? I grew up in Anchorage, and that's the first thing that comes to mind. They come into the city in winter because it's easier to walk on the plowed roads than in the deep snow. It was a rare winter when we didn't see a moose in our backyard at least once. They wreak havoc on trees; there's a great deal of Alaskan gardening lore having to do with what will keep the moose from eating your fruit/ornamental trees.

"What to do when you run into a moose" was an early safety lesson, and sometimes they would keep us inside during recess because there was a moose on the playground. They can kick you to death pretty easily, so it's good to develop a healthy respect for them. (What to do when you run into a moose, according to my childhood lessons: get something large, like a car or good-sized tree, between you and the moose. They are not very maneuverable and will have difficulty dodging round it if they decide to charge you. And of course on no account should you get anywhere near a mother moose and her calf, even if it's a near-grown yearling calf.)
posted by fermion at 6:39 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I live in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, several miles from a river or lake of any size. I have crawfish living in my yard.
posted by workerant at 6:40 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, in many large, crowded cities with large, crowded mass transit systems--take the New York City subway, frinstance--it's entirely commonplace to ride to and from work with your face close enough to fellate the guy standing in front of you (if you're lucky enough to get a seat).
posted by scratch at 7:03 PM on July 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

Seismic and volcanic activity seems to alarm people who aren't used to it.

Wellington, New Zealand, where I live is on a fault line. It's also the capital city.
I remember a young chap from Scotland who was temping at the government department I worked for at the time we were having our regular team emergency procedure review. The department is small, but it has peculiar duties in a national emergency to perform, so staff were expected to "dig in" and keep soldiering on from behind the smoking ruins of our desks. Presumably communicating with the Beehive Bunker via tin-cans-on-a-string.

As we cheerfully played games for prizes "Who can tell me where we keep the body bags? How to fill out a toe tag? Who here has a week's supply of food and a roll of toilet paper under their desk? Well done! You've won a torch!" he turned pale and then paler still.
After the meeting he asked me " do you often have earthquakes?" . "Oh yes!" says I "all the time!".

When Ruapehu erupted in 1995 my mother received phone calls from relatives in Britain who'd seen it in the news and wanted to know if we were OK. We were covered in ash, sure, but come on, I mean, that volcano is over 150km away! Fusspots.
posted by Catch at 7:16 PM on July 9, 2009 [7 favorites]

When my friend was looking for a place to live while attending grad school in Minnesota it was apparently a thing whether the garage had electrical to plug in your engine block heater.

Evidently there are even outlets in parking lots for the same reason.

Going to visit the same friend in Wisconsin a few years later, and seeing a combine just driving down the street. I gawked; she, unfazed, said "oh, yeah, there's farming equipment on the road here."

A client of mine from northern Ontario mentioned that a lot of people where she lived have a "bear in the house" story. (Small town = unlocked doors = bears wander in for food?) Also moose about town.

There must be more, but I can't think of them right now...
posted by AV at 7:32 PM on July 9, 2009

My relatives in New York City have never really been able to wrap their brains around the idea that where I live in Georgia, tornadoes occur commonly enough that my family has a specific plan for what to do and where to go if the sirens go off, or, for that matter, that tornadoes happen often enough that the local government has such sirens in the first place.

On the other hand, people here in Georgia seem to be completely befuddled by two things that are VERY common in New York City: First, the fact that people will pack in TIGHT on an elevator in NY (Southerners seem to have a bigger "personal space" bubble), and also the common use of Yiddish slang (putz, schmuck, meschugeneh) in everyday conversation.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:33 PM on July 9, 2009

More than once in the middle of downtown Mexico City (a 10-million person, high-tech metropolis) I've walked out of a glass-and-steel skyscraper and almost collided with a donkey.

An old friend of mine has told me similar stories from his time in Bangkok - only there, it isn't a donkey you're likely to see walking down the street - it's an elephant.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:38 PM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I like the different common animals in different parts of the world concept. When my sister lived in Minnesota for a few years, she said they had rabbits like we had squirrels here in Virginia. She said they were all over the place.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 7:43 PM on July 9, 2009

In Yap, Micronesia, the main roadkill I saw was crabs. Lots of crabs. Swarms of crabs. They showed up mostly when it rained. Also, (old) ladies wandering around with no shirts are relatively common, but showing your thighs is horribly taboo.

In Japan (and other parts of the world that aren't most places in the US), elevator close-door buttons actually close the elevator doors immediately.

Many people in Florida do not experience the heat of the outdoors for any longer than it takes to get from their air conditioned house to their air conditioned car to go to the air conditioned mall. It may be hot and humid all of the time, but they don't really experience it for more than 2 minutes at a time.

Ladies' toilets in Japan come with noisemakers so that you don't bother people with the sound of your peeing.
posted by that girl at 7:50 PM on July 9, 2009 [7 favorites]

In my rural part of Virgina, there are at least as many rabbits as squirrels, and not many fewer foxes.
posted by Hargrimm at 7:51 PM on July 9, 2009

We lived in a log house my dad built and had a woodpecker who decided to set up shop above the back kitchen doors. At first mom would chase him off, but then she just let him peckety-peck away.

My brothers and I thought it was too cool.
posted by Tchad at 7:54 PM on July 9, 2009

When I was in Tokyo many years ago, I wondered at the audacity of their crows. I saw a few of them using a drinking fountain, with one of them holding down the button and the other drinking from it, then switch and again. But that was minor compared to what Japanese crows are reputed to do... steal food from open windows, outwit the crow patrols trying to prevent them from nesting on electric lines and shorting out the grid, even exploiting crosswalks and car traffic to open nuts for them. To quote from the NYTImes article, one expert believes “We are not sure sometimes who is smarter, us or the crows.”
I find this all totally crazy, and yet totally magical.
Here in Chicago, we have almost magical birdliness, but nothing so nefarious as those clever bastard crows. Instead we have perigrine falcons nesting on our high rises and terrorizing pigeons (and Northern Flickers alas) also, on the south side we have feral monk parakeets. Bright bright green birds, slightly smaller than crows that make huge stick ball nests. During the summer they're just another bird, but in deep Chicago winters, the sight of those luminous birds and their tropical seeming calls is just crazy.

Also, the monk parakeet (who i found in an alley) sitting on my shoulder wants me to add that they are highly gregarious, but diligent bird citizens. Sometimes they get too drunk on fermented mullberries in midsummer and fly into my roof, but other than that they are very sober and responsible.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 7:56 PM on July 9, 2009 [17 favorites]

In the upper peninsula of Michigan, it's deer all over the place. Nearly everyone who drives through wooded areas has hit a deer with their vehicle-- it's considered an inevitability. If the deer is killed by the collision but not too badly banged up, the driver (and a passer-by who stops to help... someone always stops to help) heaves it into the back of their pickup, and takes it home for dinner.
posted by oceanmorning at 7:58 PM on July 9, 2009

Here in an inner suburb of Canberra, kangaroos hop down from the reserve a couple of streets away and hang out on our front lawn at night. Sometimes we can hear them chewing from inside the house, and sometimes they bring their little kangaroos (which is very cute). Saves us a lot of mowing.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:58 PM on July 9, 2009 [4 favorites]

When I was living in rural-ish Spain, leaving the dog's bowl out on the porch overnight during the winter would result in an army of tiny field mice bivouacked behind the porch sofa. When we went to the local Everything Store (part gas can dealer, part local bar, part supermarket, part butcher shop) to pick up some mousetraps, the little old lady proprietress laughed and said, in the local dialect, what amounted to "mousetraps? pshaw, those are for the tourists!"

She gave us a kitten instead. It was the most bizarre retail experience of my entire life. But when I mentioned it to a couple of friends & neighbors, they thought only notable part of the whole story was that I'd got the kitten for free.
posted by elizardbits at 8:02 PM on July 9, 2009 [53 favorites]

My old roommate, who grew up in rural Maine, would start the school year a month early, bcause every student needed the month of August off to help with the potato harvest. I had him repeat that story to me dozens of times because the concept was so foreign to me as a city kid.

My friend in Malawi will routinely take pictures of bugs living in his apartment that are bigger than his cell phone.

When I was in the Republic of Georgia, there were a couple instances where I'd go to a local park and see a BEAR just chained up in a little fenced off area.
posted by piratebowling at 8:06 PM on July 9, 2009

My family commonly saw road runners. Just about every morning when getting the paper from the driveway, there'd be a road runner sitting at the corner.

I moved from Albuquerque to northern Virginia in high school, and some people thought that story was exotic. No, they don't go "beep beep", but they do run pretty fast.
posted by fontophilic at 8:09 PM on July 9, 2009

The folks who live on Roosevelt Island in Manhattan often take an aerial tram on their daily commute Very unusual way to get to work every day.
posted by slateyness at 8:10 PM on July 9, 2009

I live in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, several miles from a river or lake of any size. I have crawfish living in my yard.

Same thing for me in Columbia, SC. I've never seen the actual crawfish, only their very distinctive holes in the ground.
posted by chiababe at 8:11 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

In the desert, there are cacti. For some reason it can be unclear to visitors that a cactus has pointy bits that will cause bleeding.

Sometimes several inches of rain can come down over several hours.

Another thing that always surprises people is that it gets cold, but that's certainly not uncommon in other parts of the world.
posted by yohko at 8:23 PM on July 9, 2009

I used to stick marshmallows on a fishing line to catch alligators in my neighborhood as a kid growing up on the Gulf Coast in MS. Not that I could ever fish one out of the water. I remember alligators swimming leisurely by in front of our house when the area flooded over, which was also a pretty common occurrence.

I also got a kick out of seeing cows lounging around in the middle of the freeway heading into Hanoi from the airport in Vietnam.
posted by misozaki at 8:25 PM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've seen a couple documentaries on Churchill, Alaska, which is a town situated on a polar bear migration route. In order to keep the bears from killing and eating the human populace, workers sedate the bears at one end of town with tranquilizer guns, then load the sleeping bears into reinforced nets. The nets are suspended from helicopters and the bears are flown over the town and dropped on the other side, where they eventually wake up and go on their groggy bear way.

One of these documentaries was hosted by Ewan McGregor, and there's an adorable scene in it of him petting a sedated bear like it's a kitten. Instead of, you know, the only animal that actively hunts man. So I've heard, anyway. Other predators supposedly kill humans only defensively or out of desperation, but polar bears actually consider humans good eatin'.

The town's biggest industry is polar-bear-watching tourists, who are driven around the perimeter of the town in these giant Humvee-like trucks. The vehicles have reinforced cages that hold the tourists, who take pictures while the bears occasionally claw at the bars and roar like Wookiees, driven mad by the smell of tourist meat. I don't understand people at all.

(lottie, both bower and lyre birds are featured prominently in David Attenborough's Life of Birds, which is my favorite documentary of all time, in spite of its lack of Ewan McGregor. Your post has me envious as all hell.)
posted by cirocco at 8:31 PM on July 9, 2009 [6 favorites]

Our permanent "Snow Route: No Parking" signs terrified my visiting Californian friend, despite my assuring her they weren't in effect in July.

But then, it was only fair. Her tsunami escape route signs got me.
posted by Sallyfur at 8:32 PM on July 9, 2009

In my parent's home in Tucson, AZ (which is located within the Sonora Desert), we would have to watch out when walking around barefoot due to scorpions. I would say I had to kill and/or scoop up and throw outside at least a dozen scorpions a summer -- and these are the nasty kind too, tiny and nearly invisible, but with enough poison to kill a small child, and lay up an adult for a few days.

Also rattlesnakes, but they didn't get inside ever. Saw them on the driveway quite a few times though.
posted by diocletian at 8:49 PM on July 9, 2009

Huntsmans are common in houses across Australia. They particularly like bedrooms for some reason. They hang out in high corners and eat the flies. Some people name them and then ignore them, others con their loved ones into getting rid of them with a saucepan and piece of cardboard. (they are too big to fit a glass over - so you have to use a saucepan)

Outside my window right now there are about 20 sulfur crested cockatoos. They are the size of a small chicken, are smart and destructive, and quite un-nerving when they sit on the window sill and stare at you.

I was amazed when I moved away from Perth that people had windows in their houses without fly screens. Life without mosquitos is an astonishing thing.
posted by kjs4 at 8:57 PM on July 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm a teacher in AZ. We have 2 days off every year in February for the Rodeo. When I taught in PA, my students were astounded by this. Couldn't fathom it. Of course, my AZ students were equally surprised that the PA and NY kids got the first day of hunting season off from school.

Also, in Tucson, it's very routine to come home and find a lizard making himself comfy on my couch...or in my bathtub...or in the sink...

