Tuesday, September 29, 2009

That Was Awkward

Current events conversation at a social gathering at work ended awkwardly. A co-worker asked another co-worker their opinion about the Gary McKinnon case and everyone was off on a rant. I admit, I knew nothing about the case they were discussing which involves extraditing a British citizen with Asperger’s Syndrome to the U.S. for hacking into government servers. The conversation got passionate really quickly. I think the last thing I remember hearing was something like “we always give in to the Americans!” and then the room grew quiet and some tight smiles came my way. There was an apology, some other criticisms of America, I didn’t know what to say so I just joked and said, “I’ll keep my opinion about all of this to myself, take some notes, and when I’m home next week, I’ll let the Americans know what you think about them.”
Between this case and the Lockerbie controversy, I’ve done my best to avoid current events in the office!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Salt Lake City

I walked around Salt Lake City Sunday morning after taking Mel to the airport. It was sooo quiet, was everyone in church? The weather was gorgeous!

As I stood in line at Starbucks eager to enjoy my one and only Pumpkin Spice Latte of the trip, I overheard a group of six French tourists pouring over a gigantic map of Les √Čtats-Unis.

This is What They Call Natural Beauty

When Mel had decided to come out on this trip I asked her if she was interested in visiting Arches National Park. She was all for it. I told her we’d spend the morning there and then head out around 11-ish to meet my dad. We had initially thought of waking up to see the sun rise in the park but when we didn’t arrive at our hotel until 2, we scrapped that plan. On Saturday morning we woke up and I threw on some jeans, a t-shirt, a zip up sweatshirt, and some tennis shoes. Mel comes out of the bathroom ready to leave in a dress and fancy sandals. Do you have any other shoes I ask? She laughed and said she had some flip flops, and added, “We’re not hiking are we?” That made me laugh out loud. While I like to look at natural beauty, I do like to keep it at a distance and didn’t realize that Mel did too. I was all ready this particular morning to do some hiking, but that plan was quickly changed. I did climb up some of the rocks to get a better view of the arches while she took pictures for other tourists.

As you can see from the pictures, beauty is around every corner in Moab. We saw lots of foreign tourists. At one of our stops in the park, I asked a couple to take our picture and we got to talking and found out they were from Florence, Alabama. I told them that I had lived in Huntsville for a number of years. They asked us to take their picture and then we ran into them at every stop along the way continuing the picture taking ritual. I had several conversations with others, all by coincidence from the South. It made me homesick. I know we get made fun of by other cultures for that very over-chatty thing we do, but I interacted with more people in the space of three hours than I did our whole vacation this year.

When we drove out to visit my father, we drove a stretch of interstate 70 that announces at one of the exits that there will be “no services for the next 110 miles”. When we got to the hotel where my dad was staying Mel and I chatted with the hotel clerk for some time and she said she has had several tourists almost run out of gas because they don’t seem to understand what that means. Maybe they need to change the sign to say you will run out of gas if you don’t stop now!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Road Trippin with Mel

My buddy Mel joined me in Utah for the weekend last week. It was so good to see an old friend. The first thing I said to her was, “Okay, I have no really close friends in the UK, just polite acquaintances so if my hair is looking weird these days it is on you to check me into reality”. It was a whirlwind visit partially due to the amount of driving we had planned. But she and I have a long history of road trips, and what’s better than getting in the car, setting cruise control and talking through the night with a friend? I realized once again that I like driving... in the U.S. that is. Driving at night through Utah is like standing in the dark and feeling someone’s presence right behind you but you’re not quite sure. Every once in awhile the headlights illuminated a massive rock formation just at the side of the road, but for most of the time it was unseen. The next morning we found ourselves marvelling around us at what we had missed on the drive down.

We got off to a bumpy start as Mel’s travel arrangements were messed up. We didn’t get down to Moab until 2am. When we got into our hotel, there was a sign at the counter saying that the clerk would be back in 5 minutes. As we stood there waiting, a willowy man walked in with a big smile on his face as he said, “Heyyy”. Mel and I had to laugh once we got into the elevator. We got the impression that he had been altering his mind in those 5 minutes, but he was happy and hospitable.

We started the day off at Denny’s for breakfast. We had a waiter that was a little crazy but also very good. Before we left he made us to-go cups of coffee and tea for the road. I wanted to hug him because it was so nice to get real service!

After a drive across the desolate Utah interstate, we met up with my dad and his friend. It’s been over a year since I have seen him so it was great to catch up and see him. He also enjoyed the scenic drive in Utah. After a relaxing lunch, they checked into their hotel while Mel and I headed back up to Salt Lake City for the night. We had talked of seeing a movie but we crashed instead.

The next day I had to drop Mel off early at the airport and I had time to kill before my flight. It’s strange how lonely those hours felt waiting for flight time. I guess it’s because I had just left the company of my father and dear friend and had quite a journey in front of me to get back home.

Julie and Julia

While I was in America last week I found time to go to the movies and see Julie and Julia. Julie Powell has lived a blogger’s dream, a book deal and then a movie deal! I really enjoyed the film, especially Julia’s story, what a love story.

Maybe I should have written a companion blog to Julie's which would have been called "Washing the Dishes and Eating While Someone Else Masters The Art of French Cooking".

