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Differences between America & Australia

College v Uni
Differences between America & Australia, Expat tales, Moving to LA, Posts, Soapbox

Applying for College v Applying for Uni

I last left you (on this topic) when we were first understanding what the bloody hell we’d got ourselves into with our son wanting to go to College here.  We’re not up to the bit where we’re applying for college v applying for uni.

We’re doing both.

That’s mainly because of the exorbitant cost to go to College in this country. Yes that is a tone of great disdain.

You may recall I was on a little bit of a high horse (and I quote) “And I’m thinking if my son wants to go to Stanford he should bloody well be able to consider Stanford.  A College education should not just be for people who can afford it.  Right?”

Wrong.  Sort of.  Actually I was a little wrong about the cost to go to Stanford. After having toured there last summer apparently “no one actually pays full tuition for Stanford”. There are so many merit scholarships and so on that so many people who get into Stanford are eligible for that it eases the burden for the parents–and the loans for the kids.

But it’s rarely all $70k worth so when it comes down to the crunch how the bloody hell do you spare the $280k (four years at around $70k–more by next year) to send your kids (two of them so make that $560k) to get a College degree. One that will set them up perfectly only to do a Post-graduate degree for a squillion more bucks (and no we’re definitely NOT paying for that).

I digress … today I’m sitting down to chat to you about the difference between applying for College here in the US v applying for Uni back in Australia.

 

Applying for College

Wowsers. It’s time consuming applying for College.  We’ve had the advice that it’s a good idea to apply to somewhere between 5-8/10 Colleges–to be sure you get somewhere. In that mix you’re going to want to choose a couple you’re confident you’ll get into, a couple that you may have a shot at and a couple that are a “reach”.

Application fees

At around $80-$100 per application let’s start the [ca-ching] bank account depletion at $500. (She take a sip of wine).  And while we’re tallying my costs let’s not forget the $10 per school you’re applying to for the College Board to send your SAT score each College you’re applying to. Oh, and let’s add the (thankfully already forgotten) cost of tutors and the fee to actually sit the SAT.

Application forms

Only a few years ago most of the Colleges had their own application.  These applications tend to be pages long with short answer questions and an essay to answer.  These days many Colleges have tried to simplify the process by participating in the Common Application.

What each College will do then (although not all) is come up with their own supplementary questions unique to them and stuff they want to learn about you.

Sample questions

The common app features one essay your child has to write. They have a choice of seven topics although technically the last “question” is to write about anything you like so it’s infinite.

For those of you playing along at home here are the essay prompts.  Here are my favourites:

“Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.”

“Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?”

You’ve got 650 words. Go.

More questions

Then places like Stanford and the “UC’s” (Universities of California) have their own questions.  Stanford has these three questions.  Minimum should be 100 words and a maximum of 250 words.

  1. The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning.
  2. Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—know you better.
  3. Tell us about something that is meaningful to you, and why?

Berkeley (A UC–The UC) has eight extra questions and you need to answer four.  Each answer should be about 350 words.  Here are a couple of them:

“Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.

Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?”

It notes: “From your point of view, what do you feel makes you an excellent choice for UC? Don’t be afraid to brag a little.”

 

And more questions

There are also a few short, sharp questions where the answer should be no more than 50 words.  These are actually harder as you have to precise, knowledgeable and you can’t beat around the bush.  Here they are–just for fun!

“What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?

“How did you spend your last two summers?

“What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?

“What five words best describe you?

“When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch?

“Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford.

“Imagine you had an extra hour in the day — how would you spend that time?”

 

Application due date

Then there’s when these applications are due.  There are early decisions (EDs), restrictive early decisions, non-binding early decisions, normal application, Spring applications etc.  This decision alone is a huge one.  Early decisions are due around November 1 and you can find out as early as December whether you’re in somewhere.  That’s right–you still have a whole semester left of school but you might know you’re already in somewhere.

Testing

Remember, they would have, should have or are still doing their ACT or SAT exams.  It’s actually these scores that most Colleges look at.  That and your transcript and application.  But there’s no standardised testing so it’s hard to know if your transcript means you’re good or you suck.

So, that’s the American system.  Here’s a bit about the Australian system.

 

Applying for Uni

Work out the top five courses at which uni you want to go to. Eg: Business at Sydney Uni.

List them on your Preferences sheet via UAC.

Submit.

Get your HSC marks and your ATAR.

You get a week to change your preferences based on your marks and whether you think you’ll get in.

Submit

Find out what offers you get a few weeks later.

Accept & pay.

OK, it’s not always as straight forward as that. Some courses require a portfolio or interview but essentially that’s it.

 

Pros and cons

So the US system was designed (hmmm … over engineered?) to make it easier for kids to get into a College; so it’s not so stressful to get a good mark on your ACT or SAT and basically make it fairer for everyone.  You see, kids get tutored for the ACT or SAT and those that can’t afford it don’t.  And families start so early here it’s no wonder lots of kids are stressed, over-stretched and missing out on their childhood.

The US would probably argue (and many others no doubt) that there’s too much pressure on Australian kids to get the score they need to get into the course they want to study.

Who knows which one is right.  Maybe neither? But, there’s a lot of work and a lot of extra money that goes into kids applications here in the US.  We’re not having a bar of it (well technically we are because we’re still applying) but so many people are.

I bet many of you reading this are just happy you’re not the ones having to go through this process–that you’re at the other end of it.  True.

Meanwhile, “we” continue to do question after question each weekend in the hopes of systematically and stresslessly going through the process.

She takes another gulp of wine.

xx It Started in LA xx

healthcare in the usa
Differences between America & Australia, Soapbox

Health Insurance in the USA

It’s time to talk about Health Insurance in the USA.  I’ve bitten my tongue for the last four years but enough’s enough and it’s time to speak up. Because it’s true what you might think: the health system in the US stinks.  It bites the big one.  It totally sux.

There are three reasons I say this.

  1.  The Health system in the US relies on your employer to sponsor you through the system–to provide a health plan for you
  2.  A lot of people in the US work for small businesses who may not be able to afford to offer great health plans (see above)
  3.   Even with great health plans, seeking medical treatment can send you broke.  Seriously.

Just let me say that this is not a how-to on medical insurance in the US.  I don’t know enough about the system to write one of those.  And, while I try to educate myself on the topic it’s so difficult to navigate and wrap your head around (read: it’s so foreign to anything we think of when it comes to health insurance) that I’m sure I’ve missed stuff.

Our health insurance

We’re lucky, Mr H works for a large firm that offers excellent health insurance.  There are a range of plans to choose from that offer different costs and benefits.  Our first few years here were pretty straight forward.  We went for our annual medical checks at no cost.  Preventative care here is highly regarded here and visits are offered at no extra charge. In other words, your insurance company pays the entire cost of the $250 visit (or thereabouts depending on your doctor).

There are in-network doctors and out-of-network doctors.  The above is true providing your doctor is in your network.  Go outside your network and your health starts to get really expensive.  In-network essentially means your doctor–or health provider–has contracted with your insurance company.

So three years have gone by and all is good.  Mr H’s company pays an extraordinary amount to cover us and we pay around about the same as we paid in Australia to cover us.  We also have a credit card that the company puts money into and we put money into (pre-tax).  This is to cover us for the co-payment we have to make on many of our health expenses.  This is usually true until you’ve spent a certain amount of money and differs from plan to plan and is dependent on your organisation and the plans they provide for you.  Unless it’s a preventative visit you generally have to make a co-payment. (I guess we call this the gap in our private medical insurance in Australia).

Essentially we were paying a fortune and Mr H’s employer was paying a fortune for 4-10 doctor’s visits a year–mainly preventative care.

Don’t get sick unless you can afford it

It’s when something happens to you that is outside the norm that health insurance really starts to suck.

For example, one of the tennis coaches at school got a brain tumour.  He was one of the lucky ones, it wasn’t cancerous and it could be treated.  I’m going to quote the story from his Go Fund Me page:

“…The difficulty now is there are only a handful of neurosurgeons qualified or willing to perform this complicated procedure. And needless to say, despite medical insurance, the costs are staggering. The one neurosurgeon able to perform the surgery has no insurance contracts and is exclusive to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, a hospital that MJ’s insurance is unable to contract with.

“So he’s forced to pay out of pocket, and essentially, up front.

“We’ve started this Go Fund Me campaign to help him pay for surgery, for his hospital stay, for the rehabilitation and recovery, and for whatever next steps lay ahead of him in the fight of his life.”

Oh my …

I don’t know how much the surgery, hospital visit and all the incidentals cost but let’s say it was around $500k, possibly a lot more.  I had blood tests at Cedars-Senai when I was seeing a specialist and it cost $5,792.55. No word of a lie.  This is nothing specifically against Cedars either–they all charge this much and it is a very good hospital.

So, his perspective is he’s lucky to be alive, he’s very happy he’s here to tell the tale and wouldn’t have life any other way.  I couldn’t agree more.

But seriously? Get sick and you’ll be paying off that debt for the rest of your life.

There are many doctors out there that don’t have insurance contracts.  That means they charge what they like and you put a claim into your insurance company after you’ve paid the bills.  Fine if it’s a couple of hundred dollars but gets difficult when we start to creep into the thousands, tens of thousands and … you get the picture.

