Monday, January 31, 2011

My Little Angel!


When my 5 year old son started school here in America he seemed too small to be getting on the big yellow bus by himself. He didn’t think so! He loves it! He doesn’t seem to mind school when he gets there but there have been a few teething troubles. Not least that he would have been in Year 1 in the UK but in America they start a year later. My first letter, written to his teacher within 2 weeks of him starting, explains some of the challenges and differences. (Warning – this letter- like this whole blog today- isn’t funny or entertaining but it is true and it does illustrate some of the differences in this strange land that some of my learned readers might find fascinating! Otherwise you can skip the blue bit!):

Dear Mrs (Battleaxe)
I am concerned that my son hasn't had the best of starts to Kindergarten. There have been several comments regarding poor behaviour. Whilst he needs very firm discipline and can be easily distracted we have never had poor reports regarding his behaviour before.
He attended a very formal Kindergarten in the UK (age 3-4) within a class size of 20. This was similar to US Pre-school but more structured and within a school environment. In England Children start school in the year of their 5th birthday so he was at school last year. He was in a class of 10 students. This school is huge in comparison to his last school and will present many social challenges for him and new learning experiences but I would really like his prior experiences to be taken firmly into account.
I know we had a brief corridor discussion regarding his zero score on the reading test and I made clear my concerns that different teaching methods must not hold him back. He has been taught phonetically and can blend 3-4 letter words and identify all letter sounds. Naming letters is not taught first in England. This is something I can teach him very easily in order to 'catch up' on the difference in teaching.
I was concerned today that there was a note on his 'counting coconuts' activity that he 'was off-task and needed to be re-directed several times'. There may be several reasons for his distraction - not least because he can be simply not trying or paying attention. I also appreciate the need to 'recap' on learning continually. He may, however, have been off task because the work presented no challenge or interest to him given he did such activities last year and the year before and his work books from the UK were focused on double numbers and simple addition by the time he left in May.
 For the first time since he started school at the age of 3 he said he did not want to go to school this morning. I don't think my son is super advanced or gifted but he has always been inquisitive and bright.  His prior learning and experiences need to be built on. He also needs to experience some successes and positives as he has been through a massive change this summer.
I hope this helps in your continued assessment of him.
Read as- you are a witch and you are mean and my son is an angel and you are boring him! To be fair to her she did contact me later proclaiming a miracle – within a month of being in her class it seems he could read  (something he had been doing for over a year before she stunned him into stupidity). Funny – that her first assessment was 0! I wonder if she is on performance related pay?!
6 months in and I think I need to reassess. It might be that there is something wrong with my son. They have a colour-coded behaviour system – traffic lights. He is rarely green by the end of the day. Here are some of his misdemeanors – all exactly as written by Mrs B with my own interpretation, queries and excuses where needed:
·        Playing with shoelaces during morning meeting
Yours or his?
·        Pulling faces whilst pledging allegiance to the flag
(this is done every morning via a piped message from the head teacher into every classroom. When my son first pledged allegiance at home I pulled such a funny face it is possible he was mimicking me! He said it with such an American twang!)
·        During snack, lifted his shirt for all to see
(I was relieved it wasn’t him dropping his trousers and getting his willy out as he had done at the dinner table the night before)
·        Play fighting at recess turned in to real fighting at discovery centre
Good jawb! Progress!
·        Stuck sidewalk chalk into his mouth at discovery center- unsanitary
For him or the chalk? Just be be on the safe side I sent in some Clorex (anti-bac) wipes - they ask for them on a weekly basis. I wonder if they ask the other parents?
·        Called another student ‘not a nice name’
I asked him what name he had used – he said ‘idiot head’. I asked if it was a fair assessment of the other student – he said it was.
·        Talking out loud- making sound and noise- pretending to shoot guns. He was supposed to be cleaning up
Is child labour allowed in schools? Maybe hi was cleaning toilets like his sister …and I thought guns were a constitutional right!
·        Acting silly- moving arms up and down. He should have been reading
…but according to you he cant!!!
·        He put his mouth on someone’s water bottle at lunch. That is bad but the child has a severe allergy and it took him some time to admit what he had done. This could have been dangerous. Please remind him not to touch other people’s lunch. It is unsanitary and can be dangerous.
I think he may not have admitted it because he was sat there wondering what the F**k all the fuss was about! Maybe the other child is allergic to small English boys. I sympathise – I have a slight intolerance to them myself!
Obviously there is something wrong with my son. There must be a reason for his naughtiness other than because he is naughty! I did some research and realised that he has caught ADHD! (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).  In the US the average % of ADHD children is between 3-7%. In the UK it is around 1.5%. It is on the increase here. The % of children with a parent-reported ADHD diagnosis increased by 22% between 2003 and 2007. Boys are twice as likely to be diagnosed as girls. By state the highest number of parent reported ADHD was none other than North Carolina with a high of 15.6% (compared to the lowest state, 5.6% in Nevada but that may be because children are not allowed in casinos!)  Given all those statistics I felt sure he must be in with a chance. I checked a couple of the symptoms to see if I could 'parent diagnose' him – seems the trendy thing to do (it also depends on which medical insurance you have apparently!) Symptoms:  
Hyperactivity
Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat when sitting still is expected.
Often gets up from seat when remaining in seat is expected.
Often excessively runs about or climbs when and where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may feel very restless).
Often has trouble playing or doing leisure activities quietly.
Is often "on the go" or often acts as if "driven by a motor".
Often talks excessively.
Impulsivity
Often blurts out answers before questions have been finished.
Often has trouble waiting one's turn.
Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games).
Inattention
Often does not give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities.
Often has trouble keeping attention on tasks
Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace
Often has trouble organizing activities.
Often avoids, dislikes, or doesn't want to do things that take a lot of mental effort for a long period of time
Often loses things needed for tasks and activities
Is often easily distracted.
Is often forgetful in daily activities.
When I read this I was very alarmed. It is clear that I have ADHD! As far as my son is concerned, since I know him to be an angel, I guess there is no alternative but to pray I have the right medical insurance, get him some Ritalin and take it myself – I’ve heard it really is very good!


