Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Encounters of the Pyjama'd Kind

There are few sights so mesmerisingly arresting as a grown man in pyjamas. And polka-dot pyjamas at that. Such was the vision I was met with while on my morning jaunt around the neighbourhood. Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t as though he were in his house or outside his house or anywhere near his house. He seemed, like me, in the midst of a bracing walk in the morning air. Had this happened in England, I should probably have called the police because in all likelihood, this was someone’s Uncle Malcolm who had wandered off while on a family day out. Instead, I exchanged cordial greetings with this man in all his polka-dotted splendour and went on my merry way.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Way We Think Now

Generally speaking, thinking is an activity I try to avoid if I can help it, but every now and then I’ll come across something that really gets the brain cells quivering. My most recent brain-tingler is the book I’m reading, Tickling the English by Irish comedian Dara O’Briain. It’s hilarious. In case you haven’t read it (and I recommend you do), it presents a wittily insightful view of the British from someone who’s not. He asks probing questions like ‘Why do the English pretend to be unhappy all the time?’ and notices things like the fact that we Brits have the worst view of ourselves, even though – surprisingly enough – we’re really not pants at everything.

As far as I know, we’ve always thought of ourselves as losers. And this mentality is ingrained in us from the time we’re tiddlers running around in our underpants. Even at school, I remember my Latin teacher giving us vocab. tests with cheerful titles like ‘England Hasn’t Got a Hope in Hell’ or, a worryingly common one, ‘You’re All Going To Fail.’ No wonder we think we suck. The Americans, however - and as we all know, never think this way. They’re blissfully unaware of the fact that only they think they’re cool! Annoying as this may be for the rest of world, perhaps there’s something in this unshakeable self-belief stuff. Maybe if we start thinking we’re good at something, we might possibly be good. Hmmm...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Livin' La Vida Lazy

If, like me, you are partial to a bit of inertia, there is no place that more warmly embraces this attitude than America. Well proficient in this most noble of ancient arts, I confess I always felt that life in England involved rather too much activity. Here, on the other hand, one is free to wallow about in one’s pyjamas all day, everyday. In fact, expending energy is just the sort of thing that would excite comment and raise eyebrows; ‘Look at that weirdo walking,’ some may guffaw ‘doesn’t she know there is such a thing as a car?’

If there is any way to do something with the least possible exertion or inconvenience to oneself, rest assured - the Americans are leaders in this field. Not only did they find ways to spell words by leaving out half the letters, but these innovators now give us drive-‘thru’ pharmacies, drive-‘thru’ ATMs and even drive-‘thru’ dry cleaners. This is a land where you can pick up your prescriptions, your laundry and your coffee – all without leaving the comfort of your car. You don’t even have to put your shopping in bags; your friendly grocer will do it for you - the last thing one should do is strain oneself with the struggles of daily life.

Giddy though I have become with my new-found torpidity, I feel there are still pastures unexplored; how about something that will do your ironing for you? Or will dress you in the mornings – all you have to do is stand there with arms outstretched, 'Wallace and Gromit'-style? Phew, I’d better go lie down now, lest I get carried away by this flurry of activity.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Problem of Choice

For us Brits, ordering food at restaurants is an activity fraught with danger. It’s no good just placing your order – oh no, that’s not the end of it; first there’s the obligatory request to repeat the order because the wait staff hasn’t got a clue what to make of the accent. Then come the decisions: do I want tomatoes, onions, skinny milk, soy milk, cinnamon, salad, sprinkles, ice cream, whipped cream, no cream with that?

The thing is, I’m just not used to choice. I order something from a menu and eat whatever is placed before me; a nice, simple procedure involving very little brainwork for all concerned. All this business of ordering food exactly according to my own taste just gives me palpitations and heart failure. I mean, I really have to think what I want and how it should be prepared. No, just give me what I ask for, and hold the questions. Otherwise, I’ll only have myself to blame if I don’t like it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On Travel

Helen Keller once said that ‘life is either a daring adventure or nothing.’ Never is it more adventurous than when travelling – and travel to or from America requires the most daring spirit of all if one is to make it through those security procedures with the soul intact. Every time I make the trip from the USA back to The Motherland, I arrive at the other end shaking like a jellyfish after all the prodding and poking one gets subjected to. And, mouse-like as I am, I’m the poor sap who’s always singled out for extra probing.

Take the time when I was returning from America after visiting family. As it was the height of summer, naturally I was casually dressed in shorts and a T-shirt and on my feet was a pair of flip-flops. An unobjectionable ensemble, the casual observer might remark to himself. But obviously the keen-eyed, highly intelligent operatives of the Transport Security Administration recognised a terrorist when they saw one. There I was, nonchalantly about to enter the security gate, when suddenly there were shouts all about me, bright lights went off and SWAT teams emerged dramatically from the ceiling. Not only was I rather aggressively searched several times, but my flip-flops were carefully dissected (flip-flops I tell you!) and examined from every angle until finally they were persuaded that I was not a threat to public safety, and was allowed to go on my merry way.

