Sunday 8 July 2012

Questions I Hate As An Expat

"I am not now, nor have I ever been, acquainted with Bob Diamond, even though I am American." This was my reply when a British friend (who is smart enough to know better) pointed out to me that Diamond, former chief executive of Barclays Bank, is American.

As I sit in the University library cafe eating my houmus and cream cheese sandwich -- spiced up by a chopped pickled hot chilli and accompanied by a summer-wonderful selection of fruit starring giant raspberries and bright juicy nectarine slices -- I can't help thinking of all the stupid questions some Brits ask me. For the benefit of fellow Americans who move to Britain -- and for the education of Brits who might ask these questions when they find out someone is an American living in Britain -- I will list them here.

1. "Why did you move to England?" If a short answer like "Job transfer" or "Family obligations" suffices, great. But often the reason someone who is not a refugee moves to another country is a hell of a lot more complicated than that. Why does anybody move anywhere? Why does anybody leave a job and take a new one? Why do some people go to university and some don't? Why does somebody dye their hair magenta? What does the world consist of? How long is a piece of string?

2. "This must be a lot of rain for you!" Well actually, even though I grew up in Southern California (where they do actually have heavy rainstorms) I moved to the UK from Seattle, famous for its rain. Nuff said?

3. "Why did you leave all that gorgeous sunshine?" Firstly, see Question 2. And secondly, if I had moved here from Southern California, I would find the variety of rain and snow and autumn colours a relief from the monotony of Southern California weather. Just like everyone in the UK is currently getting sick of rain every single day, many people who live in Los Angeles get sick of that cloud-free glary hazy sky day after day. Variety is the spice of life.

4. "You're American? I love America! I had a great time in Florida!" No offense to Floridians, but when I hear foreigners sum up the entire American experience as a 2-week holiday in Orlando, I start to fume. For one thing, Florida -- especially the Atlantic coast -- is one of the last places on this planet that I would intentionally visit. And for another thing, America -- or more properly the United States of America -- is a massive place with a massive variety of climates, landscapes, and cultures. You've got bustling metropolises, high rugged mountains, cactus-speckled deserts, gorgeous seacoasts with tidepools and long sandy beaches and rock formations, evergreen rainforests, volcanoes, plains stretching as far as the eye can see, thick forests, and moss-draped bayous. You can meet Appalachian hillbillies and Cajuns and cowboys and Hassidic Jews and Hawaiian surfers and Chinese bankers and Mexican teachers and Samoan policemen. You can see a wide range of creatures in their native habitats: bears, raccoons, wolves, armadillos, alligators, scorpions, herons, bats, eagles, chipmunks, gophers, whales, sea lions, feral parrots, and beetles the size of your fist.

In other words, there is a hell of a lot more to see than Disney World.

5. "Why on earth did you move here?" Why not?

6. "Do you go back to America a lot?" I wouldn't say a lot -- only as often as I can afford, which isn't often at all.

7. "Will you ever move back to America/Are you going to stay here forever?" I'm sorry but I'm not a psychic. Life is full of uncertainties and changes and one never knows what is lying in wait around the next corner. Never say never, and never say forever.

8. How come you've still got your American accent?" Although I've lived in the UK for over a decade, I lived the majority of my life in America. Why would I lose my American accent?

9. "You must really love England, huh?" I don't love or hate living in England. I didn't love or hate living in the US. Every place, every way of life, has its up sides and its down sides.

Be realistic, for Chrissake!

Sunday 1 July 2012

Barbecue-flavour camelids and more on excessive sweetness

From Liquid Life by Zigmunt Bowman: "The most sober and seasoned of counsellors advise the seekers after guidance to accommodate themselves to the inevitable: ambivalence is here to stay, they say; the joys and horrors of ingesting what the world peddles to us and seduces us into digesting are inseparable."

I know it's not long ago since I talked about the overabundance of sugar in British prepared food, but it's obviously been on experts' minds as well, according to the recent blitz of articles and TV programs on the subject. It's sugar, not salt, they say, that has made us fatter.

And here I was blaming the average British palate for this overabundance of sugar in foods that shouldn't be sweet, eg. mayonnaise, vinaigrette salad dressing, and Thai chilli prawns. But one article blamed Richard Nixon. In 1971, as Nixon was facing re-election, the rising cost of food caused him to push Earl Butz's plan to urge farmers to grow corn in order to produce lots of high-fructose corn syrup. This magical substance was not only a cheaper alternative to sugar, but it could be added to pizzas, coleslaw, and meat to improve the taste and give everything that "just baked" sheen. Even Coke started to use HFCS instead of sugar, which as a result increased the caloric content. By the mid 1970s, low fat items (read "Lite", "Slimline", "Virtually Fat-Free", et al) became popular with the assumption they would prevent both obesity and heart disease. To improve the taste of these low-fat items, sugar was added (or the amount of sugar increased), replacing the calories from fat with calories from sugar and high-fructose sweeteners.

And this is one of the reasons the obesity epidemic is growing, both in Britain and in the USA. Fortunately as a thin person I haven't gained weight as a result -- but I still can't stand the thought of what all that unnecessary sugar is doing to my blood sugar levels, my teeth, and my already hyperactive system. So it's not just a matter of taste.

Speaking of taste, while I was waiting for a bus the other day I spotted an advertisement for a new product. Llamas are new bite-sized nibbles baked in the shape of a llama. I can handle biting into disks and wheels and sticks, and I even used to enjoy Pogens ginger cookies that were in the shape of animals. But somehow a BBQ-flavoured llama just sounds wrong. What's next? Salt and vinegar camels? Cheese and onion giraffes? Ready salted goats? Nacho Cheese armadillos? Prawn warthogs? Basil and mozzarella locusts? Thai chicken maggots?

If I ever see packets of Smoky Bacon Software Engineers being sold in my local pub, I think I'll go move into a cave and live on lichen…

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