Category Archives: Attitudes

So THAT’S what you think about Britain?

Being British in America can sometimes be akin to life as a happy-go-lucky labradoodle – everybody thinks you’re very sweet, but they don’t really understand you, and they’re often shocked to find out that you really do exist.

The problem is that as soon as you tell someone that you’re British, people jump to certain assumptions. As far as some Americans are concerned, everybody has met the Queen, and quite possibly have had tea with her. I know I still miss my weekly cup of darjeeling and occasional chocolate hobnob with Her Majesty, as do most expats I’m sure, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve also met Harry Potter, David Beckham, or that kid from the Twilight movies.

For clarity’s sake, fish and chips is not the only food we Brits eat, contrary to popular opinion. We also eat black pudding on Tuesdays, and tripe on the second Sunday of every month.

And yes, absolutely every single one of us is stark raving posh. Whether we’re from a dilapidated estate in Newcastle, or a country pile in the home counties, each and every one of us was born with a plum and/or silver spoon in our mouth, and is the heir to a fortune built off the exploitation of children in the (former) colonies. Quite.

Of course, my insistence that “we’re just like you, you know” generally falls on deaf ears. And mostly that’s probably down to language. A lot of that might be our own fault. After all, if – as I did this weekend – you use the phrase “I’ve been running around like a blue arsed fly,” you’ve got to expect that people are going to regard you as being a bit different.

That said, Americans (whether cosmopolitan New Yorkers or sheltered West Virginians) love to perpetuate a stereotype as much as the next man, and never more so than when it comes to the British.

Last week, Metro newspaper published an article entitled “Be prepared for a second Brit invasion” regarding a marketing accord between London and New York, to drive locals in each city to visit the other one. Helpfully, Metro offered five “terms to know” for anyone hoping to either go to London, or understand the hordes of Brits apparently about to descend on New York. For your delight and edification, I list them below:

1. “Footie: Means football, as in “I’m off to watch the footie.”
If you’re a football fan, you should know that the first rule of being a football fan is “never refer to it as footie”. It’s marginally more acceptable than soccer, but only in the way that maiming is more socially acceptable than murder.

2. “Bladdered: Means drunk. ‘I am so bladdered, I couldn’t gargle another pint.'”
Words fail me. I have never once in 35 years heard someone use the phrase “gargle a pint”. Even Dick van Dyke would have rejected it as too unbelievable. The irony, of course, is that most American beer tastes worse than mouthwash.

3. “Meat and two veg: Slang for male genitalia.”
Now, I’m no expert, but I struggle to be able to think of a situation in which an American in London (or a New Yorker talking to a Brit over here) is going to need this phrase. Anyone believing that “fancy a sample of my meat and two veg” is part of the essential lexicon of love, with the ability to win the heart of a passing Brit faster than any Shakespearean sonnet, should probably think again.

4. “Trainspotter: A dork. The kind of guy who keeps a log book of train schedules. The British love their trains.”
Show me someone who believes that the British love their trains, and I will show you someone who has not been to Britain. The sad thing being that American trains make their British equivalent look world-class.

5. “Brad Pitt: rhyming slang for defecation.”
Maybe I missed a meeting, but last time I looked, rhyming slang for ‘defecation’ was Eartha Kitt. That’s showbusiness for you. And there was me thinking that Brad Pitt was rhyming slang for “actor with marginally less talent than he thinks, with a penchant for screwing leading ladies’.

So, if this Metro piece is to be believed, Brits spend all their time drinking, shagging, shitting and watching football. Or trains. Thanks for the resounding vote of confidence in our collective personality, guys!

Still, at least we don’t believe that universal healthcare means an inevitable march towards Hitler death camps, eh?

I’m a New Yorker, and your rules do not apply to me

One thing that you have to say about New Yorkers is that they don’t lack self-confidence. I have never met a phalanx of people that are so certain of their right to existence. Or indeed, so convinced that the city in which they live is the greatest on Earth. Suggest to a New Yorker that you might consider living somewhere else at some point in your life, and you’ll see them snort derisively before surreptitiously adding you to the list that they always carry with them entitled ‘People To Cross The Road Away From When You Spot Them On The Street’. (Newcomers to this site will be interested to know that New Yorkers aren’t legally allowed onto the streets of the city until they have at least 87 names on their personal list.)