And I get it, these doctors work hard to get to where they are.  They should be able to charge fairly for their services; we’d be lost without them. Or dead.  Yeah that.

But still.

This is where it gets more complicated

So, if that were me above firstly we’d die–where can I find that money to pay for the surgery? I’d have to sell everything and my family would be left with nowhere to live but lucky me I get to have surgery in a nice hospital for a few days.  Let alone trying to fund my son’s College bill next year.  (Plenty more on that I’m sure but here’s my entree story on that topic).

Secondly, I’d put the claim into my insurance.  Because this doctor is not in network I’m penalised.  Take a recent bill we had as a family.  Here is the breakdown of our “refund” quoting from an email I got from them:

“Total Charge $1025.00, out of network write off $626.36 (because we used a specialist out of my insurance network), coinsurance $119.60 (I don’t even know what this means but I assume I have to pay something to contribute), paid to member $279.04.  Please allow 7 to 10 business days to receive the check.”

I won’t hold my breath.  Out of network WRITE OFF?  Seriously? You’ve got to be joking right now.

And I can hear what you’re saying.  You’re saying, “well Gwen it’s pretty simple just stay in network and you’ll get more back and they won’t write off such a large chunk of your bill.”

Well yes, great point. But here’s where it gets interesting.  Many good doctors and specialists AREN’T in network so you immediately have fewer choices.  These doctors don’t want to be at the mercy of the Insurance companies so choose not to contract with them.  And many don’t have to.  To be fair, it’s also a big nightmare for them.

Let’s compare it to Australia shall we?

A doctor’s visit here is around $120. Go to a Medicare bulk billing doctor in Australia and the doctor gets $35? $45? and I pay nothing. Some doctors charge $60 or $80 and then I pay a smaller amount.  So who is the loser here? The Australian doctors or me?  Yep, both of us.

So, for the privilege of our $243.99 every two weeks we pay in health insurance–don’t forget the astronomical amount Mr H’s employer is also paying–I get $279.04 back for a $1025 bill.  (We also pay more for vision and dental insurance btw in case you’re playing along at home).  Oh, and we also may a Medicare tax and a Medicare Surtax each fortnight and God knows where that goes as there is no such thing as Medicare for us.

What’s Obamacare?

I don’t clearly know the answer to this question.  I think it’s the right for every person to have health insurance so if you’re my hairdresser who works for yourself and not covered under a family plan then you can sign up and pay for insurance yourself.  It’s not cheap and not every insurance company provides it. In fact, because health insurance packages differ from state-to-state, many states don’t have options like they might have here in California.  I don’t know enough about it though to speak to this.

What’s to repeal & replace?

You might have heard Trump is all set to “repeal and replace” Obama care.  I don’t know if this means people who work for themselves may no longer be eligible or whether they are trying to bring the costs down so more people can afford it because there is no substance to the arguments that get bantered around.

I do know that one of the arguments people were saying back to the politicians “on the hill” was vote for the insurance you would give yourselves.

I do also know that one of the most contentious points is pre-existing conditions.  This is one thing Trump wants dumped.  So for me, who has high blood pressure due to a pesky but controllable kidney issue, if I move health insurance providers then none of my expenses resulting in my existing high blood pressure would be covered.  I would have to foot the bill for all of it.  Nice and fair.  Way to go pollies.

What I don’t get

What I don’t get is why organisations need to pay for people’s health insurance in the USA.  It would be fine if everyone has access to it but they don’t.  Or at least it doesn’t seem to me that they do.  No, they don’t.

There’s no such thing as a public hospital so people who don’t have health insurance have to go to an emergency department, where they can’t be refused treatment, to be seen to.

I don’t get why doctors have to contract individually with the various health insurers.  Everyone has been up in arms about Obamacare raising the price of health insurance.  But shouldn’t we be looking over both our shoulders here? There are two other parties I can see play a part in this complex equation.

One is our health insurers–they’re setting these high prices. And then the doctors, hospitals and the health system in general.  Why is everything so much more expensive than it is at home?  Let’s not even start on the price of drugs here.  It feels like a conspiracy: everyone is partnered to “get the most effective price for people” yet what it is is a price where everyone can make a bit of money (read: bucket loads) and it’s got way way way out of hand.

I don’t get why the premiums are so god-damned high but you don’t get anything for it.

But back to point one (sort of): I really don’t get why every single American doesn’t have a right to healthcare.

My two cent’s worth

Cut everyone out and start again.  Everyone buy their own insurance capped at an acceptable market rate.  Have Medicare cover a set portion of every expense then medical insurance can pay for the gap.  If you can afford it then by all means you have the choice to go to a private practitioner and pay them for the extra privilege.  But, if I get a brain tumour and I can be saved like MJ was, don’t make my family eat dog food and live in a caravan park for the rest of our forseeable life just so I can be saved.

Oh and make insurance companies government run.  Sure the government is so hopeless that it could end up being shocking but everyone should be able to get medical attention.  Access to medical care is a right not a privilege.

If doctors and insurance companies weren’t spending so much time (which equals money) negotiating complex contracts the costs would drop.  If organisations are not having to pay for everyone’s healthcare then profits would be higher (or actually cost of goods wouldn’t need to be so high).

The Australian model has its flaws but it works.  I don’t see why the “greatest country in the world” has to have such a shit system.

Footnote

So I open up my piece to edit it and send out and as I’m looking through my Huffpost I see an interesting story about Bernie Sanders and his view on healthcare.  Naturally I read the story in case I learn something more to share with you.

Well blow me over guess what? It seems Bernie Sanders agrees with me. Bernie wants a Medicare system introduced here in America similar to Australia’s.

Here’s the Washington Post’s story on it.

And check out and interview with the Huffington Post & Bernie Sanders here.

Don’t worry Republican voters it will never see the light of day.  But to me that’s a huge shame.  At least a version of it.

Meanwhile, if I keep getting $279 back for every $1025 I spend perhaps I might just consider self-insuring.  I might just come out in front.  One day when I’m bored I might do some financial modelling on that one.

Have a good rest of week,

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: If you want to contribute here’s a link to MJ’s Go Fund Me page.

 

Election Fever hits America. With one day to go it will all be over soon. Please. | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
Differences between America & Australia, My LA story, Posts

Election fever hits America

Election fever hits America.  In a big way.  It’s been ONE & A HALF years in the making and “the day” is almost upon us.

It’s Monday morning here in LA and the nation is abuzz with election fever: people are going to the polls early which means the talk about going to vote must be working.

This isn’t a political Blog, I’m not political but being in America for our first election and there are so many observations I’ve made.  This election has played a big part of our daily life here: you can’t escape it.

Some of my observations are unique to America, others are themes emerging in a troubling world.

Here are five things this Aussie girl in LA has noticed over the last year and a half.

1.  The money

For God’s sake America.  Wake up and smell the coffee.  You abandoned the sovereign to create a better world.  You rejected all things of the Mother Land because you wanted better.  And you created a monster.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: curtail the money spending.  If you don’t have it, cut back; you can’t afford it.

I’ve mentioned the amount of money spent on those lengthy campaigns.  I’ve talked about those Conventions and how the balloons at the Democratic Convention alone would be enough to feed & house LA’s homeless (unsubstantiated but don’t let truth get in the way of a good argument).  Last night we were researching what happens on Wednesday, the day after the election and we got this story.

This struck me:

“Once either Clinton or Trump has been declared winner the new president-elect will be … given a multi-million dollar budget.

In 2008, Barack Obama was said to have employed a 450-person team at a cost of $12 million. Of that, $5.2 million as reportedly paid for by the US Government, with the remaining $6.8 million coming from private sources.”

I get that it takes money to do these things, and that people cost money, blah, blah, blah.  It just seems to be like a sh*t load of money they don’t actually have.

And can we talk for a minute about the big-time donors lining the politicians pockets, eg the NRA. I’m not saying any new here but, they’re doing that for their own gain and not for the greater good.  All that money.  Feed the homeless, help the refugees, feed the world and all that.  Ouch.  Just ouch.

2.  The media

I hate to say this but Donald Trump is right: the media is against him.  It’s not half obvious.  With the exception of Fox News (which I refuse to watch) no one is on Donald Trump’s side.

Don’t get me wrong, I get it.  But still.  There is no such thing as unbiased reporting in this country.  But in lots of ways that unbiased reporting has failed: there are still all those bloody Trump supporters out there, so loyal and so one-eyed that they fail to see anything the media is trying to tell them.

Yes, the media is having a field day with record viewers following the greatest circus on earth.  I’ll be so grateful when it’s over. I’m even looking forward to Viagra ads in place of the political ads. Prop this Prop that.  Vote.  Vote for me, vote for her, don’t vote for them.  It’s when I’m grateful other countries like Australia only have a short election cycle.

3.  The pride Americans take in announcing who they vote for

No one keeps who they vote for a secret.  It’s all out there for everyone to see and debate.  They’re so proud of who they vote for, which party they follow.

In contrast few people really talk about who they vote for in Australia.  It’s certainly not widely known, nor is it typically dinner party conversation.  It can be assumed and guessed about but not always qualified.