Sunday, January 30, 2011

I'm a Professional!

When you meet new people one of the first questions asked is ‘What do you do?’ This is because it provides a wealth of assumed information. People can assume all sorts of things about you; your educational level; salary; ambition; success; responsibility and ultimately your status and place in their pecking order.… When I told people I was a history teacher they could at least deduce I had some sort of nebulous knowledge of history and I was mad and sad. When I then told them I was a Vice Principle of an Academy, they knew I had twice the salary, twice the stress and was, unquestionably, mad- oh – and not quite good enough to be in charge. Tell people ‘I am a spy for MI5 and now I am going to have to kill you’ and they really don’t know how to take it!
In England if you tell people you meet at a party that you don’t work there are a number of assumptions made which all end with a glazed look from the listener and an excuse about needing to get a refill, anything to escape, as they assume you will have nothing of interest to talk about. The worst thing to mix is a stay-at-home-mom with a working-one. Each tries to justify their choices with reasons that offend the other.
Here in North Carolina, if you stay at home they give you a job title. Home Maker! It carries with it certain assumptions – that your husband earns enough so that you don’t have to work and the girl done good! It makes you very socially acceptable in Wisteria Lane. The job has all sorts of language associated with it to give it importance. The women here don’t ‘tidy their closets’, they have ‘projects’ (which I guess they ‘project manage’). When I ask what project they have on at the moment it is always a very grand project… to reorganise their closets. Stores sell magazines on this to help and advise with the homemaker projects.
Hubby plays a game each evening called ‘Guess what Wifey did today’. I need some more practice at this new Homemaker career because he can never tell. It certainly isn’t housework or closet reorganisation that occupies my time. When I came here friends and colleagues in England made certain assumptions about what I would do with my time. Amongst my leaving gifts I had two cupcake books and a very fantastic Union Jack cake tin. I have tried to make perfect cupcakes, I really have, but I guess you have to really want to (besides- I don’t actually like them – so I am not sure of the root food cause of my muffin top). Hubby even bought me the ultimate status symbol of a homemaker on Wisteria Lane– a KitchenAid food mixer. It is very shiny and looks nice! Looks unused!
I find it impossible to join in some professional conversations with my new homemaker colleagues. I can only listen in surprised awe and have nothing to contribute when they discuss such topics as how to get a goat cheese terrine completely smooth. I feel I should pay more attention and take notes for future reference. I may get to that level of professionalism, but I seriously doubt it!
My sister could be to blame for my lack of progress and expertise in my new career. Already queen of the cup-cakes with her very own cup cake stand and knowing I don’t do baking, for a ‘leaving present’ she got me a beautiful journal. Thankfully this wasn’t for me to jot down ‘how to be a better homemaker’ tips. She suggested I made notes of interesting things that happened to me in my ventures in a strange land…the start of my blog - which now occupies far too much of my time! If my blog offends or my housework disappoints, I have the perfect excuse… It is my sister’s fault!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Muffin Top!

Apparently, the cause of obesity is ‘eating more calories than your body is burning’. I guess it has to be significantly more, for a prolonged period of time to be obese. There is hope for me yet. I am now living in America which is No.1 on the fat charts for obesity (at 30.6% of the adult population). It is, of course, the biggest consumer of Big Macs in the world too!  We, or rather you, in the UK shouldn’t feel too smug – The UK is at No.3 (23% of the UK adult population being big fat biffers). There is no surprise that obesity is related to poverty and poor people are more likely to be overweight. It is cheaper to eat from the $1 menu at MacDonald’s ($1.09 with tax) than to buy fresh produce and cook stuff. A pepper is around $3. Madness! You see ‘em at Wal-Mart, skipping the produce aisles, in fact skipping shopping all together and going straight for the supersize MacDonald’s. This is a shift from Tudor times when being a fat bastard was a sign of opulence. Given Henry VIII had complete control over royal portraits it is only too clear he was proud of that portly belly. Mind you, I know a few blokes like that today!
I have to confess to being slightly fattist. I have little sympathy. Given the cause of obesity (in its simplest terms before you start heckling me with genetics and diseases) is eating too much and doing too little, the solution is simple too:
Do More + Eat Less= Weight loss
Because of my attitude I’m sure fat friends of mine have enjoyed saying to me, since I moved to the US ‘Oh you’re looking well, put on a bit of weight. It suits you.’ I can read between those lines. They are chanting a little ditty in their heads ‘Who eat all the pies…’ I have put on a little weight:
Doing less + Eating more= Muffin top!
A muffin top is as it sounds – where your fat gently billows over your slightly too tight trousers – like a muffin bursting from its paper case. Nice on a muffin… Not so good on me! To get it in perspective I was a size 10 and now I am more comfortable in a size 12. Not looking at obesity…yet, but I certainly felt huge and horrid last night.
North Carolina has 29.3% of its adult population classified as obese. Realistically, the number is likely to be much higher because the official statistics rely on self reported height and most people are shorter than they say they are. Women in particular, lie about their weight and so are fatter. Shorter and fatter. So how is it that I go to a ‘clothing swap’ evening and I am surrounded by size 6 pygmies? Where were some fat tall bastards? Maybe here in Wisteria lane they are all too wealthy to be fat (although I know there are some very wealthy fat people and very poor thin people so I mustn’t generalize!)
The idea of this evening was that you take nice good quality clothes that you no longer wear to a gathering of like women and you hang the clothes up and look for something different to take home. Like a ‘thrift shop’ or charity store, only for Wisteria Lane. It wasn’t a good experience for me. It doesn’t help that UK sizes are bigger numerically so a size 8 in the USA is a size 10 in the UK. My clothes weren’t appealing, regardless of style, because they sounded too big.  Who wants to go up a size? They were too big for everyone in the room. Except for my clothes all other sizes ranged from an American size 2 (I have never met a fully grown adult before who was a UK size 4 dress size – do they even do size 4??!) and an American size 6 – all petite. According to my research American women should be short and fat not thin! Not only was I a dress size bigger than everyone else I was also considerably taller.
Depressed, I selected a couple of baggy tops that I could squeeze into, and my Muffin top could flow out of, poured a large glass of wine, had a big slice of Angel cake and put it into perspective. In spite of nurturing a muffin top, when I buy American clothes I can ask for a size 8 and make sure the label is showing when I go to England so people will marvel at my weight loss!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's My Right? You're Wrong!

