Monthly Archives: November 2007

The sad truth

In the interests of fairness, it’s only right that I draw your attention to a story pointing out the abject stupidity of my fellow countrymen, as highlighted by fakeplasticnoodles.

According to the Manchester Evening News, Camelot have been forced to withdraw a lottery scratch card in the UK, because too many people were confused by it.

To win a cash prize, players needed to scratch out a panel and reveal a lower temperature than the one featured on the card. Sadly, working out minus temperatures was too much for the gambling folk of Blighty, with Camelot being inundated with complaints from irate customers unable to fathom why -5 is actually a higher temperature than -6.

Outraged 23-year-old Tina Farrell (who admitted to not having a maths GCSE) summed up why Britain is currently suffering from a skills crisis.

"On one of my cards it said I had to find temperatures lower than -8. The numbers I uncovered were -6 and -7 so I thought I had won, and so did the woman in the shop. But when she scanned the card the machine said I hadn’t.

"I phoned Camelot and they fobbed me off with some story that -6 is higher – not lower – than -8 but I’m not having it.”

Words cannot sum up the shame that I feel right now. Although as The Special One pointed out, the inability to work out minus temperatures is almost certainly one reason that Americans decided to stick with the farenheit system in the first place.

A momentary w(h)ine

I’m still coming to terms with the sheer amount of choice that is offered by some stores in America. Everybody knows about WalMart by now, although the incredible scale of their outlets admittedly takes some getting used to. Earlier this year, the Special One and I found ourselves unexpectedly stranded at a Massachusetts hotel with nothing around for miles except an enormous WalMart the size of around four football pitches. I think I had retail nightmares for two days afterwards. Lose somebody in one of these places and you should fully expect not to see them for three weeks.

But it’s not just the corporate giants that have the ability to stock at least 17,000 more items than you could ever conceivably need – even the neighbourhood stores get in on the act. A short walk away from Brit Out Of Water Towers lies Winn Discount, a shop that manages to cram a whole shopping mall’s worth of products into a premises no bigger than your average Starbucks. Their stock includes a staggeringly diverse range of goods, from shoelaces to shower rails, and dodgy martial arts DVDs to dodgy herbal supplements. Put simply, if you need something, it’s likely that Winn Discount stocks it.

America is built on the principle that retail outlets should offer the consumer everything that they could possibly want. So what I really don’t understand is why this principle doesn’t hold true when it comes to shops that stock the one thing that Brits care about more than most other things – alcohol.

Buying alcohol isn’t a problem in the United States. Well, apart from one embarrassing incident shortly before my wedding, when the bouncer at the door of an Irish bar in the Village threatened to prevent this 34 year old from entering because of a lack of ID. The problem is buying everything you want in one shop.

If you need beer for a party, bottles can be bought in practically every deli, grocery shop and convenience store known to man. And vast arrays of beer at that. Where a grocery store in the UK might offer Heineken, Stella and Kronenbourg, even the smallest deli in Brooklyn will offer at least ten (and generally many more) choices from organic pale ale through to Guinness.

If you want wine for the same party, then don’t expect to see it in the deli. For that you need a liquor store, with its bewildering collections of forty eight different Californian chardonnays, and eye-wateringly expensive French, Italian and Australasian wines. No beers though. After all, who would want to buy beer and wine from the same place? However, you will be able to pick up all your spirits here, presumably on the basis that a few swigs of gin will numb much of the pain induced by spending $25 on a wine which you would pick up for a fiver back home.

Of course, if you want tonic with that gin, you won’t be able to get it at the same liquor store you bought your gin from. They don’t sell it. They’re not allowed to, apparently. You’ll need to go back to the deli for that. After all, why would you ever think about putting bottles of gin and bottles of tonic on sale in the same place?

I’m sure that there’s some legislative reason for all of this, and that someone will explain it to me. But part of me thinks that it’s just a plot to ensure that any kind of party with alcohol is just a little bit too much of a pain in the neck, and that you’ll give up and have Dr Pepper instead.

It’s almost enough to turn a man to drink, I can tell you.

New dogs, old tricks

P1000591

I was going to pen a piece tonight about how little I understand the US system of personal banking, given that everything I’ve ever learned about chequeck books seems to count for nothing in this country. But after I was politely informed by a couple of people on Saturday night that I was being a little bit too anti-American, I thought I’d focus on one of the (many) things that America does better than any other place on Earth – hotdogs.

(Admittedly it’s not brotherhood or world peace, but it’s a start, alright?)

Given that I am now an utterly domesticated Brit Out Of Water, I had to get some keys cut at lunchtime, necessitating a lengthy trip across the city today after the local key emporium informed me that they couldn’t cut the particular type I needed. Obviously I’m still at the stage where wandering the streets of New York is both enjoyable and a necessary by-product of my geographical incompetence, and as such, any walk above – say – five minutes, tends to develop into a forty five minute hike. And so it was today, with shortcuts turning into Sir Ranulph Fiennes-type expeditions. Pretty impressive, given Manhattan’s grid system.

But as one abortive turn of a corner led to another, I suddenly found myself face-to-face with Papaya King. Admittedly its name doesn’t lead you to think immediately of hot dogs, but it’s the thing they sell themselves on more than anything. Indeed, Papaya King’s tagline reads “Tastier Than Filet Mignon”. Quite a claim.