I don’t know who Mr H votes for.  For as long as I’ve known him he’s always told us he’s voted for the Donkey. (In Australia it’s compulsory to vote; if you don’t you get fined. People who don’t want to vote properly incorrectly fill in their voting form and that is known as a Donkey vote).  He swears he doesn’t by the way but I’ll never know.

4.  The system is so bloody complicated

My son is studying US History this year so has been able to explain some of the concepts and history behind the way this system works.  I love that he can do that as it helps to understand so much without being my “we’re so much better in Australia” diatribe.

I’ve just heard about the Electoral College having the final say.  So this group of “mainly-middle-aged-men” to the people and “a fair representation of the people” officially, meets to vote on who should be President and Vice-President.

Here’s a good video from the History Channel to illustrate:

So, I’ve learnt about the nomination process, Conventions, caucuses and Primaries and now I’ve been introduced to the Electoral College.

Wondering if the Electoral College actually votes in someone other than the people’s vote?  Me too. In 2000, for example, Al Gore got more votes than George W Bush but George W got the Electoral College vote.  Guess who was President?

Oh god no. Please don’t …

5.  The heroes and the villains

This morning I woke up to one of my favourite Blogs in the world’s Facebook post with this interview:

I have given my American friends such a hard time about these elections.  But what about this guy?  This guy who I’ve found the day before the election.  Good on you mate.  You are absolutely what America stands for, why Americans are such a pain in the ass–because they are so damned patriotic and believe–only because we are envious of you.  There are loads of people like you but, like you, we’ve seen the ugly.  Fuelled by Trump and the media we are seeing far too much of ugly America.  If you are as you say, and this happened as you said, you are not.

You are a hero.

So who are the villains?

Well that’s easy: Donald Trump.  Donald Trump is a bully.  He is bigly awful.  Full stop.  Period.  Go away Donald Trump; you’re bringing out the worst in your followers.  You are bringing us back decades.  Nothing you say has substance and nothing you do is inspiring.

The day after the night before

What will you be doing on Wednesday? My son and his friends were pondering what a weird day Wednesday will be: the aftermath.  I couldn’t agree more.  But these guys aren’t President straight away. Obama still has time to “finish doing what he set out to do” and come January 20, 2017 at noon the new President and Vice-President will be sworn in.

So there’ll still be plenty of time for the media to ease their way out of it gently.  Please let go, please move on.

In the meantime good luck world.

Good Luck America.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: There is a petition to shorten America’s election cycle. If you agree with Sheryl Crowe that it needs some help click here and have your say.

PPS: If Trump gets in do you think that Wall will be strong enough to fight the stampede out of the US? The mind boggles.

Headline image by Lipton sale (talk) – self-made, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The difference between Americans & Australians: Federal elections -101 | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
Differences between America & Australia, Posts

Politics and Federal elections

Politics and federal elections

The Presidential countdown is finally down to the last few weeks of the Federal election.  I’m not sure how CNN is going to fill its programming as it feels like the last 18 months (at least) has been spent in review of the “forthcoming” election.

It’s such an incredibly long process.  And I shudder to think how much money is spent.  The airfares, private jets, hotel rooms, entourage, campaign office, printing, verbiage, the Conventions and the advertising could possibly be enough to significantly reduce the US debt let alone feed an entire nation.

I like to think I’m pretty smart with my money; my motto is if you can’t afford something perhaps you should go without.  That’s pretty much how I feel about the election process here.  If you’re not going to change it, at least limit the spending.  (According to the FY17 Federal Budget, at the end of FY 2016, the gross US federal government debt is estimated at $19.3 trillion.  I rest my case.)

America is never going to change its political system—bloody hell they can’t even reduce gun ownership—so the purpose of this post isn’t to try to change them …  But seriously?

** After going to press I found this: it seems I’m not the only one who thinks America should shorten the election cycle.  Sign the petition, vote to save money and the headache of a lengthy, cumbersome, expensive process. **

OK, moving on.

So let’s do a little snapshot at the difference between America & Australia when it comes to…

Politics and federal elections

There are three major differences between elections in America and Australia.  (Actually there are probably no similarities but let’s just talk about these three things).

1. President v Prime Minister

So in Australia the head of the party elected in (Liberal, Labor—actually spelt Labor not Labour, Greens, Coalition, etc) gets to be the big guy (guy being a unisex term)—the Prime Minister.  Done.

In the US there is this big huge palaver that means someone like Donald Trump can go, “Hey, you know I’m pretty hot shit and I reckon I’d make a bloody good Pres.  So, with all my money I’m going to build a wall and make America great again.  And I’ll put myself in the race to be the nominee for the Republicans.  (Word has it that he has long been a Democrat.  Allegedly as I didn’t personally hear it from him).

OK it’s not quite that simple.  I’m not even sure how he pulled it off, where he got to the stage that he’s up there competing in the Primary.  (My friends promised me he wouldn’t—couldn’t—make it that far).  Now that you mention it I’m not sure how he got to the stage where he’s competing in the Federal election where he may well become President so let’s not get bogged down here.

Let’s just agree that in Australia you have to be the Leader of the Party to be PM and in America anyone can put their hand up to be Pres—you just have to put your life, soul and dollars into the process.

Qualifications for the Office of the President

In case you were wondering how these clowns can put their hand up and “avago” (Australian for have a go) I found this website.

     Age and Citizenship requirements—US Constitution, Article II, Section 1

  • No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty-five years, and been fourteen years a resident within the United States.

     Term limit amendment – US Constitution, Amendment XXII, Section 1 –
ratified February 27, 1951

  • No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.

That’s it?  I was almost too scared to Google it as I thought there would be pages and pages of hyperbole.  You can be impeached for having an affair (allegedly) but you can be whoever you like as long as you’re American and you haven’t been President more than twice.  Wow.

And now we have proof: all you really do need is a big mouth, an over-inflated ego and lots of money.

Back on topic …

2.   How they get there (the PM and Pres)

In Australia each party chooses their head guy (unisex).  A bit like Tribal Council (aka Survivor) there is a lot of behind-the-scenes jostling, bullying, counting and favour-asking.  So then when they come together to vote the outcome is pretty much known.  Unless there’s a #blindside.

In this case the loser spends a lot of time trying to get their numbers back up so they call for a Leadership challenge.  Yes, this has happened a lot lately in Australian politics.

Back in the US a few people decide to join the race to be the Democrat nominee and a few people decide to be the Republican nominee.  For about a year they talk about how good they are, the pollsters conduct polls and CNN debates the pros and cons of each guy (unisex) in the running.

They go around the country, have some sort of vote (whatever that means) and finally, at a lavish event costing tens of millions of dollars, the winner gets to be the nominee.  In a nutshell, the dumbed down condensed version.

If you’re after a more educated, fact-checked opinion on the matter you can read about it here.  And here.

3.   Time

Yep, time.  In Australia an election gets called.  In the last federal election (2016) I think it was called eight weeks out.  Campaigning is only allowed in that time and I’m pretty sure I heard somewhere along the way a budget is nominated for each side.  This could be wrong—I get all my facts from Facebook and Twitter—and seriously, if you’re a kid doing your politics assignment I wouldn’t be plagiarising my post.  That’s not really important.  What’s important is that it’s not a lot of time (comparatively speaking), but it’s too much time (if you get what I mean).

In the US it stretches over a year from the time these guys (unisex) step out in the public domain to announce they’re putting themselves in the running to be President.  That’s when they go running around the nation, campaigning in swing states and all that.  By the time they’re nominated (at their Party Convention) we’re sick of seeing them and hearing about them.

Take a moment to think about the poor guys who lost after investing all that time and effort only to come nowhere.  Nowhere.  Do you even remember their names?  (OK except Bernie Sanders, everyone may well remember his name).

Donald Trump for President

Can we talk about Donald Trump?

Yes, it’s more than a little bit embarrassing that one of the Republican candidate is a man who doesn’t give a shit what he says, changes what he says and has no respect for anyone.  A N Y O N E.  Is a man who can’t even respect the system let alone represent the system.

Seriously the scary thing is not that “middle America” will vote for him, it’s the supposed intelligent people that vote for him.  And they will.

See my favourite middle America videos here, they’re laugh out loud before lol was a thing:

Election coverage

CNN is thriving on its election coverage.  It’s everywhere here in the US.

But, on my recent trip back home I was surprised to see how into the election everyone was.  Everyone was dutifully informed and wanted to know what it was like to live through a US election.  Even the debates were televised live.

I think this is possibly known as the Trump-effect but it’s also because Australia likes to keep a close eye on what’s going on around the world and work out how it might affect it.  (Something might I add isn’t done here).

Debates

The last debate was last night (Praise the Lord).  This is possibly the only thing that’s the same between our two countries—except of course the actual voting itself and even then it’s compulsory in Australia and not here.

So, the debates.  Here it’s done at different Universities (Colleges) and it’s done in front of a live audience.  The only deal is that audience has to be perfectly quiet, like they’re not there.

In Australia, it’s done in a television studio in front of a live, carefully selected audience.  That audience has buttons that they push throughout the night gauging their reaction.  This reaction is meant to be reflective of the greater Australian sentiment.  They call it the worm.  And much time is spent analysing the worm.

worm.jpg

Politics and the federal elections Australia style: the worm during the great debate/s.