Needless to say, after that experience, the extra screening, scanning and interrogation that inevitably accompany each of my jaunts around America are almost welcomed. Now, after sharing so many of these intimate moments with the friendly security officials at my local airport, I’m beginning to get to know them quite well indeed.

Monday, February 22, 2010

All About The Rodeo

A low, mournful moan slices through the hubbub of the city and the air carries a musky, sweet smell; the unmistakable aroma of fresh poo. This can only mean one thing: the rodeo is coming to town.

For the uninitiated, the Houston Rodeo is an annual celebration of cows, broncos, sheep and all things that potter about on four legs. More particularly, it is about food. Every year, gourmands from all across the land visit this culinary mecca. Here, one can sample traditional fare such as deep-fried turkey legs, deep-fried Mars bars and – my personal favourite – deep-fried cheesecake. What’s more, you can completely immerse yourself in this feast for the senses by bringing your own food for frying. Peanuts, cakes, bananas – all are cordially invited to the fray! The more discriminating palette will no doubt savour the complex notes of the deep-fried Twinkie as it playfully passes through the mouth, and only the most sensitive of taste buds can truly appreciate the sophistication of half a cow crammed between two slices of bread and smothered in what can best be described as 'sauce.' One can only wonder who can resist such marvels.

This is Texas at its best. Only here can you see ‘barbecue’ spelled fifteen different ways (I’ve counted) and a two-year-old chewing enthusiastically on a piece of meat that’s twice his height. Most people who have been to the rodeo can’t tell you what event they saw or even who won, but they can tell you exactly which chilli they tried and how many sausages make the perfect hotdog. After all, these are the things one needs to know.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Pygmalion Effect

As a Brit, I’ve got used to Americans fawning over my accent. I expect it, even. In the early days, whenever I was asked to repeat words or was complimented on the mellifluous tones that can only be achieved with a true British accent, I would do my best tomato impression and turn a beautiful shade of maroon. Now, though, I’m almost offended if nobody says anything.

But all that changed a few days ago. I went to a coffee shop and asked for a mocha. You Brits will know that we pronounce this particular drink mock-ka (no doubt its proper pronunciation); Americans say ‘mo-ka.’ This is obviously a very difficult thing to get one’s head around because you won’t believe the trouble I always have when ordering it. Surely it is obvious what I want. Anyway, on this day, I ordered my drink and awaited the inevitable. Sure enough, it came. The lady’s left eyebrow raised and her eyes narrowed. ‘What do you want? ‘Cos we don’t have no mock-kas here. I can give you a mo-ka [pause for effect], but I don’t know no mock-kas.’ Well, I was scandalised. Normally, I would have charmed her with my best British tones, but I defy anyone to do their best charming when faced with the most forceful of ‘What you talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?’ looks. I made myself as small as possible and meekly accepted my coffee. Except that it wasn’t what I had ordered. Not even close. I began to lift my eyes beseechingly to hers and thought about asking her to give me what I had actually ordered, but all that came out was a kind of gurgling sound.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Anyone For Tennis?

This week, we took a drastic step: we decided to join a tennis league. Well we had to do something to fill in the gap between the Super Bowl and March Madness (which, until yesterday I thought was some sort of seasonal disease).

There was once a time when I prowled around the court like a tiger in the jungle, pouncing on stray balls and vanquishing opponents with relish – my backhand is still spoken of in hushed tones and accompanied by a general quaking of the boots. Unfortunately, these days I tend to swing a more lethargic racquet and am more likely to resemble a koala on its lunch break than any tiger frisking about in the jungle.

Nevertheless, we decided to give it a go, being under the impression that all we had to do was show up every now and again and hit a few balls. Imagine our surprise (and horror), then, when we rolled up at the courts, to find out that we actually had to try out for the team. The thing is, back home, a whole tennis team is a bit of a novelty - and rarely is everybody expected to be good. Usually there’s one decent player who does all the hard work while the rest of the team forage about in the club house – that’s where all the real action takes place. Anyway, despite our less than scintillating performance, we are now official members of our league. Our first match is coming up soon, and although we’ve been asked to provide a can of balls, there has been worryingly little talk of cake, tea or those Rice Krispies bars that I’m so fond of. I may have to channel my inner Andy Murray and actually hit a ball or two.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

And So It Begins...

Well, I finally made the leap and entered the exciting world of blogging! But now that I’ve arrived, I’m a little at a loss what to write about. I wanted to create a forum for my thoughts and to hear what other opinions there are out there. I moved to America from England almost three years ago and I’ve found that everything is a constant source of mystery to me. I know I haven’t exactly moved halfway around the globe, but believe me; I’ve entered a different world. This is a place where 'pants' means something else entirely, where people consume food with strange names like ‘grits,’ deep-fry everything in sight, and drive on the opposite side of the road. Instead of venting as usual to my ever-patient husband, I thought I may as well be productive with my musings by putting them in cyberspace and seeing what happens. So this is a space for sharing reflections, philosophies and laughs about Life, the Universe and Everything; a place for discussing a little of this and, perhaps, a sprinkling of that.