Posted on Monday, February 14th, 2005
One obvious thing that gets you more or less as soon as you arrive here is wildlife. People talk about snakes not as abstract entities carefully explained by David Attenborough (or ripped out of trees to Steve Irwin’s shouts of “crikey! looka this bloightah!”), but as everyday threats you need to beware of through the summer.
And even in the relative calm of early February, there are obvious striking differences between Californian fauna and the relatively tame stuff we get in Britain.
Posted on Sunday, February 13th, 2005
I don’t know whether you’ve ever seen the meme which passed around a while ago – an unbroadcastable Channel 4 promotion. It follows the pattern of some other promos the channel was running at the time, with many of its leading stars saying brief snippets on a particular topic.
Anyway, the verboten one was, perhaps predictably, on the subject of stars’ favourite swearwords. There’s a copy here if you haven’t seen it, although potential viewers should be advised that it contains a great deal of filthy language (really, a lot. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) Oh, and it’s in Shockwave Flash, so you’ll need that particular plugin in your browser.
Technical niceties aside, I came across this again the other day, and am surprised to say that certain segments of it caused me a particularly strong pang of homesickness.
There’s probably something deeply wrong about that, really: one of the things I associate most with home is language that would make your elderly relatives turn bluer than the air…
…it’s a little more complicated than that though, so (as so often) bear with me.
Posted on Thursday, February 10th, 2005
America is Big, with a definite capital ‘B’. Although this observation will serve perfectly for this year’s entry to the “stating the bleeding obvious” awards, it does have a broader purpose, so stick with me.
The UK, by comparison, is vanishingly small (there’s my backup award entry). What this means in practice is that when someone generalises about “the British” or “in Britain”, they’re rarely far wide of the mark, even if their specific experience is confined to, say, London. Sure, the Scottish and the Welsh might complain a bit, but like all Brits, they just love complaining.
Posted on Friday, February 4th, 2005
One thing I’m determined to avoid as much as possible here is the modulation of my accent. I’d hate to end up with a mid-atlantic drawl which comes from no place in particular. Besides, most Americans really do seem to think Britishness, and the accent in particular, is cool, so it’s an advantage worth hanging onto.
That having been said, even the most stalwart Brit must make some concessions as soon as they arrive here, if they wish to be understood. Of those concessions (inclduing “cell” in place of “mobile”, for example), two in particular stand out.
Posted on Wednesday, January 26th, 2005
The media image of the US is that of a place where everything is bigger, bolder, brighter, better. And god bless ‘em, the Yanks embrace that philosophy heartily in many areas, as anyone who’s ever found their car in the slipstream of a Chevy Suburban will know all too well. (I mean, where else on Earth would “three-quarter ton” be an integral part of the vehicle name?)
One place where they fall short, though, is the juice you get out of a power socket. 120 volts? What’s with that?
Posted on Monday, January 10th, 2005
America: land of coffee.
One of the hardest things about moving here is resigning yourself to the fact that you’re unlikely to find a decent cuppa unless you brew it yourself. Chai Latte? Almost certainly. But good, strong builders’ tea is way out.
There are, of course, historical reasons for this. I doubt that the whole mad King/taxes/Boston harbour/big freaking war thing really helped tea in its status as a Big American Drink.
Still, there are advantages to this. There’s no easier way to play the ‘quaint Englishman’ card that to stick a teabag in a cup of hot water and dump some cow juice on top. Honestly, it gets people here cooing over how great Englishness is in the same way a belly rub makes a dog’s hind leg shake.
Now, where’s my box of PG Tips gone…?
Posted on Sunday, January 9th, 2005
American cars come with a bing for every occasion. If it’s bad for you, the car will bing at you. We inherited a little of it in the UK, but nost cars in Europe will only warn you that you left the headlights on, which is kinda handy (no more flat batteries).
Here, there’s a bing and a helpful on-dash warning for everything:
- Key in ignition (with door open)
- Lights left on
- Lights left off (in the dark)
- Door ajar
- Seatbelt off
…you name it, there’s a bing for it.
I haven’t been to a drive-thru yet, but I’m fully expecting the car to warn me when I do…
Bing bing bing bing bing… “Burger bun heavy in carbs; please discard.”