(Image from North Coast Voices)

If only America would introduce the worm.  So much more for CNN to analyse. So much more for their guests to argue about.

Only 20 more days (or thereabouts) til we have to put up with this stoopid election.  I hope America finds more competitive candidates next time… Michelle Obama please step forward.

xx It Started in LA xx

Did you know College in America is chosen based on how much you earn rather than how smart you are? An outsider's view of the American College system | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
Differences between America & Australia, Moving to LA, Posts

You have to pay how much to go to College here?

How much does it cost to go to College here in America?

Many of my sentences start with “Never in my Wildest Dreams…” Well in this case my sentence starts like this:

“Never in my wildest nightmares … did I expect to be looking at the American College system.”  Not because I didn’t think it could be done but because I didn’t think it was necessary to look to America when we have a great University system in Australia.

Differences between College in America and going to Uni in Australia

My son is now a Junior and the talk is seemingly nothing but “Does he know where he wants to go to College?”

We were with some great (American) friends we met in Shanghai.  We are so lucky in a world with Facebook and Messenger etc that we’re able to keep in touch.  Naturally, as their son is the same age as my son that question came up.

My 16 year-old’s top choice is Stanford, to which my daughter always chimes in, “but he won’t get it.”  (Tsk tsk to her and it’s besides the point).

“Stanford’s out of our league so we’re not even considering it,” was their response.

When they say out of their league, they mean money-wise. I was more than shocked because:

a) we didn’t even think about the money (not, I hasten to add because we can necessarily afford it but because its your final score–grade–that you consider in Australia);

b) he has a great job and earns good money; and

c) the 90210 world in which we live, people don’t think like that.  You know my world can often be surreal?

How can that be fair?

90210 interlude

It reminds me of one of the first people I met when we arrived in LA.  Over a very civilised glass of bubbles one Friday afternoon she was telling me about her housekeeper.  The conversation went pretty much word-for-word like this:

Her: “My housekeeper’s daughter just got into Brown.

“Can you believe she got offered a full scholarship? (Better known colloquially as a ‘free ride’).

“What’s the world coming to when I won’t be able to get my kids into Brown and I can afford to pay their full tuition and she gets to walk in without paying a cent.”

Without taking a breath or looking for a response. I kid you not.

Me: Gobsmacked & speechless I skulled what was left in my glass and immediately topped it up.  I may or may not have skulled that next glass too.

We can’t afford to consider xyz Uni

Seriously? Seriously? This is how the majority of people in the US think.  This is how the majority of people in the US have to think.

I surveyed a Facebook page I belong to of Australians living in America and it’s how most of them think too.

So, these gorgeous friends of mine, who are not poor, but are not uber wealthy, must first look at their income when compiling their list of Colleges for their son.  Their income.  Not his scores or smarts but how much they earn.  No bloody wonder Bernie Sanders got as far as he did.  How can that be the slightest bit fair?

What sort of system is in place that is so downright skewed to the uber rich?  Not the middle class but the wealthy.

I can hear you asking, “Well, how much does Stanford cost?” Let me tell you.  And you better be sitting down.  Actually, go get yourself a scotch.  Neat.  On the rocks.  Maybe only a couple—it’s going to need to be stiff.

Stanford costs how much?

At the time of publishing Stanford costs $70k per year (OK it’s just over $67k). Yale costs $65k.  Harvard $61k and Brown $62k.

So I started asking around.  “Is that really the case that if you can’t afford the $70k to send your child to the top institution in the country you cannot consider it?”

The bottom line answer is, sadly, an overwhelming yes.

Holy mother of $#%&ing God that is disgraceful.  Seriously disgraceful.

I know I sound like a socialist now but seriously I’m gobsmacked.  Please tell me how this country in which I live can be the “best in the world” when my gorgeous friends who earn good coin and pay taxes (unlike–allegedly–one of the Presidential nominees) and contribute to society in such a positive way but must rule out schools whose fees are above a certain (very high) amount.  How is that possibly fair?

Pretty Little Liars

I’m binge-watching PLL at the moment and one of the sub-plots is the girls trying to navigate the College application process. And yes, the subject of affordability comes into play there too. It must be true.  And, by the way, if any of you are fans: how’s poor old Hannah (Ashley Benson’s character) whose Dad is paying for her step sister to go to Dartmouth and won’t pay for his real daughter to go to a “good school” because he promised the fake one first. Shame on you TV Dad.

Financial aid

There’s always financial aid.  Like my Friday drinking acquaintance pointed out: there is no discrimination against low-income earners.  Thank god—there is a God.

And I’m thinking if my son wants to go to Stanford he should bloody well be able to consider Stanford.  A College education should not just be for people who can afford it.  Right?  Right.  Are you with me?  I started looking into financial aid.  It’s complex to say the least but the Website does seem to indicate that it’s possible to get a portion of the tuition through the program.

If your parents earn less than $65k it’s a no-brainer, you’re not expected to pay anything when it comes to “educational costs” but students are still expected to contribute towards their own expenses (according to the website from summer jobs or part-time work during the school year and their own savings.  They can say that right but that’s why Uni kids live at home in Australia—because they can’t afford those expenses as they usually don’t earn enough to fend for themselves and you want to build up your savings, not spend it.  Whatever.  They have to learn sometime.

Next category is the parents with an income below $125k. Again according to the website the expected parent contribution will be low enough to ensure all the tuition charges are covered through grants and aid.

The next level from there is families with higher income—typically up to $225k who may also qualify for assistance “if more than one family member is enrolled in College”.

I’m not exactly sure of the tax rate—and CA has the highest so we’re the biggest losers—but let’s quickly do the sums.  I’m assuming someone on $225k is in the highest tax bracket.

If Stanford costs $70k, you need to earn around $140k just to break even on the transaction.  Throw in a mortgage of $4k per month, some clothes, running a car and a weekly grocery shop; let’s say that’s around $50k (so $100k before tax).

Let’s say it’s not quite 50% tax so we’ve over-estimated; so say we’re at $200k.  All of a sudden that “higher level income” isn’t so high level anymore.  Effectively that family has $25k gross left for incidentals.  That’s living beneath the poverty line.

And that’s the answer to why my beautiful friends—a family on “good coin” can’t—don’t—consider Stanford.

Where is the opportunity? Where is the educational freedom? What happens to the middle classes of the land of the free; the land of opportunity?

I had no idea.  No idea.  (Did I mention I was gobsmacked? Are you?).

What about Australia?

It’s pretty hard to work out exactly how much Uni costs these days in Australia.  Once upon a time it was free but we were breeding a society of over-educated free-loaders that the Government (controversially) decided we students had to contribute to our undergraduate educations.

So the Government introduced a type of Government-granted loan system known as HECs (Higher Education Contribution Scheme).  Basically the Government pays a portion of your Uni fees and you pay the rest via the Scheme.  It is an interest-free loan that you only pay back once you start earning enough money to pay it back. (I say interest free but the amount is indexed yearly according to CPI).  And you only pay it back according to how much money you earn.  And you pay it back through the tax system.  Effectively you barely notice that you’re paying any money back.  It is genius right?

How much does Uni cost in Australia?

OK, to be fair, that bit is hard to work out.  It’s hard to work out because the Government kicks in for part of your fees.  I could try to spend some time working it out but the point is actually that we don’t really need to look at the costs when choosing a Uni.  We just need to get the marks to get into the Course we require.  To get into the prestigious unis in Australia requires higher marks, not a bigger wallet or even a higher propensity to get into debt.

Bottom line

Well I’m going to be a stubborn socialist princess and am not going to tell my son he can only look at Colleges we can afford (more fool me).  My first thought was to pay what we’re currently paying in private school fees (there goes my exotic holidays for a few more years) and he can get a loan for the rest.  Well that’s not going to work.  You don’t even want to hear what a debacle the student loans can be here. It’s a whole ‘nother industry.  If I have enough energy I might blog about that one day.

And, if you’ve landed on this page because you’re trying to navigate the College application process I’m sorry this post hasn’t made it any clearer for you.  Rest assured though, as I go through the process I’ll share it with you step by step, blow by blow, bottle of wine after bottle of wine. Nah—neat scotch after neat scotch.

And yes, if he doesn’t get into the right College for him, or get a “free ride” we are looking to send him back to Australia.  Why the hell not?!

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: I should also point out that there are plenty of good Colleges that don’t cost that much. The State colleges, such as UCLA are much cheaper and offer an amazing education. My point is just that I thought America was supposed to be the land of opportunity, not the land of how much money you have gets you “further in life”.

PPS: If you’re Stanford Admissions reading this post it’s not a dig at you, arguably the finest institution in the land, it’s a dig at the system. So please don’t hold this against my son. If my son gets accepted we’ll find a way to make it work—and hopefully you can help ;-).

Deciphering the code that is American grade levels | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
Differences between America & Australia, Moving to LA, Posts

Understanding American Grade Levels

Ever wondered what those funny terms are they use on TV or on the movies?  You know the ones I’m talking about right? It’s the same for College: Freshmen, Juniors, Seniors and Sophomores.  I thought it was time to take you through understanding American Grade levels.

