Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Summer Attire at Buckingham Palace

I remember quite distinctly learning about London, England as a child in elementary school; the classroom was decorated with pictures of bobbies complete with hats, whistles and sticks; bright red double-decker buses; black taxi cabs and of course, Buckingham Palace with guards in front that were wearing red coats and big, black, furry hats. Of course there is more to London than these things but these are the images that were placed in my young head and have lived with me ever since.
I'm delighted to say that since I've been here I have seen some bobbies, sans the sticks, ridden the double-decker buses, almost been run over by numerous black taxis, and I even saw Buckingham Palace... but the Palace was a bit of a disappointment. I know, it saddens me to write it but I have vowed to be honest with you, dear readers, and it was nothing like the pictures my elementary school teacher displayed in our classroom so many years ago.
Upon approaching the circular drive out front, I was met with a huge fountain; lots of gold and statues of ladies clad in robes. It was beautiful but not what I had come for. I turned excitedly to see the Palace. But, quite honestly, it looked more like a government building than a palace. The front had no distinguishing features and there were plain gates all around. My eyes took in the bland architecture and I scanned the building from top to bottom, and left to right but I didn't see any guys in red coats and black hats. I finally turned to my companion and said, "This can't be the Palace. It looks boring and there are no guards with the big, furry hats." I was assured that it was indeed the Palace and told that if I looked closely I could see the guards. I wasn't having any of it. "Look closely? I'm 20 feet from the boring front door and I DON'T see any guards with BIG BLACK HATS or RED coats. I'm not blind!"
My annoyed companion pointed slightly to the left and there, hidden by the shadows of the roof overhang, was one solitary guard in a blue uniform wearing some type of military beanie. A beanie? I looked quickly to the far right and saw his comrade in the same blue uniform with the same beanie.
"Unbelievable," I uttered. "I want to leave. This is a disappointment." I snapped a picture of the plain old guard (more for proof that there were NO red coats or black, furry hats) and walked away from the gates. I knew I was being childish but I felt robbed.
I know these Brits are sensitive to heat -- 88 degrees for two consecutive days is considered a heat wave and the number 1 news story -- but the day I visited Buckingham State House (my new name for it), it was only 80 and the day before hadn't even reached the 80s so there was no possibility of heatstroke, etc. Let's consider, for the sake of argument, that it had been 88 that day and for weeks before --since when does the weather displace tradition? The Queen doesn't wear shorts on a hot day. Does the President of the United States give summer speeches in a guayabera? I think not! Do cops in NYC stop wearing bulletproof vests in July? I think not! Suck it up protectors of the Queen and don your red jackets and big, black hats before you dash the hopes and dreams of even more Americans.

For those of you who really want to know why they are wearing those dull outfits (I will still keep telling people it's their Summer Attire), I've done a little research on this matter: Currently the soldiers guarding the Palace are the 23 Engineer Regimen and they don't sport the traditional garb. I have no idea why they are there and why they don't wear the fancy duds; maybe the other guys needed a rest from a long winter of wearing the big, black hats and the outfits are at the dry cleaners?

Sighing Sadly,

The Temporary European

Friday, 26 June 2009

Deep (London) Thoughts Part II

Fast approaching the two month mark and I have more oddities to share with you; yes, they may be in the form of a complaint but I can't help it!