I’ve sussed it! I have long lamented the spelling – either lazy or stupid – of the Americans and now I realize the second amendment of the Bill of Rights contains a spelling mistake. The Second Amendment should secure the good folk of America the ‘right to bare arms’. (This is something Larry the Cable Guy spotted in 2005 and wrote a song about it – according to a search on the tinterweb! I have no idea if it is about the same thing!)  My spelling theory makes complete sense. They had left stuffy old England in the 1700’s and wanted women to feel liberated and feel free to show their arms off – it is, after all, quite hot in various states in the Summer. I think, when someone finally spotted the spelling mistake, they were relieved. Having witnessed far too many saggy bingo wings, the men decided the homophone worked in their favour. They could play with guns all day instead of looking at the flesh revealed by sleeveless women. It was their right!
Just 14 states ratified the amendments in 1791. They happily passed the second amendment, spelling mistake an’ all. They were a lot more careful when it came to their pay. It took them 202 years to ratify the 27th Amendment relating to congress pay!!! That’s men for you. Slap dash unless it affects their pocket (or pants!). You would think that something drawn up when America was a fledgling country would need a serious review at some point. The second Amendment was written in the days of the OK Corral when America was lawless and unfettered. It doesn’t seem civilized to me to carry guns. It certainly doesn’t seem right that I can buy live ammunition along with my weekly shop at Wal-Mart. It reminds me of a joke:  I tried to buy a gun but they said I had to register and come back in 5 days… I screamed ‘But I’m angry now!!!’ It isn’t so funny when it is true.
I checked out the gun laws for where I live – It is OK to carry a gun as long as everyone can see it. You need a special licence to conceal it and you can’t take your gun to public parades, funerals or demonstrations… or to the park. I don’t think you can take them into schools either. If visiting any of those places it is OK to leave it in your car. The police sensibly advise for you to keep them out of sight. Does that make it a concealed weapon?! You can carry your gun but you are not allowed to discharge it! Fairly pointless then! I’ll go out and buy a cross bow instead – they were legalized in this state last year.
I am always disconcerted when shops and restaurants display ‘no gun’ signs. It reminds me of their legal existence. I live in a big forest. The whole state is a big forest – except where they chopped trees down to build big houses. No one told the deer where the forest ends and the gardens begin. Hunting is pretty popular and those pesky little deer get their comeuppance for eating the flowers in Wisteria Lane! The walking trails have signs reminding hunters not to shoot across the trail. Great! Advice for walkers: ‘Stick to the path and beware o’the mooooon!’ sorry – I mean Moron!
I’m worried about Hubby. He said he wanted to have a go at ‘shootin' sum guuuuns’ while he was here. I was told you can go to a range and choose the picture for targets – such as Osama bin Laden or just ‘the regular black guy’. I think the person telling me meant the regular black silhouette. I sent him to a range for the day and paid for him to have a ‘special experience’ which involved shooting with a hand gun, a shot gun and an assault rifle – with private coaching (well I didn’t want him shooting himself in the foot!) from the youngest ever winner of the US Open Nationals (who, according to hubby, was superb and very safety conscious). Hubby said he was nearly sick when he fired the first shot and realized it was live ammunition. While he was there a young 20 something came in to collect his AK47 that was in for repair. What does any God fearing American need one of those for??? Maybe that is why they all pray and go to church if you can bear those legally! Hubby was told the best gun for defence in your house was a pump action shot gun because of the iconic sound it makes. Any intruder would be in no doubt of the meaning… but wouldn’t they just aim their AK47’s right back? ‘Guns save lives’ my arse!
I am a little worried about Hubby since his experience. He has the potential to turn native on this issue. It scared him that ‘ordinary people’ had the guns that he had shot that day, and felt their potential for death, in their homes. I was alarmed when he asked me if we should do a ‘drive by’ our house that we are renting next time we are in England. I immediately thought he meant a drive by shooting but I think he just meant literally ‘drive past’!
Somebody (an ex-pat from India) asked me this morning if I wanted to stay in America for good. They were really shocked when I said, without any hesitation ‘no’. Most people who come here to work do their utmost to stay and get citizenship. Many are from India and Asia. I’m sure the American constitution means a huge amount in terms of liberty and freedom for many people. For me, the fact that I have more right to carry a gun than drive a car is completely incongruous with my understanding of liberty and freedom. I much prefer to bare my arms – even as they begin to sag- then ever consider bearing arms. My fear is that I would begin to feel I needed to if I stayed here too long!




Tuesday, January 25, 2011

For Scotland!