The differences between Americans and Australians: grade level names

You may not have sat down to try to work it out but what do these terms actually mean? And, in fairness you may not even care.  But do they actually use them?  Why do they use them? (OK, I’m not answering that one as I plain & simple don’t know).

Understanding American Grade Levels (for dummies–like me)

9th Grade/Year 9          Freshmen

10th Grade/Year 10      Sophomores

11th Grade/Year 11       Juniors

12th Grade/Year 12      Seniors

Basically life only starts at High School (we all know the number of movies made about Middle School (formerly known as Junior High) and just how “awful” it is.  There is in fact one coming out very soon called Middle School Movie–quite the imaginative title don’t you think?)  Again, I don’t know why this is.

When you finish being a “Senior” at High School you start all over again to be a Freshmen at College.  And yes, the American College system is a four-year program.  That’s so they can make more money.

Meanwhile in Australia …

Well it’s not too difficult to work out. In a nutshell we just keep counting.

School Workloads

We were talking to friends in Australia about years 11 & 12–the critical years that affect what score you get which determines what Uni and course you can get into.  As you’d expect years 7 to 10 get harder by the year but the marks you get in this time don’t get used to calculate your score, nor do they get shared with the Uni or College you’re applying to.

In America there is a lot of talk about how your grade counts the minute you start Year 9.  Kids rush to take Honours classes (which helps get your GPA up if you get good marks) and there is an incessant amount of study and (some might say unnecessary for their age) late nights.

You see, here in good old US of A Colleges get sent your High School transcript.  I’m not really sure if the panic to exceed and succeed so you lose all sense of fun and your childhood is worth it but that’s how it rolls here.

Along with the late nights comes a rush to pick Community Service projects to outdo everyone else’s and find extra curricular activities that might make them attractive to College Admissions team.  Burn out much?

Anyways, more about all that in my series on Colleges–the beast it is here but at least know you know (as I know you’ve always wanted to) about those Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors.

Have a good weekend–and be thankful you’re no longer at school.

xx It Started in LA xx

Another post in the Differences between Americans & Australians series. Just for a laugh or to help with your LA transition | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
Differences between America & Australia, Posts

Do you have a nickname?

Do you have a nickname? After three years of living in LA it suddenly hit me: do any of my American friends have nicknames? So I took to Facebook, and a bit of investigative journalism to get to the bottom of it and see if this is another one of those differences between Americans and Australians.

The differences between Americans and Australians: Nicknames

I caught up with an old friend from my old school days the other day; it was so great to catch up.  I think it’s been (ahem) 20 years since we’ve seen each other. How time flies by.

She still sees a lot of the people I went to school with, and the boys we’d hang out with.  So naturally we took a trip down memory lane.

She was updating me all the boys she stills sees from my prime days: did you know him?; what about such-and-such; do you still see those guys?

I realised that from the names we were talking about (ears burning boys?!) not one of them was referred to by their first name:

Pig, Belly, Sul, Dom, Kerr-ee (not Kerry but the last name Kerr with an ‘e’ on the end), Hendo, Big Thommo, Little Thommo, Koj, Horace, Gubby, Rennie, Sleaze, Brush, Gorze …

The list goes on and on.  In some cases I had no idea of boys actual real names as they went by their nicknames.

Do Americans have nicknames?

That’s when I realised that none of my LA friends have a nickname.

My daughter has a friend, Aaron, and I asked her if he gets “Az” or “Azza”.  She looked at me like I was speaking Farsi.  “No mum why would they?”

“Because that’s what we’d call him in Australia.”

I guess not.

His mum’s name is Sharona so we would call her Shaz.  Such a waste of a great name!

Having said that, a friend of mine visiting from Australia was named Roxy by my American friends as she looked more like a Roxy than her real name.  But alas that’s the only one I’ve heard of here in LA.

Nicknames 101

Sometimes nicknames are unimaginative. So Kerr-ee just gets an e on the end of his name, as does Rennie; Sul is short of O’Sullivan and Hendo short for Henderson.

Other nicknames are more imaginative like Pig (whose name is Hamish–Ham? Pig?), Koj and Gubby as they have nothing to do with their actual name.  My friend had a fellow school Dad she used to coffee with and his name was Gregg; we called him GG.

No one is spared: my daughter calls me Maoie but I’ve had different names over the years–Lily and Mamoa among them.  Our dog’s name is Cassie but she answers to Caddie, Caddidy, Cat, Kitty, Dog and Cassie (yes, she really is that clever).  My husband is Doodos and her brother Chockie or Chocolade.

And if we’re talking Nicknames 101 be aware that there’s little room for reprieve: if you have a long name–Henderson–it’s shortened; and if you have a short name–Kerr–it’s lengthened.  As Australians we love to use the sounds “ee”, “o” or “z” to create these names.  For example, Kerr-ee; Thommo; or Baz.

(For nicknames 102: Baz is short for Barry but then we can also turn Baz into Bazza).

My daughter has a friend, Aaron, and I asked her if he gets “Az” or “Azza”.  She looked at me like I was speaking Farsi.  “No mum why would they?”

“Because that’s what we’d call him in Australia.”

I guess not.

What would your Australian name be?

My nickname was Wanda. It’s a long complicated story (as nicknames can be) but it derived from a character from a popular Aussie sitcom.  I still answer to Wanda.  I also get Gwennie (applying the rule to add an “e” at the end).  I never get Gweno, that’s just wrong.

Now it’s your turn … what was your nickname and how did it come about?  Or if you don’t have a nickname, what might your Australian nickname be?  Share it on my Facebook feed or here in the comments.  Would love to have you share!

xx It Started in LA xx

Los Angelinos love to talk routes | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
Differences between America & Australia, My LA story, Posts

Los Angelinos love to talk routes

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Los Angelinos love to ...

Los Angelinos love to talk “routes”

Routes.  Better known to us Aussies as which way to go.

We call them “roots” they call them “rowtes” (row as in argument not what you do in a boat).  However you say it Los Angelinos love to talk about it.  It starts every conversation when you meet up somewhere, and it will be the last conversation you will have when you part ways.

“Which way are you going…?”

“Which way did you come…?”

“Did you take the 405…?”

“Which way should we go, the 101 is busy at this time of day, is it quicker to use the side streets?”

Even recently, when an Australian friend was talking about which way her friends were going on the way from the airport to her place, she said this:

“From LAX they took the 105 to the 10 to the 101….”  Only at the end did she say “they went via Downtown.”

The sad part about that is not that she just didn’t say, “yeah, they went via Downtown,” it’s that I actually could picture the “route” (said with an American pronunciation if you will) they took.

One time when I hadn’t been here too long and went off to Disneyland for the first time my friend said, “Let me send you the best way to get down there.”

405S
105E
605S
91E
5S
Disneyland exit.

“Don’t I just plug it in my GPS and follow?”

Which way you go is a sport in LA.

And now it’s fuelled by apps like Waze (pronounced ways) that will tell you the “fastest” way to get to a given destination.

Waze has fuelled the discussion even more making it an extreme sport.

“Did you check Waze?”

“What does your Waze say?”

And Waze has a lot to answer for in the back streets of LA.  I’m too lazy and selfish to suck up my phone’s battery to use Waze.  My GPS will be just fine.  But I have to confess I’m getting suckered into the “Which route …?” discussion too.

Gotta love LA.

xx It Started in LA xx

 

Differences between America & Australia, Posts

Do Australians celebrate Halloween?

I often get asked the question: do Australians celebrate Halloween?

It’s a well-known fact that Halloween is an “American” thing.  I wrote about it last year and how I was embracing Halloween now that we’re in America.  In fact, we started embracing it when our gorgeous American friends “introduced” us to their favourite “holiday” while we were in Shanghai.

We were invited to a Halloween party at their house and the kids could go Trick or Treating in their compound.  I’ve talked about this a few times now but the story never gets old (to me!) Thinking we all needed to dress up Mr H and I rushed out to the Fabric Markets and got Fred & Wilma costumes made.  We were so impressed that we pulled it off in such a short time only to walk in and find that none of the other parents had dressed up.  Yep, leave it to the Australians to make their mark.

Fred & Wilma Flinstone

Don’t we make a great Fred & Wilma?! It Started in LA

 

The Americans do Halloween well.  And, if for no other reason, Halloween is fantastic because, along with Thanksgiving (to an extent), it keeps the Christmas stuff out of the shops until it’s over.  It’s so festive to drive around and see the houses go all out and decorate as they do.

In Australia …

Australians don’t “do” Halloween.  It’s true, that’s changing but it depends where you live as to what they do.  The area I live in in Sydney’s inner west actually has quite a bit of trick or treating going on which is fun.

I listen to Australian breakfast radio via the Nova app.  They were talking about who does Halloween and who doesn’t.  While the spirit of Halloween is definitely growing, it can still be spasmodic.

The thing in Australia is we can be quite guilty of anti-American sentiment.  So there are many Australians who refuse to embrace Halloween traditions America-style because, well, it’s American.

What’s the difference then?

Because Americans embrace Halloween they research the right areas to go and visit.  I talked about how people flock to many streets well reputed to have great Halloween decorations and trick or treating (think Claire on Modern Family).  It must cost them a fortune in “candy”.

