Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Odd Words

As my regular readers will know, I collect examples of strange uses of the English language by Americans, and publish these at the end of every year. I hope that the 2011 list of odd words meets with your approval:

  • Overcast (n): "There will be breaks in the overcast later in the day"
  • Get backlogged (v)
  • Facebook (v): "Facebook us!" (friending is sooo 2010)
  • Beautify (v)
  • Flex (v): Be flexible about
  • Threepeat (v): Repeat something three times
  • Ouster (n): The act of ousting
  • Disserve (v): Do a disservice to
  • Belongingness: Belonging
  • Tanner (adj): More tanned
  • Outreach (v): Reach out
  • Up (v): Increase
  • Impactive/impactful (adj): Having an impact
  • Headquartered (adj)
  • Barefootable (adj): Capable of running barefoot
  • Marriageable (adj): Capable of finding a spouse
  • Credentialled (v): Having credentials
  • Geek (v): I have no idea!!!
  • Bring to justice (usu. pp): Kill
  • Transact (v): Make a transaction
  • Dead end (v): "14 Mile Road dead ends in 1 mile"
  • Monogrammable
  • Install (n)
  • Awarded: Award-winning
  • Stank (n): Stink
  • Stankiest (adj): Smelliest

Odd Products

Yes, it really is a purple-and-blue cake

Honey, where did you put the glitter-duck Xmas decorations?

Prevents the neighbours' kids using your pool, I guess

(This was sold in a sports equipment shop)

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Two days ago, I went to CVS, a nationwide chain of chemists (aka "pharmacies"), to get a very specific brand of cream: Aveeno. When I got there, I found what looked like two different types of Aveeno on the shelves, so I compared them and finally decided on one. Back home, my wife asked me, "Why did you decide to get the CVS-brand cream instead?"

I hadn't.

Returning to CVS to get the cream I had really wanted, I realised why I had bought the wrong one: I had fallen prey to the kind of consumer switcheroo that retail chains love to provoke. However, r
ather than the typical tactic of merely placing store-brand products in more prominent positions than third-party ones, CVS has taken a far more insidious approach: it systematically mimics the colour scheme and packaging of the most popular name-brand goods and then places its own products directly next to these.

As a result, the tube of CVS cream was in a white tube exactly the same size and with exactly the same shade of green writing as my Aveeno. Further along the shelf was a larger bottle of Aveeno with a dark green lid. The CVS-brand bottle of the identical size also had a dark green lid - and stood adjacent to the Aveeno bottle. Looking down, I noticed a different brand of moisturising cream with a blue-and-gold logo and a distinctive gold pump-dispenser. The CVS-brand cream right next to it was also blue-and-gold with a gold pump-dispenser.

Amazed at my discovery, I took a step back, and as I scanned along the entire aisle, I noticed that all the products on sale were deliberately arranged in pairs - each one a "real" product and its corresponding CVS "fake", like those blatantly forged Chinese "Nicke" T-shirts and "Adidash" trainers. And whatever packaging the brand-name products came in, whether bottle, tube or jar, CVS had created and stocked a virtually identical equivalent.

Look at the picture below, which I felt forced to take in order to document my flabbergastedness:

As you can see, the only visual difference between the brand-name products and the CVS ones is that the latter have a circular CVS logo - although this is always in the relevant colour scheme of the imitated brand-name product.

Americans justifiably always pride themselves in having a choice. This is not about choice, but a deliberate attempt to fool customers. Shame on you, CVS!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Running the Trails

First light. Leaving the car park, the noise and the fumes behind, I plunge into the trees, the mellow vibes of Incubus Radio setting the pace, the autumn foliage above bathing the world in a warm orange glow and dappling the leaf-strewn path at my feet. Pitter, patter.

Dew-drenched grass licks hungrily at my ankles, and it is good. Mist hangs suspended over a pond like a snug, grey blanket. The path weaves left, then right, then right again, gradually climbing.

A sip of my water bottle and I run on, penetrating deeper, deeper into the forest – my forest, at least for now. A startled deer looks up, further on a chipmunk, and another and yet a third, its striped back waving to me as it darts away. "I really shouldn't," it seems to chirp, "but Hi!"

Higher I climb, ever higher, sharp right and then left, while the sun, radiant, golden, climbs with me. I pass a moss- and reed-filled pond half-lit, half still in slumber, and that also is good. Up ahead an intersection. Which way? The longer way!

My steps are light, and I too dart over the rocks, the stones and the roots, right, right again, now left. Warmed like a snake on a path in the morning, I shed my T-shirt and immediately increase my pace, topless and free, a wild animal finally released from its shackles. I am one with the forest; this is what I do.

