Saturday, 9 October 2010

Job Interview Hoops, The Price of Food and Clothes, Wide Streets, and Palm Trees

FRIDAY: Lunch is being wolfed down in the staff room today because I'm ravenous. I've spent the past two hours going through yet another job interview. It's not that the job is that complicated: it's pretty much what I do now as Library Scum, only with slightly better pay. But the labours one has to endure are just getting absurd.

If I'd been interviewed for this same job four years ago, I could have just sat there and sold myself as the right person for the job. Nowadays one must first jump through a row of flaming hoops, then tapdance across a highwire while juggling chainsaws, then bungee jump into an active volcano, and finally create a PowerPoint presentation about what one has gained from this obstacle course that one can apply to the position of Pot Washer or, in this case, Library Scum II.

So the sandwich that just vanished down my gullet was an odd one: extra mature cheddar with sun-dried tomatoes and basil pesto on a very chewy sunflower rustic roll. I think it was the torrential rain outside that inspired my sandwich making this morning.

If I can break out of this brain-addled postmodern "It's-All-About-Interviewing-For-A-Job" state of mind, I can move on to the second chapter of my post-holiday report, What Is Different About Those Crazy American States These Days. A big thing I noticed during my recent visit was the disparity of the cost of things as compared to the cost of the same things in the UK.

Even though the British pound is currently worth around $1.50, a £5.00 lunch will cost you around $10.00. Obviously the average American sandwich is big enough to feed two people like myself, but I resent having to pay $10.00 for twice the food I want. And although I'm pleased that one can now get a decent pint of ale nearly anywhere in America, I was a bit shocked that the typical price of a pint was $6.00. And that was for a 16-ounce American pint; the Imperial pints I bought were more like $8.00. I did run into a couple of places where one could get an American pint for $4.00, but these seemed few and far between. So eating and drinking out are a bit expensive.

Clothes, however, are relatively cheap in the US. For instance, a pair of Levis 501 jeans would cost you around £45.00 in the UK but only £18.00 in the US. And a particular puffer coat at Gap USA currently costs $89.60, while the same exact coat at Gap UK costs £89.50. And a simple pair of slippers I got at an American Sears for $10.00 would have been £10.00 if I'd bought the same pair at Debenhams in the UK. So if you're off to America, buy some clothes while you're there.

Another thing I noticed about America is not a change but rather my own newly developed understanding of how Brits view American streets. They are quite wide. Even my mother's quiet little suburban residential street is so wide I imagine on a smoggy day it's difficult to make out the houses on the opposite side. Driving down her street I felt as if there was enough room for 3 more cars beside me. And when crossing a nearby major boulevard on foot, I felt I should have packed a sandwich for the journey, not to mention a bottle of water, as it can get very hot in Southern California.

THE NEXT TUESDAY: I'm sitting in the Winter Garden nibbling my tasteful basil pesto sandwich and thinking about the similarities between cinematography and earring design. This is a constructive project of my own, and a much better subject to dwell on than wondering if I got the job or not.

This brings me to my next American impression. When one grows up somewhere one tends to take the local flora, fauna, and architecture for granted. For instance, my Sheffield-native friends often seem completely oblivious to the wonderful Yorkshire stone buildings and vibrantly green hills surrounding them; whereas growing up in a single-story 1950s stucco house on a flat barren (and very wide) street, I am constantly impressed by my Yorkshire surroundings.

So I've reached a point in my expatriated life where I can now see what impresses foreigners visiting Southern California. And palm trees have got to be way up there on the list. If you live in Florida or the tropics or on a Pacific island, they might pass by unnoticed. But to a Brit they stand out in the Los Angeles Metropolitan area landscape like bizarre curved wind turbines with clusters of arched green blades. And they're everywhere you look, as plentiful as espresso bars in Seattle and Big Issue vendors in Sheffield City Centre. Everywhere you look, palm trees line the avenues and dot the terrains, and you almost expect to see camels and pyramids as well. Even my mother has two tall palm trees framing her front door.

The only place I've ever seen palm trees in the UK are in Victorian greenhouses and winter gardens. Oh, and in the gardens of Stromness in Orkney. But trees aren't native to the Orkney Islands, so that's their excuse.

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