Monthly Archives: May 2008

They think it’s all over

It’s not every day that I start to get a hangover at about 4pm, but then I guess it’s not every day that Manchester United win the Premiership. That’s the English ‘soccer’ league, for the uninitiated. In retrospect, starting to drink beer at 10am on a Sunday was never going to be one of my best-laid plans. But having already bitten my nails down to stubs in the run-up to the deciding game, I had to find something to do with my hands. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it…

Of course, while soccer is admittedly undergoing a young person/Beckham-induced boom, mainstream America’s indifference towards the beautiful game is well documented. My office is actually packed with football fans, but – like Britain’s reaction to baseball, American football and (to a lesser extent) ice hockey and basketball – ‘proper football’ is about as interesting as rat droppings for most people.

As such, it can be difficult to find anywhere to view matches where the big game atmosphere constitutes anything more than The Special One asking me to pick my shoes up off the floor. But with United (or ManYoo, as they’re generally called by the limited number of Americans who have heard of them) just needing a win to clinch their tenth title in sixteen years, I ploughed the depths of Google to find a bar in Brooklyn that would be showing the big clash.

Seeing the closed doors on my arrival at Floyd NY didn’t bode well, but it turns out that they were just trying to keep the sun off the giant screen showing the game within. And despite being the official home of the New York Tottenham Hotspur’s Supporters Club, the place was packed full of United fans eager to see Rooney, Tevez, Ronaldo (and eight more men that no normal American has ever heard of) attempt to win the title for the second year running.

Now here’s the strange thing. The majority of the people in the bar were probably British – or at least not American. Put them in a bar in the UK, and they’d almost certainly be screaming at the television every time a United pass went astray, or swearing with abandon at each missed opportunity. But unless you’re in one of the huge football pubs (such as Nevada Smiths or the Red Lion, if you’re in New York), football watching seems to be a much more cultured and respectful pursuit – and that rubs off on even the British hardcore. So much so that when I laughingly mentioned to a couple of bystanders that the Chelsea captain John Terry would probably miss the Champions League final with a dislocated elbow, they gave me a look that suggested they suspected me of surreptitiously relieving myself in their pints of beer.

Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of joyful roaring as each of United’s two winning goals went in, and collective relief when the final whistle went to confirm them as champions. But whenever you have to rely on Spurs fans to provide the only chanting at a game, you know something’s gone horribly wrong.

Now with the Premiership finally in the bag, the only question is where to watch the Champions League final.

“From behind the sofa with my hands partially over my eyes” is my current thinking.

Size matters

Life has some inescapable objective truths. A much-vaunted lie-in on a Saturday morning will always be interrupted by something irritatingly unnecessary. Public transport will work perfectly until the moment that you’re in a real rush. And everything in America is larger than its equivalent on any other country.

I think the fact that things are huge in the United States was probably the first fact that I ever found out about America. Actually that’s a lie – I think the first fact I discovered, after watching the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, was that people flew around in jetpacs. Life doesn’t get much more exciting than that when you’re ten. Boston Tea Parties can wait.

But when you’re a kid in Britain, it’s instilled in you from an early age that everything – and by ‘everything’, I think I essentially mean ‘vegetables’ for some reason – is enormous. With brussel sprouts that are bigger than cabbages, and cabbages the size of snowballs that have been rolled through crisp and even white stuff for three months, America is truly supposed to be the land of plenty. The fact that cars and houses are bigger too is presumably as a result of a desperate need to transport and store these aforementioned vegetables once you’ve bought them from supermarketsgrocery stores the size of, say, Yorkshire.

Of course, while a few things are bigger than you’d get at home (I really don’t want to think about the genetic engineering that took place to create the aubergineeggplant I saw yesterday), most things are the same size as anywhere else in the world. Unless you’re eating a pastrami sandwich in Katz’s Deli, obviously.

But there’s one area where the United States really does believe that size matters. Forget your giant hot dogs, superking beds or 100 storey skyscrapers. After all, when it comes to all those things, there will always be somebody who’ll go one inch, foot or floor further.

But when it comes to the size of your flag, only the very biggest will really do for Americans.

