Your erratic blogger is in San Francisco attending the annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society. As has become the custom during my visits to the U.S., I have been shopping like a maniac and eating Mexican food every day. This is also the shortest trip that I've made to the States, as I fly back tonight after just five days. I have enjoyed walking among my countrymen, and it's very nice having conversations without having accents get in the way. On my first day here I did risk death when I started to cross a street looking in the wrong direction because of the whole drive-on-the-left thing back in Oz, but I quickly corrected that habit.

Last night I went to dinner with some colleagues from Brisbane. We had an 8:15 reservation for a party of 7 at a loud, busy, upscale restaurant. I was on time, but the Aussies (as usual!) were late. The first three arrived at 8:25. As we stood waiting, someone said, "should we go sit at our table now?" When I replied that I didn't think the restaurant would seat us until our entire party arrived, they looked at me quizzically. Just then, the rest of the group arrived, so someone went to tell the hostess that we were ready. We then waited at least another 10 minutes for our table. This was all a bit irritating to my group. You see, in Australia (at least in Brisbane), restaurants will hold tables for people who make reservations for nearly an hour. I often turn up at Brisbane eateries (for lunch, for example) where half the tables are empty, but they have little "Reserved" cards placed on them. I am usually forced to find another place to eat. Yes, an Aussie restaurant will turn you away even though they have plenty of empty tables at the moment. In contrast, busy restaurants in American cities will never let a table sit empty for very long. The Australians who were with me last night said that if we had been in Brisbane they would just have walked out if their table wasn't ready as soon as the first person arrived.