So Americans generally gather together, eat, then when it gets dark will spend the better part of the early evening trick or treating.

Australians, if they go out, will come home from school, get dressed then go out before it goes dark.  The tendency is to stay in your own neighbourhood—or your friends—but not make an entire (spooky) night of it.

This year there will be lots of Halloween parties around town because it’s Saturday.  My daughter is going to one but sadly it’s kids only and we come to the sad realisation that our kids are growing up and don’t need us around as much anymore.

I’ll leave you on this note found a friend’s Facebook site and posted to my page:

 

I don’t know about you but when I think of Halloween I think of the fabulous Thriller by Michael Jackson.  They’ve been playing it on the radio so I thought I’d share it with you.

Happy Halloween!

xx It Started in LA xx

Differences between America & Australia, Posts, Soapbox

My right to do what I want

It’s time for my weekly look at the differences between Americans and Australians.  This happened to me last night. I don’t think this would happen in Australia but I’d love to get some feedback from my Australian friends–or others who may have had a similar experience.

Am I looking at Australians through rose-coloured glasses? Is this being a bit harsh on Americans (not my friends though don’t you know)?  Or is it not a negative thing in a different context, with a different example?

Differences between Americans and Australians: my right to do what I want–you can’t make me

I’m sitting on the tarmac in Las Vegas airport on the last flight to Burbank (LA) and as we’re getting ready to pull back some smart arse starts talking back to the flight attendant.

While getting ready for the safety demonstration, the “hostie” asked him to please get off the phone as it was time to switch mobiles off.  Instead of wrapping up he kept talking.  She asked him again, quite patiently, to “please sir finish your call and switch off the phone.”  He kept talking, showing no signs of wrapping up his call.

Then minutes later when he was ready he said goodbye and switched off his phone. The hostie then reminded him that he must listen to her requests while on board the plane.

“I don’t have to listen to you, I turned off the phone before we took off, I can do whatever I want.”

Here we go.

She reminded him again that he needs to listen to their instruction and cautioned him.  With that she walks down the aisle to continue her checks.

He yells back again saying he can do whatever he wants.  (It’s his right).

The supervisor comes up the back to question him further.

“Excuse me sir are we going to have a problem on this flight?”

To which he says,

“No, she told me to turn the phone off, I got off the phone before the plane took off, she doesn’t have the right to tell me what to do.”

“Well sir, on board the flight you are required to follow our instruction so are we going to have a problem with that?”

“No, I did what she asked but if she asks me to pick my nose I’m not going to do that am I?’

“Well sir she is not going to ask you to do that.”

Blah, blah, blah on he goes about how he flies all the time and has never had a problem and how he’s going to write a letter to Southwest and how he’s already spent tens of thousands of dollars with them.

Then one guy ( who can fend for himself) stands up and says to the guy, “please stop talking, listen to them  so we can all go home”.

But Mr frequent-traveller-who-may-or-may-not-look-like-a-frequent-traveller is adamant he can say and do what he wants.

He is still rabbiting on about how he can do whatever he wants and his rights.

Meanwhile I sit back, three rows in front of him to the other side, and think, do I want to go home or do I want the plane to stop and get him off? My first thought is is he allowed to carry a gun? I’m guessing he’s not.  Or at least not a loaded one. Everyone is a cross between disbelief, sitting quietly hoping the issue will be resolved and looking back at him with intimidating stares begging him to pull his head in.

All he had to do was pull his head in.

I’m relieved when the plane stops and moves forward towards the gate. Now we’re sitting on the tarmac waiting.  The pilot asks us all to stay in our seats.  Is this going to turn ugly?  He must know something is going on.  Right?  How are those rights looking now mate?

Are we waiting for the cops to take him off the flight? Is he getting more ruffled sitting there knowing full well it’s because of a scene he caused?

So now I’m quietly anxious and nervous and text home an update. He didn’t pull his head in before why should he now? And as the minutes are counting down I’m thinking it’s obvious we’re waiting for someone to get him.  What on earth is he thinking?

Are we going to have an incident or are we waiting for him to cool down? But what if he’s waiting to cool down then when we get in the air he loses it?  Like my teenage girl when you think everything is ok, she remembers what happened then relives the anger.

The people in the row in front of me start talking about guns. Do you have one? What do you do? I couldn’t hear much of the conversation but I thought back about Lorie on Twitter and how she thinks if there’s a mass shooter there would only be two shots fired. What if the guy in front of me thinks he’s defending himself and fires a shot? Would he be a good shot and would the guy hurling abuse have a gun & shoot him or shoot the nearest person? What about stray bullets?

Would the guy with the bad attitude think it’s time to pull out his gun. And why am I thinking about who’s carrying a gun? Isn’t that what the strenuous security measures are there for?  But if you’re a psycho then could you get around the security measures?  Can I trust them? And why–if guns are a right and used for personal protection–are we not allowed to carry them on board a flight?

Am I going crazy?

Finally the doors were opened and two ground staff came to escort him off the flight.  I was so surprised to see two women and not security or police.

He was escorted off the flight in a bit of an anti-climax. Thank God. I was expecting a tantrum-like scene that would make my daughter look like an angel. He still didn’t really get it though. He was still playing the it’s-my-right power card and “you just can’t do that” to him.

Here’s the thing. In “the future” post October 21, 2015 (had to get a Back to The Future Day reference in there somewhere), post 9/11, post mass murder after mass murder you just can’t do that. You just can’t do that.

So we’re taking off half an hour later than scheduled but I feel safer. I started thinking about what would happen if we were in the air and he wouldn’t stop. Then what. Would we have to pull together and fight him down. Cause I would. I’d be amongst it. I’m not going down wondering.

So you see it’s not your usual “Difference between Americans and Australians” post.  The rest of the flight–filled with Americans–did not agree with this guy.

But engrained somewhere in many American’s psyche is that whole “my right to…” thing.  And it’s not always a bad thing.  Sometimes it’s used for good and not evil.  But I wonder if America and its taglines “living the dream” or “the land of the free” leads some of its citizens to believe that means they can do whatever the bloody hell they want.  Because it’s their god-given right.

And, by the way, dickheads are all over the world.

In Australia we have dickheads you can put up there on Wikipedia as the ultimate definition of a dickhead.

We have bogans that think they’re tough and give lip.  And in Australia I wouldn’t be scared of guns I’d be scared of the fighting–fists as weapons which do get through the security checks.  But I think in Australia we might be more worried about the consequences. I don’t think we’re prepared to take the chance that we might be black-banned from flying again–or at least for a long time. I don’t know.

That’s where you come in. What do you think? What would you do? Do you think a guy would talk back to–and continue to talk back to–a hostie and then a supervisor on a Qantas internal flight or Virgin flight?

When we landed I felt like doing American/Chinese style woo-hoos and clapping that I landed safely. What a bizarre situation. Come on Chuck Lorre we can make an episode out of this one. Let’s do it.

Meanwhile. I’m exhausted and signing off.  And weirdly, the kids didn’t know what had happened to me but when I came home they raced out of their rooms and welcomed me home with hugs and kisses. Yep, life is short … and too short to be a dickhead.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS:  My congratulations to the crew of the Southwest Airlines 845PM flight 143 from Las Vegas to Burbank who handled the situation with professionalism and putting our safety ahead of their schedules.

Differences between America & Australia, Posts

Differences between America & Australia: Pies

Updated September 19, 2016 11:30 LA time.

What are the differences between America & Australia when it comes to Pies?

Savoury vs Sweet

What’s the difference between Americans and Australians when it comes to pies? Well the answer lies in two words: sweet versus savoury (technically that’s three).

I’m Australian so when you ask me—or other Australians—what comes to mind when you say “pie” I immediately think Meat Pie. A hot, burn-in-your-mouth pie. If you’re American you might think Apple Pie. You know? It’s as American as Apple Pie?!

Meat pies are one of those staples you miss the most when you leave home. When we were in Shanghai I made my own pies & sausage rolls. I have made my own pies here in the US but the sausage rolls haven’t cut it. Enter Garlo’s Aussie Pie Shop.

 

“The closest Americans come to savoury pies is the classic Chicken Pot Pie,” said Nathan Garlick from Garlo’s Aussie Pie Shop in Westwood LA. “But they’re totally unfamiliar with the classic meat pie we Australians practically call our signature dish.”

Stacy Garlick, Business Partner (and marriage partner!) chimes in, “But that doesn’t stop them, they’re totally willing to try them and they actually love them.“

That surprises me.  My son conducted a taste test with his swim team and at the mention of meat pies one boy said, “Ew, meat in pies!” But give them a pie to taste and it’s true they do love them.

“Do you have to teach Americans how to eat a meat pie?” I asked.

For my American readers, there are techniques & tips don’t you know!  Stacy Garlick says they don’t have a problem with it.

(I think that’s because they’re not at the footy or other sporting event trying not to spill piping hot meat all over the place).

How to eat a classic Aussie Meat Pie

Australian pies are traditionally eaten by hand. You stick the tomato sauce (ketchup) container into the pie give it a huge squirt then go for your life trying not to spill the ultra-hot contents or burn your mouth. It’s most definitely an art.

