Monthly Archives: January 2009

Study: Americans are bigger than Brits in the bedroom department

When I moved to the UK, most of my furniture ended up either in a couple of houses in Cambridge, or in a big yellow skipdumpster outside my house. Given that The Special One was left in charge of bossing around the movers and deciding what did and didn’t survive the cull from my erstwhile bachelor pad, it’s perhaps not surprising that there’s little left from my days as a man gadding about London Town.

The one thing that did make the trip however is my pride and joy of a bed. As the first bed I’d ever bought, I spent many hours painstakingly, erm, lazing in a horizontal manner on dozens of options to ensure that I got the most comfortable sleeping environment for my money. And while I was prepared to leave the UK behind having met The Special One, there was no way that there was going to be a parting of the ways with my beloved bed.

The problem is that while in Britain my bed would be considered a palatial kingsize theatreer of snoozing delight, in the United States it’s suddenly like something that you’d put in a dolls house. There is no doubt in my mind that Richey Manic, Jimmy Hoffa, Lord Lucan and Shergar are not missing, but instead they climbed into an American bed somewhere and still haven’t managed to find their way out. Not necessarily together, although I wouldn’t rule anything out.

Every time I insist to The Special One that my bed is a king, the derisive snort I receive resembles the kind of noise I occasionally hear when cruise ships are leaving harbour at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Apparently there is such a thing as a California king, which is conceivably large enough to play a couple of sets of volleyball on. A wife could be cheating on her husband while he slept in the same bed, and the husband would be none the wiser. By comparison, my British kingsize is practically an American single.

None of this would be a problem, of course, if it wasn’t for The Special One. By day, she’s a perfectly normal woman. But when she’s in the deepest of sleeps, she twitches like a retired breakdancer who just can’t let go of former glories. Occasionally I have to wake her, just to make sure that she’s not having a stroke. At the same time, when she’s dreaming, she regularly issues forth grunts and groans as if knocking a vicious forehand volley across the net at Wimbledon. It’s like going to bed with Monica Seles and the Rocksteady Crew at the same time. And to be fair, if we were in a Californian king, we’d probably have room for all of them.

Still, given the economic climate, we’re sticking with what we’ve got for the moment and I’ll put aside my feelings of inferiority. After all, they say that size doesn’t matter in the bedroom, right?

Try a little bitterness

One thing that has always impressed me about the American political system is the idea that the presidential campaign is a no-holds-barred battle for the hearts and minds of the US people, but once the votes have been counted (or recounted, or argued over in court), politicians and people unite behind the selected President. It’s a noble ideal that puts the country above party politics, and recognises that the President needs the support of those of all different political persuasions in order to be effective. And a long distance from the British system, which sees the sniping and undermining begin shortly after the new Prime Minister has finished his first egg and soldiers breakfast at 10 Downing Street.

As it turns out, the ideal and the reality are as far apart as Sarah Palin and ‘the ability to string a coherent sentence together’. Whether it’s his selection for attorney general, or his plans for tighter controls on the economy, the soon-to-be-President will by now have realised not only that the honeymoon’s over, but that his new family is apparently packed full of characters like crazy Uncle Bert and vindictive step-cousin Michelle.

The problem is, of course, that some people are sore losers, and it’ll take more than a few calls for national unity to get them to pick up the toys scattered around their metaphorical pram.

But while British losers tend to keep their mouths firmly shut for fear of coming across as bitter, it seems as if some people over here don’t care if people know they backed the wrong horse, however ridiculous it makes them sound.

Last week, the New York Young Republican’s Club held one of their last meetings prior to Obama’s inauguration on January 20. Seizing their opportunity to show that at least they weren’t the only ones to support John McCain, the New York Post gleefully reported on the sentiments of the young right wingers who think that the country got it wrong.

23-year-old Cathy Reno, for example, commented “I’m trying to savor the last days of capitalism” as she “bitterly sipped a three olive martini.” Presumably Daddy’s funds weren’t hit by the Madoff scandal, then? Jeff Miller, two years older but not two years wiser, said that he feared “a gross overreaction to the current economic issue,” and was “divesting all his equity before the capital gains tax goes up.” Poor old Jeff.