1) Queues -- First of all, why can't they just say line? It's easier to say and spell. Secondly, they love queues here! They queue up for everything and anything. A trip to the post office is a 15 minute wait in the queue - ALWAYS. I now know how the Cold War Russians felt waiting for toilet paper.
2) Coins -- There are too many friggin' coins here. After purchasing a cup of coffee my purse weighs an extra 3 pounds by the addition of coins: 1 pence, 2 pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, 1 pound, 2 pound. It is a coin collector's heaven. I am not a coin collector.
3) Surgery -- Why call the doctor's office surgery? No one is cutting anyone up a the doctor's! Surgery sounds very serious to me, but here it's just a trip to see your GP.
4) Drinking -- Holy Get Your Drink On! Some pubs stop serving food at 8 and only serve liquid dinner. Every Friday there are crowds that spill onto the streets. And that is on nearly every corner, people! They stand there drinking, drinking, drinking with no nuts or pretzels in sight. I'd be smashed in no time and with my luck I'd fall into the road and get hit by a black cab. I don't drink at pubs...
5) Warm Beer -- I don't really like beer but I've had to drink a few pints when I'm out with my colleagues and I must report that warm beer is revolting. The only thing tolerable about any beer is its super cold nature, take that away and it's bloody unbearable. This helps me keep true to number 4...

On a happier note, something I will miss when I leave jolly, old England is something I call sandwich in a box. The English loooove sandwiches (after all, the name comes from the Earl of Sandwich) and they have these delightful triangle contraptions that hold both sides of said sandwich in a stacked formation. It is really handy as it allows easy transport which is great for eating on the go and not resorting to icky fast food like burgers and fries (chips). I'm hoping this sandwich box finds its way to the states soon!

Until we next meet,

The Temporary European

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Language Lover's Delight

Few of you know about my attempt to bring the word dungaree back into the American lexicon; I was saddened by my failure because I hate to fail and because my grandmother, Alice Rodriguez, used that word and I thought it was a nice homage to her. I love words and how they are strung together to tell stories, make impressions and create feelings. When I taught high school English many years ago, all of my sophomore students were in awe upon reading the poems of New Jersey poet (go NJ!) William Carlos Williams; his ability to paint a picture in the readers mind with so few words captured the attention and respect of 90 16 year olds -- no easy task.
When in the company of true British people, I feel the same way my students did so many years ago. It's not that these speakers are poets but in some ways they are word artists. For example, only in a British pub on a Tuesday afternoon can you overhear two men drinking pints say, "I recently went to Spain for holiday. I spent a fortnight there in a quaint villa."
A few things go through the average American mind: 1) Holiday? Oh yeah, that means vacation here. 2) Fortnight? Who is this guy Edgar Allan Poe? Okay, fortnight means 14 days... 3) A 14 day vacation! What in the hell?!
The use of language here is amazing and can best be described as chock full of extensive vocabulary, multiple 3 to 4 syllable words, the sprinkling of multiple adjectives (nice is rarely muttered) and grammar that is often impeccable. Yes, I am generalizing but I must say that even the cheekiest of teens has quite a grasp of how to wield the English language, for better or worse.
Below are a few words I get a huge thrill from; they are not necessarily 3 syllables but they make me smile with the joy of loving the English language every time I hear them:
Ta (means Thanks)

Loving the Lexicon and Forever Yours,

The Temporary European

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Despacio, por favor.

