Friday, August 29, 2008


This is our house.

Nothing special, you might think, but actually it is quintessentially American. Why? I'll give you a clue. What's the most prominent feature? Precisely: the garage.

In Europe, you'd have a nice path leading up to your in most cases centrally positioned front door, with the garage tucked away either at the side of or underneath the house. But here, in the land of drive-in movies, restaurants, banks and chemists, to name but a few, the pedestrian entrance to the building is almost an afterthought (because you can always access the house directly from the garage).

The reliance on cars is incredible. I used to think that Americans just didn't like walking. That's wrong. It's often physically impossible to walk somewhere because there simply isn't a pavement. Not that this stops me.

I had a funny experience today. Walking down to my neighbourhood store, I saw a remarkable thing: someone else walking along the road. Even though I couldn't make who it was, I knew this person had to be European. I was right.


If it's on at a cinema near you and you haven't already seen it, you absolutely must do so!
WALL-E is a charming, endearing film. And because it was made by the house of Pixar, it's also got a serious message for adults.

Interestingly enough, the social critique is not, as so often, on one level, but no fewer than three. Firstly the most glaringly obvious one that even my five-year-old understands and could have been written by Al Gore himself: we've got to stop polluting our planet. The second, more subtle one - aimed in my view primarily at the home (i.e. US) market - is that if we don't take (enough) exercise, we become fat and unhealthy. Last, but not least, there's an almost subliminal message about the way that increased use/reliance on mobile and Internet-based communication is leading to growing isolation and eroding normal interpersonal contact.

As I say, I think it's a great movie, not least because of the underlying themes. But don't take my word for it. Go and see the film yourself or check out the trailer.


Everyone seems to have a trampoline around here (just look for the strange black circles on Google Earth), they're great fun, cost remarkably little - and we're going to get one soon!

Emergency Food Supplies

"Whether it's a Stock Market Meltdown, Economic Recession, Gas Crisis, Job Lay-Off, Earthquake, Hurricane, Flood, or Terrorist Attack, each of us MUST be PERSONALLY PREPARED to 'weather-the-storm' with long storing food reserves and other preparedness supplies for a minimum of 2 to 6 weeks. A four (4) to six (6) month reserve or more would even be better."

I love this ad! Quite apart from the Victorian capitalisation, the sense of urgency (or should I say, URGENCY) and the Survival For Dummies-type explanation that the words "four" and "six" actually mean "4" and "6" make this a true gem. I only wonder why you might need half a year's worth of food if the stock market crashes.


Gripe time, I'm afraid: When the Associated Press and others use the term "winningest", it makes my stomach churn. Sure, it's difficult to find a superlative that best describes apparently super-human athletes like Michael Phelps, to take a current example, but why bastardise the English language in the process?

Now before you all start shouting at once, I know the term has been around for a while (and has a listing on Merriam Webster), but let's face it, the term you're looking for is "successful". And if you are going to use "winningest", does that make someone who is not quite at the pinnacle simply "winninger" than others?

Bug Screens

We have insects in Europe, don't we? We all get plagued by mosquitos summer after summer, right? Then why is it that only the Americans have bug screens?

Bug screens are brilliant. You can open your windows or doors to get fresh air, yet keep annoying flying creatures outside where they belong. And if you want to go outside, you just slide the screen aside and Bob is your proverbial.

Fellow New World newbies beware: Don't forget that you have a bug screen and walk straight through. You may end up as I did; with a nasty surprise, a bump on the head and a defenestrated bug screen at your feet.


Oh bliss! Can anything be this delicious? For the uninitiated (as I was until recently), this manna from Heaven comprises a toasted marshmallow sandwiched between two biscuits and a bar of chocolate. It has its own - extensive - entry on Wikipedia, and even appears to have inspired the great Charles Dickens way back in the 19th century when he was writing Oliver Twist ("Please sir, can I have s'more?").

For Sale

"For Sale: Stretch Hummer with wooden flooring and fireplace"

This small ad, found in a magazine, epitomises what I term "Only in America". After all, where else would someone take a military vehicle with fuel consumption of at best 17mpg (13l/100km), make minor adjustments like air-conditioning so that it's more pleasant to drive around town, add enough legroom to accommodate even the tallest NBA star, lay wooden floors and then - to make sure you leave a really meaty carbon footprint - fit a fireplace as well?