Culturally Discombobulated

Seattle

I’d like to claim that my perception of America is borne out of a lifetime’s close reading of the country’s literature and history, but the truth is that the America pottering about in my subconscious has been mostly formed by pop-culture guff (if that isn’t considered too harsh in these days of geek-chic affectation). When my wife (then girlfriend) first mooted that we move to Philadelphia from London my misfiring synapses didn’t spark thoughts of Benjamin Franklin and the Continental Congress, but instead the theme tune to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And when wandering Seattle recently it was shaming to note most of my preconceptions about that city come from a twenty-year-old sitcom about a psychiatrist that was filmed 950 miles away in LA.

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Desultory thoughts #117

Just as I begin to feel America is less foreign, less other, I remind myself that this is a society that considers “Chad” an acceptable name for a man.

My struggle

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Conversation overheard while browsing the local secondhand bookstore

Woman 1: Hi, I was looking for . . . well, actually I don’t think you’ll have it in stock, though my husband said you would, but I really doubt it. So I need to get . . . But I really don’t think you’d . . . [awkward laugh] in fact I’ve got a bet on with my husband over whether you’d have this . . .

Woman 2: . . . Oh really?

Woman 1: Yes.

Woman 2: So what is it that you are looking for?

Woman 1: [soft whisper] I was looking to buy a copy of Mein Kampf. [normal volume] I said to him you wouldn’t have it, but he was adamant.

Woman 2: Sorry, we don’t have a copy of it in stock at the moment.

Woman 1: See, that’s what I told him. That you’d never in a million years have it.

Woman 2: [pondering] Well, that’s not really the case, in a way, you both win the bet.

Woman 1: Really?

Woman 2. Yes, you see we’re more than happy to stock it, the only thing is when we have copies of it they sell like hotcakes around here.

America Comprehended: Collective nouns and singular verbs

COLLECTIVE NOUNS AND SINGULAR VERBS: The last month, for fairly obvious World Cup-related reasons, I have been flicking through the sports pages of American newspapers more often than usual. Reading reports of World Cup games I have been reminded of one of those irritating British-English and American-English grammatical discrepancies that trips up and makes a fool of the expat on either side of the Atlantic; in this case, whether to use a singular or plural verb with a collective noun. “Brazil is losing badly to Germany,” sounds leaden and just plain wrong to me, whereas “Brazil are losing badly to Germany,” sounds perfectly natural, and is how I have always unthinkingly talked to the locals about sports teams, but presumably all this time – and assuming the average American isn’t au fait with the quirks of British-English – I have sounded ever-so-slightly moronic.