What a great question, by the way! Thanks!!
posted by hollygirl at 9:00 PM on July 9, 2009

Seconding the crows in Tokyo, they are amazing. And everywhere. When you put your trash out, you wait until the last minute because otherwise the crows come, rip open the bags, and spread your stuff all over the street.

And they are big, big birds. Not like the blackbirds that are all over the U.S. We're talkin' big honking ravens. And every centimeter of their bodies is jet black. Quite a beautiful sight to behold, really, when you're close and the sunlight hits them. And getting close happens sometimes. One brazen bastard crow divebombed me as I was walking down the street eating some food.
posted by zardoz at 9:14 PM on July 9, 2009

Response by poster: These crow stories are amazing! I can perfectly see all these scenarios in my mind and I chuckled a bit...although I'm sure I wouldn't be chuckling if it were happening to me.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:24 PM on July 9, 2009

In Ireland sometimes during the morning traffic report on RTE 1 --- which was covered the entirety of the Republic --- there would be word of a traffic tie-up just outside one of the smaller county cities "because of a bullock in the road." So expect delays heading into Tralee....
posted by Diablevert at 9:25 PM on July 9, 2009

I grew up a few miles from Sequoyah nuclear power plant located in Soddy Daisy, TN (I could see the tops of the cooling towers from our house) - once a month they test the alarm sirens and along the roads are signs for evacuation routes in case of a meltdown. Children's parents signed permission forms with the schools to allow them to give their child Potassium Iodide in the event of a nuclear emergency. I guess all those things might be sort of odd to someone that didn't live near a nuclear plant.

I still kind of miss hearing the sirens each month.
posted by frobozz at 9:44 PM on July 9, 2009

Fireflies. Having grown up in a place without them, I still think they're magic.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:48 PM on July 9, 2009 [11 favorites]

When my sister lived in Minnesota for a few years, she said they had rabbits like we had squirrels here in Virginia. She said they were all over the place.

I recently went through parts of Queensland which were liberally strewn with signs advising of a (IIRC) $30,000 fine for possession of rabbits.

I understand that magicians in Qld can get a licence to allow them to possess rabbits.
posted by pompomtom at 9:56 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

South-eastern Australians enjoy plagues of bogong moths in spring. Their regular migration path takes them directly over Sydney and Canberra, and a good proportion of them get lost and end up completely covering buildings. They're big, ugly and not very smart, but apparently they're rather tasty

Many older houses in New Zealand and Australia have a possum living in the roof. In Australia they're much-loved local wildlife, but in New Zealand they're noxious pests that like to eat the much-loved local wildlife. On a related note, in New Zealand it's quite common for otherwise mild-mannered drivers to intentionally swerve to hit possums on the road.

In Australia, if you eat your lunch in a city park, you'll eventually be harassed by an ibis. These are enormous wetland birds that also happen to be perfectly adapted to scavenging from city rubbish bins. They're smart enough to steal bits of your picnic while you're not looking.

Children in Australia and NZ are taught to be careful of magpies. They're highly intelligent birds with sharp beaks and maniacal nesting instincts. If they take a dislike to you, they'll swoop and attack you every time you pass their tree. They target kids in particular because they're small and loud, and many Australians have stories about being bullied by magpies as children. A common way to ward them off is to make a hat from an ice-cream container and draw giant eyes on the top.
posted by embrangled at 10:07 PM on July 9, 2009 [9 favorites]

Also, on Pohnpei, Micronesia, it rains too much for there to be a mosquito problem.
posted by that girl at 10:11 PM on July 9, 2009

At my grandmother's place in rural Oklahoma, the farmhouse was pretty much infested with snakes, some poisonous but most not. When my cousin and I first arrived at the beginning of the summer we would be terrified to see one slither out from under the bed or see them sunning themselves in the middle of the road. Eventually they got so commonplace we wouldn't even take notice. My grandmother would step on and squish the head off of a snake with nothing more than a houseshoe. I once saw my cousin open up the silverware drawer, see a snake coiled on top, and still reach inside to get her spoon without so much as a flinch.
posted by Ugh at 10:15 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Toronto has enormous squirrels (including a couple of albino ones living in the grounds of a mental hospital in the middle of the city) and a huge population of fat, humpy raccoons, who are very brazen about investigating, disembowelling, and eating bags of garbage. Last time I moved, I'd packed my towels and sheets in black trash bags and piled them near my balcony door, which was open in the heat. I was sitting in bed reading when I heard a rustling. A raccoon the size of a microwave oven was standing atop the mound of trashbags- which was several feet INSIDE my room- busily nosing around trying in vain to smell the garbage that he assumed must have been inside. I yelped in surprise, and he froze, staring intently at me with his pointy little face lowered. I clapped my hands and loudly told it to leave, and it stared at me a moment longer, then turned back to its investigation of the garbage bags. It didn't leave until I threw a Vonnegut novel at it.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:16 PM on July 9, 2009 [6 favorites]

My mother's house in South Florida is adjacent to a nature preserve. They get a lot of animals in their lawn, mostly at night. The most interesting of those stories occurred one night around 1AM when the cats suddenly went insane. My mother turned on the porch light and was about to step out when she heard a roar from a few feet away, outside the screen. She switched on the light and was staring at a Florida panther and a few cubs further away.

While it's good to know they're still around down there, I wouldn't be walking around at night.
posted by neewom at 10:24 PM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm a teacher in AZ. We have 2 days off every year in February for the Rodeo.
I just wanted to add, when I moved down to Tucson from Phoenix, I had never heard of Rodeo Weekend. I had an argument with a co-worker about it's proliferation. We were talking about the long weekend coming up (from school, due to rodeo weekend) and she would not believe me that we didn't have rodeo weekend up in Phoenix. I was like "dude, I went to school up there for well over a decade, and I'm sure I'd remember a long weekend for the rodeo". She still doesn't believe me. She thinks I just don't remember. These cities are only 120 fast, freeway miles apart!
posted by lizjohn at 10:36 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I grew up in middle Tennessee just on the edge between a busy suburb and rural farmland, and we had a not insignificant coyote problem. They'd eat cats and small dogs with some regularity, and in the summer, they'd howl up a storm. I used to stand in the yard and howl back at them in an attempt to make them think there was a bigger, meaner coyote already in the area. We also used to have big troupes of big, slightly aggressive wild turkeys show up on the lawn from time to time. They're pretty loud also and have a way of waddling around like they own the place until someone scares them off.
posted by mostlymartha at 10:36 PM on July 9, 2009

Blue crabs migrate across some islands in Florida, similar to the Polar Bears of Churchill, Alaska. But instead of sedating them, you just get out of their way (or run over them). Leave your garage open by accident, and the only way to get them out of your house is to let them continue on through.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:41 PM on July 9, 2009

When my fiance moved here to San Diego (two years before I did.), we drove from Northern Virginia here over 6 days. It was quite a nice vacation.

I grew up in Maryland, and until he moved, I'd only been west of the Mississippi once.

As we drove through the desert, we hit scrubland first, and I remember seeing some sandy-ish soil and some scrubbly brush and him saying something and deserts. And so I thought "Okay, well, that whole saguaro and sand and road runner/coyote thing is just cartoons."

And then we hit the stretch that goes through the sand dunes and the saguaro with the sign that said "Last stop for gas/water 150 miles" and I spent a good five minutes transfixed with my nose pressed up against the window muttering "Oh my god, cactuses. They're so cactussy!"

(I know the plural of cactus is cacti. I wasn't really thinking gramatically at the time.)

Growing up in Maryland, bad thunderstorms and hurricanes and such were pretty par for the course. Hurricanes being rareish but not so much that I didn't know how to prepare for them. Fires, on the other hand, NOT SO MUCH. I mean, yeah, you prepare for a housefire or something. But that's personal!

The first time I visited, we drove north on the 15 and I saw basically the entire side of a hill on fire. I freaked out for about ten minutes, and my fiance was like "Eh, whatev, I hope everyone is okay, but fact of life of San Diego." to my "That HILL is on fire. HILL. ENTIRE baby mountain. Large piece of land. BIG."

Fast forward two years, to my first summer here in SoCal. Our neighborhood got evacuated for the fires. I remember coming outside to go to work and the sky was orange-and-black, and everything smelled terrible and as I was driving, I found out that the highway was closed. I called in, called home, and then I turned right back around and got home, totally and utterly freaked out, to find my fiance sort of annoyed-but-blase packing up a couple of duffel bags, and taking apart the computers so that we could get out before the rush with all the stuff we considered important.

So yeah, even in the US. Cacti and fire. Still weird, even after two years. (But palm trees, those I'm cool with.)
posted by FritoKAL at 10:41 PM on July 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

Parrots in San Francisco. I've seen one all the way down by the bow and arrow sculpture, it landed on a sleeping bum's back and stayed there for a few minutes.

Raccoons, skunks, foxes, turkeys, and mountain lions in Oakland. And way too many deer. You can't grow roses without wire fencing in the hills because the deer will eat the buds. And decomposing deer by the side of the road smell awful.
posted by clorox at 10:56 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't know how unusual it is, but growing up in a rural suburb of Vancouver, it was not at all unusual to have to fight for sidewalk space with a horse. (The horse (with rider) always won. No one ever wanted to spook the horse.) We grew up dodging piles of horse shit on the roads/sidewalks while riding our bikes. There was a sign on our elementary school saying that horses were not allowed on school grounds. This was in the mid-late 80s, and the municipality still has the "Horse Capital of BC" claim to fame.
posted by cgg at 11:00 PM on July 9, 2009

In parts of Africa more than 15% of children born will die before they reach age 5. Not what you are looking for, I know but it is completely fucking crazy and yet "normal" to people living in those situations.

Actually, its much higher than that (up to 33%) in some parts of Africa. It is of course very hard to measure this, especially in the further afield parts, but when you add up the AIDS, malaria, malnutrition, lack of clean drinking water and sanitation and basic medical services, the average life span plummets.

One thing I've noticed quite acutely in just a couple years of living her has been the almost complete absence of old people. In the US, its a multi-billion dollar industry, catering to the aging with medical care and retirement communities and the like - that simply doesn't exist over here. Very few people live to see old age. In addition to that - I've typed about it elseparts around here before, but there really is a nearly complete absence of obesity in most countries here as well.


OK, back to animals. True story.

When I was in my mid-twenties, my doberman pinscher that I had loved from when I got her at age 10 (me, not her), had to be put down. She had advanced stages of cancer and was in a lot of pain. She had been the family dog for my youngest brother's entire life, when he was just a baby he used to crawl around on top of her while she sat there treating him like her own pup. He would poke her eyes, pull back her lips, stick his finger in her ears, yank on them, nothing would bother her. But then if some stranger would come near the two of them, she'd quietly bare her teeth and give just the lowest warning growl. Her name was Harriet and she was a real sweetheart - she was a hulking beast of a dog, yet claustrophobic to the point that if you wrapped your arm around her neck she'd start trembling and lose bladder control.

The family took her to the vet to have her put down, and held her while they did it. Dad had a big hole dug under the cherry tree she used to run out to pee under every morning. He let the other 2 dogs we had (English Sheepdog and a German Shepherd) see her and have a few last sniffs - said that you could tell they understood she was gone and they were noticeably upset about it. They buried her there and dad threw some grass seed back over it.

About a week later, mom is pulling the car out of the garage when she notices something lying on top of the small mound where Harriet was buried.

If you've ever seen the movie "Snatch," there's this scene where they set a couple of dogs on a hare and take bets on whether the hare gets away, or...doesn't. We had about 6 acres that I grew up on, and every once in a while the dogs would get back into the horse pasture when someone left a gate open or something, and they'd go nuts with the jackrabbits that lived back there. At some point you'd notice them tearing around back there like they were possessed and you'd go chase them down.

Oddly, that *hadn't* happened in the week since Harriet had been put down, but there it was - one dead Jackrabbit, its neck broken but otherwise completely untouched, skin not even broken, delicately deposited on top of Harriet's grave. Never figured out how those two crazy mutts pulled it off.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:19 PM on July 9, 2009 [51 favorites]

In large Chinese cities it's not uncommon to see what appears to be a HUGE pile of stuff bundled together moving in traffic in front of you along with the cars. When you pass it it's revealed to be pulled along by one guy on a bicycle cart. Here's an example. In fact, this entire Telegraph photo series is a good example (with examples from all over the world!)

Donkeys are a pretty common sight in towns in Xinjiang as well (here's another photo from that series and here's one from my blog). Up on the Karakoram highway donkey carts share the road with huge trucks heading up to Pakistan.

