Saturday, December 03, 2005


I really can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon than with the lovely JB and Rev. Over huge mugs of tea the 'still very British Rev' (even after all this time in NY) and I discussed the enormous list of NY things we both find more than a little odd.

For instance. How come the sell-by dates on (even organic) milk and cream are like 6 weeks into the future? And even more strangely, why does it say that if you live in NY you should consume said milk by Jan 9th but by Jan 14th in other parts of the US? WTF is that about? Are New Yorkers slighly less immune to mycobacterium paratuberculosis? Does the New York minute tick by slightly faster?
Still at the dairy counter. Why on earth is butter divided and wrapped in silly little quarters, which are just about big enough to deal with a few slices of toast and then leave an impossible-to-use-sticky-mess-amount you then end up having to throw away? It's all very well having decent recycling, but why use four times as much paper in the first place?

And moving into the toiletries section. Why does this land of great choice not sell hot water bottles? Why is there no filing system at all in drugstores, resulting in enormous backlogs of wandering nomadic peoples who have been lost in the randomly stacked aisles for days perusing shelves of stuffed toys trying to find a razor? Is this to keep homelessness statistics down?

And then at the checkout, the very meaning of the word rhetorical - 'how are you today?' To which the standard response is 'how are you today?' Nobody is any the wiser as to how anyone is, but then nobody wanted to know in the first place.

Yesterday evening the subject continued over drinks with Schweer-the-elder (trainee feminax procurer, who managed to bring back one packet from her recent trip to the UK, but consumed half of it on the journey.....)
It's interesting to hear the other side of the story. I asked her why it is that nobody I meet here seems at all interested in my background/career, and indeed never asks me anything about myself at all. According to the elder, from the US point of view, it's so totally normal for everyone to 'sell themselves' here in any conversational situation whatsoever, that if you don't actually offer all this information about yourself immediately you start talking to someone, then they will presume:
a/ that they should already know all about you, or
b/ that you told them, but they forgot, or
c/ that you don't want to talk about it so one shouldn't ask.
Which just goes to show how a small cultural difference can manifest into total misunderstanding, even when the language is the same. Fascinating.

Current reading: 'Brit-think, Ameri-think' (Jane Walmsley), 'Divided by a Common Language' (Christopher Davies), 'Low Life' (Luc Sante), 'Flophouse. Life on the Bowery' (David Isay/ Stacy Abramson. A beautiful and moving book of photographs by Harvey Wang and interviews with the mainly long-term residents of the Bowery flophouses).


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