There is not a single argument you could use with probably 90% of born-and-raised New Yorkers that will convince them that there could possibly be anywhere else that is more worth living than here. And plenty of the people who have made New York their adopted home would agree, their systems finally conquered by a city which steamrollers all before it.

Of course, one of the problems with such swaggering self-belief is that some New Yorkers can have an occasional tendency to take themselves too seriously. Beware the person who tries to make an (admittedly weak) joke at the expense of New York, or criticises anything from the weather to the transport system. Responses can vary from the blank look that says “I don’t like this, but for your sake I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that this is the legendary ‘British wit’ we hear so much about” to the thirty minute diatribe about exactly which of your orifices the offended person will use to ensure your opinions never see sunlight again.

The other issue is that there are some New Yorkers who seem to believe that rules or common courtesies do not apply to them, and that they are an optional part of life or merely apply to tourists/foreigners/anyone but them. Whether it’s parking in places they’re not supposed to or, you know, not saying thank you when somebody holds the door open for them, some New Yorkers simply don’t like doing what they’re told to or what’s expected of them.

Take, for instance, my Saturday afternoon. Heading towards Battery Park City, we walked through a walled-off pedestrian path created by a construction company to allow people to pass through their site unheeded. Repeated giant neon orange signs told cyclists that they could NOT ride their bikes through the path, and that they had to DISMOUNT. In the three minutes it took us to walk the length of the path, we must have been passed by at least eight cyclists who were firmly in the saddle. One of whom had the temerity to “beep beep” us out of the way.

Not with a horn or bell, I hasten to add. No no, he just used the words “beep beep”.

As the fifth cyclist went past, I’d had enough, and using my best passive-aggressive posture, pondered aloud to The Youngest about the inability of New Yorkers to read. The Special One rolled her eyes, I remembered that some Americans carry guns, and The Youngest rued the day her mum had ever met that strange man from Britain. 

Meanwhile the cyclist rode off into the sunset. I’d like to think he had a sheepish look on his face, but he’d probably just realiszed that he’d left the iron on when he left the house that morning.

PS If I don’t get a comment from a New Yorker saying “yeah, but why should you have to get off your bike in that situation” I am going to be sorely disappointed.

Understanding New York’s unique formula

If you ask me – and I know you didn’t – New Yorkers must be the most accomplished numbers-oriented populace in the world. For a start, they know the price of every single slice of pizza in the city, and can calculate the cheese per cent ratio of each one by smell alone. They can generally tell you the cost of a cab journey between any two points in the city, texting you regular updates to take into account rising fares caused by minor traffic problems. And they always know exactly how many inches each person is allotted for the placement of their posterior on a subway seat, and if you exceed it, they can deliver precisely the percentage death stare necessary to ensure that you never even think about doing it again.

They are also the only group of people I’ve ever come across who can accurately time one-hundredth of a second in their own heads. That is, after all, the only way that they can manage to hit the car horn so quickly after a traffic light has turned green and the car infront of them has failed to move on within the aforementioned time period.

What has been frustrating me over the last few days is that I think natural-born New Yorkers have access to a secret mathematical formula that I just can’t quite work out. They are able to take a combination of a number of factors and combine them in such a way as to calculate whether the action they take will save them time without getting them physically assaulted or ‘accidentally’ bumped off by the people that they annoy in the process. Such factors include (but may not be limited to):

– the size of the gap that they want to squeeze into, whether as a car attempting to use every lane possible in an attempt to gain ground, or a person defying the oncoming group of fourteen people getting off a subway as he or she gets on. Note that whatever the mode of transport, the size of the gap will always be at least 50% smaller than that used by any reasonable human being.

– the amount of time that is saved by performing such a manouevremaneuver, whether three seconds by pushing ahead in a queueline for a subway turnstile, or three minutes by taking the cafe latte that was actually intended for the person who turned their back for three milliseconds. Note that any time saved will be used for swearing and cursing at random strangers.

– the irritation level of the person slighted by the action of the New Yorker, on a scale of one to ten. Level one might involve a small ‘tut’ or a roll of the eyes, while level six involves verbal intervention and a knowing look to those around them. Level ten has been responsible for at least 59 deaths in the tri-state area already this year.

