Sign here. And here. 

Two weeks in, and here’s revelation number two: Americans love signs.

They’re everywhere. Information, directions, guidance, rules…just driving down the street is a literary experience. And in most cases, the signs are fairly ridiculous. Here’s a few I’ve seen.

Fines. 

They come in strange shapes and large sizes.  $336 and $281. Whose job is it to invent these random numbers? More to the point, why are people violating red lights? I blame that bloody Shades of Grey book.


  

Parking. 

No parking this side. Of the street? Or this side of the sign? I’d love to test this one out and contest any ensuing fine by calling into question their ambiguous language. But I’m living in California these days, so there are better things to do with my time – like write about it, instead.

 

Safety. 

The most pointless sign I’ve seen. Surely if you’re a cyclist and you’re going the wrong way, you’ll know it when you’re flying headfirst through the windscreen of an oncoming truck?

California is beautiful, but there’s always trouble in paradise. In the South Bay you’re never far away from mountain lions, bobcats, and these dangerous sons-of-bitches. Park at your peril.

I tell you what Mr Sign Writer, when you can be arsed to punctuate the message, maybe then I’ll cross the street.

Ouch.  This is 2015. We don’t call them slow nowadays – they’re “academically challenged”.

Parks. 

It’s a rite of passage that a kid learns to smoke in the park. How’s a child supposed to rebel these days? Killjoys.

Impressive attention to detail. Rules for the dog, and for the owner too. If this was the UK, there’d be a steaming turd right beneath the sign.

The longer I’m here, the more I’ll see and add to this collection. Unless I’m too busy violating lights, of course.

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Let’s go outside.

We’ve been here 10 days and the learning curve is steep.

There’s more than a few things I need to write about. But first it’s this: George Michael is misunderstood.

In 1998, he was arrested in a public lavatory in a Beverly Hills park, for allegedly committing a lewd act. But now I’ve visited a number of public toilets in California myself, I’ve discovered the truth. He was loitering simply because they’re so damn good, in every possible way.

Reason one: Disposable seat covers.

If you’re in a public convenience in the UK and you want to drop the kids off, you need to have mastered the art of levitation. Over here, you just lift up a seat cover, pull it down and sit. A smile is optional, but usually difficult to avoid at this point.

Reason two: Toilet paper.

I’m yet to find a public loo without an abundance of toilet paper. And not the scratchy, primary school tracing paper-kind either. No more panic as you reach the halfway stage. No more frantic searching for alternatives. Just an anxiety-free sit down. And that’s why they call it a restroom.

Reason three: Soap.

Actual soap! In a public toilet! It amazes me every time. And when I reach the sink I find myself shaking my head in wonder. I’m just grateful that’s all I do.

Reason four: Dryers that dry.

There’s nothing worse than a crap hand dryer, when it feels like someone is slowly breathing warm air on your hands. But this is the super strength, all-powerful, mother of all dryers. The one that projects a blue or red circle in your palm, like a sniper’s target. It’s a great game to end the whole experience – how long can you keep your hands there before you suffer irreversible skin damage? I’ve laughed maniacally out loud once at this, but now I tend to keep my adrenaline on the down low.

So there you have it – you’ve just read a blog about public toilets. Hopefully it’s not been a crappy use of your time.

Here.

Well, we’ve done it.

We’ve eaten ice cream, paid too much for groceries, and driven dangerously close to opposing traffic. But now we can finally declare ourselves expats. The adventure starts here.

Before we left we’d read and heard a lot of horror stories about long-haul flying with kids. For a while Alex and I were junkies on the stuff, binging on epic tales of tears and vomit. But we were ready. We packed spare clothes for all of us. We brought enough food to feed the whole plane. Our iPad was bursting at the seams with new apps, games and films. Moments before we boarded, I found Alex in a trance-like state, banging her head repeatedly against the wall. We even created fake birth certificates so we could publicly disown them if all hell broke loose.

But the flight was a doddle. The kids were great, and we didn’t receive a single dirty look from anyone the entire flight. Apart from Ava of course, but she’s been pissed off ever since I revealed that Kinder Eggs aren’t sold in the US.

Little-known fact: Kinder Eggs are illegal in the US. They’ve had a ban on candies with embedded toys since 1938, due to choking/health concerns. Which is an interesting priority, given the number of people in the US accidentally shot by a toddler with a gun. I digress…

To be honest, I am a bit concerned that this move is sending Ava off the rails. Take a look at the displays of rebellion below, first in Heathrow and then on the other side in California. The kid is just a year or two away from a DUI and her own reality show.

We arrived two days ago. On our very first morning, I witnessed a car break-in in broad daylight, right outside the local Starbucks. I thank my company for arranging this on my behalf, which I suspect was part of the planned orientation.

So far we’ve been fairly productive. We picked up the rental cars, set up a bank account, did a food shop, and were given a tour of the surrounding areas. When you throw toddlers and jet lag into the mix, all of the above become extreme sports in their own right. But here’s what we’ve learned:

  1. Even when people are under pressure, the customer service out here is second to none. At Hertz they were short-staffed and there was a queue outside the door. The guy in charge passed out an enormous box of cookies for waiting customers, to apologise for the wait. In the UK, you’d consider yourself lucky if you got as much as eye contact in that scenario.
  2. American banks love paperwork. Just to open a single account, I spent an hour solidly signing my name. This explains why woodcutters in California drive Bentleys and not trucks.
  3. Navigating the supermarket requires a satnav and superhuman will power. The place is enormous, and I reckon 85% of it is bad for you. On the plus side, we can buy one sandwich and it will feed the four of us.

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Today is July 4th, which is when Americans celebrate the time Will Smith saved them from aliens. My boss has kindly invited us to a bbq and pool party, ending in a fireworks display. Alex and the girls are all pretty excited about it, mainly because they get to spend the day with people other than me. Based on her performance so far this morning, Daisy is planning to mark the event by crying all day.

Happy Independence Day, people.