I've been to Bangkok several times to visit family and saw an elephant on the streets maybe once, and he was with a handler as a tourist attraction.
posted by pravit at 11:20 PM on July 9, 2009

Another thing unique to Africa - in most places the small herds of goat / cattle are never actually fenced in. There might be a Masai kid following them around with a stick or something, but for the most part they wander as they will around the community. At night, the sun goes down, and the warmest piece of earth to settle down on is of course the black tar roads, which retain their warmth much longer than the dirt next to them. So - you can't drive too fast at night here.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:29 PM on July 9, 2009

Growing up in small town southeastern Ohio we would go back to school for a week or so in August, and then immediately get a week off for the county fair. We got the week vacation because barely any of the kids would have shown up if school had been in session since most of them had animals to show and so forth.

On two separate occasions my elementary school was kept after school hours because a bull had gotten loose from the town stockyards and was running around downtown.
posted by imabanana at 11:36 PM on July 9, 2009

Horned toads scrambling around backyards in Texas and Oklahoma that squirt blood from their eyes if you mess with them.

Holy crap, I'm so glad I don't have to see those anymore.
posted by aquafortis at 11:50 PM on July 9, 2009

When I lived in Saint Petersburg, Russia, my host father took me to the family's Dacha (summer cottage), a tiny, dingy little house with no electricity outside the city. After dinner, we went into the Banya, stripped naked, and then he told me to lie down on a bench in the sweltering heat. I was terrified of this man, by the way. He started whacking me aggressively with birch leaves stringed together, whacking me everywhere to "open up the pores." Then, he laid down and asked me to whack him. It was thus that I ended up whacking a Russian police captain, naked, with birch leaves.

Which is a totally normal thing in Russia.
posted by ORthey at 12:10 AM on July 10, 2009 [22 favorites]

Biawaks - great big old monitor lizards - are fairly common here in the state capital of Sarawak, Malaysia, a reasonably urban city of about 300,000. They live under house foundations and use the open monsoon drains to get around. You'll often see them sunning themselves on the edge of the concrete drains. I woke up one morning to find a four-foot one, tip to tail, on my front porch. It was difficult rearing miniature bantams in my backyard because he, or his cousins, would pick off the chicks.

Still, the adult chickens could get away from the biawaks fairly easily. It was when the python crushed my hen to death in the middle of the night that I gave up on chickens for good. You do have to watch out for the pythons if you want to keep chickens, my neighbor told me sympathetically the next morning.
posted by BinGregory at 12:17 AM on July 10, 2009 [5 favorites]

Returning from holiday -payment in Finland, a membrance from a more agrarian times, when there was a risk that a worker in a city who spent his holidays at countryside wouldn't bother to return at fall. +50% on top of the payment earned during (paid) holiday.

Light summer nights make it easy to watch nocturnal activities of hedgehogs. Once I saw a bicyclist at a park who had stopped to watch a young one, who then climbed on the sole of his bare foot to cuddle for warmth. He hadn't dared to move for twenty minutes to not to scare away the cute hedgehog.

A small scale rabbit invasion has brought great eagle-owls into city.

Whacking strangers with birch leaves in sauna, here too.
posted by Free word order! at 1:31 AM on July 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

I lived in Port Douglas, in Far North Queensland until early this year. There were saltwater crocodiles living at the local golf course. One of them, nicknamed ''Stumpy''*, was 3.5m long. For reals. The ponds on the course were full of barramundi and eels and the crocs loved it - they would cross over from the nearby rivermouth and mangroves. In winter, they'd sun themselves on the fairway. There were croc warning signs all over the place, but you could play your game and there would be a croc, oh, 5m away, chillaxing in the sunshine, keeping an eye on you.

Except for Stumpy, who was ''shy'' and thus difficult to catch anyway, the relevant government agency wasn't forced to relocate them because they were relatively small at about 2m or so.

*He'd lost part of one of his forelegs. Legend had it that it was due to a groundsman running over him while mowing.
posted by t0astie at 3:20 AM on July 10, 2009

Here in Canterbury NZ we have Cave Weta in our garage, possum in our wood shed, and if we forget to close the gate, herded sheep or cows in the front yard (much to our neighbor and his dogs consternation).

In the nearby Southern Alps you run into the Kea, the smartest, most bastardly parrot in the world. They especially enjoy ripping apart all rubber parts in parked cars and stealing clothes, food and passports.
posted by arruns at 3:52 AM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here in Austin we have Leslie, who wears high, high heels and fishnet hose and flashy underclothes, Leslie has maybe the nicest legs of anyone in Austin, freckled and shapely, a real head-turner, guys just stop and gape, and then Leslie turns around and you see his big brown-going-gray beard. In Houston or Dallas or San Antone Leslie would have been beaten to death within forty-two minutes, but here in Austin he ran for mayor, he was sortof a mascot of a few companies in the boom in the early 2000s, he's had people give him places to live from time to time, and nice places, but mostly he ends up back on the street. A nice enough guy, though troubled, he often hangs in a local caffiene emporium I frequent, pretty crazy but hey, it's Austin.

Austin had a street banner, stretched across a fairly major downtown street, talking up the gay and lesbian pride parade. That very same week, in San Antonio, was the same type banner running across a fairly major street, talking up the Jesus and Mary symposium. Tale of two cities...
posted by dancestoblue at 3:52 AM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

In the rainforesty area in Australia where I grew up, if you walked through the scrub in certain areas you would find wild passionfruit - huge, chaotic tumbles of vines, dripping with hundreds of what is a pretty expensive fruit at the store,. An impromptu feast was sure to follow. :)
posted by smoke at 4:07 AM on July 10, 2009

Feral hogs in Texas that are so mean they will attack a pickup truck. We once saw a herd of about 30 of them in a field near my sister's house in central Texas. If you see one, stay away or get a gun, these things are no cute piggies!
posted by tamitang at 4:09 AM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's all sorts of crazy wildlife in North Central Florida that I'm still nto entirely used to, even after living here for two years. Much of this is insect life--huge unstoppable cockroaches (called "palmetto bugs" by the locals who, I guess, want to feel better about it), love bugs (these swarm the streets every summer--the males get draggd around by the nether regions by the females. They're a pain to wash from your car), butterflies everywhere. There's also animal life: gators, of course, and little lizards. I walked out of my work one day to see a hawk hanging out in the courtyard. After a few minutes, it swooped down and gobbled up a lizard--unfortunately hard to see in pictures, but it happened, I swear!.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:52 AM on July 10, 2009

When I was in Istanbul, even though I knew there were going to be a lot of cats, it still surprised me! Lots and lots of stray cats. A fair number of stray dogs too, and huge ones! The stray dogs I'm used to in Ghana are rather small.

I used to live in Ghana, and wall geckos were an everyday... house guest. As were ants. You did not leave food out or the ants would get into it(as my brothers and I discovered our first night there). Geckos are easy to ignore though, and are only annoying in that sometimes you'll find a few droppings around. I have found eggs before. There are also bigger lizards that live outside (but not very big, less than a foot long I think?). I'm so used to the geckos and lizards but some tourists get really freaked out by them.

I had to pick ticks off my dogs periodically (but no worry about lyme disease) and I can't remember ever having any flea problems. Sometimes they would get fly larvae in their skin, usually when they were puppies. You'd have to squeeze the larvae out. Sometimes you'd put vaseline over the hole to coax it up a bit so you could get it. Ah, apparently it's called a Cuterebra Infestation.

People think that when you live in Africa (because it's just one uniform place exactly like what you see on TV and isn't actually distinct countries), you must see wild animals all the time, but actually I didn't, especially since I lived in a capital city (and even when I was in more rural areas, I just saw more goats, chickens, cats and dogs). I saw maybe two or three snakes in my nine years, and there was one time some parrots came to our back yard. And there's a family of vultures that lives in a tree in our backyard. But that's it really. So when I'm in the US, and a fox comes into someone's yard, I'm all "omg! It's a fox! That's so cool because it's a wild animal like on the Discovery Channel!!!" And it took me a while to really get used to and ignore squirrels. Lizards? Whatever. But little wild mammals that are everywhere? What?
posted by quirks at 5:24 AM on July 10, 2009

Not animal related but three I thought of here that baffle our new comers to Pennsylvania -

As mentioned above it's commonplace for students to get the first day of deer hunting season off as a holiday, and most of my male coworkers take it as their floating holiday. (Not that women don't hunt. Just none that I work with.)

Having grown up here, I didn't realize that the tradition of a cookie table at weddings was local. The bride's family will bake up to hundreds of dozens of cookies for the wedding reception, that are just a compliment to the meal, not in lieu of anything other course. The equation the people at the church told my mother was between three to six cookies per guest, more if you have take away boxes. Hours before the rehersal dinner my mother was filling ladylocks with cream.

And of course, Pennsylvania has absurd alcohol related blue laws. It is often startling to people who move here from pretty much anywhere else to find that you can't get beer anywhere but beer distributors, and that you have to go to a state store for your liquor. God forbid you need anything alcoholic at the last minute on a Sunday, because you could end up driving all over the city before you find someplace with the right permits.
posted by librarianamy at 5:29 AM on July 10, 2009

The parrots of San Francisco mentioned upthread are now famous because of the movie but less well-known is another community of wild green birds (mitred conures) living down the peninsula in Sunnyvale (local news article about them). Their call is distinctive and a little annoying.

As for the crows in Tokyo, not amazing, but very annoying. They are Jungle Crows and someday one of them will carry away a small child, maybe then Something Will Be Done. In fact all crows are annoying, waking me up too early with their caws; I wish the public was allowed to shoot them.
posted by Rash at 6:18 AM on July 10, 2009

1. In Japan, NO ONE in the media can criticize the royal family. Total taboo. Until he retired a few years ago, one prominent newsman would have ridiculous bobblehead dolls of the Prime Minister or whatever lawmaker was in the news on his desk as he read the news. Never did he display dolls of the Emperor or any royal family member, or criticise them. If he did, there would almost certainly be a black uyoku truck circling his block the next morning, and then the truck driver would likely try to crash into the front of his house.

2. Motorcyclists and motor scooter riders in Japan will ride for some distance on the sidewalk if it is convenient for them. Car drivers will drive up onto the sidewalk and park, or park with two wheels on the sidewalk and two on the street, to avoid blocking the narrow streets. Many two-way streets are barely big enough for one-way traffic, so that when two cars meet they have to stop and one of them must back up and make way, sometimes by edging over so that s/he is nearly driving into a shop entrance.

3. Here in the hi-tech town of Kyocera, Nintendo, ROHM and Omron, the iceman still delivers blocks of ice to restaurants and bars on his bicycle.
posted by planetkyoto at 6:22 AM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I first moved to a small town in Montana, I was shocked that complete strangers would say hello to me on the street. I was also confused by drivers who would wave at me - I was sure I had a headlight out or I'd left my trunk open. Coming from a bigger city, it was impossible to believe that people were just that friendly.

It was normal to carry pepper spray on your person - not because of criminals, but for bears.

In Wisconsin, children are allowed in bars and allowed to drink with their parents' permission. This has astounded people from other states. Also, your first DUI is a misdemeanor, whereas in Illinois I believe they can take your car on the first offense.
posted by desjardins at 6:23 AM on July 10, 2009

Paradoxically, in Wisconsin you can't buy alcohol in stores after 9 pm.
posted by desjardins at 6:25 AM on July 10, 2009

Rhode Island: the Cool Moose party = one guy who runs for Lt Governor every election on the platform of taking no salary and eliminating the office because the Lt Governor does nothing.

In Maryland outside Baltimore, I think it's I-70, there's this road sign that, instead of giving mileage to the next few exits like normal, lists a couple hundred miles to.. I think somewhere in Ohio, a couple hundred more to another city, and then a couple thousand to somewhere in.. Colorado, I think. I'm unable to Google this thing but it's a little weird and scary driving past it in the middle of the night, as if you can't even get off the freeway until you get to Ohio.
posted by citron at 7:02 AM on July 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

Growing up in Chennai, south India: Cows in the street were completely normal and a damned nuisance. My grandfather used to cultivate a tiny plot of land opposite his apartment but was always being foiled by the neighbor's cow.
Elephants were usually found in temples and would be taken on tours down streets asking for money. You usually handed the money or food straight to the elephant. It knew what was food and would eat that, and would hand the money over to its mahout.
In college, monkeys were a problem on the campus. Aggressive, highly intelligent and prone to move in packs. My friend and I once bought ice cream cones and sat down on the curb to eat them. Huge mistake. Monkeys came to us and pulled our clothes so hard that we had to surrender the cones t to them. Another ice cream bought to share between the two of us didn't survive the monkey onslaught either, even though we did not sit down this time.
posted by peacheater at 7:11 AM on July 10, 2009 [6 favorites]

As someone who grew up on military bases or suburban areas, I was quite startled when I was living in Washington, DC years ago and walking home one evening to see a huge rat. Not in a dark alley, but poking its head out the base of a streetlight pole on a nice section of Columbia Road near Connecticut Avenue. I understood, of course, that big cities have rats and mice, etc, etc, but seeing one almost face to face, in the light, was a first for me.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:34 AM on July 10, 2009

No wildlife stories to share, but there are some interesting things about living in DC.