– the smugness of the person carrying out the act, again on a scale of one to ten. Level one sees the perpetrator almost imperceptibly lick their lips as they perform the act, while level eight (generally reached only by men) features a visible turn towards the victim and a full-on game show host-style wink. Surely no court in the land could ever convict somebody for stabbing such an inveterate winker?

What amazes me is that New Yorkers can gauge all the variables, and work out the formula in a matter of seconds. Such speed allows them to decide against the procedure if they think they really can’t get away with it, or to reduce the smugness of their reaction in the case of the most irritating actions in order to avoid defenestration or a similar fate.

I can only assume that they’re taught it at school, and then practice it religiously for the next eighty years. We outsiders can only look on with an equal mix of horror and amazement. 

And serve our time in jail with grace and remorse.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Living in the UK, I used to love snow. We didn’t seem to get it very often, to be fair, hence the unprecedented excitement about whether a few drops would fall on the Met Office’s roof on December 25th (the official British definition of ‘a white Christmas’, apparently). But back in my childhood, we’d all head out into the street and play until every last bit of virgin snow had been trodden in or thrown.

Even as an adult, snow in Britain was still an occasion that brought a smile to my face. Sure, I wasn’t throwing snowballs any more (well, not that often anyway), but what’s not to like about the way that the sun reflects off newly fallen snow, or the sight of trees capped with flurries of white. OK, so the occasional train got cancelled, or you might fall on your arseass infront of a big group of people waiting for a bus now and then, but it’s a small price to pay for walking in a winter wonderland.

Now that I live in the US, all that joy has been taken away. Kids still play in the freshly fallen snow, and the setting sun still glows like never before. But now when I see snow, all I see is stuff that has to be moved out of the way so that nobody sues me for all my life savings and my priceless collection of Beano annuals.

See, in the UK, nobody other than businesses really bother to shovel snow from the area around their building. Everybody else just accepts that if you fall on snow outside somebody’s house, you get up, brush yourself down, and move on quickly while hoping that nobody has noticed. Especially not that girl from number 18.

But no, the United States has to take all the joy out of snow. When I notice snow falling as I go to bed, I don’t dream of carefree snowball fights with The Young Ones the following day – I just think about the twenty minutes I’m going to have to spend getting rid of the stuff, or have nightmares about the person who falls and accidentally impales themselves on a stray twig that had coincidentally dropped from the tree above only moments before.

Maybe I’m missing something here. After all, it snows all the time during the winter on the East Coast, so you’d think people would be used to it by now. And contrary to popular belief, snow is not invisible – it’s not as if you can complain that you didn’t know it was there, or that it can sneak up on you when you’re least expecting it. It’s like blaming somebody for the fact that your hair got wet after it started raining while you were walking past their house.

Folks, it’s time to put the fun back into snowfall. Snow is our friend – a cheery visitation that puts everybody in mind of their responsibility-free childhood days. A time to treasure the fact that you can put handfuls of the stuff into somebody’s hood, and then watch in ill-disguised mirth as they unwittingly pull it over their head. It is not a reminder that you need to check your insurance details, or the cost of late night flights to Rio.

Actually, scratch that last one. With snow and freezing cold enveloping New York at the moment, a nice caipirinha on the beach at Copocabana seems pretty damn tempting right now I can tell you.

An Englishman, an Irishman and a Frenchman…

The coastline at Cannes

Driving back to New York after Christmas with The In Laws upstate, The Special One and I were listening to the radio in a bid to keep ourselves awake. After a number of alt.rock classics, the DJ launched into a tirade against French music, and made a number of jokes at the expense of the French. While The Special One chuckled quietly to herself, I sat in stony silence.

You see, it’s a fact of life that all nationalities have a country that’s the designated butt of their jokes. The Belgians tell jokes about the Dutch, Latvians and Lithuanians make fun of Estonians, and the Austrians poke ridicule at their Germanic cousins. In America, New Yorkers make fun of people from New Jersey, and everybody has a laugh at Canadians.

Whether it’s tongue in cheek or borderline racism I’m not sure, but the basic fact is that every group of people seems to need a whipping boy to convince them that life in their own homeland could be worse.

The British, of course, have been making fun of the Irish for centuries. But over the last few years, maybe as the uneasy peace has come to Northern Ireland, there’s been a noticeable tailing off in jokes made at the expense of the Irish. And that’s where the French come in.