I must be a glutton for punishment. Or perhaps I'm just very brave. Either way, going to Spain for a weekend with the last name Rodriguez, jet black hair and chocolate brown eyes would only lead to the logical conclusion that I speak fluent Spanish but sadly I don' t. Yet I continue to feel confident that one day I will speak fluently because my limited Spanish continues to take me farther than I always fear it will.
Having been to both Madrid and Barcelona, I was expecting a much different Spain than I encountered on this trip. I went to Costa del Sol because I was in need of some sun, sea and fresh air. As it turns out, Costa del Sol is the beach getaway for local Spaniards and few other Europeans and absolutely no Americans. I tried not to let this early discovery jade my expectations for a fabulous beach weekend. I had already been stripped of my sunscreen at security in London (In a later blog, we will discuss the conundrum of how to bring sunscreen to a sunny location when not checking luggage -- travel size for sunscreen do not exist because it would only ensure coverage of one arm so what are we supposed to do?? I digress....) and I was highly anxious about getting a burn, I didn't need to also be stripped of my hopes for this weekend to be fun and relaxing. But as the taxi traveled away from the airport and closer to the coast, I began to feel dread nesting in the pit of my stomach. Street after street of raft vendors and random explicit graffiti sprawled on vacant building walls was not was I had envisioned. The sordid sites were an interesting contrast along a busy avenue sandwiched between the sea on one side and rolling mountains on the other. I reasoned with myself, "It's best to visit a place where the natives live and not be imprisoned in a resort like a fragile, little bird in a gilded cage." The stiff upper lip came in handy and I focused on the beauty and ignored the rest for the remainder of the taxi ride.
Upon arriving at the Torrquebrada hotel, I sighed with relief because it appeared to be clean and somewhat modern. After some broken Spanish on my part and some broken English on the check-in clerks part, I was in my room and all my hopes were crushed and true disappointment set in. The rugs were stained by years (many, many years) of use, the comforter on the bed was as limp and thin as a piece of tracing paper (but there was a top sheet!!) and the TV didn't work. I pathetically walked out to my little patio hoping that a view of the Meditteranean sea would make me feel better but the rocky terrain standing in for the beach with its few grains of remaining sand forced a sigh of despair from this fragile, little bird yearning for that cage.
I know I am a spoiled American but I can't help myself. For me a beach vacation comes with expectations of silky white beaches and pina coladas by the pool (starting at 10 -- coconut qualifies as a morning drink, kind of like a power shake) and fluffy pool towels. Having traveled quite a bit I also know that our "Star" system is not the same as the star system of other countries but I thought a 5 Star rating in Spain would equal a 3 Star after the translation -- I was sadly mistaken; at best my hotel would earn 1 dull star missing a point (not really a star then, huh?). I pondered all of this as I slumped in the patio chair and one word came to mind that held the possibility of trip resurrection -- POOL! It was my last chance and I clung to it desperately. I didn't want to get too excited because I knew if the pool turned out to be a stagnant puddle swarming with flies that I may throw myself in with the hopes of drowning so I could put an end to the whole mess.
Gentle reader, I will cut to the chase and tell you that the Torrquebrada gets a 4 Star rating for their pool! Gracias dios! Two glorious round pools lay glimmering in the sun. One was tiered above the second connected by a tranquil potted waterfall that fed water into the lower pool. Palm trees provided limited shade but added to the tropical flowers that were blooming around the grassy area that was home to yellow and blue lounge chairs. The calm sea was visible over the tops of white stone railings and birds actually twittered and tweeted in the leaves of trees above. Paradise in the midst of a certain kind of hell. I skipped back to my room, changed into my bathing suit and ran back to the pool. Despite the less than fluffy towels, the absence of pina coladas (or any poolside drinks), and the many topless European women, I relaxed in a lounge chair and smiled at the sun. I knew a burn was in my future because I was sans sunscreen but sometimes you just have to be thankful for what you have and forget the rest.
I knew that more disappoints were lurking around the corner and my language deficiencies would cause frustration but I had the pool and of course my one Spanish phrase that I clung to "Despacio, por favor" and that's how I took the rest of my weekend -- slowly.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Consumers, Patients and Diseases, oh my!

Here in England, pharmaceutical advertising to consumers is prohibited. The only form of pharma advertising allowed to consumers is disease awareness campaigns. This is an interesting dilemma as it really calls for some intense creative ways to elevate the disease to the consumer while also getting them to head to the doctor to ask for treatment. But, clients don't want to necessarily build a market, they want to build their brand (or really, make money from their brand's sales!). What I find interesting in this model is the need to create stories about a specific disease that can lead only to one brand -- obviously this is not so easy when you are talking about a commodity market like diabetes or high blood pressure, but when is creativity easy?
I am far from being an expert at the whole DTC (direct to consumer) world here in the UK, but it has helped me reconsider our approach to brands in general back in the USA. Working from the disease to the brand gives an interesting perspective and opens up a whole world of possibilities. I watch the telly diligently here and I take in the disease awareness campaigns and I note the language, the tone and the approach. Some fail to make an impression and others succeed in making me wonder "could I get macular degneration?!" or "could I have colon cancer?!" Then I sit back and realize I most likely will not get or have either but have just been victim to some really good advertising. Cheers, fellow marketing mate, you've done your job but you haven't fooled this copywriter!
Yes, I am a geek of both the literary and pharmaceutical nature. Sorry for those of you who are not in the advertising biz but I wanted to share this blog with my pharma peeps and give a shout out to all the creatives who give up moments of their lives they can't reclaim to try and help people get the right treatment, the right diagnosis and some QOL (which we can never say in print).