Villamor Asuncion showed that Dick Cheney can be a role model for young people, with his comment that he was “hiding all [his] guns where Barry can’t find them.” I assume that disheartened Villamor was referencing Barack Obama’s high school nickname, rather than expressing any latent fear that his munitions stockpile would disappear into Mr Manilow’s Bermuda Triangle.

Finally, grad student (possibly in knitting, rather than international diplomacy) Michael Pocelinko agreed with Villamor, saying “I’m buying as many guns as possible, and I’m enjoying the last days of national security while I can.” One can only hope that he’s heading off to his deep bunker in Idaho to see out the next foureight years.

So, while the champagne corks (to be fair, it could be Sprite given the economic crisis) pop across America next week, spare a thought for the disheartened few in New York who will be working themselves up into a sweat come Tuesday. After all, that arsenal of ammunition and firepower won’t hide itself.

It’s only words, and words are all I have

The human brain is a wonderful thing, but let’s face it, on occasions it chooses the path of least resistance. This is particularly true when it comes to language. I think the average human vocabulary consists of around 20,000 or so ‘word families’ (meaning that The Special One’s extensive and expertly-curated collection of F-bombs sadly only counts as one), but that doesn’t mean that we don’t just use the same old words over and over again.

I’m no less guilty of this than anyone, obviously. While I might use any number of words to describe the melancholic beauty and wonder of, say, Odilon Redon’s symbolist art, you can pretty much guarantee that I will instead resort to ‘brilliant’ or – if I’m feeling particularly retro – ‘fab’. And while studying the history of international politics and diplomacy at university has helped give me enough of an understanding of the situation in Gaza or Afghanistan to comment relatively sensibly, I still occasionally hear myself say something like ‘yeah, it’s pretty bad, isn’t it?’

Of course, I still lob random multi-syllable words into speech with the speed and regularity of the Rafael Nadal forehand. But whether it’s my move to America or an indictment of global society, I think there’s a definite dumbing down of language going on all around us. Syllables don’t fit into the text speak world, it seems. To be fair, nor do ‘words that make any sense’ when it comes to The Special One, given that she’s still a text novice. But beautiful words previously in relatively common parlance are sadly disappearing faster than Rod Blagojevich’s credibility. After all, why use ‘diaphanous’ when you can say ‘hazy’, ‘effervescent’ when you can use ‘fizzy’ or ‘flabbergasted’ when you can write ‘OMG!!!! LOL!!!! ROFLMAO!!!!!!’

To be fair, there are plenty of examples of people keeping the flame of great words alive. I almost fell off my chair yesterday when one of my Facebook friends used the word ‘portmanteau’ in a status update. But on the whole it seems that if things continue the way they’re going, 2015 will be the first point in our history that man used less words than the number of the year.

One thing you can guarantee in America at least is that one of the last words to be eradicated will be ‘retard’. Rarely have I heard a word so overused or so misplaced. From The Eldest berating The Youngest because of a silly word-slip, or a commuter castigating a fellow traveller because he happened to get in her way, ‘retard’ is used more commonly than ‘coffee’ in New York. Not as much as ‘asshole’, obviously. But way more than ‘please’.

The sooner President Obama outlaws the use of the word, the better. It’s not like he’s got anything else to do, is it?

Have yourself a telly little Christmas

You know, there’s only 351 days until Christmas now, which means that some shops over here will be just about ready to put up their decorations. As I’m keen as always to fit in around these parts, I figured I’d get my Christmas blog post in early this year.

You see, as far as I’m concerned, Christmas is all about tradition. Wherever you spend the festive season, and whoever you spend it with, it’s the longstanding or quirky yuletide customs that make the Christmas experience so unique wherever you are.

