California Oddities


Having lived in San Diego for oh…almost two months…I thought it would be interesting to put together a list of items I’ve found…unusual about my temporary home.

  • You’re allowed to do u-turns on a left turn signal. Yup – by default. Some places even have signs explaining exactly which lane you can do the u-turn in (closest to median).
  • For a state that’s supposed to be one of the biggest sources of produce in the Union, there’s damn little of it in the supermarkets. And talk about the prices…they border on extortion. You have no idea how much more I appreciate the produce section at my local Sobeys/Zehrs/A&P now that I’ve seen what’s here.
  • Bread is expensive. Very expensive – especially whole wheat bread. Yesterday (praise be!) I managed to find the first loaf of whole wheat bread for under $3.50 US. At only $2 it was practically a steal.
  • Liquor is sold everywhere. In the gas station, at convenience stores. Heck…even the local supermarket has 2 large aisles devoted entirely to wines and liquor and a cold storage for beer.
  • Transit sucks. Some buses that I have to take run exactly once in the day. You’d think it was some sort of cruel joke but no…it’s not. They make one big loop and if you don’t catch it…well. Better hope your friends don’t mind driving you.
  • Serving sizes are a lot larger here (have you ever seen a 100 oz. mug in Canada?) and there’s a lot more sugar in every product. Yes, I notice this. Yes, I can be classified as a ‘picky eater’.
  • Outdoor malls. A normal mall…without a roof :-) The truth is however, that after the novelty wears off – they’re just another mall. Unfortunately, the lack of a roof means that the mall doesn’t really manage to ‘keep’ the shopping atmosphere. The moment it starts getting dark, the mass migration happens.
  • There’s no one in UTC (University Towne Center mall) after 7:45. Weird but true. It’s a mall and it looks deserted. Even Bramalea City Centre (in my hometown Brampton) has a lot more life in it all the way till closing time. I ascribe this to the failure of the outdoor mall concept ;-) They’re reminding people of what time it is, as opposed to creating an artificial ‘always up’ atmosphere.
  • Coffee’s king. This I expected. What I didn’t expect was the absolute shite that passes as an acceptable tea here. The brew of choice? Lipton Brisk Tea.


    Brisk is one thing its not. This is the weakest, absolutely most Godawful travesty that could be foisted on tea drinkers everywhere. I expect my tea to be dark and flavorful. Instead Lipton, after brewing for close to 20 minutes is lighter than my tisanes.

  • Electric kettles. Four department stores and two malls. Cheapest kettle: $52. Apparently electric kettles are a novelty or an endangered species here.
  • Frozen dinners cost a whole lot less than buying the raw ingredients. Yup – it’s true. If you expect it to be the other way around…keep waiting.
  • 10 for 10. Bulk is in. Ever heard of the 10 for $10 deal? Neither did I till I came here. Apparently there’s an urgent need for 10 packages of hot dogs for $10. In fact, a key selling point for stores appears to be of the form “X items for $Y”. Where X > 2 and Y > $1.
  • Where’s the Kraft peanut butter?

    Newsflash: It’s not here. You’ll never find it here.

    Apparently Kraft, being the giant US multinational that it is, has failed miserably in promoting their own brand of peanut butter in the US. The spread of choice? Jif.

  • If you want to pay cash for gas be prepared to:
    • Show your ID
    • Pay for a specified amount in advance. (I believe you get refunded if you underfill.


  • Apparently breast pumps are a hot selling item on Qualcomm’s internal classifieds. No, I shit you not.
  • The tax rate is 8.25%. California is facing a massive budget deficit. Referendums have constrained the state government’s ability to change the education budget, the horribly low property tax rate and other significant sources of income. Solution: Bitch about it…and don’t touch my tax rate.
  • There are at least 10 (yes count em…10) different standards at most ATMs. Apparently the banks couldn’t get their act together and agree to a common debit card standard (like Interac in Canada) so everything fragmented into a mess of incompatible ones (Coop, Star, Cirrus, Plus…).