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Tube Rage!

The thing I find most disconcerting about Londoners is their inability to express themselves verbally; I excel at verbal and nonverbal communication so you can imagine how this deficiency annoys me. Couple this deficiency with their misguided belief that mumbling simple pleasantries as they push/nudge/bump you somehow cancels out their bad behavior. Perhaps it's because they've let their fancy accents go to their heads? I think they believe that just because "Excuse me" and "Thank you" sound elegant coming from their mouths it counteracts the rude invasion of personal space and their complete disregard of the "no touch" rule.
I nearly went postal on a 50ish year old man who insisted on jamming his less than slender self on the tube the other day. He completely didn't realize that "Joisey don't play that" when he tried his combination Excuse me-push on me. When Londoners offend one another, rarely do they verbally counter attack; such behavior is considered uncivilized and rude. Anyone see the irony here?? After Mr. Pleasantly Pushy gave me his third Excuse me and harder than usual push, I turned to him and said, "There is nowhere to go." He then plodded through and looked back at me and said thank you in a snotty manner. I looked down at him (he was short too) and I said, "You are not very welcome." In New York this moment would have passed without notice; here in London it was a major altercation. I had clearly violated the no verbal interaction rule and my fellow tube riders were wondering what my next move would be. I let this man live and bore holes into the back of his head for the remainder of the ride. As I stood in silent rage I grew angrier and angrier. I was specifically sick of these psuedo-swanky Brits who justify their rude behavior, and sick of the tube in general.
At work, I shared my story with some colleagues and they said I had just experienced Tube Rage. I didn't realize it at the moment, but they were right! I felt better once they started to share their Tube Rage stories with me. One particularly funny writer told me how his intended verbal punch-back actually caused him great embarrassment. In a similar situation, a fellow rider asked him curtly "Can you please move in?," and he smartly replied, "Not without getting the woman in front of me pregnant." He felt proud of his comeback until he realized that the poor woman in front of him may be worried about some type of inappropriate contact and he spent the rest of the ride looking down at his feet trying to hide his red face. After we all shared a laugh about my colleague's experience, I felt better knowing I wasn't alone in this experience called Tube Rage.
Keep your eye open for my mug shot on the world news appearing next to the anchor person saying, "NJ Girl Verbally Attacks Fellow Rider in London Tube" ... I say, consider yourself lucky to walk away with just a tongue lashing!

Saving Money To Post Possible Future Bail,

The Mouthy, Temporary European

Monday, 15 June 2009

Where Genius Once Lived

"He said the pleasantest manner of spending a hot July day was lying from morning till evening on a bank of heath in the middle of the moors, with the bees humming dreamily about among the bloom, and the larks singing high up overhead, and the blue sky and bright sun shining steadily and cloudlessly." Emily Bronte Wuthering Heights