The path slopes steeply down and, lifting my arms to soar, I thrill at the sensation of falling, falling. On I go, past a small lake. Pitter, patter. The sun is high now, and the lily pads on the water reflect its rays like myriad silver mirrors.

Another sip from my bottle and I run on, barely touching the ground, right turn, hairpin left, then down again. And suddenly – almost too soon – I emerge from my leafy womb, out into the brilliant light. Now I too am radiant, vibrant, tingling with energy. I look down at my watch: has it really been two-and-a-half hours?

To be honest, who needs drugs, alcohol, caffeine? I ran the trails this morning, and in just a few hours I became the sun.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


The American garage (pronounced "ga-RAHj") is an endless source of fascination for me.

Typically double - at least in my neck of Suburbia - and frequently triple or even quadruple, garages are the most prominent feature of the front of many houses (
ours included); brash, bold, unmistakable evidence of the importance of the automobile in American life. And since they are attached directly to the house and often even heated, they could be considered a bedroom for the family's four-wheeled "relatives".

More often than not, garages are also the principal entrance to a house. We, for instance, nearly never use the front door except to receive and jettison guests. And since there's a door directly linking the back of the garage with the house, it's a good place to take off dirty shoes or get to/from your car without getting wet.

Best of all, garages offer plenty of storage space. Due to the way houses are built here, there isn't a loft, attic or cellar to put seasonal equipment and other temporarily superfluous items in. That leaves only one option: the garage. And boy, do people take advantage of this.

Now I don't know what you put in your attic, but I'm pretty sure that, like me, you use it to store all the things you don't need every day, but are reluctant to throw away: cartons of books, school trophies and memorabilia, every picture your children ever drew, odd ski poles, clothes, toys and stacks of your grandmother's World War II-era magazines.

Given that Americans are no less prone than their European cousins to hoarding, they have to put all these useless essentials somewhere. That's where the garage comes in.

Unfortunately, as one wise person pointed out to me, this means that people fill their garages with worthless junk, while their expensive cars rust outside.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wild Bra Chase

Mrs Newbie owes me big-time.

The other day I mentioned that I would be passing her favourite mall later that morning, and unwisely asked if she needed anything. "Yes, please," she replied, coming down the stairs and thrusting something soft into my hand. "Can you go to Macy's and get me two of these, one in white and one in black?"

I looked down at the small object in my hand. It was a beige bra.

Now I'm not a macho kind of guy. I've probably changed as many nappies as my wife (mostly without gagging too), and was recently complemented on my ability to tie my daughter's hair in a ponytail. But women's underwear is something different entirely. Although I don't mind admitting I've undone and removed my fair share for partners over the years, I've never actually bought any myself. The prospect therefore filled me with a certain dread.

Having reached and parked at the mall, my first problem was how to transport the object in question. I couldn't very well stuff it in my trouser pocket or walk around casually holding it my hand, so I emptied some shopping out of a Target bag in the back of my car, and stuffed the bra in there. At least that way I wouldn't draw too much attention to myself. "Here I go," I said, pulling up my man-pants.

After a great deal of searching around Macy's (are these stores designed to baffle men?), I finally found the lingerie department, where I decided against rifling through the racks of women's breast supports like a pervert, opting instead for a more inconspicuous approach: timidly asking an assistant for help.

"I'm sorry," the assistant said rather too loudly for my liking. "We don't sell that brand of bra. That's a Saks label."

So I stowed the bra away again in my Target bag, summoned up some courage for a second attempt, and headed over to the swanky Saks Fifth Avenue store on the far side of the mall. There, in an even more well-concealed nook of the shop, I tracked down their "intimate apparel" department, where a tall, smartly-dressed lady ignored my embarrassed look as I repeated my request and extricated the flesh-coloured undergarment from the Target bag.

After a cursory examination of the bra's label, she said, "I'm terribly sorry, sir. This isn't one of ours. But I'm pretty certain they have it at Nordstrom. Let me give them a call." And without waiting for my approval, she picked up the phone, dialled a number that she clearly knew off by heart, and spoke to her counterpart at Nordstrom.

"Hi Joanne, this is Sara Jane at Saks. I have a gentleman here who's looking for a size medium Luxuria bra in white and in black. Do you have them in stock? You do? Wonderful!" She then turned back to me, brazenly asked for my first name (as only Americans can do), relayed it to her colleague, explained where I had to go, and told me to ask for Joanne. But before hanging up, she said, "By the way, would you also like it nude?"

"Pardon?" I sputtered.
"Joanne wants to know if you'd also like it nude," she repeated with a completely straight face.