I was prepared to put money on it (not real money, but dollars) that the gathering of kilted men in a bar in North Carolina on Saturday was not Scottish. (I wonder what the official term for a group of kilted men is. I would love to hear your suggestions!!!) I knew they weren't Scottish because 1) Not one of them had a beer in their hands and 2) They had underwear on! I did some additional investigation which they didn't seem to object to. I have to say as soon as I spoke to them I knew they were not Scottish so there was no good reason for me to stick my hand up their kilts.
Americans have this complete love affair with Scotland. My driving test, my first visit to my doctors and to a teacher at the school was hijacked by the adoration of Scotland. That is all they want to talk about if they have visited the place. Yesterday it went up a notch. Whilst purchasing myself a new frock (Ralph Lauren no less, cos designer stuff is cheap here) the cashier asked where I was from (as always) and then launched in to a planned trip of Scotland. She hasn't even been there yet and she is going on about it! She was going to Glasgow to see a friend. She only had a week. She said she might pop to Italy.... or Ireland. I pointed out that it would probably take longer to get to Ireland than Italy and really there was more than enough to fill a week just in Scotland! I don’t think her only impression should be Glasgow. Most American adoration comes from a visit to somewhere Bonny Prince Charlie has been ... (which could be anywhere in Scotland! He had some hair that boy judging by the locks he chopped off and left all over the place as a memento - why didn't he just sign the visitor book like normal travelers?!)
I love Scotland too. My sister lived in the North of Scotland for 10 years and I frequently visited. I was there around 25 years ago today and attended a Burns night in honour of Robbie Burns the Scottish poet. It is his birthday today. It was a very serious affair. They carried out a haggis on a red cushion to bag pipes and spoke a lot of gibberish while I tried to be inconspicuous. Difficult when you are laughing so hard your shoulders shake and you snort and snot everywhere in the effort to hide the laughter! It was one of those moments when you know it shouldn't be funny and that makes it unbearably funny - like at funerals. I nearly choked on the table cloth I stuffed into my mouth to stop the fits of giggling when a woman began 'Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie' - His famous 'To a Mouse' poem.  My sister behaved equally badly!
I wonder if Americans have the complete works of Robert Burns in their bathrooms. Certainly he influenced some great American writers such as John Steinbeck and J D Salinger who both named books after lines in his poetry. I'm curious though - Americans can barely understand what I'm saying - how did they understand Rabbie Burns?!

Someone asked me - given I have done bugger all for 6 months- what I was going to do this year. At some point I need to do something so that I am still marketable for employment in the UK. It worries me that I am going to pay dearly for this extended holiday when I am confronted with the real world again and I have to find a job. I have thought about doing some sort of educational research, some training or some lecturing to keep my hand in but truth be told I don’t want to. Before I even got to America I felt that if, after 3 years, I went back to England and replicated my life as it was three years previously I would have failed to have grown sufficiently as a person. Robert Burns’ advice to the wee Mousie who has just lost its home might be of benefit to me!:

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley, (often go astray)
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou are blest, compared wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!
Maybe - I need to stop worrying and trying to pre-empt two years from now. That will only lead to ‘grief an’ pain’.  Live like the Mousie - in the present. I need to enjoy the opportunities presented to me - not so much ‘putting my hands up gentlemen's kilts’ type opportunities but to enjoy the time I have now (which I never had before or may never have again) to write about, read about and explore a strange land!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Lion's Pride

Walt Disney said 'if you can dream it you can make it happen'. I hope you can also make sure it doesn't. I dreamt last night that I was walking along a beach where some construction for a bridge was going on. A wall had been built to hold back the sea. I had failed to notice a Pride of Lions. I woke with a start as a lioness pounced. I had got too close to her pride.
I see some meaning in this. Un-interestingly, there is a massive amount of road works going on in this rapidly expanding county. A new bridge across a new interstate opens next week so that part of the dream is easy to fathom. I have no idea where holding the sea back comes from. Maybe it is a warning of the biblical type disaster which will be unleashed if the locals discover my blog! My way to the promised land will be blocked like the Pharaoh of Egypt! I feel certain there is a direct link with the lions!
I was discussing American misspelling last night with our good friends and neighbours. In particular the spelling of 'our' words - neighbor, color, labor, harbor. Ever the diplomat, I accused Americans of being stupid... or lazy. He suggested that the 'U' really wasn't needed so that made the Americans the smart ones. I hastily pointed out that when I talked of Americans in a derogatory way, present company was excepted.
I have been fairly critical in my observations in America and I focus on the negatives - mostly because I find it funny and it amuses me. I would like to think that if my new friends and neighbours discovered my blog they would see the humour and the affection in it and my own disaffection at my situation rather than at them. I awoke this morning concerned that Americans are flag waving, allegiance swearing patriots who may find it hard to laugh at themselves or forgive me my blog.
I want to protect the people I know and care about here and need to remove any links in my blog that may lead to them personally. I am the key link so I am in the process of anonymizing it! Henceforth I shall be know as 'Stranger'! Not so much 'That's not my name' as now I have no name! I have changed the blog address but it can still be reached in the old way! I excitedly paid $10 for a new domain name. I wasn't concentrating when I purchased 'Stanger in a stange land. com'. Must be a subconscious aversion to 'R' (I wonder - do people who can't say their r's know they cant?) I had to buy another domain - strangerinastrangeland-blog.com. I have limited IT ability so it has been a painstaking process, including setting up a new Gmail email so I could then rewrite all my comments as a stranger! I wonder - does this now make me a ghost writer?! I also need to redo all the links so that my name doesn't appear anywhere. The cats, the kids and the hubby are now unnamed! Work in progress - it may take a little time! I hope I don't lose any substance or readers along the way!!!
My dream bothered me- I feel the lioness is a metaphor for my closest friend here who may feel deeply offended - pride (as in her family) threatened by my reflections. So - My dear American friends - if you are reading this I am found out!  - I confess I am guilty of taking the piss but I never meant to cause you any personal pain!
A gift arrived from my sister yesterday - It is utterly fab - A t-shirt which has 'I'm totally blogging it' on the front and my blog address on the back. I don't feel able to wear it here.  Maybe if I was more confident and honest I would! It has been hard enough to settle and find friends in this strange land. My blogging has given me an outlet which I love. I read that according to a professor of psychology writing about upheavals in your life can help bring about improvements in mental and physical health. My blog is soothing for my soul but threatens my social life and friendships in America (conversley it brings me close to my friends in Britain!)  American friends or blog? I don't want to lose either, so for now I will press on with the secret blogging and I'll be proud to wear my shirt - with my own pride!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

You guzzle your coffee... I'll sip my tea...

