Monday, January 25, 2010


Whenever I'm too lazy to make a proper sauce to go with their spaghetti, I ask my kids if they want to be American children or Italian children. That's our code for whether they want tomato ketchup and grated cheese (American) or olive oil and parmesan (Italian) on their pasta.

Yet as I discovered to my utter amazement last week, this is a stereotype of the first order because get this: Americans don't put ketchup on their spaghetti! Not only that, they seem to be intrigued at the very suggestion! Butter, yes, grated cheese, perhaps. But not ketchup.

Interestingly enough, while looking for a suitable image to accompany this post, I came across a recent entry on another blog stating exactly the same thing, and a second one on how a Swede introduced Americans to the concept.

So, with yet another of my prejudices biting the dust, I just wonder what firmly-held belief will be demolished next. That's the great thing about living in a new country: it's full of surprises.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Customised Plates

My new, personalised car number plates arrived in the post today, and I am very proud that I can now advertise my family's perceived status as purveyors of BSE: 

In contrast to the UK and many other countries, custom plates are extremely cheap in the States. Here in Michigan, for example, they cost just $30 for the first 12 months, and $15 a year thereafter. What's more, provided it's not perceived as offensive or already taken, you can choose any combination of up to seven letters and/or numbers - including spaces. As such, you can give your imagination free rein (or not, judging by the "BMW Z4" number plate I saw on one BMW Z4).

Given this undoubted bargain, not to mention solid proof of the "land of opportunities" principle, I'm surprised that everyone doesn't have personalised plates on their car.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Emergency Brake

Yesterday morning I was listening to 'Car Talk', a very amusing radio programme on NPR in which two very wise and funny brothers give auto-related advice to listeners who phone in, and one story struck me as typically American: a woman rang up to say that she had a manual car - a rare enough occurrence in the US - that she always parked in first gear since her house was on a bit of a hill. However, the problem was that her car would sometimes roll down the driveway nonetheless, and she was concerned about what to do because she didn't want to use the emergency brake. The show's hosts recommended she park in reverse because it was a stronger gear and less likely to slip than first.

I find two things interesting about her story. Firstly, the listener referred to the handbrake as the "emergency brake", a term usually used in reference to a dead-man's handle that stops trains when the driver is in some way incapacitated. As I understand it, the normal term for the device on a car - even in America - is a handbrake.

Equally telling is the fact that not only was she reluctant to use the hand-brake for the precise purpose for which it was designed (i.e. to prevent parked cars from rolling away), even going so far as to suggest that it was for emergency use only (which would be?), but also that the experts did not waste any breath advising her to pull the handbrake.

It is true to say that since nearly all American cars are automatics, you could buy something that cost you an arm and a leg (provided it was the right and left one respectively)* and still be able to drive completely normally in the States. For a similar reason - i.e. that they put the engine in 'park' when they turn it off - Americans treat the handbrake as an appendix-like vestige of a bygone era, and one that can therefore be safely ignored, nay forgotten entirely.

As the above example highlighted perfectly.


* Sorry: bad joke

American Camembert

"Cheese spread"?

As you probably know, I am a lover of real camembert. It would even be fair to describe me as a camembert snob. For me, camembert isn't proper unless it is made from unpasteurised milk and ripened to within a fortnight (ideally a week) of its best-before date, when the skin is just about to go brown and bitter, and the centre has turned a liquid and almost translucent, creamy texture.

"Cheese spread" for me evokes a skinless, mass-manufactured and unmatured gloopy yellow mass reminiscent of the 'Laughing Cow' or 'Dairylee' brands of cheese - the antithesis of my idea of what constitutes camembert. So unless this truly is cheese spread (and I was only given the label for my collection, so cannot say either way), I fear that this is a gross oversimplification, a sort gastronomic dumbing-down for local consumption.

Friday, January 15, 2010


This is a misnomer, if ever there was one.

As you can see on the map, the Midwestern United States - of which my home state of Michigan is a part - are neither in the middle of the country nor are they in the west. Indeed, the Midwest is so northerly and acentral that it should more accurately be termed the "Northeast" (even though Alaska and the "proper" eastern states would probably cry foul on both counts).

So how on earth did they come up with the crazy idea to call it the Midwest?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Wherever you go (i.e. drive) here in the States, you constantly come across this symbol. That's partly because chemists (sorry, pharmacies) aren't limited to medicines and related products, but can - and indeed do - sell food, newspapers, air conditioners, garden furniture, you name it. As such, they tend to be much larger than their European counterparts and therefore more noticeable as you drive past in your SUV.

What's more baffling, however, is the symbol for prescription drugs. It is not, as you might expect, a sort of fused bowdlerised abbreviation using the first letter of the word "prescription" and an Xmas-like "X" to denote "scription". Oh no, that would be far too simple.

As it turns out, the abbreviation of "prescription" is "Rx". But here's where it gets really weird: although several suggestions have been put forward (ranging from the plausible - "recipere" in Latin - to the ridiculous - the eye of Horus, Jupiter), there is no agreement about how exactly the abbreviation - and by extension the symbol - was dreamt up!!

Rule of Thumb

You know your house is badly insulated when there are several inches of snow on the ground outside everywhere except a foot-wide bald ring directly next to your house.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Local Crime

The following gems from the 'Crime Watch' section of our local newspaper, The Beacon, are too priceless to keep to myself:

Tire marks damage lawn
Police said a motorist damaged a front lawn overnight Dec. 20-21 in the 3000 block of Parkland Drive. The homeowner told police that a vehicle made deep tire tracks and grooves in the yard. Upon observation, police said a pickup truck might have sped too quickly into a curve and landed on the grass.

Police settle TV dispute
Police were called in to the 7000 block of Stonebrook Road Dec. 21 to intervene in a family dispute over whether to watch professional wrestling or football on television. Police said the wife called officers after her husband allegedly grabbed her wrist while struggling for the remote control.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I Pastafari

Yesterday I realized that, ever since I became ordained as a priest last year, I have been subconsciously searching for a religious affiliation. This search is now finally over.

It is therefore with a certain amount of pride that I can now announce: "I am a Pastafarian!"

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to give the organisation its official title, was spawned to parody the idiocy of the so-called "theory" of Intelligent Design, a belief espoused by some Christians that the universe is too complex and wonderful to be the product of mere chance or natural selection.

In 2005, when the Kansas School Board was considering whether biology teachers should teach Intelligent Design alongside Darwinism as an equally plausible theory of evolution, Bobby Henderson sent the board a letter in which he demanded tongue-in-cheek that pupils should likewise be taught about his theory of evolution, namely that the world was created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
The letter also claimed that pirates were the original Pastafarians, but that they - like witches - were stereotyped as evil by Christian theologians. An amusing graph provided "evidence" that global warming is directly attributable to the decline in the number of pirates.

So what does it have to do with me, you ask?

Well, as some of you know, spaghetti has always been my favourite food. What's more, I have on occasion (inexplicably) chosen to dress up as a pirate to go to parties. My son even wore a pirate costume to a Halloween celebration at his school this year. But all that might have been dismissed as pure coincidence had I not made the following discovery when I unwrapped my Subway sandwich:

As you can see, it is unmistakably an image of the Flying Spaghetti Monster drawn in grease and sweet onion relish.

There is therefore no doubt that I too have been "touched by His noodly appendage" (the title of the painting at the top).

I have found my calling.