This was an optional service I definitely had not expected. Envisioning the prospect of a naked Joanne handing me skimpy undies, I cursed myself for not having bought any before, and was already planning my next shopping spree when the assistant's voice woke me from my reverie.

"Sir, I said, 'Do you also want it in nude: the same colour as the one you already have?'" Kicking myself at my clearly testosterone-fuelled naivety, I apologised for my momentary absentmindedness and shook my head, before heading over to Nordstrom, where a fully-clothed Joanne sold me a white and a black bra, which she delicately folded in paper before placing them in a square, white Nordstrom bag with string handles.

"May I?" Joanne said, gently but firmly taking the plastic Target bag from me and wrapping my wife's bra in with the other two. "You don't need this, do you?" she said, throwing the Target bag in a bin as if it were a soiled nappy.

"No," I lied, hurrying out of the store.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


People in the UK may complain about the "nanny state", yet this mumbled dissension is typically British in its muted amateurism. Not so in the US, where the fight for much-vaunted "freedoms" and "liberty" can be and often is taken into every corner of life.

Americans - or rather, a proportion of said people - are obsessed with their freedoms and the supposed, alleged or feared restriction thereof by "Big Government".

Americans have resisted taxation ever since the Boston Tea Party, when disgruntled New Worlders were so incensed by the fact that they were "taxed without representation" (i.e. supported the British crown financially, but couldn't vote - a situation in which, by a quirk of fate, I too find myself, albeit in my case I pay the IRS) that they threw some leaves off a ship. Scary, eh? The current "Tea Party" is simply an extension of this, a movement who claim they have been Taxed Enough Already - hence TEA - and assert the "freedom" to pay less, thus scuppering any attempts to balance the US budget and rein in the national debt.

Another "freedom" vehemently and vociferously defended is the so-called "right to bear arms" based on the rather ambiguous Second Amendment of the Constitution, which reads:
"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed"
Gun-lobbyists like the National Rifle Association believe this permits people to own even assault rifles. As a result, 40-50% of Americans have one or more guns, although only 11% use them for hunting. In all, there are about 190 million guns in circulation spread between a total population of about 310 million.

One of the dafter "liberties" currently under dispute
is the argument against the recently implemented healthcare reforms, which demand that everyone must have healthcare coverage. At last count, as many as 15% of Americans - 46 million people - were without health insurance. But now (wealthy) people are demanding the "right" to opt out, claiming mandatory coverage constitutes an infringement of their liberties. Although the case is still going through the courts, it's possible the nay-sayers could yet scupper what was a bold attempt to give more people access to medical treatment.

Finally, I want to mention a "freedom" that is being argued over here in Michigan: the right not to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle. At present, all bikers have to wear a helmet. But "freedom-loving people" now want to repeal the 40-year-old legislation on the spurious grounds that, because there is no such law in neighbouring states, Michigan could lose valuable tourism revenues if bikers chose to vacation elsewhere.

"Helmets don't prevent accidents," says the president of the American Bikers Aiming Toward Education Michigan, echoing the NRA's "Guns don't kill, people do" mantra.
Seatbelts don't prevent accidents either, but nobody's suggesting we scrap them too - or are they?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Air Conditioning

Air conditioning is another of those American inventions that was a great idea originally, but - like driving and ice in drinks - has been taken to the logical extreme and is thus no longer so great.

If you live in a country in which it can be unbearably hot or unbearably humid and occasionally both, managing the ambient temperature is a shrewd move.
It can, for instance, be wonderfully refreshing to go into a cool house when it's baking outside, and when we visited New York last year during a heatwave (the timing was purely coincidental and unintentional), just passing by an open shop doorway gave us renewed energy to pursue our exploration of this fabulous city.

Unfortunately, as mentioned in my preamble, you can get too much of a good thing - quite apart from the extra electricity this consumes (don't get me started on that one). Duly accustomed to such conditioning of their air, retailers, companies, restaurateurs and even private individuals routinely turn the temperature in their shops, offices, eating establishments and homes so low that it is positively unpleasant.

On a recent holiday (sorry: vacation), whenever we entered a hotel room, our first move after dropping our luggage would invariably be to sprint across to the air conditioning unit and switch it off, praying we wouldn't turn into an ice statue along the way.

For similar reasons, Mrs Newbie always has to take a jumper or jacket to work, where the temperature is typically 17°C, though often lower. The same is true in cinemas, concert halls, bars, hospitals, indeed any space that is enclosed.

Perhaps this explains why so many Americans have developed a thermally insulating layer of blubber. There's no other way to survive a trip to the mall without donning full Antarctic all-weather gear.