I made it to the moors of Yorkshire, alas it was June and not July, but the sun was shining and the bees were humming. But I think my heart was thumping louder as I walked the exact path that Emily and Charlotte had walked themselves. It was exhilarating to imagine them walking in their long dresses through the fields of sheep, intermittent rocks, and various flowers. The walk on the moors only paled in comparison to stepping into the very place these ladies and the rest of their family called home. Haworth Parsonage was larger than I imagined (without taking into consideration the addition that was added by the Reverend who took over the parish after Patrick Bronte died). The foyer was large, airy and bright and there were many windows throughout the house. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the entire home was furnished and filled with actual Bronte belongings. The living room where the girls would write their poetry and novels still held the couch where Emily died (in an earlier post I incorrectly stated that she died in her bedroom; I was mistaken, sorry!). Standing in the room where the genius who wrote Wuthering Heights took her last breath, was humbling and sad. Because she died so young (30 years old) there are not many of Emily's personal items left, but I did see her German books, her lap desk with its contents as she left them and her favorite dog, Keeper's collar.
In contrast, there were many of Charlotte's personal items. These items were kept in various glass cases in her bedroom: shoes, gloves, jewelry, a dress she wore on her honeymoon and even a lock of her light brown hair. She was a tiny lady, I'm thinking 4 feet 10 inches and a size two, yet she had been such a huge literary force -- a woman ahead of her time.
There was no photography allowed in the house but I have committed most of it to memory. For the two days I was in the village, I would make it a point to walk by the house whenever possible. I took many self portraits outside and even asked a stranger to take my photo in front of the house. I walked in the front yard and looked out at every view imaging how it may have looked for Emily. Luckily, most of the town has remained the same since the Brontes were alive; a few new buildings have come into view (new being 1890ish) but for the most part, the landscape has remained untouched.
I only wish all of you could have been there with me, it was truly a beautiful and fulfilling experience that words cannot describe. Another favorite writing Brit of mine, Virginia Woolf, did a much better job describing her visit to Haworth in a short essay about the trip. In this excerpt, she describes how she felt as she looked at the case that held Charlotte's belongings, "But the most touching case - so touching that one hardly feels reverent in one's gaze - is that which contains the little personal relics of the dead woman. The natural fate of such things is to die before the body that wore them, and because these, trifling and transient though they are, have survived, Charlotte Brontë the woman comes to life, and one forgets the chiefly memorable fact that she was a great writer. Her shoes and her thin muslin dress have outlived her." I leave you Virginia's words my friends as I don't think I can do much better.

Humbled and Inspired,

The Temporary European

Friday, 12 June 2009

Shopping for Fruit is Fun!

Something we have in common with Londoners is a passion for shopping. A place I find most interesting here is Marks & Spencer, or as they say M&S. It is part grocery store, part pharmacy, part department store. The large M&S locations are about four floors and have everything from pickled beets to bras! I have to admit that I went in for fruit once and left with hangers and socks (and the fruit as well). What I find interesting is that the clothes are not low quality -- they are well-made and trendy. The clothes range from reasonable to moderate -- I can't speak for others, but I wouldn't feel comfortable buying a blouse for over £50 in a grocery store.
M&S is celebrating their 125 year anniversary and they have a long commercial on the telly which announces this, over and over. Apparently, M&S started out as a penny bazaar and is now all the rage here in London. The commercial is a bit annoying but I crack up at the part that says something like, "...they (M&S) liberated housewives with curry in a hurry, and drip dry and we ladies were properly fitted in the boob department...". The Brits love to use the word boob and do so freely on TV and in everyday conversation. It cracks me up! Anyway, you can easily spend hours in the "grocery store," and buy many things you don't actually need. When my mum comes over, I plan on taking her to M&S; I can even buy her a nice lunch and coffee while we are there. Now that is truly one-stop-shopping!

Hopefully this link will work and you can watch the advert too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Egt1ST2KWq8

If not, just go to youtube and type in Marks and Spencer 125 years. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Navigating A Tubeless City