The rivalry between Britain and France goes back centuries. They call us ‘les rosbifs’, laugh at our cooking, and spit on our steaks if we have the temerity to ask for them well done. In return, we collectively sneer at ‘the frogs’, cower in terror at their campsite toilet facilities, and make references to their dubious military record.

The fact is though that we secretly love the French. We’re jealous at their ability to make clothes look good, we wish we could make pastries that taste anywhere near as good as theirs, and we can’t help but admire the romance and passion of their language. I’m in Cannes at the moment, and it’s a non-stop festival of food and fashion that you just can’t help but admire.

As a result, while I’m more than happy to make jokes at the expense of the French myself, if any other nation starts to wade in on them, I’ll get all defensive and start attempting to protect their honour. And the longer I’m away from the UK, the more European I seem to become – I’ll be defending Germans before you know it, mark my words.

For the moment though, be warned America, the French are ours to make fun of, so sod off and find your own target to crack jokes about. But try to be nice about Canada if you can – there’s plenty of French there, after all.

Merci beaucoup.

Trains cost…and right here’s where you start paying

Everybody likes to get something for nothing. Whether it’s the complete stranger walking up to you outside a cinemamovie theatreer and offering you tickets that they can no longer use, or a snack company giving away sample products on the streets, there’s no greater bargain than ‘free’.

But like a junkie desperate for just one more fix, the joy of the occasional complimentary Mars bar sends some people into a desperate downward cycle to get everything for free. Whether it’s a few illicit music downloads or a pad of Post-It notes from the office, no ill-gotten cost saving is too small for the true freeloader.

I don’t have categorical proof, but I bet Buster Edwards and the rest of the Great Train Robbers pinched a pint of milk or two off Mrs Miggins’ doorstep when they were mere nippers. And if Jesse James worked as an intern in Corporate America today, I’d say there’s a fair chance you’d need to pay closer-than-normal attention to your paper clip supplies in the stationery cupboard. The acorn of today is the oak tree of tomorrow. Actually the acorn of today is still an acorn tomorrow, but I think you take my point.

Most freeloading I can deal with. That’s not surprising given that I work in the entertainment industry, the whole foundations of which would fall apart if it weren’t for the phrases ‘guestlist’ and ‘plus one’. But sometimes, the something-for-nothing brigade really just get my goat. Especially when they’re breaking The Rules.

The Special One often tires of my unwillingness to break The Rules. She’ll happily get up on a plane when the seatbelt signs are illuminated, or smuggle food into the movies, leaving me to harrumph quietly in the corner. She thinks her refusal to play the game makes her a maverick. I tried to point out that mavericks don’t read the Pottery Barn catalogue, but she was too busy plotting her next coup d’etat to listen.

In any case, I’ve got no problem with rule breaking. It’s just that if I’ve got to pay for a product or service, it’s pretty galling to see somebody next to me taking the same thing for free. Particularly when it comes to public transport.

In London, the fare evader generally takes one of two forms. There’s The Athlete, who looks at the ticket barrier in the same eager-to-jump kind of way that Colin Jackson or Ed Moses used to look at hurdles on a sports track. If you see somebody travelling on a tube train casually carrying around a pole vault pole, you can pretty much be sure that they’re just planning to do a runner when they get off at Edgware Road. Well, either that or they’re Sergei Bubka, obviously.

And then there’s The Close Companion. It may initially seem that The Close Companion is attracted to you by your irresistible scent or ability to pull off that ‘just stepped out of a hedge’ look. But don’t be fooled, he’s just trying to get through the ticket barrier in the same 2.8 seconds as you. By the time you realise what’s happened, you’re either flat on the floor or you’re being sworn at by a scrawny man with ‘love’ and ‘hate’ tattooed on his knuckles.

Here in New York, the fare evader takes on a completely different guise. Sure, there’s the occasional student jumping the barrier, or the otherwise well-to-do person who forgot their Metrocard and hasn’t got time – or more likely, the inclination – to go home for it. But when it comes down to it, the ultimate New York fare evader is The Parent Of A Six Year Old.

Apparently travel on the subway is free until you reach the height of 44 inches. But given that there’s no Alton TowersSix Flags style height measurement by the turnstiles into the subway, it’s difficult to prove who is or isn’t entitled to travel for nothing.