While I can’t say the hot dogs necessarily compare with the finest produce from America’s steakhouses, there’s something impossibly good about these things. The bun is slightly toasted, and the sausage itself has a crispy grilled exterior which gives way under pressure from your teeth with an extremely satisfying pop. And the meat is juicy and tasty enough that the whole thing is generally gone in less than half a minute. Although only when you’re really slowly savouring every mouthful.

You can get hotdogs everywhere in New York – just look for the word ‘papaya’ and you’re in the right place. Papaya Place, Papaya Dog, Papaya Heaven, Papaya Jack, and Gray’s Papaya are just some of the hundreds of hot dog headquarters, with the last one (pictured above) even appearing in a frankly laughable (for all the wrong reasons) Matthew Perry and Salma Hayek movie vehicle. Apparently you can buy papaya juice at these places. Personally, I still have my doubts.

Obviously I had to have a hotdog, purely for research purposes you understand. Rumours that I had two (just in case I didn’t make it back to the office before nightfall) are completely unsubstantiated.

The iceman cometh

Maybe it’s my Northern roots, or perhaps I’m secretly part-Eskimo, but I’ve never really felt the cold like some people do. I’d always rather sleep with the window slightly open even in winter, and I rarely have the duvet over me at night (even though it provides mosquitos with unfettered access to the Brit Out Of Water bloodstream). As a sixteen year old kid, I distinctly remember going to see Manchester United one icy cold February night with a friend from across the road. Despite it being cold enough to freeze saliva in your mouth, both Phillip Ashley and I point blank refused to wear anything other than our short-sleeved replica United shirts. It took me until April to warm up from the effects of that night, I seem to remember.

So if one thing has been abundantly clear to me since an early age, it is this – coats are for losers.

An extreme principle some might say. And one that could be tested to the limit by my residency in New York. You see, after all my recent boasting about the temperature in the Big Apple being more appropriate for June than October, it seems that the natural order has been restored and winter is about to regain its icy grip on the city.

I’m determined not to give up without a fight though. Last Sunday, I looked out of the windows to our apartment to be greeted by bright blue skies and glorious sunshine. And, like any right thinking Northern monkey, I immediately put my shorts and T-shirt on to head outside and pick up food for the day ahead. Sure, the temperature made things a little bracing, but I wouldn’t say that I was uncomfortable. Until the staring began, that is.

As I combed the streets of Brooklyn looking for organic chicken, I realised that a phenomenally high number of people were dressed in thick winter coats. Couples stepped out from diners with matching scarves, while groups laughed and joked in their brightly patterned gloves. And there was me, looking like some kind of extra from Hawaii Five-O. Needless to say, my look provoked a number of confused stares. I’m surprised that passers-by didn’t offer me quarters towards a hamburger and some proper clothes, to be honest.

Today I progressed to wearing a t-shirt and a cardigan, as some kind of begrudging acceptance that perhaps the weather has changed for the worse. But I’ll battle against the need for a coat until I have no breath left in my body. Sadly, given how cold it gets in New York in winter, that might come sooner rather than later.

Lessons learned part 2

So another month is over, and after more than two and a half months in the land of the brave, it’s probably as good a point as any to look back at some more of the things that I have learned since becoming a Brit Out Of Water:

• If you have an unrepentantly British accent, it’s near impossible to go into a restaurant and come out two hours later without having been given a look which suggests you’ve accidentally brought in a basket of rotting rat carcasses with you. Even tonight at a down-to-earth neighbourhood Italian restaurant, my polite request for a side order of broccoli was met with a glance that suggested I had spat on his grandmother.

• Wine is more expensive than gold. Unless you’re happy drinking what tastes like grape juice with added grain alcohol.

• The word ‘piece’ is almost certainly the eighteenth most popular word in the American vocabulary (more popular than ‘truth’ but less used than ‘ammunition’) eg “Did you see Heather Mills on TV? The piece that I don’t understand with her is what Paul McCartney ever saw in the mentally unstable self-obsessed attention junkie?” or “Only using Facebook at night – that’s the piece I’m working on right now”.

• Pizza companies will happily deliver 23 eighteen inch pizzas to a wedding venue at 11pm, even if they haven’t been paid in advance.

• Accidental blasphemy, of even the ‘bejeesus’ variety, can go down like a cup of cold sick if you happen to be standing next to a card-carrying member of some right wing religious institution.

• Taxi drivers in New York possess more belligerence than a London police officer in Stockwell tube station. Having asked a cab driver to take me to Brooklyn on Tuesday night, the cheery soul subsequently berated me for actually wanting to go to Brooklyn Heights, and spent much of the journey calling all his friends and relating the story to them in Lebanese. It’s like getting in a cab in London and asking to go to Putney, and then being criticised for actually wanting to go to Putney Bridge.

• Having a rehearsal dinner for the wedding party on the night before a wedding is a tradition that the British should adopt.

• In America, black humour is something performed by Chris Rock or Eddie Murphy.

With well over 2000 page impressions since I began the blog, this site is hardly going to be valued at $15 billion by Microsoft, but it does keep me mildly occupied so thank you for reading and for continuing to read. As ever, pass on the link to anyone you think might be even half-interested in the tales of an outsider in New York. And feel free to comment on any post, even if it’s just to tell me to “like, get over it”…

I’m off to watch some cable TV. With 1867 channels to choose from, “CSI: Miami” has got to be on one of them, surely?