I think I once overdosed on Caffeine! It was in the final year of my degree. I had to hand an essay in on John Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath' the next day. I hadn't even read the book! Have you seen the size of it? It is thick. They don't call it an epic novel for nothing. It took a considerable amount of Coke (the cola kind), coffee and pro plus to stay awake to read that and then write an essay. It took all night and all day. It took longer for me to finally have a good night's sleep afterwards!
After that I could not drink coffee without feeling very dizzy. I haven't drank coffee for over 20 years. The coffee madness has passed me by. The bewildering list of coffee concoctions at Starbucks is a long way from the jar of Red Mountain I had to hide from the other students I shared a house with. I think I can be forgiven - but Hubby wont be- for going into a coffee shop in Lyme Regis and ordering, on his behalf at his request, a 'frappa mocha chiato'. He stood outside peering in through the window laughing most heartily at my stupidity for ordering it! He had made it up! I actually think if I went into Starbucks in the states they would make him one (whatever it was!!!) How, living so close to the beautiful cafe culture of Europe, especially Italy, did we allow the crass American cawfeeeee-to-go culture invade Britain? Like many things in America, the selling and drinking of coffee suffers from excess. Starbucks has, apparently just started selling a new 'Trenta' coffee cup . Trenta means 30 in Italian. The cup holds almost a litre of coffee - more than the capacity of the average adult stomach! Good jawb we're not dealing with average sizes.
Americans appear not to be able to go anywhere without a 'to-go' cup - that is a take-away cup with a lid on. The cups seem to either contain coffee or wine. They stand at the bus stop to wave their kids off with their coffee. I feel like Victor Meldew on this one - It drives me unreasonably insane. No one lives further than 2 minutes from the bus stop. The bus is on time nearly all of the time. If they left their cup at home it would still be hot when they waved young Tammy and Todd off on the bus. Leave it at home!!! Show some restraint! They drive drinking coffee too which I have also blogged about and find very irritating!
As for my cuppa, I drink tea! I suppose I let the side down for 'British' tea - I dont exactly have builder's tea but I am working on the bulider's bum!!! I am very particular about my tea. It has to be weak, with just the right amount of milk, and if possible it has to be PG Tips! I was most excited when I finally found a box in a store here! (even if it was quadruple the price!). I have learned through bitter experience that it is a total waste of time and hope to order tea anywhere. Even when the waiters seem to understand and even tell me it is British tea, it ends in bitter disappointment. I have taken to carrying around my own tea bags and ordering hot water and milk and making my own. I sip my tea and observe the madness!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Prowlers

I'm all for Neighbourhood Watch now that I have nothing to do all day. I can legitimately peek out from behind the nets every time I hear a car or voices and have a good nose in the name of neighbourly duty. I have to say - I never hear anything. It seems like a pretty safe area.  We were told when we arrived that if we were to find ourselves driving down any road named in honour of Martin Luther King to lock our car doors, don't stop and drive quickly out! By observation and bad route (pronounced ROWT here) planning we have driven down a few Martin Luther King Boulevards and highways. It is true - they are in shitty places, predominately black it would seem - but that isn't why they are dangerous. It is because they are in poor areas and it seems poverty breeds crime.
There are no nearby Martin Luther King roads. This is not a poor area. People don't even have house alarms. My very good friend who owns an alarm company in the UK could clean up! Perhaps I should start a franchise! Maybe they don't think they need an alarm. They have a warning system all of their own. There is a very active i-neighbors scheme where everyone signs up to an on-line community which shares information via email. Any untoward goings on can be posted on i-neighbours and the whole neighbourhood is alerted.  I love the way it shares how long you have been a member in any post - a status symbol of being a good neighbour!!!

A recent one from a real inspector Clouseau who had been watching too much CSI read:
Dec 28  Member Since: 22 December 2007
We noticed a silver van parked in front of our home with a person sitting inside (not sure how long it had been there). I decided to go out and check it out (walking my dog). As I was going around the house two people came from the east and one person came from the west and all three joined the driver in the van. As I walked down past the van it started up and took off. This seems suspicious but I didn't see them do anything else that would lead me to believe they did any misdeeds. However, I have the van's license number if anyone should need it.

I wondered what the residents on any Martin Luther King Boulevard would post?
White caucasion nutters suddenly driving at high speeds, going through red lights and looking round furtively...

I signed up on-line but didn't leave any details other than my email. People here seem very willing to give out family history anywhere and add a few photos for good measure. At school, the PTA compile a directory of contact details for the family of every kid in every class. I gave my email address only. I just checked on i-neighbors. It had names, address, contact numbers... pictures of the kids. I dont want complete strangers - in a strange place knowing who my children are, what they look like and how to contact them! I guess they dont worry about pedophiles here... too worried about prowlers. I read a recent alert on i-neighbors entitled 'Prowlers' and I swear I haven't changed a word!

Dec 18   Member Since 15 July 2008
Hey everyone,
We just had an unknown person banging on our back door and then running. We found boot prints on our back patio. Our back lights were off at the time, but are now on, and we have asked
Cary Police to drive through the neighborhood. Patrolled the area around our house and notified our neighbors.
Please be wary - very well could be someone casing houses in the neighborhood looking for a place to break in

Dec 18   Member Since 25 August 2009
We just returned home an apparently were visited by the "prowlers". They unplugged our Christmas lights and took the numbers off the sale signs at the entrance and put them on our house.

Dec 18  Member Since 15 July 2008
Hopefully it's just someone playing pranks, but you can never be too careful this time of the year. Just wanted everyone to be made aware. What happened to us is pretty typical of someone "testing" the house to see if anyone is home, etc.

Dec 19  Member Since 16 March 2008
We had a Subway sandwich and soda shoved in to our mailbox Saturday night. Keep an eye for out for any suspicious activity on your street. It could be one person or a group rooming the neighborhood.

Jan 14 11 10:02 PM  Member Since  22 December 2007
We just had 3 teenagers in our backyard run up and yell at the window - scared the hell out of us. I ran outside to catch them but they were gone. A neighbour was outside looking for them as well. They just finished vandalizing his house. We called Cary police and the State Trooper that lives behind us to notify them. Time to install some motion-sensor lights around the house.

I did wonder what teenagers did over here as I never see any. Now I know what they do (well, at least 3 of them anyway!!!).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

If the hat fits!