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Once Again, On American Soil

I am in Utah for work this week. I have visited this area probably 25 times and while I have seen snow on a number of occasions I don’t think I have ever seen it really rain. As I was looking forward to the dry and sunny desert air, it looks like rain is in the immediate forecast.

The In-Between Stage

Last week I took A and a buddy to see a band in Camden, which is north London. We had been having an argument back and forth the week before, unrelated to these plans about when it would be okay for A to go into London with just her friends. Unbeknown to us, something about turning 14 makes her think she is now grown. At the end of the discussion I just plainly stated, “The first time that you go to London with your friends at night without an adult, you won’t be 14”. That ended the debate.

So here we go into London to listen to a pop punk band that while British, seem very American. We get in line with all of the teens waiting for the door to open and I take my newspaper and go sit on a stoop a little bit away from the line to give her some space with her friend, and she yells to me wanting me to come stand by them. When we are in the venue, I let her and her friend go stand away from me, closer to the band than I care to be. Close to the end of the evening, as I’m standing in the back reading email on my phone she comes up and hugs me. I was telling my buddy C about this saying that here I was trying to not ruin her rep in the place by having her mom be right by her side, and she won’t leave me alone. C said, yeah enjoy those moments, they get few and far between as they get older!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

That Machine

I mentioned that the house that we just moved into has one machine in the kitchen that is a washer/dryer combo and just as I suspected, I hate it! The washing part is good but the drying part, well, it doesn’t really dry, it steams. Things come out not quite dry and smelling kinda funny. It’s also very small.

We do have a way to hang clothes out outside, so I do that as often as possible, but that relies on nice weather. About a month ago, it was sunny and I put some clothes out on a Sunday afternoon and then headed to the grocery store. When I got to the grocery store, I was walking towards the building when the wind kicked up and I looked at the sky and it looked like rain was inevitable. I felt like I was in the middle of a disaster movie because my first thought was, the clothes outside! Cue me running back to the car, driving like a maniac back to the house screaming the whole way, it’s gonna rain! Getting home to tear the laundry off of the line and take it inside to safety. Dramatic? Yes, and not the way I want to feel about laundry. I fought the urge of course, went in the store, and came home to clothes that were soaked and on the line in the rain.

As I type this, it’s Sunday morning, and I’m drinking my coffee looking at the weather forecast which is predicting 70% precipitation today. I’m missing my dryer.

The One Where I Witness Foul Play

A few weeks ago I was leaving work late. Standing in the parking lot waiting for H to pick me up, I noticed four lads climbing up the side of a pub close by that recently closed. Not knowing what they were up to I went back up to my office which has a good view of the pub roof. I was able to see them crouched down pulling something off the roof. I realized I didn’t know what to do. It didn’t seem quite an emergency, so who do I call? The cleaning crew was still in the building so I asked one of them to come take a look. She immediately called the police, and while she was on the phone describing the action and the location, I looked out my other office window and was able with my zoom lens on my camera, to get a good picture of their faces, which we turned into the police. Turns out they were pulling lead off of the top of the building and this was one of about five burglaries of this kind in the area.

The police called me the next week to come by and get a statement. They said that with the picture, one of the kids quickly confessed and pointed the finger at a friend as well. I get teased for always having my camera at the ready, but was glad in this case to have it close by!

Two Years On

It’s been two years since I made the move across the pond, and what have I learned? Hmm, lots of things. I’ve learned that living in the UK is expensive on every level. I’ve learned to appreciate what socialized medicine can do for a country. I’ve learned that Brits like to analyze and discuss what it is to be British and they also like to analyze us, or at least the media does.

This has been an interesting year. It’s been a year of ups and downs with A at school insisting that she hates THIS school when I think she’d probably feel that way about any school. It’s been a fattening year with H cooking some excellent meals as he worked through his culinary program. At work it’s been a year of working together with the Americans which has brought about some interesting conversations. I have largely not said much back but there have been days I have left work furious at the way they size us up. As I type this, a television series where chef Jamie Oliver is travelling the U.S. on a culinary mission is being broadcast. When I saw it advertised I wanted to yell at the screen, ya’ll hate us, so just leave us alone and quit analyzing us for your entertainment! Yes, that sounds totally irrational. Yes, I know it is ironic that I am calling for them to stop analyzing us when I have been doing just that for the last two years on this blog, but my analysis hasn’t been in an effort to make fun of a different culture. And that’s not what Mr. Oliver is doing either. He actually said in an article for one of the newspapers before the series began that he wanted to explore the UK’s love/hate relationship with the U.S. So true!

When we were on vacation, H spotted a book review in the London Times that summed up one of my constant comments about my conversations with people here. It was a review on a book about snark and the whole review is here. But the quote that stuck out in my mind was this:

And yet our conversation, day to day, oozes with the stuff. To bitch, to gossip, to backstab, to slag off, to unfairly lampoon — this is the essence of basic British chat. –Hugo Rifkind

Don’t get me wrong, I like a little snark, but it needs to be tempered with some positivity now and again.

When my buddy C from Australia was visiting at the beginning of the summer, we were discussing the use of the word “brilliant” by Brits. We were both saying in our cultures, we would use that term very sparingly because we considered it high praise, yet it’s used here so often. So it’s either someone is brilliant, the highest praise or their torn to shreds, with not a lot in-between. Or, as I am typing this, I am wondering is the use of the word brilliant just another example of snark in British conversation?

Year three here we come...