Sunday, February 10, 2008

Not Standard

Living over here has shown me that many things in modern society that I have been accustomed to all my life, specifically in the operation of mechanical and electrical devices, are not standard worldwide. Not knowing that things operate differently can often make a person (or me, at least) feel like an idiot when I'm unable to operate some simple thing. I'll list some specific differences here and it'll hopefully make more sense.

One first thing that's different is plugs for AC current on electrical devices. They are bigger, about 1-3/4 inches square, and always have 3 prongs. Of course, the voltage supplied over here is different as well (and different from countries in Europe as well), it's 220V I believe.

The sockets on the walls have switches on them, so that you can turn the current off. This means you can leave something plugged in, but switch off any power to it at the socket itself. It also means that occasionally you plug something in, like a vacuum cleaner, go to use the vacuum cleaner, and realize that you forgot to switch on the power at the wall so you have to go back and do that. Or if you don't know there's a switch at all, you end up asking the person at hostel reception how to plug something in.

Light bulbs tend to have bayonet bases instead of screw ones. The first time I needed to change a light bulb over here was when the light in the laundry room at the Coylet burned out. Because it was dark I couldn't see what I was doing, and it was hanging from the ceiling where I had trouble reaching it, so I had trouble getting the old bulb out to look at what type it was so I could even find a replacement. I quickly deduced that it wasn't a screw-in one like I'm accustomed to, and I suspected bayonet but I had no idea if I had to pull or push in, and twist while doing that or what. I eventually had to get my co-worker to take it out for me, which he did in one twisting motion and made me feel completely inept.

Light switches for residential bathrooms seem to vary - they're sometimes a pull cord from the ceiling inside the bathroom. If there is a wall light switch, it is usually outside of the bathroom. I was told that this was so you don't get your wet hands on the switch and risk electrocuting yourself, but seeing as we have switches inside bathrooms in Canada and manage to survive it I don't know if there's a big risk.

On the topic of light switches - I can't recall seeing a toggle switch like the ones that were standard in Canada for most of my life. Light switches are rocker switches, but much smaller switch size than the rocker ones that have come to be used in Canada in more recent years. I don't know why the switch itself is so small, because as you can see in the picture below, the plastic pannel is a lot larger than it.


Showers are very often electric, and have to be turned on to either operate at all or to get hot water. The switch mechanism is either a pull-cord from the ceiling, or outside the bathroom, as with bathroom lights. When I first started living at the Coylet, I couldn't find the switch for the shower that I presumed to be electric, and had to take a cold shower the first time. I then found it outside the door, looking all red and dangerous like something that I shouldn't mess with.

Of course, when switches are outside the bathroom, that means that people can play tricks on you by turning off the lights and the hot water while you're in the shower.

Toilets in older homes are sometimes flushed via a pull cord or chain, as the toilet tank is mounted high up along the wall. I think this is where the expression "pull the chain" for flushing must come from.

A differenc in bathrooms that doesn't make one incapable to operate them (like not knowing how to flush the toilet or turn on a light) but that is just plain annoying is the two taps phenomenon. Many wash basins have a hot water tap and a cold water tap. A lot of kitchen sinks have this as well. So to get warm water you have to plug the sink and mix it from both taps, unlike at home where you adjust your hot and cold taps and nice warm water comes flowing out of the one tap. I can't really see why you'd want two taps - for starters, it costs more to have to taps I would think.

Gas stoves and ovens seem to be far more common then electric over here as well, and I've had to help numerous guests from other countries to light the burners. In all fairness, they vary in how you get a spark - on some, you turn on the gas and then press another button to get a spark, on some you hold in the gas control knob at some point until it sparks, and I'm sure there's other variations as well.

Televisions have a stand-by setting, so if you press the power switch on the TV set, a little red light generally comes on, but the picture does not, because the TV is now on stand-by. To get the TV fully on, you have to do something like press a channel change button. That's all I'll say about TV here, as I'll write some more another time.

Video and audio input to televisions from devices such as VCR's and DVD players is connected via SCART leads.

(Source: )

In Canada we use RCA cables, with the familiar red, yellow, and white coloured plugs. The standard over here is the SCART, although I have seen video game systems (a Nintendo Wii) that had RCA output, so an RCA-to-SCART adaptor was necessary to hook the game system up to the television.

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