I still do it now - even after 6 months of being here. I say something that makes me stand out. People look at me like I'm an alien speaking in tongues. It happened in MacDonald's yesterday when I took the kids after our Walmart shop. There is a MacDonald's inside the supermarket! I asked for two happy meals - nuggets and chips and milk. The lights started flashing above my head and with big neon arrows pointing at me while silly 'eh eh' noises sounded. CHIPS???!!! Silly me - those are not fried hot potatoes here, they are fried cold potatoes in bags. I recovered quickly and corrected myself! FRIES!
All was well...for a moment. She then said 'Do you want sauce?'
'Oh Yes please' I said in my best Enid Blyton voice 'Tomato.'
There they went again - the lights, the sounds, the jeering, like some game show, in my head! 'You want hot sawce?' she said looking at me sideways like I was about to metamorph into something even weirder than I appeared to her already. Too late I realised! 'I mean Ketchup'.
The damage was done already but she nodded to show that she now understood and everyone calmed down... Except me! I wanted to rant: 'What the F**k to you think Ketchup is made from? Couldn't you make the connection? Ketchup is a sauce made out of tomatoes so if someone asks for tomato sauce - chances are they are asking for f**king ketchup!!!'.
She took my money and told me to have a nice day!
I ought to use this language barrier to my advantage. Hubby told me Americans don't use the word 'knob' to cause offence (or other similar words!).  I tried it out on Saturday at a gathering. I asked one of the men if he would be offended if I called him a knob. He smiled and said he wouldn't ...Either because he is one or because he doesn't know what it means?  I thought about this - like the tomato and ketchup connection - even if they dont connect knob to the male anatomty as the slur intends, being called a knob (as in door knob, knob of butter...etc) is never going to be a compliment.
I'm sure I would have felt better if I had called the MacDonnald's server a knob! ...but honestly... it is me that constantly feels stupid and strange in this strange land and if the hat fits I guess I should wear it! I feel I may as well have it written on my head - people stare at me like it is there already - they look curiously at me- trying to fathom out what I mean!!!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Happy Birthday to ya!

I need to apologise to you. Sometimes I am guilty of making generalisations in my blog about America! I have to tell you that North Carolina probably isn't typical or representative of the whole of America. The county where I live in North Carolina, I doubt is reflective of the rest of the state! I live in Wisteria Lane! ...Although I can only look on in admiration at the women here - it is far more Stepford wives than desperate housewives! Today, I feel rather ill informed on my blog - so it isn't so much generalisations as surmising, wild accusation and half truths I know very little about...
Today is Martin Luther King Jr Day. An official holiday to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King. After years of campaigning it was passed by the senate in 1983, was first observed by some states in 1986, it took another 14 years before all states gave in. The opposition to the  bill to introduce this as a public holiday was led by the senator of North Carolina who questioned whether King was important enough to receive such an honor. Senator John McCain of Arizona was pretty much against it too at the time. Didn't he just run for president?! I guess that is what you call Karma when Barak Obama won!
They don't care much for Obama here in North Carolina - it is very right wing. The Tea Party Movement is very popular here too, as is Sara Palin (both extremely right wing, against the Obama administration and they LOVE guns!) What worries me in the politics I see is the undercurrent of racism. You don't have to delve too much into the Tea Party Movement to see it, if not officially, then endorsed by its followers. I found it funny that Obama referred to the Tea Party members as Tea baggers - which is apparently a sexual act (a 'get your gums around my plums' type thing!).
They don't talk much about politics around here. I tried at a gathering on Saturday to discuss Sarah Palin's recent bizarre response to the Arizona Shooting of a Senator. She used it as an opportunity for self promotion in such a bad way. No one engaged. I should have told the joke:
What's the difference between Sarah Palin and a rottweiler? ...Lipstick!!!
Recently one person did open up and told Hubby that Obama should go back to the cotton fields where he belonged. We got our coats...
I watched a film the other night - The Betrayed with Tom Berenger and Debra Winger, about a FBI agent investigating the leader of a 'white supremacy group' in the American south in the 80's. It was sinister and disgusting. I couldn't help being reminded of Tea party gatherings - with their Trucks,  guns and silly slogans 'Guns save lives'. Mmmmmm!   I looked up Klu Klux Klan and was relieved to find the last incident recorded in North Carolina was in 1979 when 5 people trying to organise (predominately black) workers rights in Greensboro were killed by the KKK. Nothing recent that my cursory search identified. Not sure I want to look any harder. A friend I have here who is black told me the churches are still (unofficially) segregated. A problem for her and her husband as he is white.
The children are off school today to celebrate this National holiday. It is my responsibility to spend some time with them exploring why it is such a noble and important reason to pause, as a nation and reflect on recent history. After all 'those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it' (George Santayana)
As Stevie Wonder said to gain support when campaigning for this National holiday for Martin Luther King Jr! : Happy Birthday to ya!
The Lincoln Memorial, Washington- Martin Luther King delivered his 'I have a dream' speech here in 1963

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mediocre? Gooooood Jawb!

I don't believe in rewarding mediocrity as a general rule! When I arrived in North Carolina last June, I watched Mums at the pool tell their kids 'Good Jawb!' usually followed by a high five when their offspring did something fairly rubbish in the pool. Clearly not a good job and not deserving of praise. But maybe I am wrong...
An American teacher once gave out a story to other staff at a very tough school I worked in about how they teach whales to jump high in Seaworld performances. They have a rope in the water and every time the whale swam over it there was a reward of fish. There was no punishment for not doing it, no concept of failure. Slowly they raised the rope until the whale performed high jumps without any rope there at all. The Whale learned by positive reinforcement.