Wherever you go in the US, you are confronted by the stars and stripes. I swear it’s easier to find purple squirrels than a street in Brooklyn that doesn’t have a single American flag hanging in it somewhere. Such pride in belonging to America is in direct contrast to being in the UK. Hanging a Union Jack outside your house there would be tantamount to an admission that you are either a) a card-carrying racistmember of the BNP, or b) the Queen. (*waves to the Queen, just in case she’s reading*)

But when it comes to public organiszations or commercial outfits flying the flag, clearly some kind of memo went out making it clear that any bonus payable to the boss of the enterprise would be in direct correlation to the size of flag flying outside the establishment. The entrance to the Midtown Tunnel in Manhattan has a flag that could conceivably be used to provide clothes for every child in Indonesia, and still have material left over for a couple of normal size flags for every man, woman and child in America. A flag flying on what appeared to be a 300ft flagpole somewhere between Atlanta and Chattanooga last weekend could have been used to cover up the hole in the ozone layer. And even your standard everyday City Hall-type flag seems to be bigger than most British villages.

Most of these flags appear to be made from one single piece of material, which is a pretty astonishing piece of engineering. A symbol of might, and a rallying call to Americans everywhere to unite as one under a single gigantic banner.

The irony is, of course, that most of these flags are probably manufactured in China.

Still, with the rapid expansion of that country and the equally speedy economic collapse of the US, that should at least make it easier from a logistics point of view when the red five starred flag of the People’s Republic is flying above civic establishments from California to Maine.

This is not just a blog post

Now, I’m sure this is just a case of one American advertising agency taking the winning idea that its British counterpart came up with, and reworking it for another client. After all, these ads were pretty famous in the UK, and have been spoofed by countless people on You Tube. But if you ever needed proof that British ads are better than their American equivalents, here it is.

First, the British advert for Marks & Spencer’s:

And now, the Tropicana advert that I happened to see during, erm, Top Chef on Bravo last night:

Anybody got any other examples of commercials being reversioned for another brand altogether?

Oh, and by the way, this is not A Brit Out Of Water. This is a sleek smooth and sophisticated Brit, stepping delicately out of cool clear mountain fresh spring water.

National WTF Day

Showing the kind of grasp of current affairs that prompted The Guardian to describe A Brit Out Of Water as “all the news that’s fit to print, about a fortnight after it should be printed”, Wednesday 23rd April was Administrative Professionals Day here in the United States. A day to celebrate all the work that assistants, PAs and secretaries do for their bosses, and to show that you really do appreciate it when you ask them to pick up your dry cleaning or phone your wife to say that you’re stuck in a meeting (when in reality you’re stuck in a bar with that girl from accounts).

Needless to say, I didn’t even realise there was such a thing as Administrative Professionals Day until about three days after it happened, and my assistant went unrewarded for all her hard work. Next year the “Sorry, I’m British” excuse might not be as effective, but for the moment it’s holding me in good stead.

I’ve actually always been useless at having an assistant. Having seen too many bosses abuse their power by getting their assistant to go out to buy them stamps, or book dinner reservations, I always go above and beyond to make sure that any assistant feels like I’m not taking advantage of their position. Sadly such a policy tends to backfire when I over compensate, and spend my day picking up their dry cleaning and phoning their partner to let them know that they’re stuck in a barmeeting and won’t be back until late.

Personally I’m still struggling to come to terms with the fact that I live in a country that has something called Administrative Professionals Day. The Political Correctness Council must have worked overtime to come up with that moniker (“you can’t call them assistants, for crying out loud!”). I’m guessing that American Greetings or Hallmark had their hand in it somewhere, and I know it doesn’t exactly have the popularity of Mother’s Day, but it still seems a bit over the top to remind us to be pleasant to the people we work with.

Before you know it, we’ll be celebrating Be Nice To Your Bug Exterminator Week or Hug A Plumber Day.

Having said that, if the event I witnessed last week in Miami is anything to go by, maybe Administrative Professionals Day is an absolute must. As I waited for my taxi to the airport, I watched a few guys practicing their putting on the adjacent golf course’s practice green. Between every single shot that one of the men took, his assistant would hand him his Blackberry so that he could check his emails or make a phone call, before slinking back to the edge of the green.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, when the blokes made their way off the practice green to start their round, they all jumped into a convoy of golf buggies to make their way around the course.

Except the assistant, that is. They made her walk behind them.