One is the ubiquity of security. I have to go through metal detectors a dozen times a day or more, to get in my building, to get out of my building, to move between buildings on my campus. Most people I know have a whole security screening protocol, limiting what they carry, knowing at all times what's in each pocket, being able to produce ID badges in a swift flourish. Roadblocks and pop-up metal barriers are commonplace. I see tourists slowing down and freaking out when they have to drive by an armed checkpoint, or getting completely discombobulated at having to get wanded by the security guard, and I'm reminded that these things aren't normal everywhere else.

This one's more general to living in a large city, I guess, but the frequency with which visitors comment on being accosted by street people asking for money reminds me that this isn't normal elsewhere, either. Again, we city folk have a whole routine for dealing with such things, and barely even notice it, usually. Hell, I get people knocking on my door at night with various sob stories, something that completely freaked out my mom when she was staying with us, and it barely raises my heart rate.

Then, really specific to my neighborhood is the Saturday noon DC jail escape siren testing. That's bothered a few new residents, for sure.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:43 AM on July 10, 2009

I have had as houseguests in my South Carolina home: an 82" black rat snake, a small army of the small green tree frogs that stick to the walls and are insanely loud, large purple headed lizards that like to poke their heads out of holes at unexpected times, the aforementioned flying roaches ("palmetto bugs" in the local slang) and millipedes that look like a patch of dog hair on the floor.

The one thing that freaks out my friends the most is the sound of a fox barking or howling in my yard: listen to the sixth link on this page for a hair-raising taste.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:57 AM on July 10, 2009

When I was a kid in Finland, we had a potato fridge. It was just like a normal fridge, but bigger and not as cold.

Here in Washington State I've had mushrooms grow in my car.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:04 AM on July 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's not weird here in central Indiana to get stuck behind a combine, a tractor, or an Amish buggy on a city street. (And usually, all three if you're in a hurry.) We also had to shut down a busy interchange exit a few months ago because of coyotes playing on the retaining wall.
posted by headspace at 8:22 AM on July 10, 2009

Raccoons in Toronto are totally crafty and fearless. When they introduced green bins here (compost), they were all "the bins are raccoon-proof, you can't open the latch without opposable thumbs". Ha! If you don't want your compost flayed, you have to lash your bin to a railing or fence and put bricks on top. Bet the raccoons are loving our unending garbage strike right now.

When I was staying with my uncle in Delhi, he warned me to check under the bed for snakes before I went to sleep. Apparently they like to move on inside in the winter to stay warm Didn't sleep so well that first night....
posted by Go Banana at 8:50 AM on July 10, 2009

When I was growing up in Alpine, Texas everyone knew it was going to rain when hundreds of big black tarantulas would come out of their holes and climb up onto the highway. That was a nightmarish sight for a 4 year old.

And growing up in the middle of a ranch in Southern New Mexico (between Las Cruces and Deming) the August / September rains would awaken these huge desert bullfrogs. They would be everywhere and you couldn't avoid driving over them. I hated those things, they were so loud at night you couldn't sleep and nothing would drown them out.
posted by Benway at 8:59 AM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Queensland, Australia:

Don't talk to me about how cute possums are. I live in a venerable sharehouse and at some point in the past the tenants were feeding the possums. So they have no fear of people. I was eating a hot dog at my computer on Wednesday night, when I felt a little hand on my shoulder. One of the yearlings had climbed in the computer room window and was very delicately trying to work out how to steal my hotdog, his stealthy plan only foiled by trying to climb over me. It was a vegie dog, hot and toasty in the middle of winter, and it took me and my housemate a good twenty minutes to coax the little guy back out the window. He kept trying to climb up my arm to get to the dog. Even once we got him out the window, he still hung onto the window frame and kept trying to open the window. This has been an ongoing battle.

I'm also built into a hill, and what with the vines on the roof making it look like a lawn, I have to worry about scrub turkeys building a mound on it. It's not odd to see a turkey wandering around the Western Suburbs, something that weirded me out no end before I moved here.

We also get geckoes. They're great because they eat the massive bugs that you get in this part of the world. Clock spider's got nothing on the spiders around here.

Actually, I love having British friends round, so I can show them our plate sized spiders, giant frogs, and lizards built like a french loaf.

Where I was growing up, about a alf hour out of Brisbane, it wasn't uncommon to see koalas wandering about on the roadsides waiting to cross. Not all of them made it.
posted by Jilder at 9:02 AM on July 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

That also reminded me of a tarantula that built this massive web on the side of our house in Alpine. For whatever reason, he collected shiny metal things and would haul them into his web. I saw this massive web with screws, nails, pieces of chrome, aluminum foil, etc. I always thought that was creepily impressive.
posted by Benway at 9:04 AM on July 10, 2009 [7 favorites]

Oh! I forgot about the flying foxes. We get these massive bats that fly over the city heart every evening at dusk during the summer. Huge, easily a metre across the wings, in huge family groups of dozens at a time. It still takes my breath away some nights.
posted by Jilder at 9:04 AM on July 10, 2009

In the area of central Minnesota I lived in, Black Squirrels were relatively common. I know some other places have them as well, but they are pretty unusual. They are extremely difficult to see when looking up into a shady tree.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 9:48 AM on July 10, 2009

Small town life in the mountains of British Columbia:

Bears: They love human food and garbage and so there tend to be a lot of them around town. Once they start hanging around, someone calls the authorities and they come set a big trap (baited with peanut butter) and then shoot the bear and dump the carcass in the bush. Young bears are pretty cute and it is awful to see a couple cubs hanging around after their mother has been killed. A young bear once spent quite a while playing with an inner tube in my neighbour's back yard.

Deer: We have a urban deer problem and no one knows what to do about it. There are a whole lot of deer that live in the urban area and are completely accustomed to humans. They eat pretty much anything growing in your yard (including most "deer-resistant" plants) and aren't scared off until you get close enough to touch them. They kick dogs that annoy them and the occasional person who is dumb enough to try to feed them. They do look both ways before crossing the street though.

Avalanche control: The major highways here go through high mountain passes and cross avalanche paths. In the winter, authorities close the roads when conditions get bad and use artillery cannons or explosives dropped from helicopters to trigger avalanches. You can be stuck waiting in your car for hours while they fire their cannons from little concrete towers on the side of the highway and then clear the snow off the road. If a major avalanche comes down, the highway can be closed for a day or more, while a crew works around the clock to clear the mass of hardened snow from the roadway.

Porcupines: These aren't a problem in town, but in certain areas higher up in the mountains porcupines will gnaw holes in your tires or hoses on your car if you leave it unprotected. You have to encircle your car with chicken wire held down with rocks and logs. Porcupines will also chew up plywood on buildings high in the mountains.
posted by ssg at 9:51 AM on July 10, 2009

Sio--that's common even in NYC suburbs. I think people just like to believe they're going to have an adventure.

Anyway, I just remembered another thing: In New York City, the public schools are closed on major Jewish holidays. When I moved away, I was astonished to discover that this was not the case everywhere. I hear they're now closed on the biggest Muslim holidays too.
posted by scratch at 10:12 AM on July 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Here in Romania, it's common to see a căruţă on the road, even in bigger cities (though they're more common in rural areas). Sometimes there's a sign with a little horse-drawn cart with a circle/slash through it, to indicate that they're not allowed on certain roads.

It's also common to not get exact change. Some places will offer a piece of gum or candy, maybe a packet of tissues or instant coffee. Some just don't give your change, or don't expect it if it's a small enough amount. I've taken a few maxi-taxi rides that were, say 48 lei, paid with 50, and gotten nothing back.

Usually at the piaţa ("square" or "market", often more like a farmer's market) there are women from the villages selling fresh raw milk in 2L soda bottles.

A former co-worker told me that his house in Hawaii would regularly get infested with termites that could eat through the concrete foundations.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 10:14 AM on July 10, 2009

Vancouver, BC: Bald eagles flying above the downtown core.

When I was a teenager hanging around Long Beach on Vancouver Island, we used to go to the docks and when the fishing boats came in we'd invariably get a 20 pound salmon handed to us by friendly fishermen (it helped that we were teenage girls; I'm not sure they ever got a date out of it, though). Know this: fresh caught salmon cooked in foil with some lemon and butter over a campfire and eaten at sunset on Long Beach is what's first on the menu in heaven.

On a sadder note, it's been perfectly normal for years here to tear down lovely old Victorian and Craftsmen houses to build these: the Vancouver Special. Oh my hometown, when will you learn?
posted by jokeefe at 10:22 AM on July 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

In Charleston when I was a kid alligators were commonplace. Once in a while one would wander out onto the beach, which was always exciting, and all the golfcourses are infested with them. My brother crashed a golfcart into a tree once because he was watching this huge gator coming up out of a pond. They can actually travel up to 30 mph on land for short distances, but they don't attack people. Usually. And yes, in Charleston there are palmetto bugs. The apartment I had in college was in a carriage house behind a big old house downtown. The mailboxes - the old timey apartment kind with a top that flips up - were located under the porch. We kept a big stick there so you could duck down, hit the mailbox with the stick, thus pushing the top open and letting four or five palmetto bugs fly out before you got your mail. If you were standing in front of the box and just opened it they would fly into you. This freaked out of state visitors right the hell out. I miss the dolphins and the pelicans; it was always wonderful to watch them.

Here in Asheville there are endless bear stories; I have yet to see one. When I was walking my dogs the other day, though, I found a huge snapping turtle who had come up out of the river to lay her eggs. And there are lots of hawks. I watched a hawk take a mockingbird out of a bush in my front yard in West Asheville and once, in South Asheville, I saw a hawk sitting on my mother's birdfeeder, waiting for lunch to fly in. The strangest natural world thing about Asheville (we're not going to get into the black guy with the Confederate flag or the Wiccan conference or Christopher, the homeless guy in the robe with the wizards staff who is running for mayor: all that is just par for the course) is the weather. Mountain microclimates mean that the weather can be and often is completely different literally from one street to the next. There are many times I've been driving and had the back of my car in sunshine while the front is in pouring rain. West Asheville will be having thunderstorms while downtown, 3 miles away, is basking in sun. It's really strange. You never know what the weather will be like just down the road.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:31 AM on July 10, 2009

*reads over post* Actually, I think the plural of "Craftsman house" is actually "Craftsman houses", not Craftsmen. Oy.

I want to see an alligator on a golf course. Preferably eating a golfer
posted by jokeefe at 10:54 AM on July 10, 2009


-> 1 day a year (Yom Kippur) there is a fasting holiday for cleansing and repentment. As consequence, there is a strong social tradition for no cars to be driven on the roads throughout the entire country. Since the country is small, a lot of people took their bikes and biked across cities to visit friends. All the kids are outside playing on the streets, biking on the roads. My cousins and I biked on the major highway - very thrilling experience for a 10 year old!
(Ambulances and such still drive, but slowly and carefully.)

-> Minute of remembrance, for remembering the fallen soldiers - all factories/schools turn on their sirens, and the entire country stops and stands still for a minute. I.e. cars on the highway stop, and people get out and stand.

-> Weekend before Pesah (aka Passover) bread is sold out from all Russian stores; IIRC either by law, or by strong social tradition, no bread is sold for the 8 days of Passover - only non leavened products, i.e. matza - and so all secular residents buy out the bread in advance.

I'd just like to second Jilders note about the huge bats. When I lived in Sydney they hung in all the trees in large clusters, like graphs - a terrific view, considering that each one is the size of a year old baby.
The giant cockroaches that plow the streets are also terrifying; and the huntsman/clock spiders are icky on a whole new level.
Wallabies (small kangoroos) grazing outside the house in rural Queensland is a perfectly normal sight.

The normality of bribing in that country never fails to boggle my mind. A friend of a friend escaped being detained at the airport on his flight out (for skipping army service and sending a rude reply when they requested that he joins the army) by bribing the guards with 20 USD.

For most North Americans this is mind boggling: 5 weeks of vacation in France is the legal minimum; I met a charity worker who got 9 weeks because he worked 39 hours a week (as opposed to 35 hours a week, which would have gotten him 7 weeks of vacation). 10 days of public holidays is on top.

Most people know that you can buy weed legally in "coffee shops". Fewer know that a lot of coffee shops will have menus that describe the various flavours, and allow customers to test a small puff. Purchase of this drug is more like purchasing wine - you can debate the flavours, the strength, etc. This completely blew my mind - it took marijuana from being an illegal drug, to being a sublime shopping experience.
Since biking is a perfectly common method of transportation, the sight of a woman with a toddler at her front, and a small kid at the back, biking home with 2 bags of groceries, is perfectly normal. The lack of helmets was terrifying, though.

