Archive for the ‘USA!’ Category

As they say in Texas
January 23, 2012

It’s the land of the free but joking about airport security wil lead to my immediate arrest.

Country music blares from Starbucks. McDonald’s. Airport Gift Shop. Massage chairs. Starbucks again.

I wonder if the guy who just walked by me is carrying a gun then I remember that were past airport security so maybe not.

Eight hours not sleeping in airport chairs feels so bad but during red eye fights the stars look so good.

But I never even found any cheesy fries so where’s the freedom in that?

Twelve airport bathrooms all closed for cleaning. For six hours.

CNN airs a fascinating story on Chocolate’s child slaves at 2am. A story about kids in Africa who work all day procesing cocoa makes me wonder why CNN fills the day with mindless entertainment news and GOP politics.

In flight magazine: Handschuheschneeballwerfer is German for coward. Literally: he he throws snowballs with gloves on.

But how can I test that in Texas, where there isn’t even any snow?

And so I leave the home of the free, land of untestable bravery.


No sex please, I’m British.
June 6, 2011

Travel writer Bill Bryson once wrote that more than 300 million people in the world speak English and the rest, it sometimes seems, try to. Since I’m looking for a job as an English teacher, I pulled out some of my old teaching materials from when I taught in Paris. At the back of my lesson plan book I found a list of stupid things my students said. I use to write down their mishaps as secretly as possible. Here re some of my favourite ESL (English as a second language moments).

ESL: “I woke up with a big dick.”       me: Excuse me?         “I woke up with a headache.”     oh.

Curious ESL take on Country music song “Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy”  –  “Save a camel, Ride a Tunisian”

Me: What is the plural of Man?     ESL: Men     Me: What is the plural of woman?    ESL: Women       Me: What is the plural of Spiderman?     ESL: Spiderman 2.

ESL: My woman is Portugese. Translation:  My wife is Portugese

Me: What is the name given to the British Flag?    ESL: Black Jack

Me: What Jewish girl wrote a diary of her teenage years that went on to become a bestseller?

ESL: Bridget Jones?

Me: Did you have coffee at break?     ESL: yes.       Me: All of you?    ESL: I love you too.

Me: Give me an example of the expression “Used to”

ESL: “I used to brush my teeth.” ESL: Pump UP the volume!!

Me: What did you have for dinner last night?    ESL: I eat grass and soap. (attempt at salad and soup).

ESL: Don’t eat the cat

Me: So we can all get to know each other better, why don’t we go around the room and everyone can say three things about themselves. Two true things and one lie.

ESL (in French): I don’t like lies. It thrusts people into a dark, tormented abyss.

ESL: (to other ESL in haughty manner): Tolouse is a verb, NOT a city.

ESL: My belly is sick.

Me: Give me an example of a sentence using the phrasal verb ‘to chicken out’.   ESL: Don’t chicken out your meat.

ESL: (old white lady to young black man sitting beside her): “J’ai toujours rêvé d’un bébé noir. Je t’adopte.”

ESL: (while pointing at the wall) “Imagine this is a wall.”

ESL: Do you like to have a lot of pleasure?

Me: Do you know any English proverbs?   ESL: “No sex please, Im British.”

ESL: Can you raise me please?  Translation: (Can you give me a raise?)

ESL: I’m empty. Translation: I’m hungry (well, you can be full).

ESL: Can you ask him to call my back? Translation: (Can you ask him to call me back?)

ESL: Can you change me please?   Translation: (Can you make change please?)

Do you like to have a lot of pleasure? (French person trying to translate “avoir du plaisir”)

Me: How old are you?    ESL: Im fine.

Me: Where is Sylvie?    ESL: in my pocket.

Me: How are you?      ESL: Im 50. (says woman of 40)

ESL 1: Can you give me a ride home?     ESL 2: I apologize. It is not possible to drive your bike home.

Me: Est-ce que tu reconnais la femme dans la photo?   ESL: Non, mais son canapé me dit quelque chose…

Me: What do you put in a China Cabinet?     ESL: Chinese people?

Me: Alain, what do you have in your kitchen?    Alain: My wife.


Afterword: My apologies for not having written in a while. I made one last mad dash through Florida before returning to what is a now a sunny and lively Berlin. More on all that soon.

…Ich too much immer ist
May 26, 2011

I blogged about this yesterday, but I’m going to go ahead and repeat myself since the post was in German and therefore probably missed/ignored/hated by most of you.

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned, but I’ve been blogging in German in order to practice writing in a language whose syntax I don’t understand (as opposed to French, whose syntax I merely ignore).