    The solution?

    Check cards!

    Clever little buggers… They look like a VISA but they’re not! They’re actually a debit card. With a VISA number and symbol. That way you can use them at every place that accepts a VISA (almost everywhere) without worrying about your credit rating or the damn standards. Be careful though to specify “credit” (no, I agree…that doesn’t make sense) on checkout because otherwise you’ll get charged a POS fee.

    Winners in this debacle? VISA
    Losers in this debacle? Common sense

  • Lack of good radio stations. Apparently San Diego is stuck in the backwaters of the broadcasting world. No good Euro or up-to-date rock/alternative to be found here.

    Solution: Edge 102.1 streaming live from Toronto.

  • The hallways in building AA (for Qualcomm) are wide enough to fit a Humvee. No – I don’t know why they built it like that. Maybe they were anticipating an invasion at some time.
  • It’s illegal to drink in the States if you’re under 21.

    Ok…let me get this straight. As of 18 I can get credit, get my own job as an adult, am trusted with the responsibility of voting a new government into power (thus impacting everyone) and…I can’t drink.

    Yes, yes that makes a lot of sense.

  • Push taps.
    The first time I saw these, I thought they were a perverse joke. Press the tap, get a sprinkling of water for a few seconds and then stare as the tap shuts itself off. I guess that’s a good way to conserve water, considering that a majority of US males don’t bother washing their hands (and I have witnessed this). For me, it presents a challenge because…well…because I like to wash my hands under hot water for at least 15 seconds.

    How do I manage?

    Amusingly… Very amusingly. Let’s just say an elbow, a few contortionist moves, a sense of good humor and lack of embarrassment enter into play.

  • Dips.

    I can see the blank looks already. Imagine speed bumps. Now consider the reverse. That’s right speed dips. Don’t know why there are dips in the road. Don’t know why a sign saying ‘DIP’ points them out. All I know is that its the first time I’ve seen one of those.

  • Cruiser bikes. Very, very big in PB. It’s hard for me to describe these things and I can’t seem to find a picture that describes it accurately. Suffice it to say that they’re retro, curvy, lots of chrome and have the most…um…interesting handlebar configuration I’ve seen.

And of course fate seems to have a sense of humor. It seems we managed to arrive just in time for the famed ‘June gloom’ where for the entire month of June (and part of May) San Diego is covered by clouds and the temperatures drop into the teens. Heck, if I wanted this weather, I’d be in Canada during March/April. And I think I’ll snap at the next person who tells me:

“Gee, it must be a lot warmer here than up there in Canada.”

Well no. Not quite.

Feel free to add anything you’ve found odd about where you live/work.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Hey Allen,

    It sounds like you are living in a backward state – and the weather you describe is just like what we are experiencing here to boot.

    Now – you have to tell me what is good about the place before I change my mind to visit (at some point in my life).


  • Yeah, Canadian banks got together to organise, easier when there’s only a few big ones. When I worked at the bank I found out that the banks do interbank electronic business within 24 hours, while in the states, it can take 5 – 7 days.

  • Highways!!! AAAGGGHH!

    You probably don’t have to drive on a freeway to get to work. I get to do this every day and it is slowly driving me insane.

    Waterloo people know what it’s like when you try to merge off the 86 towards the 401, but right before the exit, traffic from hwy 8 is trying to merge on, so you have to do a careful little dance to let two lanes full of cars fully swap places?

    Imagine that every single on and off ramp, in every highway, from intracity expressways right up to the US 101 freeway, is built this way. And, just to make things interesting, there is almost no time to merge before the on-ramp just ends. No more long easy merges, you have to turn the corner of the ramp with your head over your shoulder looking back at the highway, with your signal on, prepared to jump into the lane. And you better hope someone is going to let you in, because you have about 3 seconds before you’re IN his lane, whether you like it or not!

    It’s to the point where I almost dream about driving on the 401. I can hardly wait. Merging will be such a delight!