Fight For Your Rights

As I discovered this morning thanks to that tremendous invention, the Internet, the source of a wondrous array of facts, half-truths and the merely fanciful (not necessarily in that order of magnitude), America is one of only 14 countries worldwide in which it is illegal to buy and consume alcohol under the age of 21. Whatever the pros and cons of this, the law is the law, and deserves to be upheld.

Without revealing too much about myself, it is fair to say that I am in my mid-40s, and although I like to think I don't look my age, I have had independent confirmation from several third parties – Mrs Newbie included – that I could not pass for 20.

I have therefore been irked (yes, irked, no less) for some considerable time that I am required to prove my age whenever I shop at my local Kroger supermarket. A sticker by the cash register, which some similarly senescent person has clearly tried to peel off in their annoyance, declares "If you are under 40, we must ask for ID". Cashiers even have to enter your date of birth in their till in order to authorise any attempted purchases of alcohol.

Time after time, I resolved to resist this blatant overcautiousness on Kroger's part, and time after time I meekly pulled out my driver's licence, only to kick myself afterwards (metaphorically, I hasten to add) for my repeated temerity.

So annoyed was I by this flagrant injustice that I hatched a cunning plan: on a day when my children had wound me up to near breaking point and Mrs Newbie had failed to see my side of the story, I would charge into Kroger, grab some beer and defend my Congress-given right. I would make a fuss, demand to see the manager and win elderly people across America back the prerogative to go into a store armed only with some crumpled dollar bills and declare, "I wish to procure sundry libations" (or whatever the local equivalent thereof may be).

Although all is well in the house of Newbie and the Newblets have for the most part been their darling selves, I resolved this week that the time had finally come. So together with the kids (brought along for defensive purposes only), I drove over to Kroger, picked up a six-pack of Mike's Hard Lemonade, filled up a shopping cart with suitable alibi groceries to cast aside angrily should my demands remain unmet, and headed for the meanest-looking cashier in the store.

Trembling with anticipation and pumped with adrenaline, I thought, "This is my date with Destiny. Today is the day that will change America. Henceforth, baby boomers throughout this great nation will no longer live in fear, but be able to purchase alcoholic beverages unchallenged once more".

With my heart thumping in my throat, I unpacked my cart, brazenly placing the Mike's at the very front, and looked the cashier straight in the eye.

"Do you have a Kroger card?" he asked. And that was it.

A new sticker by the till read: "If you are under 27, please be prepared to show your ID".



Less than a week after writing this - on the first day in living memory when, through a chain of coincidences, I did not have my driver's licence on me - I was "carded " at Kroger in spite of the new sticker, which I pointed to (to no avail). Duly summoned, the store manager said, "I'm sure that'll be OK." And it was.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Odd Products

So it tastes of sugar, right?

Flick knives?

For the assassin in your family


Friday, April 29, 2011

Unmarked Squad Cars

Unmarked police cars are supposed to be hard to spot, right? Well in the States, they're pretty easy to identify - by no fewer than three characteristics:

1. Most of them are Dodge Chargers
Whereas the police car ("interceptor") of choice has always been the Ford Victoria, police departments across the US think the best way to avoid detection is to disguise their vehicles as muscle cars. Perhaps they should be more imaginative in their range of models.

Most unmarked vehicles are black
More lack of imagination on the part of the nation's finest. And since relatively few regular cars are black, unmarked squad cars tend to stand out like a sore thumb - not least because they look like normal police vehicles, albeit without flashing lights on the roof or the stickers on the side.

3. Police vehicles have what looks like an extra wing mirror
This is the biggest giveaway of all. Because police officers want to be able to illuminate stopped cars at night without having to get out, they have a spotlight mounted next to the driver's (and sometimes the passenger's) side wing mirror, which they can move around using a clumsy-looking handle that extends inside the vehicle.

As a result, when you see a black Dodge Charger with what appears to be double wing mirrors, you have plenty of time to slow down, stop texting, put down your beer and hide your unlicensed guns before the cops see you.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Lost: One season. Answers to the name of "Spring".

Spring is a friendly, three-month season whose most distinctive features are sunshine, mild temperatures, leafy trees, flowers and birdsong.

Spring first went missing about a week ago, although it briefly reappeared. However, Spring disappeared completely during a freak winter storm on April 18, which brought about two inches of snow. It has not been seen since.

If found, please return to its owners in suburban Michigan, who miss it dearly and look forward to being reunited with their beloved Spring as soon as possible.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Fighting Disease Through Poor Nutrition

We had another WTF moment at our children's elementary (i.e. junior) school this week.

My son came home a few days ago to tell us that his class was collecting money for charity. It sounded like a good idea, so I asked him to explain more.