(Sadly no one would volunteer to take a photo so I could demonstrate for you.  I’ll work my way up to a video clip.)

Eating meat pies is a lot more civilised at Garlo’s though.

Stacy Garlick said, “The Americans are embracing our sides and the whole concept of Australian pie; it’s great.”

Typical sides are mushy peas and mashed potatoes but Garlo’s also caters to the exercise-conscious Los Angelinos by providing a green salad option.

And, you can sit down and enjoy all of the above in the comfort of their café and use a knife and fork.

(That’s actually made me think for a minute … my kids don’t know how to eat a meat pie at the footy. They only know meat pie eating at home and at parties. Time to update my “bucket list” to include giving my kids the opportunity to eat a meat pie at a sporting venue. Oh, the things we take for granted that we forget when we live overseas!

Garlo’s also has “American” apple pies and a range of Australian delicacies like Custard tarts, Tim Tams & vegemite. You can find them at Garlo’s Aussie Pie Shop or in person at 1010 Glendon Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90024. Garlo’s also ships America wide. And don’t go in looking for party pies & party sausage rolls … they’re known as sliders here. It might help when you’re putting in your next catering order.

 

Sadly Garlo’s is no longer in Westwood. We’re hoping they’re not gone for long though as we miss them terribly.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS:  This is how you get Garlo’s Pies in Australia, at Coles every day.

Look @garlospies a whole fridge full of your #pies & #sausagerolls. Yum! #garlospies

A post shared by It Started in LA 🌴 Gwenny John (@itstartedinla) on

 

Gun control or Pro gun
Differences between America & Australia, Posts, Soapbox

Difference between Americans and Australians: guns

Difference between Americans and Australians: guns

Another week, another shooting. But it’s not about the guns. Guns don’t kill people. No wait, the bullets do, no the people do. Wait, who kills people? The cars kill the people. No the drunk people driving the cars kill the people. Wait. The vacuum cleaner does the vacuuming, no the person does the vacuuming. I’m confused.

This is arguably the single most dividing issue between Australians and Americans. And it’s not all Americans and my guess is it’s probably not all Australians either.

After a shell-shock week, my daughter and I have been questioning whether or not it’s time to move back home.  And while my son isn’t as vocal as we are his Twitter and Facebook has had their fair share of “the gun debate” issues.  Mr H? He’s in London so all’s good in his world.

What Americans think about guns

We’ve heard sound grabs of the likes of Donald Trump who shoot their mouth off because they can–to get on TV screens, radios and column inches in the papers and on websites and that’s fine. We expect it. It’s not great but we can live with it.

But you don’t expect it from the media.  At least I didn’t.  You might have seen this clip doing the rounds during the week:

 

It got me—and many, many others—so incensed I thought we should call for the sacking of these ill-informed presenters.

And clearly I should have better researched my stance.  Because in doing more research for this piece I found another Fox News presenter ranting pro guns.  Apparently “they” say that Fox regularly preaches right-wing conservative views.  I found this review on Fox and Friends which made me chuckle.  No wonder I’ve never tuned into Fox News.

Even less surprising is that I haven’t heard anything from either Fox News or Fox & Friends in response to my suggestion–I guess any publicity is good publicity.  Hmmm…

Clearly, for a network like Fox to put these people up there to a national audience this is purportedly representative of America’s views on guns.

And to a large extent it is. Many Americans genuinely believe in their right to bear arms.  And believe stuff like this:

http://twitter.com/sonslibertytees/status/623553547603415041/photo/1

Back to the Fox and Friends story.  When it started appearing on Facebook I did a Twitter search for the show. I found another story on one of the presidential candidates Ben Carson discussing gun rights. Here’s some examples of the response on twitter:

And I had this fun Twitter exchange during the week:

Damn that I misspelt cowboy! That was the last I heard from Kimberly Huggard.

Then there was this:

Nice one Lori.  And there’s this:

Oh look… it’s in response to Fox News again. I’m finally seeing the pattern.

And while we’re on the subject of Fox News presenters here’s another one just for fun:

http://twitter.com/mmfa/status/649407149072781312/photo/1

Thankfully not all Americans share the same views.

OK, so while new host Trevor Noah isn’t American, his audience is laughing.  If you’re interested–cause there are funny grabs there–I’ve chopped the segment down and you can watch it by clicking on this link.

What Australia thinks about guns

Not just the Australia, the rest of the world. Piers Morgan has been very vocal on the issue. Unlike many of the arguments pro guns cheerleaders are outlining, some prominent (and other stupid) public figures, he’s done his research and uses logic and reasoning as the basis of his argument.

But this isn’t really about him is it? It’s about Australians and our general attitude to guns.

Australians haven’t grown up to believe we have a constitutional right to carry a gun so we’ve got a fundamentally different perspective on the matter.

We don’t believe that if we send our kids to College with guns they won’t get shot.  (We believe in sending our kids to Uni without guns and still not being shot).

I wish I was a cartoonist and I could draw a cartoon of a mad shooter coming in with his gun showing the entire class dressed as cowboys drawing their guns from their holsters like they’re Quick-Draw McGraw asking for a truce while they draw their guns so they can shoot him first.

They seriously think that if they don’t arm teachers and don’t abolish gun-free zones this leaves the students exposed and vulnerable.

And they seriously think that it’s better to have an all-out shoot-it-out.

Or, like poor old Kimberly Huggard on Twitter thinking there would only be two shots fired.  Two.  And that is assuming the shooter shot the first one and some hero with a gun in his pocket takes a clean shot and takes out the shooter. How romantic a notion Kimberly. Bravo.

No, in Australia we can’t bear to hear the arguments in favour of guns.  Completely intelligent people just need to say one thing in favour of guns like this…

… then he’s lost all credibility with us.  Really? …. Really?  Seriously?

But what is the difference between Americans and Australians when we’re talking about guns?

Australian comedian Jim Jefferies, also doing the rounds of Facebook & Twitter, best sums up Australia’s views on guns. He’s Australian and it’s stand-up so he swears like it’s 3am and he’s had 500 beers.

If the Americans can get over the swearing it’s educated, logical and bloody funny.

 

On a personal note, scrolling through comments and Twitter have left me feeling sick to the stomach. The indignation and righteousness of Tucker Carlson (never trust someone with two last names) makes me want to pack my bags and run back home.

I love lots of things about living in LA—and I’m thankful I’m not surrounded by ignoramuses suggesting we arm our kids and teachers with guns to protect themselves—but you only have to witness the hateful attacks on those trying to curb gun violence to wonder if they’ll ever stop and reflect.  And use logic.

I’m hoping this country will evolve and look past “my right” to carry a gun which is effectively saying I don’t give a shit about the repercussions to the society I live in, as long I can do what I want.

xx It Started in LA xx

 

Saturday sport
Differences between America & Australia, Posts

Differences in sport between America and Australia

The differences between Australians and Americans: school sport.  School Sport played on Saturdays versus during the week in America.  How does America approach school sport compared to Australia? An It Started in LA investigation.

School sport in Australia …

Sport is an important part of extra-curricular activities for us as a family—and especially to Australians. Not only does sport give kids an outlet and keeps them active and healthy but it teaches them about teamwork, sportsmanship and—most importantly—winning and losing.

At school in Australia both my son’s school and my daughter’s school were pretty clear about the role of sport at school.

At my son’s school sport is compulsory—you had to choose a sport each term and were expected to attend each game every week. Compulsory. End of story. It’s as important as attending class. If you needed to miss a game you not only need an extraordinary reason but we, as parents, have to make a request in writing to the headmaster.  (If you’re interested in finding out more here’s a link).

When you commit to the school you commit to that way of life.

At my daughter’s school sport also plays a huge role with the only difference between they must play two out of four terms in a sport representing the school. My daughter never opted for two terms and always played four.  (If you’re interested in finding out more here’s another link).

It’s a way of life indoctrinated in our culture. Sport is played on a Saturday with training either before, after and during school—or a combination of the three. And, as much as we bemoan it we actually love it. It’s a great way to get the parents to come together as a sub community. A great match done the right way has a fundraising BBQ with egg and bacon rolls or sausage rolls (that’s sausage in a roll rather than the popular Aussie meal staple the sausage roll), there’s always a coffee van (with proper coffee) and a tuckshop for chips, drinks and lollies (candy).

Families are often known to juggle their schedules and hope that the matches are scheduled so that you can either get to both games or the parents split themselves up to see one game each. I’m addicted to watching my kids play sport so I hoped for the well-spaced out games.

 

School sport in America …

In the US sports is also an important part of life. The importance of club sport seems to be more widely spread especially in LA where Lower School and Middle School sport isn’t deemed as important as High School Sport.

At my kids school sport is encourage as one of four pillars in education. However there are all these rules associated creating an impression that it’s a privilege to play in a team. By that I mean if the academics aren’t up to scratch then you don’t get to play on a team.  (Having said that I haven’t seen–or heard about it–actually enforced).

I can imagine my US counterparts cringing and shaking their heads yelling “you can’t make me bring my kid to school on a Saturday, you can’t tell me to do that, it’s my right to have my weekends off”.

