Wednesday, December 17, 2008


(You should have seen the size of the bag
she came home with last week)

(So if I've got this right, you can refuse someone accommodation on the basis of their age, height, weight and/or genetic information - whatever that may be)

(Wasn't that what they did the year Bush got in?)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Weather (contd.)

There are more freak weather conditions heading our way.

According to my iPhone, the forecast for tomorrow is for snow, a low of -5°C and a high of -6°C.

Could Do Better

Much as I love CNN, I'm afraid it repeatedly shot itself in the foot tonight.

In advertising run throughout the evening, CNN claimed its election coverage had attracted "the biggest audience than any other network".

It also ran an opinion poll about the Obamas' new dog. The results were as follows:

(That's 107% by my count - not to mention the missing "the")

Come on, CNN: you can do better than that!

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Gravity isn't the only thing that works differently in the US. Weather doesn't follow the normal rules of numerical linearity.

When I got up this morning and checked today's weather forecast on my iPhone, it said we'd have lows of -1°C and highs of 1°C in our town. However, the actual temperature was given as -7°C (it's now up to -3°C)!

In case you don't believe me, look at this:

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Tonight Show

We first came across The Tonight Show - or more precisely Jay Leno - when we were in Berlin and had NBC piped through our cable. Needless to say, it quickly became the highlight of our evening's TV watching.

When we moved to France, we were robbed of this privilege, and subsequently spent the next 6 years pining for a Jay Leno fix, satisfied only with the occasional foray onto the show's online site (incidentally a great source of clips from current and previous shows).

Imagine our joy therefore when we learnt that we would be moving to Lenoland itself, and could watch the man himself live every weekday evening

Well, the joy was shortlived. The Tonight Show is recorded in Burbank, California, i.e. a completely different time zone, and primetime viewing on the West Coast is night-owl TV around here. That means we have to wait until 11.30pm to even get a glimpse of our comic hero, whose Monologues, Headlines and Jaywalking sections are televisual classics - not to mention his interviewing style.

Worse still, we found out about a month ago that NBC thinks Jay Leno is getting too old for TV (he's been hosting the show for about 20 years now), and was going to axe him next spring. Having waited so long for the pleasure of seeing him, this was truly a tragic blow.

Luckily for us, help is at hand: rumour has it that NBC has not only relented, but offered Leno a primetime EST show from May. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Now all we need is for Saturday Night Live to become Saturday Evening Live.


Gravity works differently here in the States. Either that, or we live in an anti-gravity field (which would however explain my superhuman ability to deflect fat).

I always thought that gravitational forces make heavy things move from a higher point to a lower point.  I now know that's a quaint Old World misconception.

Our house is halfway up a slope, so applying Newtonian apple-on-head physics, you would expect rainwater to run down the hill and collect - and at sub-zero temperatures freeze - at the bottom. Wrong! Somehow, a thick sheet of (black) ice has built up on the slope outside our house, while the top and bottom of the hill have remained completely and frustratingly free of both ice and snow.

Stranger still, this gravitational anomaly only seems to apply to water (perhaps it isn't heavy water) and grass (which also seems to defy the gravitational pull and stays firmly rooted to the spot). Applying the ice example, you would expect passing cars to slide about in circles in front of our house, yet bizarrely enough they skid down to the foot of the hill instead.

Can anyone who got more than 14% in their last physics exam please explain this phenomenon to me?

Terms of Endearment

I've just discovered that I really like being addressed as hon' by strange women in supermarkets - even if they just want me to sell me something.

Somehow it just doesn't sound the same as when the kids at school back in England used to call me that.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Odd Products

A product for the non-Jamie Olivers among us
(yours truly included)

The product for people who think their food is salty enough
(I think)

At this price, I suspect it not only looks like but also tastes of another feline by-product
(It also gives a new meaning to "being on the piss").

Expat's Dilemma

One of the pitfalls of moving from one country to another is having to get used to a different currency.

In my short life I have suffered no fewer than four such mental monetary realignments: moving from England to Germany (pounds sterling - deutschmarks), from Germany to France (deutschmarks - francs), European Monetary Union (francs - euros) and now the move from France to the United States (euros - dollars).
Each time I was confronted with a new currency, it took about two years to start "thinking" in the local currency. In the meantime, I went through something like the five stages of grieving:
  1. Denial (0-3 months) - My brain refuses to accept that I am in another country. All prices are automatically converted into the old currency in my mind;
  2. Insanity (4-6 months) - The new currency means nothing and is essentially Monopoly money. Everything therefore seems incredibly cheap. Stage 2 is the most dangerous part of the cycle, since I spend willy-nilly (this is where I am now);
  3. Depression (7-15 months) - Having lived with the new currency for some time, I start forgetting the reference points (the price of bread, alcohol, DVDs, etc.) in the old one. However, I still can't really get to grips with the new one. As a result, I don't understand anything anymore. This is theoretically the best time to move to another currency;
  4. Schizophrenia (16-24 months) - I have got used to the new currency and can more-or-less move from one to the other, though still reminisce about the one I have "left behind"; and finally
  5. Acceptance - The point of no return. I think only in the new currency forsaking all others.