We adapted this at the school and gave little slips of paper (which they collected and exchanged for treats) every time the monster horror kids from hell did something in the direction of learning. For some this was for merely sitting in their chairs - not staying there mind - just sitting briefly before running around the classroom again... I remember one kid jumping up from his seat - telling the whole class 'this lesson is shit' and walking out. The Chair of Governors was watching the lesson otherwise I would have agreed and left too. So we gave out these slips for doing what they should be doing anyway.  It didn't work. I never managed to  raise the rope. There was something I felt I could use the rope for much more productively! They knew they got the treats.  They knew they didn't deserve them. They didn't modify their behaviour and I concluded that I should never reward a student of mine for simply meeting basic expectations. Rewards should be for raising the bar. Some students never got rewarded again.
Maybe the whole resistance to praise is a British thing - we like to sneer at success - read any tabloid paper to see how we raise Celebs up only to bat them back down again like bouncy balls. (although most of them are pretty talentless and enjoy the attention!). Give someone a compliment 'Nice dress'... and they immediately bat it away with a 'What this old thing... ' (maybe that is a woman thing rather than a British thing though!). We are not comfortable with praise, winning, success.
America is different. My children get high fives from their teacher!!! They bring home little certificates on a very regular basis. Does this inspire them and make them feel proud or devalue the currency of success? They are told continually they are doing a 'good jawb!'. This concerns me when they clearly cant do something- for example my daughter struggled with long multiplication, however, she never felt like she couldn't do it. She was not told, by her teachers at least (although Hubby was quick to point out the error of her ways) that she couldn't do it and eventually she got it. There are positives but I firmly believe that we learn best from our mistakes and in order to do that you have to accept mistakes as part of the learning process, not ignore the fact that things can ever go wrong.
There is a real 'can-do' culture here and sometimes it blinds them to the fact that they really 'cant-do' but at least they approach things enthusiastically - like they can win. Such an attitude breeds people who at least feel like winners. Can we say the same of Brits? Do we go in with a can-do attitude or are we losers, sneering at anyone who dares to try, before they even start?

Afterword
* Radio 4's Word of Mouth discussed this very thing on Thursday 18th - overly praising children can be negative as it does not foster resilience to failure

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Say 'Cheese' and smile

I stopped dead in my tracks the other day in AC Moore (Hobby store) and I suddenly had to fight the overwhelming urge to cry. It wasn't in response to the quote I had just been given to frame a poster I got in Chimney (Chode) Rock National Park, although that did make my eyes water (not the chode - the quote! Focus!). The reason was I heard a song playing! A song I haven't heard for 20 years. Why a song that can evoke such emotion isn't on my i-pod I don't know. It isn't even in my CD collection. It would have been on a cassette tape - compiled myself from records and long ago discarded! I may never have remembered the song again if I hadn't heard it. The song* itself isn't the best - but we all have them- songs that bring back a 1000 memories. I was transported back to 1989. A time when I thought anything was possible. It clashed hard with me standing in the store now knowing fuck all is ever likely! It made me feel very sad!
By coincidence a few days later I had another blast from that past. An old boyfriend on Facebook. I'm not sure why but I had tried to contact him 2 years ago on Friends Reunited and he had just picked up the message... or the courage to respond. (I was a bit mad back then). I'm not sure how healthy it is that modern technology connects us so easily with a past that years ago would have stayed just that- the past- occasionally remembered because of an old photo or music. Now I have to combine those snapshots of 1989 in my head with today. Facebook brings out the voyeur in us all. Maybe I wanted to tie up loose ends in my head. What we hope we will find is those boyfriends who dumped us are fat and bald and on the dole. For the record he still has all his hair (if a lot shorter) and looked pretty good to me!
I don't have a photographic memory but I remember things in snap shots - stills, that if I try hard I can add movement and sound and smells to. Sometimes remembering those pictures is triggered by a smell or sound - like the old song. I have a whole album's worth of songs and photographs for those 4 months of 1989 - living in Manchester, at university, in love and having a wild time in rock bars. I had such a great time. It was over pretty quickly but I remember it more vividly than whole years of my life! I wish it was the happiness of the time that the song had conjured up - not the 6 months of sadness I felt at the time when it ended. If I'm honest I remember that more! I worry that it is the stressful and unhappy things that are strongest in our memories- those things that bring out intense emotions.
Sometimes things happen in a second and get filed with the photos in my brain for a lifetime. Like this morning- the kids had all got on the yellow school bus and the pre-schoolers were hanging around waiting to go to nursery while the moms chatted. One of them picked up his scooter and whizzed down his drive just as a car turned around the corner. All slow motion until I took the mental snapshot of the impact. A frozen image of the horror. People drive very slowly round here, they are not aggressive. If you hear a horn beep the car will have a New York number plate on it. The driver had stopped at the point of impact and the little boy bounced really well. As soon as he cried I knew he was OK. Not a mark on him but I will carry that photograph forever. Life changing moments!
I wonder now what it might be - the smell, the song, the taste of something-  that stops me dead in my tracks 20 years from now and brings me back to my strange time in a strange land. What snapshots will I put in the photo album of my mind now to look at when I am prompted to remember? I wonder most of all what emotion will overwhelm me looking back and remembering my time in America. I guess I have some part to play in that in the present. Focus on the positives, remember the fun and laughter and don't take any photographs of the times I don't want to recall again! Easy!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Raise Your Glass!

Hello. My name is Miss Daisy and I'm an alcoholic! I've done a few of those quizzes you always get in January in magazines because they know one of your resolutions will be to cut down on drinking - you know the type:
·         Do you ever worry that you drink too much?
·         Have you tried to stop drinking, but found that you were unable to for more than a few days? 
If you answer yes to a few or more of these questions, it is indicator of alcohol misuse

