Thursday, September 21, 2006

No scents! No pastels! No scurvy! 

A bit late for "International Talk Like A Pirate Day", but this is a wonderful idea. It's Blackbeard Brand Rugged Tampons, "A product you can trust from a name you can't".

Monday, September 18, 2006

Beast watch 

One thing I've found particularly hard in adjusting to a new country is getting used to the presence of real wildlife. As a particularly nervous city kid, I've always been terrified of most animals and insects, so I've not been particularly happy sharing my space with thousands of squirrels, including black ones (native to Princeton); having rabid raccoons going through the bins at night; watching wild deer narrowly escape a bus-mown death; walking by what was reportedly a praying mantis on the pavement in front of me etc.

Okay, so there is some wildlife in England, but I've always felt pretty safe from it in Birmingham and central Oxford. Apparently, though I was wrong to feel that way. Little did I know when I lived there how narrowly I'd missed a close encounter of the wallaby kind...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Different Person 

I've just started taking undergraduate Latin classes, with a view to using it for research purposes in a couple of years. Being surrounded by high-achieving American undergraduates is both sociologically interesting and amusing in a number of ways.

The best moment today came when one student, asked what the English second person plural was, confidently answered "Y'all".

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Boy Named Sarah 

About 10 months ago I had my hair cut very short, and since then it's mostly fluctuated between chaemo-patient (as someone here put it), fascist (as I think most of my English friends put it) and crew-cut. A number of memorable moments of gender mis- or re-identification have occurred since then, my favourites including the comments "you could be a boxer with a chest like that, sir" during some close measurements for a suit-fitting, and "I really think women are the future... You and I are on the way out" from a man at a party, where the rest of the group were girls.

For the most part, these moments have become a routine part of my life, and something I usually quite enjoy, their unpredictability being the only hard part. But something about the differences between England and America - possibly just a mere fact of accent - seems to have removed the power of the normal tip-offs that I might be, at least biologically, female. Whereas at home the mistaken impressions were usually corrected with great embarrassment later on when I spoke more clearly, or allowed my chest to show more prominently, here that corrective seems to be largely absent. "Oh, he's just English..."

Even my name on my ID card - and my long hair in that - doesn't change things here. Cashing travellers' cheques at the bank yesterday, two of the tellers discussed options about bank accounts for me - "he'd get a $250 bonus with his first payslip on that account", "yeah, but he doesn't have a social security number yet..." And after this, one of them looked at my passport for a long time to write down some details, before handing it back with a 'here you go, sir'. Another time, I'd just been ID'd in a bar when I got into a chat with a Brazilian man who talked all night about sports, because he thought I must do a lot of tough ones with a physique like mine (you see, only women are fat - men are built)

None of this seems to be a problem in a university town on the East coast, but if I ever leave here my life may rapidly head into Boys Don't Cry territory. And one thing that still scares me about living in this country - people here carry guns...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

American Fare 

Another fun part of international orientation was being treated to an "American fare" lunch. This happened on Thursday, where, after several hours of talks, we were taken to experience American junk food. Candy floss (cotton candy), baguettes (Hoagies), popcorn, pizza, snow cones and ice cream were all served up to us with a handy explanation of what they were and their place in American culture. Some extracts:

"Eating cotton candy is only part of the fun; watching it being made fascinates children and adults alike."

"What is a typical pizza topping in your country?" (Bird's custard, naturally...)

"Australians and New Zealanders are among the the leading ice cream consumers per capita in the world. The UK is among the lowest consumers of ice cream" (I can't imagine why...)

The sessions have been quite fun in many ways, though, and the stereotyping certainly runs in all directions. Thanks to arriving in the country with no furniture and very few possessions of any kind, I've been a regular passenger of New Jersey Transit's buses to Walmart (I know, I know) and the massive grocery store Wegman's. In the West Windsor Wegman's you can find a large international food section, giving us pad thai noodles, Caribbean peas and rice, spring rolls, curries and, delightfully, 'European food'. In this grouping there were included things like strudel, malt loaf and a number of other items, but the English representatives certainly held their own - Bird's custard (hence my comment above), Heinz spaghetti hoops and Worcestershire sauce. Needless to say, any yearning I might have had for those items is fully abated...

You may not know this, but... 

After a very long break in regular posting, this blog has relocated from England to Princeton, New Jersey, and its author is now officially an international graduate student. In my capacity as such, I am being taught about American culture. So today I received the answer to that burning question, "Who is an American?", with a handy checklist of points.

Americans, apparently, are characterised by their individualism, their punctuality(!), their emphasis on "doing rather than being" (we may go down the pub to meet people; they go hiking), their egalitarianism, the prominent role they give to women, and their friendliness and openness. The last bit came with a warning - Americans may say hello and ask you how you are, but you should not mistake this for a deep friendship.

Thus my personal crusade in the Global War on Terror now comes with a handy guide for spotting those un-/anti-American bastards who are ruining it for the rest of us. Being late for a meeting always seemed so innocent before, but now I know better. No real American would ever do that.

Even better, I can now make "American friendships". This is, of course, another dangerous area, full of pitfalls which could leave me isolated for years to come. My future American friends will apparently be put off if I begin on any topic other than the traffic or the weather - these are the safe subjects. If my new American buddy is amenable, I may, after a suitable period of time, begin discussing common interests and so on, but anything more personal than that will come only very gradually. So, for instance, the conversation I had this evening which touched on the sexuality of tree-hugging (tree-humping) will probably render me a social outcast for the remainder of my time here. (Actually, that may be fair enough...)

And, armed with all this useful information, I continue on into the unknown...

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