Given that we're due to be in the States for about three years, I'll just have time to get used to the dollar before I'm back to square - and stage - one again. Unless, of course, Euroland is so smitten by President Obama that it decides to adopt the Greenback.


Notice the deliberate mistake? Precisely: they forgot to mention that wheels and heels need to yield to space hoppers.

I'm sure the ice conditions are very unusual when temperatures get below minus zero!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Election "Unwords"

With the US presidential election well and truly over, and Barack Obama on his way to the White House, I feel the time has come to call for the banning of words and terms that were overused, misused and occasionally abused to the point of infuriation during campaigning.

In the style of the German "Unwort des Jahres", I would therefore like to present my nominations for "Unwords of the Election", some of which I sincerely hope are consigned to the dustbin of history for all eternity:

  • I approve this message
  • Pork barrel
  • Lipstick
  • Endorse
  • Maverick
  • Change
  • Joe the Plumber (he was neither called "Joe" nor was he a certified plumber)
  • Swing states
  • Pundant (which I heard Obama, McCain, Palin, Hillary Clinton and others use incorrectly for "pundit")
  • Sarah Palin


- You're from Australia, aren't you?

- No, England.

- Of course! I always get those two accents mixed up.

You Say "Potato" (contd.)

Because of the large Jewish community in the States, a lot of people are called "Aaron". Unfortunately for non-Americans like myself trying to get their tongues round local pronunciation norms, the name "Aaron" is not pronounced "ah-ron", as it would in England for instance, but "e-rin".

Non-Jewish families also name their children thus, though sometimes - and I suspect this may be socioeconomic in origin - the child is Christened "Erin".

Fortunately for us New World newbies, in this case the name is said just like it's spelt.

House Construction

I'm beginning to suspect that the story of the Three Little Pigs is actually a parable about house construction in Africa, North America and Europe.

As you can see from the photo above, even the most expensive houses around here (i.e. suburbia) are built not of stone, concrete or brick, but what one person I spoke to described as "8-foot stick". This wooden superstructure is covered in insulation - typically Tyvek - and then some sort of thin cladding. The fancier abodes get a faux-Victorian brick facade, but more often than not (our house included) the outside of the house is clad in amazingly flimsy plastic panelling that disintegrates the moment you come close. Interior walls are made of plasterboard. In most instances, the roof is just strips of felt stapled to wooden boards.

Not surprisingly therefore, these houses don't stand up to any hurricanes that come huffing and puffing by, which is why all houses have a "tornado room"; a typically subterranean and/or brick-walled room that will resist the ravages of Mother Nature and to which you can retreat if you don't fancy dropping, covering and holding onto table legs as your house of cards collapses around you.

All this leaves me to wonder why houses are built so rudimentarily. Is it purely a question of cost? Or could it be that people don't bother investing in sturdier accommodation because they move around so often (our house is just six years old and we're already the third occupants)?


Flying back from a business trip last week, Laurence spent the best part of an hour scouring the seven levels of the car park in the increasingly desperate search of her car - until it finally dawned on her that she'd arrived at a different terminal to the one she'd departed from.

When she got on the shuttle bus to the correct terminal and told the driver her story, he not only took her to the proper car park, but actually drove inside, found the right level and dropped her off right next to her car!

Now that's something you'd never get in Europe. L'Amérique: douze points!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Americans put Jif on their sandwiches.

So do we - as much and as often as possible!

Monday, December 1, 2008

National Public Radio

Where would we be without National Public Radio?

Some people watch television while eating breakfast. We turn on the radio the moment we come downstairs, continue listening to NPR in the car, and then tune in again while cooking our dinner. NPR is simply superb, an American BBC Radio 4, a fresh, bold and blissfully advertising-free haven of non-partisan reporting, solid, interesting journalism and offbeat humour.

The similarity with Radio 4 is not coincidental. Many reports and shows are produced together with the BBC World Service. The station even airs News Hour every day. But there are plenty of great homegrown classics too, including Car Talk, hosted by the hilarious "Don't drive like my brother" Click and Clack brothers, Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion series, Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me! (a news quiz) and Fresh Air, to name but a few.

Another major advantage for the mobile, Web 2.0, iPod generation is that many of the shows can be downloaded as podcasts and listened to whenever you get the time.

In the country that brought you Fox News and commercials every 7 minutes and even before the closing credits on TV programmes, NPR is a refreshing and uplifting experience whenever you listen.

Sacred Cow IPA

Sacred Cow was undoubtedly named thus in a vain attempt to stave off criticism. With good reason: Sacred Cow, which one clearly inebriated online aficionado describes as "a bold, refreshing, hoppy India Pale Ale with superb roundness and balance" that makes it "uniquely and deliciously drinkable", is by far the worst thing I have ever drunk, and the holder of the dubious title of First Beer I Have Poured Down the Drain.

My advice to anyone considering trying Sacred Cow is: don't. Or rather: come round to my place; you're welcome to have the five I have left.