    Pardon my rant. I’ll post a longer one on my own blog someday. :-)

  • That’s a pretty interesting list you’ve got there, Allen.

    As far as Windsor oddities, I haven’t noticed any, at least nothing obvious enough that I don’t need to think about. Well, from month to month the cars have to switch from parking on one side of the streets to the other. That’s odd, right? Oh, and the garbage collectors don’t take our garbage because our bins are too large (read: normal to anyone else). So we had to get smaller bins.

  • I guess I’ll address these one at a time :-)

    While there are definite good points about San Diego, I don’t find them overwhelming enough to consider it something ‘special’. Before I left, Barry told me that San Diego would best resemble Mississauga (a GTA suburb) and you know what – he’s right.

    There are some good points of course. The climate (most of the time). The ability to go hand gliding, swimming, hiking etc. relatively quickly. Oh yeah – and Pacific Beach for beach lovers. That place is packed full of ‘eye candy’ as Mike would say…

    I suspect that cities like San Francisco will hold more interest for me since there appears to be a greater range of activities. And LA nightlife is certainly better than what we can get here.

    Should you come down Kurt? Yes, I think you’ll enjoy it quite a bit :-)

  • Paul G:

    Yeah – the banking system here is fragmented to hell and beyond. Do you know it can take up to _2 weeks_ for a check to clear?

    That’s insane!

    Oh, and what’s up with checks here? Apparently checks are still a big thing. I know at the Qualcomm etc. store they’ll only take check or credit.

    Yes. You heard that right – no cash.

    I’ve witnessed people paying for checks at grocery stores and at other stores. In addition, ‘check writing features’ are a big draw on the bank account ads here. Strange huh…

    Oh and on a sidenote – I’ve never had to carry so much cash with me before. You learn to conserve your dollar bills and quarters here.

  • Scott:

    They might be switching because of street cleaning :-) I know that on certain days cars aren’t allowed to park on the street here either.

    Another oddity you might be interested in:
    Curbs have different colors painted on them. Red means “don’t park here”. Unpainted means “ok to park” and white means “park for 1 hour only” (afaik). Now imagine PB during the summer!

    I’ve never heard of garbage collectors _refusing_ to take garbage because the bins were too big. Now that’s just odd…

  • Paul T:

    Dreaming about driving on the 401? Give up Paul – you’re insane already ;-)

    FWIW, I think that’s only a function of San Jose/Mountain View/San Francisco. The freeways down here have the standard lane merging (with a twist). And so do the ones in LA if I recall correctly. At least now I know where the Waterloo planners got their braindead design from (although Paul G. notes that the new on/offramp in Waterloo is completed)

    What’s the twist? Oh…we have signals in the merging lane. And the signals are staggered. There are two merging lanes and during rush hour only one signal turns on at any one time. Two cars go through and then the next signal. It’s the first time I’ve seen that system.

  • Hey Al. Yeah, I am streaming Toronto music stations too. Radio here is just slightly worse than passable, but half is French, and there is no really decent English station. TV works the same way, and I’m watching far too much NASA TV at work, and too much CNN at home. NASA TV replays a lot of stuff over and over again.

    The humidity is killing me. Every day, rain or shine, humid.

    Montreal oddity. No right turns on red lights on the island. and I’ve seen at least a dozen times now, a car driving backwards at high speeds down a one-way street since they mistakenly went the wrong way to start with. I’m glad I don’t have a car :)

    Au revoir.

  • I don’t even have TV at home. Sometimes I want to get back and veg and the lack of TV (or a library close by) prevents me from doing so.

    It’s driving me nuts!!

    I didn’t realize it was humid in Montreal. What the heck?!

    Umm…yeah. Driving _backwards_ on a one way street is…different. I guess what they say about Montreal drivers is true then. You’re lucky a car isn’t needed for you. Every person I’ve met in SD has asked me if I’m crazy to live here for 4 months without a car. Public transit would be sooo welcome.