I haven't managed to beat my previous January record of 2010 when I didn't drink for 2 weeks solid. Mind you I did have Swine Flu and was hospitalised so I don't suppose that counts. I always dismiss the possibility of being an alcoholic because I never drink in the mornings and never hide my drinking. I'm also fairly rubbish at it - pissed on two glasses of wine and sick on 3! I don't drink spirits at all! Now there is a word that makes Americans titter. They say Liquor over here.
There is a very different attitude to drinking in the states. Some of it is really positive. Going out on a Friday night and drinking until you are sick, fight, or cause serious damage to yourself or somebody else is not a national occupation here. Teenagers don't sit on street corners getting drunk on cheap cider. I actually have no idea what teenagers do here. You never see them. I will investigate for future reference! You can't drink here until you are 21. Stores have a policy of asking for ID if you buy wine and appear under 40. I have stopped going to Walmart because they didn't ID me. You have to go to a separate store to buy liquor and they wrap in in brown paper so no-one can see it. You cant buy wine on a Sunday until Church closing time. I have forgotten and had a trolley full of the stuff before now, waiting for it to turn 12 - very ungodly of me!
Whilst the British attitude to, and certainly the tabloid press version of, Britain's drinking habits are something to be ashamed of there is something surreptitious and worrying about the attitudes to drinking in the states. It is all like a dirty secret. The women at the pool will be supping from 'to-go-cups'. When they get to know you they will confide it is wine or a G & T as the kids were getting on their nerves and they needed a treat. Some of it comes from their history and religious attitudes. There are still 'dry counties' in the States that prohibit the sale of alcohol. There are hundreds of counties - mostly in the south where we are! It is in the religious states that you find dry counties. They hide their drinking. It has a taboo connected. They seem to forget that God is omnipresent!
The most worrying thing is the attitude to drink -driving. It is like Britain 30 years ago. You have to drive here- there is nothing to walk to. We are used to going out and getting a taxi home. The first time we did this in America was to meet some other Brits in a bar/restaurant. We booked a taxi home so we could both have a drink. The Brits (having been here a while) said it would never turn up. The taxi driver phoned us 4 times to make sure we really wanted a taxi that wasn't going to the airport.  Hubby walked the five miles the next morning to collect the car. I'm surprised he wasn't arrested for vagrancy. ('Look - there is a mad man walking on the sidewalk - take a photo - some things only happen once in a life time!!!). I have heard many a wife ask if her husband is OK to drive home after visiting friends. It would never enter my head to ask Hubby that because I know he would never drink and drive.
There isn't a pub culture here because there aren't pubs. There are restaurants and bars but they center around food. The sorts of bars that center on drinking are on the outskirts of towns in the middle of nowhere. You would have to drive to ...and from them and the good folk of this county never go to them (or certainly never mention it - but someone is keeping them open!)
According to Wiki so it must be right :
Prohibiting alcohol sales may actually reduce public safety. Research has found that dry counties have higher proportions of alcohol-related traffic crashes than do wet counties. A study in Kentucky suggested that residents of dry counties have to drive farther from their homes to consume alcohol, thus increasing impaired driving exposure
I watch people in restaurants drinking, at dinner parties drinking, at the pool drinking and they are all driving home! That is something I can never rationalise and find more offensive than pub kick out time on Broad Street in Birmingham! I can avoid that - A drunk driver on the road takes any choice out of my hands...
I am all too painfully aware that there are drunk drivers in the UK but at least we have stripped religion out of the equation and drinking is out there in the open. Judging by the comments on every one's facebook status' I think that most people I know, based on the quizzes, are alcoholics. They also quite happily share their drunken antics.  In fact maybe I should have started by saying 'hello, I'm a Brit and it goes without saying....'

Monday, January 10, 2011

State of Emergency?

The good folk of North Carolina, began the day with a real sense of purpose. You can see it on their faces. you can feel the sense of heightened anticipation and excitement in the air. There is even a whiff of fear.... although that may have just been the American equivalent of the Sunday Dinner effect for the particular individual I was unfortunate enough to be stood behind in the queue for check out. The supermarket was mad. The bread shelves were empty, milk fridges seriously depleted and they were all out of donuts.
The schools that weren't closed last night or this morning have announced early release for the children that have gone in. My horrors are due home 2 1/2 hours early. You cant take any chances. As soon as they are safe we can baton down the hatches, seal all entrances and just hope that Hubby gets back safely. We wont be able to let him in by evening - he will have to sit in his car- although they have just warned on the news not to do that - cars get cold in winter! No shit, Sherlock!
The cause of all this intense preparation? It MAY snow. There MAY be quite a bit! There has been so much snow overnight in other places that the southern states of Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama have declared a state of emergency. And I thought we got a bit over excited in Britain when it snowed!
The roads have been brined, not salted - brined, maybe in a salty broth- like most American food. The Brine will make all the SUV drivers feel invincible in the snow. I might find a safe place to watch them pirouette later! At the moment there hasn't been a single flake in Cary and the children will be home in a matter of minutes! But... We are ready for the pending snow storm - which may result in as much as 3 - 6" before turning to freezing rain. I thought snow was freezing rain- what do I know? The weather man has warned that although the storm will be over by tomorrow there will be 'refreeze issues'. It's America - they have to warn of the danger of refreezing something once it has defrosted. Like defrosted chicken - it could kill you if not cooked thoroughly first! Lets hope for a mini heat wave before refreezing!
The worst thing about the schools closing is, over here, they have to make up the days! The school shut before Christmas because of snow. The kids had to return to school a day early after the Christmas holidays! If school shuts tomorrow they lose a day in February... that would be the long weekend I was planning to go skiing. oh well- maybe I'll be able to ski out of our cul-de-sac and down the road if we ever get any of the threatened snow!

Epilogue
The children came home and still there was no snow. Hubby came home and still there was no snow. Just for good measure the school has delayed the start of the day tomorrow for two hours... just in case the snow eventually arrives in the night! If it does I will be so glad I got extra oranges to guard against scurvy while we are cut off from civilisation!

Afterword!
The update on the school website is that school is closed for the day. The make-up day will be a Tuesday in February - on the last day of my planned ski weekend. Can I go out and build snow men toady with the kiddies to make up for this? NO! because there isn't any snow! Last night there was a bit of sleet and freezing rain (I don't know the difference!) There was also some freezing drizzle (no - don't know why that isn't just sleet either). This precipitation froze - making 'unbrined' roads icy... apparently. The view from my window now is of a WET road. No ice! No snow! Still... No school! But - hey - you cant be too careful! ...Well actually you can!