Sunday, October 18, 2009

You know you've been away from America too long when ...

I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps
And find I'm A-number-one, top of the list,
King of the hill, A-number-one
"New York, New York" Frank Sinatra ©John Kander 1977
I was talking to a friend the other day, catching up on gossip and exchanging smartie-pants remarks as is our MO. The conversation came round to a mutual acquaintance.

"Do you ever hear from Dan?" Maggie asked me.

"Yes he's the same as ever," I answered. Then adding, "Oh yes, there's something new. His dating coach fired him."


Said friend Maggie now lives in the UK, having moved from the U.S. about a year ago. It is truly amazing what twelve months in the UK can do to a person.

I interrupted the silence to inquire as to whether she was still on the line. Since she moved from Seattle her phone connectivity is just not the same. I think the damp air of Wiltshire has something to do with the frequent lost connections.

No answer. I was imagining Maggie sitting in a cold moist lounge-room somewhere in the English countryside, reading "House and Hound" and wearing a tweed skirt, when communications were restored.

"What's a dating coach?" she asked in all innocence.

Was I imagining it? Surely Maggie's once Australian accent, slightly flattened by years in the U.S. was developing a "To the Manor Born" timbre.

"It's a person like a personal trainer, but instead of a fitness program they help you to develop dating strategy based on your personality, lifestyle, needs and goals," I explained, ever the sophisticate.

Did I hear her snigger?

I love it when Maggie calls. There's always something I can drop into convenient points in the conversation, that will elicit that silent Maggie-pause.

Like when I told her that my personal trainer had sacked me. I like to blend the absurd into some banal verbal paragraph of blah. Nonchalantly. As if it happens everyday. It gets her every time.

But it didn't always. There's something about living in the U.S. It gives you an edge. A sharpness that people living in other countries don't have. People in other countries are nice people. Life is learned for these non-Americans through living, not through courses. Mistakes made in social situations are accepted as normal human events, rather than aberrations to be rated and corrected.

Such people don't understand that life isn't about being nice. It's about being better.

And lest dear reader, you think I'm becoming elitist, do not worry. For although coming first, being the best, is everyman's aim in this wonderful country the United States, it is not the reality. There's a wonderful je ne sais quoi about the lack of finesse of Americans. An endearing quality. Here we don't worry about cutlery for example. We call it flat-ware and use desert spoons for eating soup.

What Americans have done to the English language is to simplify it, creasing out any old-world subtlety to a flatness where every word has the right to exist - to be free and equal in the new-world republic of language. Whether it's a spoon, a verb or a building, it can always be used in a simpler, dare I say, more democratic way.

Michigan, USA
May I please have another cup of tea?" my sister from New Zealand asked in a midtown Manhattan diner some years ago. "Sure," said the waitress and took Nic's cup away returning with it refilled with luke-warm water. She then picked up the old tea bag that lay discarded amongst the bagel crumbs and plonked it unceremoniously into the cup.

My sister just stared. Speechless. Me, I took it in my stride - the waitress's actions epitomized the American approach. Fast, utilitarian and often completely misunderstood.

Maggie told me she might be moving back here next year. I hope so. If she does I'm looking forward to helping her choose an acclimating coach. She'll need one.

I am Kathleenwg Juliff and I approve this message.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, Kate, you are truly as much a Yank as I.

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