Since we last met, I have become even more intimate with the bus system here in London. Why?, you may ask, well because as of 7PM last night, nearly all the tubes in London stopped running and this city of nearly 7.5 million is relying solely upon buses for mass transportation. 
The fun started last night: On the tube at 6:15PM I became a human sardine (I don't even like sardines). The tube was so packed I almost didn't make it off the train at my stop; although I do not remember being born, I liken my slow but forceful process through the heaving, humid bodies of at least twelve fellow commuters, to the trip down the birth canal. The waiting platform never looked so welcoming.
This morning was less of a birthing experience but still painful. I found a bus that would take me half way to work and it was jammed with cranky commuters who felt the bus was as bad as taking a horse and buggy. Mother nature added insult to injury on this strike day and decided to add soggy to our other multiplying adjectives for the commute into work. Those who have cars decided to drive into the city making traffic unbearable. It took the bus 15 minutes to travel 4 blocks. I was fortunate enough to get a seat on the bus and I busied myself by studying the mad and frustrated Londoners surrounding me. I read one woman's text message to her boss, "Morning, Michael. This bloody bus is taking ages. I'll be another 20 minutes. Cheers." Another young woman was complaining loudly into her phone, "I don't know! Another 30 minutes maybe. Bloody hell!" And the sound of an Englishman from somewhere in the depths of the bus floated in the air, "This is futile! Bloody futile." I was impressed that no one lashed out at their fellow commuters and there was not one squabble over seats, or the bag in the shin or the unintentional elbow to the back; for the most part, everyone continued to ignore one another in the typical London fashion. Good to know that even in times of crisis the proper people of London don't resort to violence and shouting.  Although, this is only day 1 of the strike...
After getting off somewhere near where I thought my next bus should be, it started to rain harder and I had to laugh at the continuous onslaught of the comedy of errors. I found my bus three blocks later (yes, I missed my bus by 5 seconds) and I waited for the next one to arrive. The rest of my journey was pretty uneventful and I made it to work in a little over an hour (it normally takes me 28 minutes).  I'm not sure how I'm getting home...I'll worry about that later.
A few of my coworkers are still straggling in; it has taken some 4 hours to get here! I hope this strike ends soon because it's only a matter of time before even the civilized London dwellers go New York style and fight it out at the bus stops and buses. 

For those who care to know: The last transit strike in  NYC was on December 20, 2005 and that strike lasted for nearly 48 hours. 

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Like Dorothy said, "There's No Place Like Home."

