Map Data (c) Google

Let’s swap notes

So after being here for about 6 months, I took a trip back home to the USA for a friend’s wedding, family visit, and some shopping. This trip is the main reason why I haven’t been updating the blog for a while… While I was there, some of the small differences between the USA became pretty apparent. Now there are definitely some huge differences like the culture, climate, language, food, etc., but I wanted to focus on the little things in this post. I should mention that I enjoy discovering new cultures and experiencing different ways of life, but there are some things that everyone would benefit from, especially considering Nouméa is rather developed.

I think these two countries could both improve if they adopted some of these things from each other.

Things the USA needs to adopt:

1. Traffic circles.

Seriously, guys. Americans hate traffic circles and I’m not sure why. Ok, they might be confusing at first for 30 seconds if you’ve never learned how to navigate them, but once you understand the rules (in general, those already in the circle have priority and furthermore, those on the inside track have priority) it’s simple. Using traffic circles instead of stoplights could save everyone lots of time and hassle. The main reason I thought of this was when I was moving along a chain of 4-way intersections with red lights in the DC suburbs and realized how stupid it was that nobody was moving (there weren’t even any vehicles on the cross streets). I was just sitting there burning fuel doing nothing. All of this could have been easily remedied by a few circles. It doesn’t make sense to tear out the existing stuff to put in circles, but they should really be considered during new construction. And those of you thinking of the “circles” in downtown DC, those are not traffic circles. They’re full of stoplights, turn lanes, and god knows what else. I’d wager that they’d work exponentially better if they pulled out all the lights. Seriously.

2. Real prices.

Having grown up with false prices being advertised everywhere (read: taxes and tip not included), I got used to never really knowing exactly how much I was going to have to pay at the cash register. Here in New Caledonia (and many other places in the world), the taxes are built into the price and tipping is not necessary. The receipts usually tell you how much tax you’ve actually paid so you can still see how much the govies get, but building it into the price makes perfect sense while you’re shopping. Tipping is another big thing. I’m still not used to the fact that when you pay for your meal you pay the price listed on the menu and that’s it!

P.S.: Here’s a really good Freakonomics Radio Podcast that goes into some of the implications of tipping and some other interesting correlations.

3. Shopping cart technology.

This one isn’t that big a deal, but it’s simple and beneficial. If you’ve been to Aldi in the states you’ll understand this one. They have a little quarter deposit slot on the carts. You put in your quarter, your cart is unlocked, and you do your business. When you’re done, you return the cart to the cart corral and get your quarter back. This keeps wild carts from hitting peoples cars, keeps the carts with the store, and saves someone from having to gather them up every few hours. Easy. Also, having 4 swivel casters on the carts instead of the American 2 in front, 2 stationary wheels in back makes them a lot more fun to push around…

4. Two-wheeled vehicles.

(C’mon, I gotta be a little bike-centric here). There are tons more motorcycles and scooters here than back in the USA. Sure the weather is great for riding year round here and the USA is really really big, but it would be really cool to see more bikes and bike awareness back home. At in New Caledonia people generally know to look twice for bikes when they pull out, Nouméa lets bikes park pretty much anywhere they want (read: the sidewalk), and we don’t have to pay for parking – although I’m not sure if they ever enforce the paid parking for anyone…

Things New Caledonia needs to adopt:

1. Beer.

The beer selection here is awful. Don’t even get me started on the Aussie beers we get here. America has such an awesome beer scene nowadays (and seriously, people here, stop making fun of American beer as sucking. Yeah, BudMillerCoors is crap but there’s such a huge world beyond that). There are a few Belgian and other European beers available here, but they’re all just macro brews (AB InBev) anyway. The local brews “Number One” and “Manta” are fine for a hot tropical day, but y’all seriously need to step it up.  If I had a little more motivation I’d look into starting a proper craft brewery here… Any NC business-type people reading this? I guess we’ll have to stick to Fancy French Wines (which I know nothing about…) and homebrew. (Also, I think I must be a genius).