It is perfectly normal for little kids to walk on the street with no diapers, but a special hole cut out at the back. When the need strikes, they squat and go. (Granted, I believe this is mostly in rural areas)

Customer service is on a level unknown to North America...
-> The gas station attendant in a rural area will wave out the customer onto the road and ensure that no cars are about to turn or drive past.
-> It is impolite to take something from the counter AFTER you paid for it but BEFORE it was bagged - this is a dismissal of the importance of the clerk's job. (This was in a rural 7-11 - so we're not talking a very high end or fancy store. Our friend was livid with us for breaking protocol so badly when we took a pack of gum before it was bagged - the entire evening he was ruminating how he cannot let us go on our own into Tokyo, because we apparently do not know anything. A pack of gum, people!)
-> Attention to detail - I observed a subway cleaner notice something small dirtying a high ledge; climb up to wipe it off; and then walk around and look at it from both sides to ensure that it was completely clean. This was in a public subway in Tokyo.
posted by olya at 11:26 AM on July 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

I live in San Francisco and I have these little dudes living in my backyard. I also have cantankerous raccoons who have absolutely no qualms about entering your house through the cat door and eating all of the pet food. When driving around late at night, you can see skunks and opossums. I live next to Golden Gate Park and am frequently entertained by the sight of a gopher-hunting blue heron, falcons, ravens, turtles (thanks to well-meaning but misguided people who bought them at the local asian markets and set them free in the park) canadian geese, and california quail, to name a few.
posted by echolalia67 at 12:05 PM on July 10, 2009

I had a Chinese aquaintance who might have posted here about the Roman Catholic rite of Communion, which I described to her one day.
posted by availablelight at 12:05 PM on July 10, 2009

My mother and her siblings always complained, of growing up in Argentina and Chile, that they went through four coups d'etat and never missed a day of school.

In parts of the world near the equator, the sun rises and sets at basically the same time everyday, all year. A woman I know who moved to the states from Kenya was enormously freaked out by our seasonal sunrise/sunset time changes.

I'll never forget sitting on a porch one night in Rajasthan and hearing this terrible, keening scream. I couldn't tell if it was a woman in pain or a cat being tortured, but I was really alarmed. I asked the woman I was staying with if we should get help, and she looked at me like I was an utter moron. It was just a peacock calling to attract a mate.

Monkeys are terrific bastards, and they seem to particularly like to invade people's verandas and balconies in India. They will chase you, screeching and barring their sharp little teeth, and it is really frightening. Many people keep sticks on their balconies to whack them away with. I once saw a young boy try to chase a monkey with a stick, which the monkey grabbed from the boy and proceeded to chase him with.

It's better to get stuck behind a camel than an elephant in traffic, the camels move faster.
posted by bookish at 12:31 PM on July 10, 2009 [6 favorites]

I had relatives living in Churchill MANITOBA, which is as far away from Alaska as Boston is from Miami (2200 km), not that any Canadian doesn't expect such appropriations from their neighbors (ha!).

Anyway: Some thirty years ago the housing for teachers was connected by tunnel to the school, as teachers were often "not from around" Churchill and were considered bait. What is usually missing from any documentary is how the local population gets their big gun out (most hunting up there is done with a 30-06 or 30-30 which aren't considered powerful enough to deal with a polar bear - but useful in not completely destroying dinner) to carry around with them full time during the migration, so envision a heavily armed town avoiding confrontations with these large creatures was attempted at all costs.

Fun stories I remember included an elderly fella who'se place was broken into by a polar bear, and after a too cursory inspection sent the neighbors home only to discover a massive polar bear sleeping in his bathroom/tub. Happy ending - the kitchen was already demolished including the wall seperating the pantry from the kitchen (as was the couch - must have smelled the food bits in it) so the guy just banged pots and pans outside his bathroom window until the bear left.

My favorite was the lady who was carrying groceries to her house, and found herself in her yard, no gun, with the bear nosing around for food. Churchill is not connected by road anywhere - cars are not as common in favor of snowmobiles (locally called skidoos) which don't have a roof or offer much protection from things like bears. A neighbor saw the plight and fired off a warning shot with her shotgun. In the excitement she blew a hole in the aluminum roof on their porch, which if you have every shot aluminum know it would scare the bezejus out of everybody. The bear got the food, the skidoo was fine, the humans had a delightful story.

On the topic of bears: ssg - if they are using live traps with peanut butter the plan is to bag and tag and drag. This is done to deal with a nuisance by capturing the little furball, tag it with an id and than drag the bear usually a couple of hundred miles away, at least 50. If the bear is a menace and they are going to shoot it - they will either put a contract out on the bear, and someone with dogs will quickly find and dispatch the bear, or they will do it themselves.
posted by zenon at 12:56 PM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

erm: that should read something about how everybody is armed to the teeth yet avoid actually shooting anything - in part because shooting a polar bear will really piss it off and shooting very high powered rifles inside a community is not a great idea either.
posted by zenon at 1:04 PM on July 10, 2009

Ladies' toilets in Japan come with noisemakers so that you don't bother people with the sound of your peeing.

Um, what kind of noisemakers? (My immediate thought was those birthday-party blowout things, and I much enjoyed the picture of a delicate Japanese lady taking a pee while blowing a party favor.)

In New York City, the public schools are closed on major Jewish holidays.

Here in Hartford, CT, the public schools are closed on January 6th for Three Kings' Day. The population of Latino kids is high enough that enough students (and possibly teachers) would be absent for family stuff on that day that the district just gave up and scheduled a holiday. I think it's the same deal in Willlimantic, where I live, which also has a big Latino population, but the whiter CT suburbs always have school on the 6th.
posted by dlugoczaj at 1:21 PM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Raccoons in Toronto are totally crafty and fearless.

Indeed. I had several raccoons clawing away at the screen door on my balcony attempting to get inside. Keep in mind this is with me standing right at the door with a large stick in my hand making loud noises. Totally fearless.
posted by pravit at 1:29 PM on July 10, 2009

Mississippi kites turn our campus into their breeding ground during the spring and summer. Every year we get an email on what to look for and to keep away. There are signs posted whenever a nest is spotted, warning you to cross the street or not walk under that tree.
posted by lysdexic at 1:51 PM on July 10, 2009

ssg - if they are using live traps with peanut butter the plan is to bag and tag and drag.

Unfortunately, no. There isn't much manpower or money available, so only some grizzlies get this treatment (black bears, which are most of them around here, just get shot). Lack of money and manpower is the reason that they don't generally track down bears. One year, 50+ bears were killed in my town: there just isn't a budget to go and track down bears all the time. Also, this isn't the North - we prefer not to have people shooting things right around houses.
posted by ssg at 1:57 PM on July 10, 2009

People in Chicago seem to be baffled by this- in North Carolina, we would get a snow day if snow stuck to the roads. This hardly ever happened, but we always hoped, and maybe once a year we would get a snow day and go play in the 2 cm of snow. If it ever snowed more than a few inches, which happened every five or six years, we might get a whole week's vacation, which was how long it took for my city's two snowplows to clear all the streets. I think I've made three snowmen in my entire life.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:12 PM on July 10, 2009

I live on the beach in California and we (like many coastal places, I assume) get algal blooms that bioluminesce at night. You go down to the beach and your footprints behind you glow bright green-blue! The breaking waves look like ribbons of neon in the dark night; it's really magical.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:46 PM on July 10, 2009 [6 favorites]

The story about Amsterdam reminds me of how common it is here to walk down the street and smell pot smoke. A place (1997-level web design warning) has just opened up on Broadway close to where I live where you can buy it over the counter (for "medicinal purposes", of course). Or you can just call and have the guy come over with a suitcase containing the various strains and you can pick and choose in the comfort of your living room.

And for a North American city, Vancouver has a startling (if you're not used to it) number of street and business signs in Chinese (and Vietnamese). The streetscape is full of calligraphy...
posted by jokeefe at 3:38 PM on July 10, 2009

In Thailand they have an official National Elephant Day. City officials fill the streets with buffets of bananas and other assorted fruits for the elephants to feast on. What you would see if you happened upon in would be a bunch of decked-out elephants perching elephant-style on the ground with their trunks in a mountain of fruit! And it's not just one or two cursory elephant feasts, no; it happens all over the country!
posted by OlivesAndTurkishCoffee at 3:39 PM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Kvass (low grade beer) vendors on the street in Russia.
posted by Bruce H. at 3:50 PM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh and one other thing-- because of the amount of movies made here, it's very normal to come across film crews working in just about any part of the city. One downside of it is that if you watch movies or TV series made here you are often thrown out of the action when you realize that the election of the quorum of representatives in Battlestar Galactica is set in the Chan Centre at UBC, and all the subsequent action in the episode is filmed not too far away outside the library. (Not to mention I don't know how many iterations of the Quad at SFU they used, for the Caprica market and other things, and all those scenes at the Library downtown and the alleys behind Woodwards, etc....)
posted by jokeefe at 3:51 PM on July 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Completely forgot to mention fruit bats. We have fruit bats in Ghana, and growing up they were an annoyance because they would eat our mangoes (we had a big tree in our front yard), but they would only eat part of the mango. So you'd see a really ripe one and go through the trouble of getting it down from the tree, only to find that it's been half eaten by a fruit bat.

They are kind of cute though. The best is seeing a tree full of fruit bats, or when that tree full of fruit bats takes flight and fills the sky.

Ooh, this is a great little video of them. That's exactly what they sound like!
posted by quirks at 3:54 PM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I lived in West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer for 2 years, so a lot of things come to mind. The most beautiful was taking a bucket shower outside at night in the glow of the brightest stars I'd ever seen. I had a little gecko who liked to shower with me; I really loved that tranquil little guy.

I also have 2 horrifying latrine stories:

1) Perched atop my latrine, I looked over and noticed a gorgeous flourecent green snake coiled up on the wall to my left, at about the level of my head. She gazed at me drowsily, while I (thankfully not knowing any better) just marvelled at her beauty. It was only after I told my neighbors about the experience, and they promptly began burning the brush all around my home, that I realized just how potentially deadly that mystical little experience could have been.

2) I woke up one cold Harmattan morning, made my way to the latrine, swung open the door and noticed a pair of fuzzy brown ears poking out of the large ziploc bag I used to store toilet paper and tampons. Upon closer inspection, I realized that the little brown ears belonged to a bush rat. Who was sleeping. In my bag of toilet paper and tampons. I ran into my house and tried to convice my cat to go be a hunter. She made it clear that she was in no mood for my antics and promptly went back to sleep. Desperate, I grabbed a broom handle and summoned all my courage to return to the latrine. I banged the handle against the metal walls of the latrine, hoping to startle the bush rat out of its slumber. BANG! BANG! BANG! No response at all whatsoever. I gritted my teeth and hit the creature on the head. With all my might. That little bastard had the nerve to poke its nose out of the bag... and yawn! Furious (and, uh, impatient) I used the stick as a lever and finally tossed the whole bag out of the latrine. Bush rat slowly meandered off... into the arms of my neighbor who was delighted to have found such a delicacy for dinner. Which she insisted on sharing with me. (I luckily did not have to dine in her presence, so was able to bury my portion of the meal without offending her.)

Man am I grateful for indoor plumbing.
posted by ohyouknow at 4:26 PM on July 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Earthquakes. Never been in a truly BIG one (knock on wood), but I've experienced plenty of mild and moderate ones, to the point where I literally don't even feel the mild ones anymore. (A few weeks ago, several small temblors hit over the course of a couple of days, and everyone around me was all, "did you feel that?" and I was all, "uh, no" and they were all, "OMG the SHAKING!" and I was all, "dude, you need to see a neurologist.")

I was at a funeral last year (for my brother-in-law's sister's 8-year-old son) when a pretty sustained, rolling quake hit. A very tall flower arrangement at the altar began to shake and wobble violently, and start to teeter precariously toward the woman who was giving the eulogy at the moment. She froze... everyone went "ooooh".... I saw the flowers start to swing toward her head... so I (being in the front row) went into the aisle in a crouch to be ready to spring forward to try to catch them if they really did fall.

Luckily it gradually stopped, the flowers righted themselves, and someone piped up: "Well, there goes Evan -- making trouble again!" At which everyone laughed, and the funeral resumed.

Life and death, Southern California style.
posted by scody at 4:34 PM on July 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Speaking of liquor laws, Tennessee's are not the strictest I've ever seen, but they are strange. You can buy beer in grocery stores and gas stations, but you cannot buy it in liquor stores. You can buy wine and hard liquor in liquor stores and nowhere else. Liquor stores are not permitted to sell anything that goes with liquor or is used in its consumption. So no ice, juice, soda, corkscrews, wine glasses, nothing. Some liquor stores have a sort of beer and mixer store next door run by the same people. So you buy your booze, exit, walk right back in the adjacent door, and buy beer and ice.

