Culturally Discombobulated

Category: Mildly diverting

Sarah Lyall on the British

After reading this article by Sarah Lyall detailing her observations about the British after 18 years living in London, Mrs W. remarked that we’d been away from the UK so long she’d forgotten that the more seemingly idiosyncratic aspects of my personality (penchant for miserablism, constant self-deprecation, etc) were, in fact, cultural and not that unusual back home.

“That’s a relief,” she said, “I had been thinking that it might be time for you to have some therapy, but then I realized you’re just British – no amount of therapy can fix that.”

A cultural catalyst and a means by which to procrastinate.

The Very British Name Generator is, I suppose, a vaguely diverting idea if you’re trying to kill time in the office on a Tuesday afternoon.

Putting my, I guess, “very British name” (whatever that actually means) into it, I got this back.

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Tony Wilson, I’m sure he’d have identified as Mancunian first, British second, but I’ll take it.

The circular reasoning of the USPS, or the real reason so few Americans own a passport

2011 figures revealed only 30% of Americans owned a passport, they did not reveal the percentage of people who attempted to submit a passport application and were frustrated by USPS efficiency – something I experienced this week.

Me: “I’d like to submit a passport application for a child. I’ve got all the paperwork here and filled out.”
Postal Worker: “Do you have an appointment? You need an appointment for us to accept that.”
M: “Okay, can I schedule one?”
P: “No, I can’t do that for you.”
M: “Really?”
P: “Yes, only a supervisor can schedule a passport appointment.”
M: “Can you get a supervisor then?”
P: “No, they’re all unavailable.”
M: “All? There’s not a single one of them available?”
P: “Sir, they’re all in a meeting.”
M: “Well, how long will it be until one is available?”
P: Ponders. “It’ll be an indeterminate length of time.”
M: “Indeterminate? So their meetings aren’t for a scheduled amount of time? They just go in there and nobody knows when exactly they’re coming out?”
P: “You’re welcome to wait, sir.”
M: “For how long?”
P: “As I said, indeterminate.”
M: Sighs. “There’s no way you or anyone else can make the appointment for me?
P: “No, it has to be a supervisor?”
M: “Is there any other way of making an appointment?”
P: “I can give you the number of a supervisor and you can call later and make an appointment.”
M: “Great, what’s the number?”
P: “I’ll be honest, sir, I can give you the number but the supervisors never really answer their phones.”
M: “Seriously, you just can’t schedule an appointment for me?”
P: “No, but a supervisor would be happy to.”

Brief thoughts: Easter

Over the recent Easter weekend, the smell of roast lamb permeated throughout the apartment. Normally I don’t like cooking smells that linger for days; there’s something regretfully institutional about the after-aroma of meals of fatty meats and boiled vegetables that settle into the walls and into the furniture, a smell found in school halls and hospital corridors and retirement homes, but on this occasion I waited a little longer than usual to get the air ventilating. Having a simple meal of roast lamb was a welcome change, and one that reminded me of a Sunday roast at home.

Lamb, as I’ve noted before, is an unloved meat here. Other than lamb chops it is difficult to find in the supermarkets, and what is available is often frozen and almost certainly hideously overpriced. Easter is the one time of the year when that changes and I was keen to take advantage of it.

America being traditionally a land of wide open plains rather than England’s rolling enclosures it is hardly a surprise that the rearing of cattle has dominated over the sheep.

The relative unusualness of eating lamb was reflected in the tagline that came with the meat I bought. Yes, meats have taglines here. Pork, thanks to mouthful that is the National Pork Board, was marketed for many years under the slogan “the other white meat” until they changed it last year to “Pork: be inspired” – an ironically uninspiring effort. Chicken, always edgier in the marketing space, goes by “motherclucking delicious” The lamb I purchased, however, came with the slogan: “taste the alternative.”

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Only an idiot would schedule a dentist appointment for the week after Easter.

And so I found myself on the Tuesday after Easter sat in a dentist’s chair grimacing in pain as my molars and canines were scraped and polished.

I believe my dentist has grandiose plans for my mouth. It is to be her masterpiece. In its present form it is just too British for her liking. Too full of ugly, grey NHS fillings that she needs to expertly convert over into what will be a new all-sparkling American mouth. It is a slow, difficult process, but then all great art is.

It was certainly a thankless task for the hygienist charged with cleaning my ivories. As she works, she likes to play the local country music radio station. She does this whenever I visit. The other hygienist I could go to plays Phil Collins, so I’m really between a rock and a hard place. This, however, perhaps explains my complete aversion to country music. This is my very own Ludovico technique. Though my skull was filled with the sound of metal scraping on enamel, I couldn’t help but wish the sound was just a little louder so it would entirely drown out the Toby Keith song the radio was playing. Something about an old man who keeps the red, white and blue flying on his farm, breaks his heart seein’ foreign cars and his wife decorates on the 4th July, but says “every day’s Independence Day.” The chorus was just “made in America” repeated ad nauseam. I don’t know if this augmenting of an all-American sheen to my mouth is really quite taking

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I recently blogged here on the NCAA championship. One thing I should have made clear in that post, and what should always be borne in mind when I write on basketball, is that I only figured out about three years ago that the Harlem Globetrotters are not, in fact, a real NBA team.

Fox 40 News, the gift that keeps giving

The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to “the serious.” One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.
Susan Sontag – Notes On Camp

The tagline of my local Fox affiliate’s news team is “news made simple”. Nobody could accuse them of not being true to their word.

I love (read: I laughed at the TV and shouted “wankers”) the literalism of this report: that “imploded” merits footage of a building imploding, the deflated ball, the attempted (but non-existent) dynamism in the sweeping away of the tokens representing the votes of 8 board members, the sheer awkwardness of it all. It was almost as bad as this.

If they’re soliciting further tagline suggestions, “news by simpletons, for simpletons,” has a ring to it.