The ridiculousness of the whole thing reached new heights this morning when a kid who was practically as tall as me was prompted to duck the barriers by his mum. Such was his size, he practically had to slither sniper-style to get underneath. It was like watching Shaquille O’Neal’s mother forcing him to duck under the turnstile on a shopping trip to the Big Apple.

With the desire for free stuff so strong among New Yorkers, most parents seem to shove any child they can lay their hands on under the turnstile paddles in an attempt to beat the system. Don’t even think of crouching down to tie your shoelaces near the entrance to the subway – you’ll be mistaken for little Johnny and thrust under the barriers before you can say Harry Potter.

On top of the world

It’s an oft-shared observation that Americans aren’t ones to hide their light under a collective bushel. Indeed, while there are plenty of people willing to hold their light high for all to see, it’s arguable that there’s long been some kind of national bushel shortage in America (almost certainly prompted by the Truman government’s decision to raise bushel taxes to punitive levels in 1952). Put simply, if an American is good at something, they won’t be afraid to tell you (as well as the 73 people standing within a 400 metre radius).

America loves winning, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. It just takes a little getting used to when you come from a country that revels in the exploits of renowned losers such as Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, and regularly turns on its most successful sons and daughters as soon as they achieve long-sought-after success. Let the world know about your victories in America and you’re a hero; tell a Brit that you won a competition in Whizzer & Chips, and you’re arrogant or full of yourself. American immigration officials should seriously consider issuing all UK citizens with their own trumpet to blow, for use immediately upon entry to the United States.

Of course, if you’re going to say that you’re the greatest at anything, then you’ve really got to live up to the tag. And to be fair, many Americans are more than capable of doing exactly that – Muhammad Ali being a particularly fine example. The flipside is that if you start boasting that you’re going to whip somebody’s arseass and fail to do so, you have to be prepared to endure a certain amount of schadenfreude. Yes Mary Decker Slaney, I’m thinking of you and your unfortunate meeting with Zola Budd’s foot in Los Angeles in 1984…

Fortunately, as I’m not the greatest at anything in particular, I’ve got precious little to live up to myself. Although I did once win a wheelbarrow race on school sports day. My ‘barrowing partner was Phil Collins. Genesis must have had a break in their touring schedule that day.

But it seems that I can now achieve greatness by association, as – according to a few references that I’ve seen over the last few days – I apparently live in The Greatest City On Earth.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love New York City. I’ve been coming here for fourteen years, and after London and Chester, it’s probably the city I’ve spent most time in during my life. But clearly I missed The Greatest City On Earth competition when all the nations of the world gathered round for a democratic vote and declared my adopted home the premier location on the planet. The good folks of Basildon must have been gutted to have narrowly missed out.

A Google search on “the greatest city on Earth” throws up Paris, Buenos Aires, Detroit, Chicago, and indeed New York, as possible locations for the greatest city on Earth, so clearly the title’s still under dispute. Whether or not New York really is the greatest isn’t particularly important. But you can’t help but admire the sheer cohones of city residents for seizing the tagline as their own, rather than waiting for anyone to bestow it upon them.

I’m going to start calling this site The Greatest Blog About US-UK Cultural Differences Written By A 6ft 2in Bloke From Chester. It may actually only be in the top five in this admittedly narrow category, but if I say it enough, it might even stick.

Taking control

Possibly because this is supposed to be the land of opportunity, most people living in America take some kind of ‘you only live once’ approach to life in general. Working on the principle that if you don’t ask you don’t get, the population of New York (and in my experience, most other places in America) makes sure that it always asks. And generally ends up more than a little upset if it doesn’t get.

As a result, most people in this country tend to speak their mind. Given that I come from a country where the majority of people say what is expected of them (and then silently seethe for at least fourteen years afterwards), that comes as a bit of a shock to the system to say the least.

For instance, when asked by a waiter how a (particularly poor) meal was, most Britons would inevitably say “it was great thanks”, “wonderful” or “really good”. In America, such a question might result in a five minute diatribe invoking at least two of the constitutional amendments, and a suggestion that the parentage of the waiter might be in doubt.