When I moved to Massachusetts and saw wine in grocery stores, I flipped out. When I moved to California and saw wine basically everywhere, I flipped out again.
posted by mostlymartha at 4:35 PM on July 10, 2009

In Illinois, schools get Casmir Pulaski Day off. Pulaski fought in the Revolutionary War.
posted by nooneyouknow at 6:37 PM on July 10, 2009

Growing up in Houston meant mosquito control trucks. They had gone away from the DDT clouds by the time I was a kid, but in the spring and summer, it was still completely normal to see the big haz-mat-looking trucks (and hear them, they are so loud you can hear them coming miles away), roll up and drop a huge snakey pipe down the gutter to pump insecticide into the sewer system.

Houston also meant hurricanes, which brought tornadoes. We had tornado drills every year in elementary school, which involved lining up calmly, going out into the central hallway (with no windows, made of cinder blocks), and sitting against the wall with knees up, head down, and hands over head.

Now I live in North Texas, aka Tornado Alley, and there's a siren on the next block from my house. They test the sirens every Wednesday at 12pm. Everyone I know has their tornado plan -- who grabs the dog, who gets the children into the centermost bathroom or closet, etc.

When I traveled with a young Dallasite on her first trip to San Francisco, there was a leaflet in our hotel room about "what you should do in case of an earthquake." She was very upset by it, because it was so foreign and scary... till I reminded her that our tornado safety is as normal and everyday to us, as earthquake safety is to left coasters.

Living in Austin and South Texas meant scorpions and rattlesnakes. In Austin I would regularly get the brown and black scorpions in my apartments, especially in the hills away from city center. I woke up once to a three-inch black scorpion perching upside down on the ceiling fan directly over my bed; they live in the dry hot spaces in the walls and ceilings, and so come in through outlets and wiring. If you're visiting in the south or west of the state, you learn to shake out your bedsheets before you climb in at night, and to shake out your shoes before you ever put a foot in.

(The thing is that rattlesnakes don't really want to mess with humans. So if you learn to listen for the rattle, you're fine. The rattle is "hey, don't tread on me, I want no part of you, stay away." Same for the copperhead's hiss. So when you hear the hiss or rattle, it just means freeze where you are, spot the snake, and move the other direction.)

Armadillos are a wholly commonplace site in Texas (we called them "possum on the half-shell"). As a kid, I remember being stunned to learn that in other regions, they have these "unusual" animals in zoos. I thought, "what, they don't see enough of them on the side of the highway?"

Texas also means fire ants, and again as a kid, I assumed these were everywhere -- till a college friend raised in Connecticut drunkenly wandered into an antpile in Austin, and was laid up for two days with swollen feet covered with hot red welts and pustules. (I guess Texans are desensitized over the years, growing up with the occasional sting here and there? I've never known a Texan to have a major allergic reaction to fire ants.)
posted by pineapple at 10:54 PM on July 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Well, here in San Francisco... can legally purchase marijuana, even have it delivered to your house can ride a bike naked, with hundreds of other people

...or run naked across the city with thousands of other people

...both my state legislators are gay

...few people bat an eye when a local politician admits to an affair

...and city events are routinely blessed by drag queens.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:23 PM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

In Japan, old men piss in public. Drunk or sober. Wherever and whenever they want.

Last summer I saw a drunk businessman take a piss in the lobby of a four-star hotel. The staff waited in intense embarrassment for him to finish before escorting him out.
posted by Bobby Bittman at 11:50 PM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

In Palau and Pohnpei (and probably everywhere in Micronesia), geckos are everywhere. They're on the ceilings, on the walls, on the window screens, and probably lots of other places. They periodically make kind of a chirpy grunting sound (it's been a few years, so I can't recall exactly).

I was in Estes Park, Colorado one evening last fall, and traffic was at a standstill because of a herd of elk that was wandering through the town.

Peculiarly local, but not ubiquitously normal: As a kid in rural northern Colorado, I was startled one evening to see the whiskery face of a muskrat that had wandered up to the house from the pond and then fallen into a window well.
posted by univac at 12:42 AM on July 11, 2009

In India, as others have noted, it's common to see cows everywhere. But it's also common to see, for instance, a cow with its head burried deep in a mound of rubbish, snacking on a plastic bag or whatever else it can find. I remember one particular occasion noticing a cow eating from a pile of dirt, and the owner of said dirt pile shouting and shooing it away.

The monkeys, too, as described above, are very intimidating. I remember the day: a friend and I were standing around casually waiting for someone, when a pack of wild monkeys approached us, teeth baring. "Don't back down," I told my friend, not having any idea of this was good advice or not. As they got closer, however, we lost all confidence and, like little kids, ran -- literally ran -- away, scared to death. I was 25 years old.

Growing up in Texas, scorpions were commonplace. I was afraid to watch TV while lying on the floor because of one particular instance when, half-asleep watching cartoons, I woke up to the touch of a scorpion walking across my arm.

Bats, too. On walks to a friends house at night, I'd make sure and wear a hat and turn my walk into a run when I got under street lights: the bats would swoop down and pang me on the head.

The "Everything is Bigger in Texas" motto is mostly true, too, particularly as far as wildlife and bugs go. Once while sitting in an outdoor eating area of a BBQ restaurant, I noticed a man a few tables down with a baseball cap on that featured a comically large plastic grasshopper -- around the size of a common stapler -- on its bill. I remember thinking, what a strange accessory to wear. And then the grasshopper woke up and bounced off his hat into the prarking lot without the man ever noticing it was even there in the first place. Yikes.
posted by nitsuj at 9:03 AM on July 11, 2009

In Brevard, NC (not far from Asheville where I grew up), they have white squirrels. There are a variety of different tales about how they got there.

In the late nineties, it was still possible to stumble upon bobcats in Cataloochee Valley, near Waynesville.

And I have plenty of bear stories. My favorite being the exploits of a clever (and largely fearless) black bear called T-Bone who spent several nights hanging out in a South Asheville Waffle House parking lot, surprising customers and evading capture by Animal Control.

Visiting family in Virginia, I have been startled by the squawk of occasional peacock wandering into the yard.
posted by thivaia at 10:02 AM on July 11, 2009

When I was in France, there was a dancing bear at the local market. The zoos didn't have any fences; if you wanted, you could just lean over and pet the zebras... or indeed the rhinos. A neighbour used to transport his horses around town five at a time by just tying their reins to the tow bar of his pick-up truck and expecting them to match his pace.

It's the eighth most popular newspaper in the world. It has the highest circulation of any UK newspaper. It's completely ubiquitous... except in Liverpool.

In Israel, girls have to do national service.

Britain is hilariously bad at coping with extremes of weather. We only get a couple of weeks of really bad weather each year, so it's not worth investing in things like air conditioning or snow ploughs. This means that for the weeks when we do get a heatwave or a bit of snow the entire country will grind to a halt

My friend Dave and I are both in our twenties and were both responsible for some obnoxious pranks when we were schoolkids. I went to school in Britain and was generally punished with a stern talking to. Dave went to school in South Africa and was generally punished with six strokes of the cane.

Parsnips are a vital part of a proper Christmas dinner over here, in the US they're apparently considered an agricultural menace and classified as a 'noxious weed'. (You should all do something about that, by the way. Parsnips are amazing and you're missing out!)

Returning briefly to rural France, the neighbour's chickens used to wander through our back door into the kitchen. There was a delicate art to scaring them enough that they would leave, but not scaring them so much that they would crap all over the floor.

Churchill, [...] is a town situated on a polar bear migration route

I read somewhere that when Churchill's children go trick-or-treating they get a police escort armed with high powered rifles.
posted by the latin mouse at 11:05 AM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Living in Mississippi as a teenager, my neighborhood friends and I would walk around after dark and go on roach massacre missions. They would often pool in the light of the streetlights, we'd run in there, hollering our heads off and try to squish as many as we could before getting too squicked out. I also got really good at shooting mosquitoes out of the air by shooting them with a rubber band off my fingers. Big mosquitoes are pretty slow.

A few years back I was visiting my folks in Montana and we were hanging out with a group of their friends at their horse ranch. The horses started whinnying and out of the woods ambles a fat, black bear. One of the guys gets a pistol out of his truck and the ranch owners says, "that's not necessary, that's just Buzzy." Apparently, some long years back a Mama bear decided their house was a safe place to leave her babies while she went out foraging and she would do that daily. The kids played with the cubs and they had photos of the kids riding the cubs when they got bigger. !!! They still had fairly frequent visitations from the grownup cubs.

There is not too much interesting up here in Portland, Oregon. I'm glad we don't have earthquakes, tornadoes, flash-floods or hurricanes like some of the other places I've lived. You can lay in the grass without getting bit and there's few creatures that can out and out kill you. But, one thing pretty cool is the migrating Vaux Swifts who come through in the fall. There's a massive, thousands upon thousands, flock that nests in an old chimney. As the sun sets they start swirling and swirling around the chimney opening and then, as if my magic, they suddenly start going in the chimney in rapid progression AND THEN a hawk comes in and sweeps through, cruelly nabbing a meal... the crowd hollers, the birds scatter... it's very dramatic. Then the whole sequence starts over again. I can't wait to watch it again this year.
posted by amanda at 12:46 PM on July 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Another Russia story.. In the 80's in Ukraine/Russia they had these fizzy drink stands (don't think it was quite like soda) on the street, and you'd come up to it, pay however much it cost, took a re-useable glass, rinsed it off using a faucet that sprayed water up into the cup when you pressed the cup into it, then filled it up with your fizzy drink, and then put the cup back for the other person to use. Imagine that in the US?? Sharing a glass with thousands of people after only a rinse? *shudders* No idea if they still have them there.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 2:17 PM on July 11, 2009

Also in Tucson: coyotes and javelinas in town, and in the foothills, bobcats taking a nap in the shade of a house's covered patio. Recently just outside Tucson the last jaguar known to be living in the wild in the United States, was mistakenly sedated and captured, tagged and released, and then died two weeks later from kidney failure.
posted by QuakerMel at 5:52 PM on July 11, 2009

There are no hills in South Florida. One time I got excited because I thought I saw one, but it turned out to be a landfill.

The population increases about 20% during the winter (I use the term loosely), when all the snow birds come down to escape the cold. If it wasn't for the winter months, a lot of restaurants here wouldn't break even.

Sometimes I used to show native Floridians the ice scraper from my car and ask them what they thought it was. No one ever knew.

I was amazed by the anoles when I first moved here. Not so much the lizards themselves as the fact that they are absolutely everywhere. You can stand on any given sidewalk and count three or four without trying.

Fire ants are another thing you learn about quickly. They're incredibly aggressive. They'll attack anything within a few meters of the hill, and the hills are everywhere. The bites don't hurt very much, but they itch for a solid week. You learn to watch your feet when you're walking around barefoot, and not to stand in one place for too long.
posted by dephlogisticated at 6:21 PM on July 11, 2009

I had a wolf spider in my office last week. Her legspan was a little smaller than my palm.

My office has a medium-sized electron accelerator in the basement. After I had put the spider outside, I realized I should have tried to get it to bite me, so that I would perhaps develop super powers. Oh well.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 6:27 PM on July 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

Allkindsoftime had already mentioned one of the things that I was going to mention.

Another one is that it is common (in Senegal, and I think W. Africa too, from what I remember and experience) to use your left hand and water (from a container not unlike a plastic teapot) instead of toilet paper. Thus, you usually don't use your left hand in day to day life.
posted by fizzix at 2:29 PM on July 12, 2009

I get up to 120 elk at a time in my back yard, sometimes I have to walk through them to get home. Usually only between 4 and 40 though. They also regularly close streets or paths in my neighbourhood so that a cougar or bear can feed on a carcass without being disturbed. Canadian geese also park in our yard for a fair chunk of the spring, and sometimes the big horn sheep prefer the highway over the hills, and so you have to drive as slow as they walk.

Everyone here carries bear spray.
posted by furtive at 7:13 PM on July 12, 2009

Love this question. Where I live, in downtown Palo Alto, CA, you can tell what the hottest tech companies are by looking at who seems proudest to be sporting official gear. In 2004-2005, you could walk around and see nothing but Google shirts on half the people out at night some nights. These days it's much more heavily weighted towards Facebook - I rarely see people rocking Google paraphernalia anymore. Oh, and we have black squirrels - really black, not just dark brown.

When I lived in Tucson I was shocked to see tarantulas out and about in my neighborhood. And a friend of mine woke up to a scorpion on the pillow next to him, watching him sleep. Horrifying.