As one of my favorite saying goes, "Nothing is ever easy!"  Here in London this saying reigns; buying groceries, getting to work, getting ready for work (no outlets in the bathroom) -- it's all hard. But, I persevere because I am woman, hear me roar... okay, I'm getting carried away. 
On Saturday night, I went to dinner with a really great woman who is originally from New York. Before leaving my, flat I mapped out my way there and my way back; I have learned the hard way that prior mapping is a necessity here in this city. I set out confidently with my handwritten travel plans tucked away in my purse. I arrived safely and fairly unfrazzled at the City Road Station but was a bit put off by the amount of begging homeless, trash in the corners and graffiti on the walls. Up until that point I had not seen much of this in London. To my amusement and bewilderment, a gaggle of girls, approximately aged 18 - 22, came spilling out of the train station wearing my clothes from the 80's! They had on fluorescent pink tops with black minis and black tights with matching fluorescent pink ballet flats or stilettos (where does one buy fluorescent shoes in 2009??).  They looked like a girl band that had gotten lost in a time machine and were transported into the future. While there were some other fluorescent colors, pink was the color of choice. My friend arrived (thankfully she was not wearing the girl band colors) and we began walking toward the restaurant. The neighborhood changed quickly to trendy restaurants and people in proper dinner attire. We had a lovely dinner at an eclectic restaurant (think nature meets industrial decor). I cannot say enough about how fabulous it was to talk with an American. I did not realize how much I missed the simple interaction of dinner with a fellow-American. 
Here in London, it is normal protocol to stay at a restaurant for 3 hours or more. If you want to leave within 1 1/2 hours, it is hard to get the attention of the waiter and to get your bill (they don't call it the check here). Before my friend and I knew it, it was midnight and we were tired and talked out. After finally getting the bill and leaving, my friend informed me that we needed to figure out which bus to take home. Bus? My travel plans did not include a bus. 
"What about the tube?" I asked.
"The tubes aren't running  anymore," she said.
 How the hell can the tubes just stop running? A major city like London closes down its hub of transportation at midnight. Are you f**king kidding me? I keep all this to myself as I didn't want to scare my new friend. After nearly 10 minutes of walking to bus stops and reading the routes, we figure out which routes to take but we had to part ways due to our living in opposite directions within the city. I suddenly found myself alone at 12:30 AM at a bus stop among drunk people, and I had just missed the bus. I quickly learned that night buses run every 20 minutes; so there I was with the drunks for 20 long minutes. Thankfully, Stacey kept me company on my blackberry during the ordeal. Let me also add here, that once I got on the bus and took the 20 minute ride, it would not let me off in my neighborhood. I would have to find another bus that would take me home. I was not feeling good about my new travel plans, quite honestly, I felt confused, scared and anxious. I felt even worse when the bus arrived; it was packed with more drunks. I was shuffled on by the masses and was wedged (literally) between three drunk friends, two men and a beefy woman. They decided to talk about me and wonder why I was typing on my blackberry. I let this banter go on for a few moments and then the NJ Girl in me couldn't take it anymore. I knew these types, all ballsy to those they think are timid. 
"What do you want to know?" I confronted the beefy gal. She was surprised and suddenly turned nicer. After some high fives (she initiated) and "NJ is close to New York" geography instruction, the trio got off the bus along with most of the other drunks and I sank into a seat and dreamed of my Audi and its door locks.  Finally, I reached the end of the bus route and walked toward the closest bus stop. My wedge heels were beginning to hurt and I was getting cranky(er?). The first bus stop was no good, I saw another one up ahead. A bus passed me as I walked to the stop; indeed this was the one I wanted and my bus pulled away without me. Thankfully, I knew my way home from there and decided to walk rather than wait with yet more drunks. 
I will spare you the painful steps of my 20 minute journey on foot because to relive it again will only hurt my psyche and my feet all over again.  I will say that I successfully scared the daylights out of two young chaps who thought it would be funny to pretend that one of them was falling into me; when the unfortunate fool nearly stepped on my toe I yelled, "What the f**k is wrong with you people?" I clearly had had enough fun with the natives and the Joisey in me could not be held back. The two men ran away and I continued to talk to myself (out loud) the remaining two blocks home.
Upon entering my flat at 1:30 AM, I threw off my shoes, tore up my travel plans and fell into bed exhausted and mad as hell. Maybe eating home alone isn't so bad? That night I dreamed of speeding down route 80 in my car with the windows open, the sun shining and the radio blasting some Dave Matthews -- man, I miss home.