But the sports schedule here in the US is all over the place. Take, for example, my daughter’s tennis games–one game is on a Friday, the next week there’s no game, then there’s one the following Monday, then not until the next Friday, then the following Wednesday.

How on earth can you have regular activities like piano or guitar lessons or even after-school training when your sport isn’t on the same day each week? And how can you do two pick-ups after school if you’re at a game miles away? Then how can parents who actually work see their kids play?

I know … I know we’re all different. And isn’t it great?

So what system do you prefer? Do you prefer the one you were indoctrinated in or can you see the benefit of doing it the “other way”?

 

xx It Started in LA xx

Differences between America & Australia, My LA story, Posts

Differences between LA & Sydney: Drinking at lunch

As I continue my series on the differences between LA & Sydney, I’m noticing so many, many things.  Who said the transition to California would be smooth? Well, it’s not that it isn’t smooth so much as we are different.  Take drinking at lunchtime as a prime example.

I love going out to lunch—there’s something totally decadent about having a long lunch where you enjoy good conversation, great food and, of course, a bottle or so of wine.

I remember when we moved to Shanghai it took me a while to find drinking partners at lunchtime. It was so foreign to me that you would go out for a beautiful meal (even if it is through the day) and not have a glass of wine—or three—to accompany that meal. Water simply won’t cut it will it?  And I see now that was probably the American influence in our Expat society.

I go out regularly with my girlfriends in Australia and love it. We’ve often been known to seek alternative methods of after-school pick-up for the kids. And, with the wonders of time (the kids getting older) and public transport in Australia it gets easier for the kids to walk home from the bus stop.

Here in LA not so much!

I don’t think “doing lunch” is a thing here amongst my fellow Beverly Hills Housewives. Sure, when someone has a birthday we’ll go out but it doesn’t seem to be a regular thing (or maybe I don’t have enough friends). And then, once you get them out it’s water or an Arnold Palmer (Ice Tea & Lemonade).

The other week I had a lovely lunch with my fellow PA mothers and not a drop of wine in sight.

I do have to love my supportive girlfriends though. The ones who know that a lunch with me means we’re going to have a glass of wine. That’s supportive.

I’ll keep looking for fellow lunchers though—where lunch turns into afternoon drinks, which turns into dinner.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: If you’re in LA and looking for places to eat, check out my Pinterest board I keep updated with tips from a local. There’s no excuse not to eat well when you’re visiting–stay away from those chains!

What's the difference between grocery shopping in an American "market" or an Australian supermarket? Here's a little something that happened to Gwen | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
Differences between America & Australia, Posts

Differences between Americans & Australians: grocery store queues

Let’s take a look at the differences between Americans and Australians waiting in a grocery store queue for a couple of minutes.  (Or in Australian what’s the difference between Americans and Australians in a supermarket queue).

I get so mad when I go to the supermarket and just want to get in and out really quickly. I have the luxury of shopping (almost) daily—mainly because I can’t plan more than a few days in advance what we’re going to eat and there’s no Baker’s Delight to get my beautiful fresh bread from (salivating at the thought of Baker’s Delight, sorry just need a minute).

OK.

I know, I know, it’s not a luxury to go to the supermarket daily but it’s right around the corner from school and it suits me with nothing better to do with my life (yes, a little bored I’m not in paid employment but that’s another story).

As usual I went down to pick stuff up for tonight’s dinner. I’m a frequent visitor of the “About 15 items” aisle. It’s my saviour as you can imagine.

Not today. There was a lady with an overflowing trolley full of groceries. In the “About 15 items aisle”. With four other aisles (for normal loads) free. And with people behind her (not me because I went looking for other aisles) waiting for her. Waiting for her.  Waiting for her with only a few things in their hands (they didn’t even need a basket).

That my friends is the difference between Australia and America.

Grocery shopping in Australia …

… bitter and twisted people like me would be eyeballing her into feeling the guilt and moving aisles. And, if that doesn’t work we’d start heckling her, first nicely then not so much:

“This aisle is for 15 items or less (what we call them at home), this aisle is not for you.”

Followed by the checkout chick looking at her like she’s diseased saying:

“Um … sorry, you have more than 15 items, you’re going to have to go to another aisle. Next…” (as she proceeds to help the next person).

Instead, grocery shopping in America …

… she was having a lovely chat with the woman behind her buying a magazine (after she finished reading it waiting for her) and a couple of grocery items. Another man came to stand behind her, again not saying word. I lingered in case they were looking for moral support of the kind that goes like this…

“Excuse me m’am but this is for people with about 15 items, between the two of us we have five items, do you mind moving to an isle where they can accommodate your trolley load full of shopping so we can get out of here fairly quickly.”

Nope. Not even something nice like that. This is a country where you risk getting shot going to see the premier of a Batman movie and yet a woman can hold up a grocery aisle checking out her cart FULL of groceries. (I’m not saying she deserves to be shot.  Not really anyway.)

Where’s the grocery rage when you need it America? You are far, far too nice.

What happens where you live? Are they patient and kind or bitter and twisted? Please share.

xx It Started in LA xx

Differences between America & Australia, Posts

Differences between America & Australia: School holidays

This is one for Captain Obvious but I can’t let this series go without discussing the differences between America and Australia in terms of School Holidays.

We’re off and running–my kids are finally back to school today–Wednesday, September 9 here in LA. They broke off school on June 10. Their last exam was June 8.

Yep, that’s three whole months—one quarter (or one fourth as the Americans like to say) of the year.

Here our holidays have nothing whatsoever to do with the terms. I find this totally weird because it’s different to how I went to school. The kids still find it strange—they have assessments and finish the term one day, then go back to school to start a new term the next day.  Not even a long weekend in between to catch their breath.

Apparently the number of school days in California is 175. This can drop to 170 for Charter Schools (sort of like a private public school but I don’t really get it. If you’re really interested you can click here to find out more). And it can drop to around 165ish at a private school. (Source).

So our year here in America looks like this:

Session one

Starts around Labour Day (I still can’t write Labor) which is the first Monday in September.

I don’t want to add up how many weeks it is cause it’ll kill me.  Let’s just say it’s around about three months.

Holidays

We get two weeks at the end of the year.  They don’t call it a Christmas break here because even though they’re God loving it’s not politically correct to acknowledge the Christian calendar above all others.

Session two

Another few months of school.  Again, I really don’t want to add up the weeks as I find it horrendously long.

Holidays (Spring Break)

We can say Spring Break because it’s a season with no religious connotation.  We generally finish in mid March and come back on Easter Monday, although this year it’s a little different with Easter being in the middle of the holidays.  Here, there is no such holiday as Good Friday or Easter Monday, it’s a “business-as-usual” day for retail and business alike.

Session three

Another god knows how long few months until school breaks up in June and we get to have summer all over again.

Holidays

Hooray! After three long sessions at school we need that long summer break.  I just wish we could break those “sessions” up and the holidays could coincide with the school terms.  Makes much more logical sense.

Year-Round Schedule

There are some school districts that are starting to introduce what they refer to as the Year-Round schedule—pretty much exactly like our holidays in Australia. Not surprisingly, with an entire industry devoted to the summer holidays there are many debates about whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

One of my friends who lives in Chandler, Arizona has a year-round schedule and she’s a huge fan. Who wouldn’t be?  Count me in.

Cut over to Australia

Yes, let’s cut back to Australia where we don’t even know there’s a name for our holiday system. We have approximately 200 school days a year, give or take. (Source: many a site as well as the Blog Teaching Challenges.)

To us we have four terms and a summer holiday. Our school year looks a little something like this:

Term one

Starts after Australia Day—either late January or early February

Around 10 weeks of school—sometimes 11 or 12 depending on when Easter falls and let me tell you one day over that 10 weeks is a killer.

Holidays

We get two weeks over the Easter Break, usually starting on Thursday in time for Good Friday. Yes, in Australia we have public holidays for both Good Friday and Easter Monday making it our longest long weekend of the year. We love Easter.

Term two

Another 10 weeks of school.

Holidays

Yippee! It’s the middle of the year and it’s time for a break again. This time the private schools generally get three weeks. Because my two went to single sex schools, meaning they’re at different schools, the three weeks doesn’t always match up.

Term three

Time to get back to the school year for another ten weeks of school.

Holidays

It’s around late September, early October and there’s another break. If you’re lucky enough this one can also be around three weeks long (usually the private schools–the more you pay the less you go is a universal concept I think).

Term four

The business end of the year and generally another ten weeks of school.

Summer holidays

As summer is at the end of the year—December and January—it coincides with Christmas. The private schools usually finish on the first or second week of December giving them six-eight weeks off. There’s no time for camps but being a busy time of year there are plenty of Christmas positions available so many kids work. Then January is traditionally when everyone takes time off work and heads to the beach for some quality family time.

 

Which school year would you prefer?

I know I love my nice neat terms with a break in between to acknowledge the hard work that’s gone on through the term. Then when you come back it’s back to work. I also like the six-eight weeks: it never seems long enough but it is time to get back to school so it’s all good.

I guess it’s all a matter of what you grew up doing and enjoying. Except that we’ve got it right in Australia!

xx It Started in LA xx

 

PS:  Interested in what others around the world do? Here’s a website that outlines it. Quite interesting.

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