Going to college in San Diego there was typically about a 30% chance that some amount of fall quarter would be cancelled due to wildfires. I lived next to MCCS Miramar and typically one of the two days of every weekend, I'd be awakened by jets overhead that rattled the windows and shook the floors. And yes, if it was the right time of year I'd take people up to the cliffs to watch the phosphorescents in the waves.

In the Philippines I was completely charmed by the geckos that turned up everywhere. My parents in the San Fernando Valley have similarly adorable lizards that turn up in their house occasionally, and nobody leaves their cats outside because of a spate of coyotes killing cats a few years back.
posted by crinklebat at 9:10 PM on July 12, 2009

@KateHasQuestions - no, IIRC not since communism went away. I remember those too!
posted by olya at 10:56 PM on July 12, 2009

In downtown Detroit, there are many overgrown, abandoned lots. And there are wild pheasants living in them. It's a bit surreal having urban and rural separated by one strip of pavement. Even in the heart of the city--I first saw a pair walking to Comerica Park to see the Detroit Tigers play. (No actual tigers though.)
posted by rux at 11:30 PM on July 12, 2009

I work on an Air Force base. Every morning at 7:30 Reveille is played over the PA system, and every evening at 5:00 they play the Star Spangled Banner. I usually leave work at 4:30, so I was incredibly surprised the first time I had to stay late that at 5:00 everything stopped. Cars stopped, people stopped walking on the sidewalks, everyone stopped talking. After the song was over, everything resumed as normal.

Over in Brookline there's a turkey problem. Wild turkeys roam around a very urban area and antagonize pedestrians. Deer are also all over Cambridge, and it blew my mind that they infiltrate so far into cities. One of them recently tried to jump a fence, missed, and disemboweled itself.

One thing I haven't really seen before except in Boston is the idea of "reserving" street parking during snowstorms. There's a huge parking problem in the city, so when snowstorms come people will dig out their cars and then place folding chairs or trash barrels in the spot. Some very zealous folks will place chairs out in empty spots before any snow hits the ground. People will spend all this time defending their spots and then fail to shovel the sidewalk.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:10 AM on July 13, 2009

In New York State, it is legal for women to go topless in state parks. A few years back in Ithaca NY a couple of activist types tested it out and got arrested by the city police. Upon finding out she was mistaken and that the women were well within their rights, Police Chief Lauren Signer apologized and attended one of their "top-free" picnics in that very park--though with her top on.

In Richmond, Virginia, there is a famous row of very large statues of Confederate generals running the length of the historic cobblestoned Monument Avenue. Stonewall Jackson on his stallion, sword raised, etc. Some of the statues are big enough to create a sort of traffic circle the cars must drive around. When the black tennis player Arthur Ashe died, a statue of him was erected at one end of this row of Confederate generals.

Also in Virginia, there was for many years a state holiday in January called Lee-Jackson Day. (As in Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, the aforementioned Confederate generals.) The schools were closed, the banks and post offices were closed. When Martin Luther King Day became a federal holiday, it coincided with Virginia's Lee-Jackson Day, and for a long time Virginia observed a holiday called Lee-Jackson-King Day.

And again in Virginia, it is considered a delicacy by many to eat a ribeye-sized, veiny, membrane-covered sac of fish eggs suspended in gristle. Yes, people eat and love shad roe, which is to me most unbelievable of all of these things I tell you.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:33 PM on July 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

People reserve their shoveled-out spots in Chicago too. It really pisses off people who are new in town, but it comes from the days when street parking was plentiful.

When I lived in Curitiba, Brazil, there were usually a couple of hummingbirds hanging out in the poinsettia tree in front of our house, and parakeets in the avocado trees digging holes in fruits the size of large grapefruits. Brazilians only seemed to eat avocado for desert, mashed with cream and honey. My friends were horrified when I sliced one up for a salad.

When we rented our house we had to buy our own toilet seat and shower head. The shower head had a metal coil covered in a plastic sheath for heating up the water as it passed through. My roommate hooked it up to the two loose wires that came out of the wall along with the pipe, and wrapped it all up in electrical tape. You had to find the exact amount of water pressure; if you ran the water too fast it wouldn't get warm, too slow and it wouldn't trip the automatic switch to heat up the coil. Our house had no heat either--it was a miserable way to spend a winter in the mountains.
posted by hydrophonic at 4:09 PM on July 13, 2009

Prince Edward Island is surrounded by dense swarms of hideous brown jellyfish and completely covered in giant bunnies. Also, it smells like cow poo.

On the subject of squirrels: They make noises. Not just cute little "nick-nick" noises, but, like, blood-curdling screeches. It's terrifying.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:36 PM on July 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

But only until you get used to it. I'm back in Maryland now, where the squirrels seem to be mute, compared to the screeching squirrels I knew in Mountain View, CA.
posted by Rash at 4:58 AM on July 14, 2009

After the song was over, everything resumed as normal.

I've heard this is also the drill in Thailand, at 6PM everyday, everywhere, the national anthem: shut up and stand up.
posted by Rash at 5:03 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I grew up in rural Pennsylvania where all the schools had an extra long Thanksgiving vacation because the first Monday after Thanksgiving was the start of deer season. The thinking was that so few people would actually come in to school that there was no point in opening that day.

It was also very common on the roads to end up stuck behind buggies or massive hay carts drawn by horses. The Amish are only quaint when you're NOT trying to get somewhere in a hurry ; )

Now I live in Minnesota (which seems to be amusingly well represented on this list). I work in a little town of Wayzata (pronounced 'why-zehta') where every year, in the dead of winter, they plow a huge portion of the lake (yes, huge trucks on the ice), drag out everybodies' old Christmas trees and set up a golf course out on the frozen lake: the annual Cilli Open. Complete with chili cook outs, and swimming through holes in the ice. Though, to be fair, the water temperature is usually higher then the air temp.
posted by ghostiger at 8:24 AM on July 14, 2009

Growing up in Minnesota, school was sometimes canceled because too much snow had fallen, but usually that required at least 18 inches overnight. The thing that really seems to baffle people is that we also had school canceled because of cold. When the wind chill gets below a certain number, kids will get frostbite on their faces in seconds if they have to wait for the bus, so... no school!

Not sure how widespread this information is or isn't, but I had a roommate from California in college who didn't understand when I said, "It was at least 10 below." "10 below what?" she asked. Below zero, you lucky Californian.
posted by vytae at 10:07 AM on July 14, 2009

Oh yeah! In suburban Edmonton, we got a day off school only when it was so cold (usually somewhere below -20 Celcius) that the buses wouldn't start. Of course, there were still classes that day; we just couldn't get to them without walking in that cold in pitch darkness, because the sun doesn't come up until after 9.

Also, they didn't clear the snow off the roads up there very often. Once or twice a season, they'd send out a fleet of giant yellow industrial strength plows, which would leave a ten-foot-tall pile of snow in the middle of every road. Instead of salting the roads (too cold--it'd just turn the packed snow into sheer ice; also, salt is bad for farm land) they used sand. In the spring, there's so much sand left on the roads that they need to be cleaned with those brushy-bottomed trucks that blast water.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:32 AM on July 14, 2009

At the farm of my girlfriend's family in La Pampa, Argentina, the parrots are such a nuisance that it's no big thing to go out with a shotgun and bag a few just for fun. I was a little horrified at first, but after listening to their screeching, I understand. And there are just so many of them that they are a pest and do serious damage to the crops (sunflower, corn, soy and sorghum).
Armadillos are so common that people aim for them when they are driving and see them on the road.
Some friends from there told me that when they were kids, they could go out into the fields and shoot 100 hares in a couple of hours. Not so many now with the drought.
It's completely normal to kill the sheep yourself - with a knife in the throat - that you're going to barbecue that night. I did it (in the interest of not appearing to be a wussy foreign city boy), it's not as bad as I thought it would be.
The Argentinian palate isn't known for it's appreciation of a wide range of spices. If you go into a restaurant, you will find salt on the table and almost never pepper. If there are both on the table, the salt will be in the cruet with lots of holes, and the pepper in the cruet with one hole in the middle. Argentinian friends just will not accept that in the rest of the world it is the other way around. Nor that garlic or ginger do not qualify as "spicy".
When I lived in Guatemala, the sound you hear all day long is "slap, slap, slap". It's women making thick corn tortillas, and it's all day and everywhere. The average adult Guatemalan eats something like 14 a day.
posted by conifer at 10:12 PM on July 14, 2009

Someone I know went to Bowdoin College (in Maine) in the 1960s. In winter, they would drive their cars over to a restaurant/bar and every car in the lot would be left, key in ignition and the car RUNNING, while the drivers went in and ate.

In Ontario during winter, even modest city parks have outdoor skating rinks that are made by basically roping in an area and flooding it with a hose. Often a park will have more than one, and even parks in crummy areas have them. They are standard park equipment. No rental skates because everyone owns their own. The kids learn to skate and handle a hockey stick early. (This was amazing to me, coming from Virginia, where ice skating is a huge production and a rare treat)

Visiting Istanbul and a few other middle eastern cities was amazing to me because of the multiple daily calls to prayer, which echo across the whole city. They don't sound like air-raid or tornado sirens except for being loud and unmissable; the first time I heard it I was rooted to the spot trying to figure out what it was, while everyone else just carried on because it's a normal daily noise for them. Several times a day, huge citywide noise; it was wonderful and a continuing reminder that I was in a really Different place.

A friend who moved to the eastern US from London was transfixed by gray squirrels. In the eastern US, gray squirrels are pretty much the prototype of a too-common urban animal, but apparently they're not in London. He just thought they were the weirdest, most precious, interesting animals. He would watch them for hours in fascination (as I suppose I would with elephants or whatever). He set up a feeder to lure them to a good viewing spot near his window.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:15 PM on July 14, 2009

In Iceland, because the hot water in your home hot water system comes from a geothermal system, taking your morning shower reeks of sulfur/rotten eggs. It only took a day or two for that smell to become associated with the comfort of a hot shower, though.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:22 PM on July 14, 2009

Moving to Canberra, Australia, I have been consistently amazed at the locals' blase attitude towards several things:

1. The sheer quantity and variety of awesome birds that are -everywhere-. Sulphur-crested cockatoos, galahs, gang-gang cockatoos, ravens/crows (can't figure out which they are), the magpies with their warbly songs, crimson and eastern rosellas, red-rumped ground parrots, straw-necked ibis birds, fairy-wrens (which are so utterly adorable I can't help but stop and stare every time I see the tiny wee birdies hopping about merrily), and who knows how many dozens more.

2. Other assorted wildlife everywhere - going on a trail ride at a local stable (not more than 7km from the center of Canberra), I was informed that we should stay away from a certain spot because a wombat lives there, and that they will in fact come out of their burrows and chase you down if you annoy them. I was also told that brown snakes (yes, the Extremely Poisonous Ones) are quite common, and that one could expect to see 30-40 of them on the trails and roads during an average summer. This disturbs me, because I'm quite certain that for every one that you see, there are several you're not seeing. Also, I saw a baby echidna on my ride, which was possibly the most adorable thing ever.

3. Bushfires. I paraphrase what one individual said to me regarding them: "Yeah, they happen sometimes. Oh, yeah, this area here (indicating a huge swath of land from one mountain to another)? Used to have a forest of huge trees on it until the fires in 2003. The fire department came by and told us we were safe, and less than six minutes later, the entire area had burned to the ground . . . Yeah, it was pretty bad. The vet ran out of euthanasia drugs, so we started shooting animals."

All of this, mind you, narrated in such a casual, almost bored tone of voice as to frighten the living daylights out of me. There were far, far worse details included regarding the state of those animals that had to be destroyed, but for the sake of decency I won't include them here. Holy crap.
posted by po at 10:26 PM on July 14, 2009

Also in Ontario milk comes in bags. You buy a pack of three 1-L bags, put two in the freezer, put one in your permanent milk pitcher and snip one top corner for pouring.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:48 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

You put two in the freezer? C'mon, nobody does that! They all go in the fridge. You are weird.

But that reminds me of another phenomenon from my days in the suburbs of Edmonton: Milk was delivered door-to-door. They'd leave cartons on the doorstep, even in mid-winter. Ever had frozen milk chunks on your Frosted Flakes? I have! Also, people would put signs in their windows to let the milkman know a delivery isn't required. These signs read "No Milk," or sometimes just a big red "NO." The latter, to those who don't recognize it, tends to read as especially--not to mention enigmatically--hostile.