Nothing wrong with speaking your mind and not swallowing your pride, though. Such forthrightness and willingness to stand up for what you believe in is why there’s a Stars & Stripes flying over Florida today rather than a Union Jack, after all.

But being deprived of your social norms is difficult to come to terms with, to say the least.

Today I wandered the streets of Brooklyn in search of orange oil. I’ve no idea what orange oil is either (although if pushed I might guess that it was oil derived from an orange). But our new cleaner insists it’s the only thing she will use to clean our floors, so I had little choice in the matter. Only in America can you get bossed around by your cleaner.

But that’s just a disconcerting aside. The fact is that I went into about twelve shops in search of this elusive orange oil, only to be denied every time. Eventually I walked into what looked like an alternative health foods/products store, only to find that it was actually a swanky organic cosmetics and potions place.

Now, placed in the same circumstances, most Americans would turn on their heels and walk out. But given that I was born in Britain, I had to head all the way into the store, pretend to have a look round, and then frame my features in such a way as to say “you know, this is exactly the kind of thing that I was looking for, but I’ve just remembered that an electrician is coming to my house in five minutes, so I’d better hurry back in case I miss him.”

As tends to be the case in these circumstances, the woman behind the counter asked if I needed any help. And, giving a textbook answer, I responded with “No thank you, I’m just looking.”

Now, in any other country, such a response would lead to a polite smile from the assistant, or maybe even a “Well if you need any help, don’t hesitate to ask.”

Not in New York. Barely had the words left my mouth before she countered with “Well you shouldn’t walk so fast if you’re looking, should you?”

Obviously I shot her a look of disgust, told her in no uncertain terms that I would never frequent her store again, and marched out with my head held high.

Oh who am I kidding? I slowed down, started picking things up and reading the ingredients, and almost ended up buying some ridiculously over-expensive white tea.

That showed her who was boss, I can tell you.

Manners maketh man

They – whoever they may be – say that if you want to find a gentleman, you should head to England. With his impeccable deportment, chivalrous commitment and polite manners, the Englishman is apparently the ultimate charming and debonair male.

In truth, of course, for every Cary Grant (try to claim him if you want my American friends, but we Brits all know him as Archie Leach from Bristol), there’s an ASBO-toting Joey Barton-esque knuckle-grazing idiot for whom being charming means offering his girlfriend a sip of his pint of Stella.

The reality is that – in New York at least – whether it’s holding doors open, offering up seats on the bus or pulling out chairs, most American men seem to have an unerring commitment to etiquette. Of course, I’ve not been introduced to the more lairy members of Alpha Tau Omega (and I’m not planning on inviting them round for a – erm – ‘kegger’ just yet), but it seems to me that Americans are just as polite as their English counterparts.

I just wish that I could say as much for most American women.

Whenever I attempt to get off a subway train and am impeded by an impatient commuter desperate to grab an empty seat, it’s never a bloke who nearly knocks me off my feet rather than waiting for passengers to get off first. When somebody has a heavy steel door held open for them, but fails to look back to make sure that they’re not slamming the door in my (now slightly flattened) face, it tends not to be a guy. And invariably when I’ve been waiting ten minutes to hail a cab in the rain, and have the only vacant taxi in Manhattan stolen from me by somebody who only turned up thirty seconds previously, it’s not a man who sneers as he jumps into the car and speeds off. With the cab powering through an adjacent puddle as it disappears into the distance.

Maybe I’ve just been unlucky? Maybe New York women are taking revenge for years of unacceptable behaviour from Wall Street oafs? Or maybe the females of the city are on a collective mission to send me scuttling back to the UK with the tail between my legs?

Thankfully The Special One hasn’t succumbed to this dastardly plot yet. Although if I put my shoes on the newly-made bed one more time, my luck might start to run out.

Anyway, what do I know about etiquette? After all, I’m the man who seized upon an empty seat on the packed train last night, beating a slowly approaching man to the restful prize. Clearly, the fact that he had dark glasses and a white stick didn’t help him get there any quicker.

Despite immediately and apologetically leaping to my feet to offer him the seat, the man refused to sit down and instead stood for fifteen minutes until another seat became available. While all the rest of the carriage stared at me with the look of contempt specifically reserved for people who would deny a partially-sighted men the seat he so richly deserves.

Perhaps I’m just embracing my (New York) feminine side?

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.