Loathing Public Transportation,
The Temporary European

Friday, 5 June 2009

Sleep Tight

Even bedding is not the same here in England. At home, we are used to a simple bedding system: fitted sheet, top sheet, blanket and then the fancy comforter. When I first got here, I thought perhaps the bedding issue was due to the dumpiness of my former flat. I have come to find that all places share the bedding issue; I've stayed at the dump in Islington, two nights in the posh Bloomsbury Hotel, a night in a swanky boutique hotel in Canterbury and now my homey flat in the West End, and the bedding is all the same. Here, they use an oversized top sheet as the mattress coverage and a duvet that is stuffed with a down comforter -- and that is it. Now, there are many perplexities here to ponder and discuss. 
First, why no fitted sheet (kind of like why no round toilet seats and mounted shower heads)? Anyone who is a fitful sleeper knows that even the best fitting fitted sheet can slip up over the mattress corners, imagine a flat sheet merely tucked in under the mattress? Disaster. 
Second, why no top sheet (kind of like why no long shower curtains)? Top sheets are nice to have because if you get too warm at night you can throw back your blanket and still have some coverage. And more importantly, if hotels are only using the duvet system, are we to believe that they change the duvet every time a new guest checks in? I'd like to think so because the germ ramifications are both nauseating and immoral. I do take some comfort (no pun intended?) in knowing that the women who comes to change my bedding and supply new towels does indeed change the duvet every week. 
Third, consider the annoyance factor. If any of you have ever used a duvet, you know how tiresome and frustrating  it is to get the down comforter out and back in! It is like a mini-marathon of sorts. As a matter of fact, a laundry detergent commercial here uses that very premise; the woman is struggling with her duvet and she has to climb into it and it becomes a long, dark labrynth and she gets lost and upset but then she smells something fragrant and beautiful and she crawls through and finds a sunny field of flowers (symbolic for the great-smelling detergent). Now imagine, if you will, changing these things weekly? You would have to change them weekly because there is no barrier top sheet to keep germs and loose skin cells off the duvet (ewww). 
On Monday, Adrian came in and said he couldn't wait for his wife to return from a long weekend at the beach; she had taken the boys and he had been lonely all weekend.
"I was so bloody bored I decided change to all the summer duvets for my wife. Those things are a nuisance." I was touched by both his sadness at being alone and his doing something nice for his wife in her absence. But, I was more interested in this summer duvet versus the winter duvet disclosure. 
"What's with the duvet system here?"  The Jersey girl in me came out.  Adrian laughed. He went on to tell me that there are duvet "weights" -- heavier (more feathers) for winter and lighter (less feathers) for summer.  He also explained that it wasn't always like this; according to Adrian's recollection, up until the 70's they had regular sheets like we do but then the sudden change to the duvet and sheets were sent packing. Now, dear reader, I felt obligated to research this phenomenon for you and I found a lot of interesting facts about duvets. 
1) Duvets are actually the comforters and the cover itself is actually the duvet cover (duh!); for the sake of simplicity and sanity, I will continue to use the word duvet rather than switch back and forth
2) Duvets (and their covers!) were invented by the rural English around the 17th Century
3) Duvets are derived from laziness! After extensive research (ok, a few google searches) I found that the whole reason for a duvet is, "Duvets reduce the complexity of making a bed, as it is a single covering instead of the combination of bed sheetsblankets, and quilts or other bed covers."  We Americans are known for our work ethic, thus our commitment to sheets, blankets and quilts.

If you'd like to learn more about this strange European love of duvets, just google, "why do Brits use duvets" and you will find a plethora of blogs and sites talking about this topic. 

Sleeping Sheetless in London,
The Temporary European

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Boyles on Humanity

It would appear that our friends across the pond are finally succumbing to reality TV. This is not to say that reality TV hasn't reared it's ugly head before now, but up until recently it hadn't completely penetrated the mass public. But thanks to Simon Cowll and Britian’s Got Talent, Brits have become more American than they’d like to admit, and are completely addicted to brainless TV. Perhaps I should consider myself fortunate to be here during the Susan Boyle rise and fall but it does make me a bit sad to see our accented friends acting like complete idiots over this nonsense. Need I remind us of our idiocy over Richard Hatch (Survivor) and his after-winning mayhem? Or our obsession with Anna Nicole Smith and her drug-induced monologues on her reality show (sad that she appears to have been murdered over the money the show earned her). Some may snicker in delight as we witness our kin across the pond lower themselves to the likes of "Has Susan Gone Mad?," and "Susan Uses The F Word" headlines but I worry. I worry that if the Brits were the last fortresses for English speakers' esteem, respect for higher education and if nothing else, mastery of the English language, then we are all doomed.

But, I find some hope in the future of English speaking humanity here in London; thankfully, the Brits have not succumb to the nasty American habit of clapping and cheering when an unfortunate waiter or waitress drops and breaks a cup or plate. The Brits let the moment pass unnoticed as the dropper quickly picks up the item and carries on with the least amount of humiliation possible. I'm going to ignore the Susan Boyle phenomenon and spare the Brits some humiliation as I hope (and pray) that they recover their senses and find their way back to the BBC.