2. Internet presence.

So maybe I’m a bit spoiled, but being able to look up a business online is something I now realize I’d been taking for granted back in the states. Here in Nouméa, the vast majority of businesses and restaurants have no online presence. A website these days is the first thing I’d think you’d want as a business owner (or at least a dot on the google map). It doesn’t even cost anything to put your enterprise on the map! I guess we’ll stick to the phone book for now, but I sure do love being able to see a restaurant’s hours and menu online, or see what a business is in the business of doing before I make the trip. You don’t need anything fancy (and for the love of god don’t play music on your business webpage…). Just tell me where you are, when you’re open, how to call you, and what you do. And don’t even get me started on our local banking website…

3. The “quality” option.

Nouméa is a developed city with all the modern amenities you could want. So why is everything so junky? I’m not asking for luxury, just a quality option. If you buy, for example, a mop for the floor or a toilet brush, be prepared to pay 3x what you’d pay in the states and get something that is the quality equivalent to something from a “dollar store.” I’m not one to invest in top of the line cleaning products or anything, but having an option one step up from “junk” would be nice. Maybe I haven’t looked hard enough, but a $20 mop should last longer than a month… This also goes for “durable goods” like washing machines, dishwashers, and stoves. You’ll pay the same hundreds of dollars you’d pay in the states for a washing machine, but the one you get here will be a no-name piece of junk. I’m just glad I brought that big roll of duct tape.

4. Recycling.

There’s so much garbage downtown it is a shame and most of it is aluminum beer cans, plastic bottles, and glass. It’s strange how there are no recycling bins downtown at least for metal cans. I would imagine there could be quite a lucrative business for some waste management folk if they got people to recycle some stuff or at least provide the option. It’s really strange to go from living in DC where they (allegedly) recycle most all plastic, paper, metal, and glass to here where we are throwing everything in the dumpster.

5. Mexican food.

Enough said.

6 thoughts on “Let’s swap notes

  1. Julie

    Great post! Agree with most everything – would just add that if we could add a little longer term thinking, stricter gun restrictions and tougher drunk-driving laws, New Caledonia would be even better. Oh, and Lebanese food, good Japanese and of course Mexican!

    1. josh Post author

      Food options are definitely the up there on the “want” list. Any idea where to get Indian spices? Or middle eastern stuff? I found a little shop downtown with some mideast spices and random stuff (tahini, some canned things, olives). What about Thai restaurants? I would have thought there would be a lot more regional cuisine options here but it most restaurants’ cuisines seem to be French.

      1. Julie

        I wish I could help you in the resto department, but I’m afraid we don’t have much here. You’ve found more Indian spices than I have! Have you tried Au Ptit Café yet? It’s the best fresh, French cuisine you’ll find (in my opinion) – at a reasonable price. Plus they have a website!

  2. SB

    Looks like a) I’m moving to Noumea, and b) you have the same taste in beer that I do. I’m concerned about the beer situation!

    So, I’m evening considering giving homebrewing a try, although it’s really not my thing to cook, engineer or tinker with stuff. I’d anticipate explosions and/or some form of poisoning. But I don’t like the idea of never reusing our bottles and I don’t like the idea of having to drink lager.

    Since you’ve arrived, how have you found homebrewing? Can you still get ingredients and equipment? Is there perhaps a bar with some beers that have replaced the need to do it? I recently came across the Brasserie les 3 Brasseurs, which seems promising.

    1. josh Post author

      Thanks for posting! The short answer is that the beer scene is dire. 3 brasseurs is probably the best place for a pint – 3 standard brews plus a seasonal which has been pretty hit or miss. Some of the wine shops have some Belgians and even some good non-macro sours like Cantillon.

      I’m hoping to do a new post about brewing in particular, but the short answer there is that I’ve searched a lot and can’t find anywhere to get ingredients other than asking visitors to bring along some malt and hops. I haven’t given up yet though!

      1. SB

        Thanks for the quick reply. Pity about the bad news.

        Myself, I like porters, IPAs and Scotch ales the most. I’d miss them, but imagine it would take a long time to learn how to make something decent, quite apart from obtaining the ingredients. Hmmm…

        I look forward to your brewing post! And thanks for the blog in general – it’s really useful for us.


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