Back in the UK, She Who Was Born To Worry and I had a tradition of cooking the turkey on Christmas Eve, and indulging in a restorative turkey sandwich (yes it had butter on it, people) somewhere around midnight. Boxing Day always sees the family gather together for food, fireworks and games. And the EU wine lake is always a little bit less likely to overflow by the end of the holiday.

Here in the United States, Christmas with The Special One still has its own fair share of traditions. Apparently prawnsshrimp always gets served on Christmas Eve, and trifle is an essential part of the post-Christmas meal experience. If this year is anything to go by, a huge amount of lugging and DIY is integral to the experience, with furnace repair perhaps being some kind of contorted tribute to the handyman skills of that bloke who was born (coincidentally) on Christmas Day.

Still, the levels of the American wine lake are certainly always lower after the holidays, so some things never change.

When it comes down to it, the festive season is a happy time wherever you are in the world. But for a Brit moving to the States, it still comes as a culture shock to find that Christmas is a fundamentally TV-free zone.

TV is an essential part of the Christmas experience in the UK. Special one-off editions of all the big shows litter the schedules, and blockbuster movies get their TV premiere over the period. Chat shows get the hottest A-list stars, and celebrities fall over themselves to get on one-off quiz show specials. And Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a Bond movie.

Maybe it’s not particularly community-oriented, but in the UK, Christmas is televised.

While Britain huddles around the gogglebox, America gathers around the fire. Despite being obsessed by television all year-round, America largely forgets about it over the Christmas period. I’m sure there probably are TV specials, but they’re less advertised than the big new shows that are starting in January. Conversation seems more important than the extra-long edition of Gavin & Stacey, or the premiere of the Wallace & Gromit movie. Spending time with your family apparently takes precedence over Only Fools & Horses. Eating, drinking and cavorting is seemingly more essential to an American Christmas than watching a look back on 25 years of Blackadder.

Put simply, at Christmas, in the US at least, ‘living life’ appears to be put before television. Baffling, I know.

Next they’ll be deciding that being nice to your neighbours or playing with your kids is more important than watching telly. It’s a slippery downhill slope, America.

Two people divided by a couple of pieces of bread

Whether it’s a sarnie, a butty, a filled bap or a crusty cob, I’ve mentioned before that I love a sandwich. And I’m fairly evangelical in my love of the bread-based snack product. So much so that I’ve even managed to convince The Special One to try (and enjoy) pre-packaged grated cheese and onion sandwiches.

However, our recent trip to the UK has revealed that there will always be a couple of essential differences between the two of us when it comes to the fine art of the sandwich. We’re working through it in counselling now, but I thought it was best to share the information with the group, so that fellow transatlantic partners don’t have to go through the same trauma. May our hell be your salvation.

1. All sandwiches, regardless of type of bread, filling or chosen condiment, start from essentially the same point from my perspective: remove bread from packaging, and slather in butter. This is not optional. The only exception to this rule is peanut butter, but given that peanut butter should never be used under any circumstances (least of all on a sandwich) so that shouldn’t pose any problems. Weirdly the only sandwich which The Special One has ever used butter on is a peanut butter sandwich. There’s no accounting for taste. Or indeed, lack thereof.

Oh, and for the record, mayonnaise is not butter in a creamy white disguise. It is therefore not a butter replacement and should never be considered as such.

2. Apparently cheese’n’onion crisps may be considered by some to be an unacceptable sandwich filling. Likewise sage and onion stuffing, on some arcane principle that putting a breadcrumb-based product between two slices of bread is somehow ‘bread overkill’. I fervently disagree. Carbohydrates have their place, and that place is ‘on my sandwich, thank you very much.’

The tragedy is that despite these two foibles, The Special One is comfortably the greatest sandwich maker in America, and a definite contender for the world crown. Her ability to make a sandwich that satisfies to the very last bite continues to astonish me. Clearly we have had to compromise though. The compromise that works for me is that on the occasions she makes me a sandwich, I get her to tell me that she’s put butter on it. I then don’t open up the sandwich to check that she’s telling the truth, for fear that the grim reality might cause me to stop eating it. If a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy can work for the US military, it can damn well work for me.