One more! Along the winding roads of northern Maine, there are a lot of plywood shacks with plywood signs spraypainted with the word REDEMPTION. These really had me scratching my head. I thought to myself, "Who knew Maine was so down'n'dirty religious?" It was only driving back the other way that I noticed, deposited nearby those signs, a lot of bagged up bottles and cans. Duh. 5¢ redemption.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:29 PM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Living on the outskirts (not quite rural, but on a wooded lake) Fort Worth, Texas bobcats and roadrunners are not uncommon. Also, 50 lb or bigger raccoons.

In Denton, half an hour north of there, an albino squirrel that lived on the UNT campus was something of a local mascot for years. When it was run over, they (the school, I guess) had a new one brought in. That one was eaten by a hawk not too long ago and has not been replaced that I know of. Anyway, because of this, squirrels in general are well liked here, so there are lots and lots of large, bold squirrels. If you don't look them in the eye, they don't care how close you get and will sometimes beg for food.
posted by cmoj at 1:24 PM on July 15, 2009

Ontario milkbags are indeed weird (though I remember milk came the same way in BC when I was a kid). In fact, they are 4L units, which contain three 1.33L bags. Some stores in other parts of Canada will have a few bags of milk sitting in the corner, even though the jug is standard. Are there people out there who just can't adjust to the 4L jug and insist that their grocer keep stocking bags?
posted by ssg at 4:08 PM on July 15, 2009

Oh, speaking of earthquakes.
Felt this one last night while sitting on my front step having a beer, and honestly thought "Ha! that was a little one".
Like trick photography, not small, just far away.
posted by Catch at 5:56 PM on July 15, 2009

People in Chicago seem to be baffled by this- in North Carolina, we would get a snow day if snow stuck to the roads.

Two years ago there was a light drizzling of snow in Raleigh during the day; at most an inch. Consequently: (1) all schools in the area were given a two-hour early release because, hey, what if it gets worse; (2) given that all buses and parents' cars had to immediately pick up their children, everybody piled onto the road at once; (3) instant one-hour delays if you had to go anywhere; (4) then the people who were just trying to make it home from their jobs started pouring out as well; (5) two-hour delays; (6) cars started skidding off the road, blocking highways; (7) thanks to urban sprawl, there are a few highways that everybody travels on to get anywhere; (8) and now it's up to four-hour delays.

My bus left school at 1 PM, and I got home at 5:30 PM. Some buses never showed up, and there were kids who slept in the cafeteria overnight. All because of an inch of snow.

That was one of the most cheerfully bizarre days of my life.

Then there are the eight-inch snowfests in New Jersey when the plowed sidewalks become so treacherous and icy that I begin to seriously consider wearing a helmet when I walk.
posted by shadytrees at 9:48 PM on July 15, 2009

When I was a kid in Finland, we had a potato fridge. It was just like a normal fridge, but bigger and not as cold

Lots of my relatives have kimchee fridges. That's right. A fridge for all your kimchee needs with state of the art temp control so that different batches can ferment at different rates.
posted by like_neon at 5:16 AM on July 16, 2009

While I never lived there, I went on a ski trip in Michigan's UP in December several years ago. As we were driving in to the town where we were staying, we had noticed a nice-looking restaurant about ten miles outside of town, so one night we decided to go there for dinner. There was one other car in the parking lot—and six or seven snowmobiles.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:47 AM on July 16, 2009

My wife and I visited Italy (Tuscan region) in 2006 and stayed in a castle villa. The booming noises kept us awake most of the first night there. We asked the next morning and found out that they detonate half sticks of TNT to scare the wild boar from the wheat fields.
posted by Drasher at 11:46 AM on July 16, 2009

In Hawaii ('Oahu, specifically):

In the week following a full moon, the jellyfish arrive - they bloom and wash up on the south- and west-facing shores. Back in the day (10-12 years ago), they would flood into the Ala Wai canal and the water would be so infested that you could hardly paddle your canoe - you'd just be spanking jelly the whole time. Possibly due to the filthiness of the water, they didn't sting and you could fling them around. Not sure why this doesn't happen any more (in the canal, that is - you can still go and get stung by a jelly in the open water off of Waikiki if you'd prefer).

We've got a lot of endangered species here but the Hawaiian Monk Seal has a posse. If one is spotted on a beach, notice goes out through the wires and volunteers rope off an area so that it can chill out "undisturbed." Quoted because obviously, notifying everybody where it is tends to create a paparazzi situation.

If you go on a hike and see some rocks stacked on top of each other, or what looks like a rucksack made out of leaves, don't touch it. It's an offering to a deity or a spirit and you'll piss somebody off, corporeal or otherwise.

If you are introduced to a local person, even though it's the first meeting, you should brace yourself for a hug. I just thought of this because this happened the other night and the visitors seemed taken aback by the physical nature of their greeting. If local doesn't know you're a visitor, they may ask you 2 things: 1) "What school you went?" (Which high school did you attend?), and 2) "What year you grad?" (In which year did you receive your diploma?). This is a standard information-gathering process to place you geographically and demographically and to try and flush out any other common acquaintances.

Another note for visitors: As anyone who has visited and tried to drive on the island comes to regret, very few people here refer to highways by their number. Additional dismay due to the fact that they mostly start with "K"s and have 4-8 syllables, and now I'm wondering how well the GPS voice handles Kalaniana'ole. Locals also use context-sensitive directions instead of North/South, East/West. Mauka means head towards the mountains, makai means head towards the water; these two approximate East/West, though it depends on what side of the island you're on. "Diamond Head" means go in the direction of Diamond Head Crater (Waikiki-area) and "Ewa" is towards the Ewa plain, which is actually on the west side of the island; these approximate South/North respectively, even though Ewa isn't north... I suspect these are employed because they are the areas where the H1 (the Hawaii-only Interstate) starts and ends.
posted by krippledkonscious at 4:35 PM on July 16, 2009

When my friend was looking for a place to live while attending grad school in Minnesota it was apparently a thing whether the garage had electrical to plug in your engine block heater.

People in los angeles were baffled by the block heater plug hanging out the front of my old Celica. "Is that an... electric car?"
posted by flaterik at 9:14 PM on July 16, 2009

Say what you will about Minnesota—and others have—but there's one thing that really gets people's attention when I tell them about it. No, not the fact that the high will be 67 today on July 17. I'm referring to the game of "Duck, Duck, Gray Duck." In the rest of the US and surveyed sections of Canada, people play "Duck, Duck, Goose". Not here!
posted by norm at 5:55 AM on July 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

The part of England where I grew up was very flat, so I thought it was completely normal that all the local parks had huge hollows scooped out of them, so us kids could go tobogganing in winter and do dangerous stunts on our bicycles in summer. Each park would have at least two of these grass basins between fifteen and thirty feet deep. Other towns had hills; we had hollows. To the extent that I thought about them at all, I assumed they were natural features.

They were actually bomb craters. The Nazis had bombed the shit out of my area during the war because we were a manufacturing centre. Mostly the craters had been filled in and built upon, but the ones in the public parks hadn't been considered a priority. They were just left until the grass grew back and the kids forgot how they arrived there in the first place.

Turns out Hitler is responsible for some of my most cherished childhood memories. :(
posted by the latin mouse at 2:42 AM on July 18, 2009 [22 favorites]

I see skunks in Manhattan all the time (north part of the island). Also a family of raccoons recently. Who knew?
posted by whimsicalnymph at 7:10 PM on July 21, 2009

Grew up in the Northwest Territories (far north of Canada).
  • it's common to walk out in the morning and start the car, then go back in and wait for a while for it to warm up.
  • As mentioned above, everyone's car has a block heater, so there's a plug coming out of the front grill. You can tell where the parking spots are in the parking lots because of the little columns at the front of each space sticking out of the snow drifts, with a socket for you to plug your car in.
  • During the height of summer, the sun will not set until 3 or 4 in the morning, sometimes later. This will ensure extremely long days of summertime fun. There is also a golf tournament that tee's off at midnight.
  • The course that tournament is held at is in Yellowknife. It is about 85% sand. The first clubhouse was an old DC-3 fuselage they dragged onto the course. When I was growing up they used oil to soak the sand around the holes to simulate the "green". You'd be given a little carpeted plaque on a string to drag behind you as you walked through it so your footprints wouldn't wreak it. I think they use a more ecologically friendly method now though.
  • Several smaller communities are reached in the winter by driving across the frozen lakes. The road is cleared through the snow, so you are driving across ice. Straight ice. You can get out of your car and hear it snap and get down on the ground and look through it for what seems like miles
  • Past a certain latitude there are no trees, as the ground is frozen year round. Just rolling hills and mountains. However, trees decrease in height as you get closer to that point. The trees in Yellowknife, about 1500 km north of Edmonton, are tiny.
  • Summer is hot. Hot enough to swim and go to the beach. About 25 C (77F). However, the coldest days are those without any cloud cover. The coldest I've seen was -50C (-58F) without wind chill and that was a perfectly nice looking day. The glasses that I was wearing that day had a metal frame. One of the arms spontaeneously snapped - metal will get brittle when it's really cold
  • If you wear glasses (like me) you get used to not being able to see anything for the first 10 minutes you come inside, since they fog up almost all the time.
  • If you get drunk and pass out outside, you will probably die. I knew of one person at my high school that went that way, there were probably more.
  • The ravens here will open your garbage can unless you lock it down with weights. They figure out snap down handles, pop on lids, almost anything.

posted by concreteforest at 4:02 PM on July 22, 2009

Turns out Hitler is responsible for some of my most cherished childhood memories

Who would have thought that even this thread would be Godwined?!?!?

Here in Seattle, since it's so verdant, lots of edible stuff grows right in the city. It's pretty common to go for a walk and come home with a bunch of spices for dinner (esp. rosemary, we have tons). That seems unusual in a big city.

And in cherry season it's not uncommon to see people climbing the tree in front of your apartment to get the good ones, much to the consternation of the squirrels.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:48 PM on July 23, 2009

Me again.... hadn't even thought of this, until I read all these people mentioning 'snow days'. In Melbourne, we had the opposite. If the weather forecast was to be over (IIRC) 40˚C, we got the day off school.
posted by pompomtom at 9:31 PM on July 23, 2009

More cold weather fun: my family has a cabin on a lake in central minnesota; when the lake freezes they tow little houses onto it on trucks. They have holes cut into the floor so you can fish though the floor, while watching satellite TV. Over New Year's, the population of the lake is over 3,000.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:42 PM on July 25, 2009

In New Delhi wild peacocks sit in the trees.

Here in Hell's Kitchen, NYC, it's normal to side-step the pimp sitting on the building's front stoop.

Manhattanites don't usually don't have cars so it's typical for locals of all kinds -often in high heels or beautiful suits- to carry large, bulky or odd objects to their apartments.

Garbage: NYC pavements are often piled high with bags of garbage. There is often amazing stuff thrown out on the streets and it's typical for well dressed New Yorkers to root through garbage on recycling day "for something good". In Hell's Kitchen it's typical for rats to dart out from the building basements at night to the bags to get their food. In Hell's Kitchen neighbors sit on the stoop on summer nights, giggling to hear tourists scream when they see the rats running in front of them. Garbage trucks pick up residential garbage noisily at 4am. When NYC garbage trucks go by the stench is nostril curling.

In any given hour, subway ride, deli in NYC one may hear a dozen languages or see at least that many nationalities.

In NYC the noise of sirens is a constant 24/7/365 and sometimes deafening.

In NYC the Sunday paper may be 3 inches thick and take a week to read.

In Jamaica, West Indies, the mongoose does most of the domestic rat catching. The rats are too big for cats.

In Northern India it's typical to re-mud the adobe house after the monsoon season and after the winter snows have thawed. Mud=one third cow plop, one third clay, one third water.

In Central Northern India the locals leave a daily dish of milk for any cobra that comes to live in the house.

In Northern India small paper bags are made of recycled students' exams and homework.

East of Turkey and West of Singapore, stoop toilets with water to wash one's behind with one's hand are the norm. Often poop sits in the enamel basin in colorful layers of decay and one must become used to the sight, the walloping smell of human feces and the flies that visit.

In London full milk bottles are left outside (delivered by a milk man in a truck) the front door of people's apartment buildings and are not stolen.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan the bread is flat, huge and shaped like a snow shoe.

Colloquial Tibetan has a limited vocabulary and much meaning is conveyed by raising one's voice very high, like Minnie Mouse, accenting the very. How small? Veeeeeeery small.

In Templeton, California, kids bring tarantulas to kindergarten show n' tell.

In Iceland the hot water that comes out of the tap is volcanic, sulphuric and turns any silver one is wearing black.

In Kuta, Bali, the outhouses are often made with walls of coral.
posted by nickyskye at 6:20 AM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh oh, I have just thought of something else about Pohnpei, Micronesia.

People mix kool-aid in with instant ramen for flavoring. This is apparently completely common and normal.

I was too afraid to try it, myself.
posted by that girl at 5:51 PM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

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