Apparently some people from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation had come to the school not only to promote their "loose change" fundraiser, but also to inform and educate the kids about type 1 diabetes, a talk which, I must presume, also included the causes thereof, one of which is poor nutrition.

Because the US is a meritocracy par excellence, in which it seems that nothing is done without a payoff, and adults and children alike are routinely enticed into doing good by being offered an incentive, the JDRF spokespeople said they'd organise a special treat for the class that raised the most money for their research into the treatment and prevention of juvenile diabetes.

So what prize did this healthcare charity choose to offer the children?

A pizza party.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


The census figures for Detroit have been released, and they don't make encouraging reading.

Whereas Detroit was the fifth-largest city in the US in the 1950s, with some 2 million inhabitants, the combination of suburban migration and ever-increasing poverty and unemployment have reduced the population to just 713,000.

Worse still, the speed at which people are fleeing "Destroyed" has increased dramatically, with population numbers falling by a quarter in the last decade alone. That works out as one person leaving the city every 20 minutes.

At this rate, Detroit will be a ghost town in 30 years.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Odd Products

Shapes them just like real hands do!

Tap water - in a bottle

A cleaning scalp?

Bought by the man who has everything

A remote control for Big Foot

Barbie NY, London and Paris


So sitting ducks are OK?

I guess He likes having a lie-in on the 7th day

Tastes just like straight out of your tap!

Girl Scout Cookies

At this time of year, you cannot escape being offered girl scout cookies to buy.

This time-honoured tradition, for some reason practiced only by the female flavour of the Baden-Powell-inspired movement, is the principal way that the girl guides raise money for their packs.

However, a bake sale this is not. In the Land of Opportunity, girl scout cookies are not homemade by parents and then sold to friends, relatives and neighbours. Oh no. That would be far too unsanitary and amateurish. Girl scout cookies are a big business involving professionally produced and packaged cookies. And when I say "big", I mean BIG: an estimated 200 million boxes are sold on street corners, outside shops and to parents' colleagues every year!

The biscuits are made by officially sanctioned suppliers, from whom the Girl Scouts of the USA orders and buys, and the girls pledge themselves to selling a certain amount, although this inevitably means that their parents end up buying what's left over.

Although there are apparently about two dozen types available, the most popular types of biscuits (which don't seem to be available in the shops at all) are Thin Mints, Tagalongs, Do-Si-Dos, Samoas and Trefoils. And like all other biscuits, they are virtually irresistible.

Which is why you'll have to excuse me while I go and raid the boxes in my cupboard.


As I've written before, Americans love watching primarily their national sports - basketball, (ice) hockey, (American) football and baseball - whether it's in front of the TV, at a bar or at the stadium itself. One of the stranger offshoots of this passion for sports is "tailgating", also known as the "tailgate party".

Essentially tailgating involves travelling to the relevant venue several hours before kick-off, and in some cases early in the morning, partly so that you can get good seats, partly so that you can have a pregame party in the car park.

The expression comes from the American word for the door of the boot of the car - the tailgate - which is folded down to reveal massive amounts of food and drink as well as cooking ranges and/or barbecue sets, TVs, games like
cornhole and of course chairs and tables.

However, this being America, many people take tailgating to the logical extreme, completely foregoing the sporting experience of actually watching the game, preferring instead to remain surrounded by parked cars all day drinking light beer and barbecuing with friends.

A friend of mine, whose customised car number plate is "TAILG8R" and who faithfully buys a season ticket to the local university American football team year after year, spends hours every Friday night preparing food, and then starts drinking Bloody Marys in the car park at 8:30 in the morning.

once proudly told me, "I haven't seen a game the last two seasons!"

Monday, March 14, 2011


My daughter surprised me today by playing 'God Save the Queen' on the piano.

Having finished, she rushed down to my office and asked me, "Guess what that was, Daddy!"
"Easy," I said. "That was 'God Save the Queen'".

"Wrong!" she replied with a mischievous grin, showing me the score. "It's called 'America'".

Lo and behold, the New World has misappropriated our most hallowed sporting chant. Not only that, the song (annotated to be played "proudly") has been furnished with the following patriotic lyrics:

My country 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing!
Land where our fathers died,

Land of the Pilgrims' pride,

From ev'ry mountainside,

Let freedom ring!

Now I know it's only our de facto national anthem, but it's just not cricket having American children extolling the virtues of the New World when they ought to be calling for the divine salvation of Her Royal Highness.

They stole our colonies too. Whatever will they steal next?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Odd Products

For those without knives?

As opposed to fake milk?

"Shrimp platter"

"America's no. 1 brand"