Here’s my German blog: It’s called Deutsche Sprache, Schwierige Sprache (German language, difficult language).

So I’ve finally discovered how I’m going to master the German language, and it’s all thanks to Heidi Klum, who first popularised the Auf Wiedersehen! on Project Runway.  It’s with old Germany’s Next Top Model episodes on YouTube that I plan to finally start understanding what people are saying. I’ve already learned ten ways to say: That’s awesome! For example,

Das war voll Génial!
Das war richtig Geil!
Total Cool!
Das ist ech gut!


It’s the perfect pedagogical tool because:

1-    Let’s face it, the vocabulary is not so complex. The contestants generally stick to simple sentences like: “Das ist total Cool” or “Sie so fake ist”.

2-   They use a lot of English words, which keep me from getting lost too much. See the “She’s so fake” above. For example: “Wie machen eine Photoshooting und ein Catwalk” (We’re doing a photo shoot and a runway walk). Then there’s the stock bitch girl, who says things like “…Das Ich too much immer ist” (I’m just too much all the time)

3-   Visual and audio aids. When a girl lies (lugen) to the judges there are lots of cues that allow me to follow, like black and white flashbacks to when she admitted something different earlier on camera.

4-   Simple plot. An 18 year old yelling “Nein nein nein” as Heidi Klum approaches her with the scissors means she probably isn’t excited about her new makeover. Okay, sometimes the plot get’s a little more complex, like when Paulina accused Rebecca of lying about her natural curls: “Sie sagt ihr Haar ist natural lockig aber…” (Trans: that bitch claims she has natural curls but…”

In conclusion, I am totally ready for a German Vorstellungsgespräch (job interview).

Hot Pants on Wheels: Roller Derby Explained
May 23, 2011

I think it was on the third lap, watching the girls skate round and round in hot pants, elbowing and shoving each other, that I decided roller derby is my favourite sport. “Size matters” in roller derby, or at least that’s what was proclaimed from the back on one of the bigger girl’s hot pants. As far as I could understand, two teams of 6 girls skate around in circles. One “Jammer” from each team starts behind the rest of the pack and tries to get through and pass the other team’s members in order to score points. The bigger girls try to block while a tiny “Jammer” girl tries to squeeze her way through the mass. These girls were fast, tough, and half naked. They were cheered on by a mob of supporters who looked more like Harley Davidson owners than your typical Sunday morning hockey crowd, which may explain the totally reasonable price of beer.  So goes local life in Florida.

After dashing madly about the continent this last month I decided to spend the weekend in Jacksonville à la local Floridian. Luckily there was beach festival on Saturday, along with a 5k marathon called “Never Quit,” sponsored by the US Navy. Turns out the US Navy kicks serious military ass. First, a group on them began the run by parachuting out of a helicopter along with a giant American flag. There are times I find American patriotism overbearing and somewhat menacing.  This was not one of those times. Standing on a gorgeous, hot beach, this was one of those times that I love America for all its over-the-top jumping out of planes cheesy fries awesomeness.

Of course the military side was never far away, since a banner over the event’s stage read: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of all who threaten it.” Luckily I had visited a local Arts Market that morning where I bought a couple of left-wing buttons. So I showed up to the Navy event with: “Vegetarianism, Peace for all who live” stuck to my floral sundress. I did however leave my “Peace is Patriotic” button at home.

In other exciting news I got a Kindle this weekend. Max claims to have bought it for me as a reward for all my hard work learning German, but it might have more to do with all the times I’ve made him carry backpacks full of books on vacation. More on that when I’ve had some time to try it.

Pictures of this weekend’s fun (including the snake we found in the parking lot) are on facebook:

What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time*
May 18, 2011

Goading my sick self through the streets of downtown Chicago, forcing one foot in front of the other at a sluggish pace (not to be confused with my usual healthy dawdle), it occurred to me that I should perhaps just find a park to relax for the afternoon. I wasn’t too disappointed either. While ambling through Chicago’s tulip lined avenues was fun, sitting in a park and reading is one of my favourite things to do (second only to sitting in a park reading while also drinking beer). The problem was that, having planned or a second day of sightseeing and picture taking, I hadn’t brought a book.

I wandered around for over an hour searching for a book store; the El-train screeched overhead, somehow I walked right past Garret’s delicious popcorn shop, some pimple-faced teenager gave me a free coffee mug, and one Fedora-capped man commented (quite rightly) on the stunning nature of my gorgeous eyes. Compliment in hand, I still hadn’t found a bookshop. About to give up and just nap in Millennium Park, I finally found a used bookstore hidden behind 98 storeys of Trump Tower.

It was a difficult shopping experience, one of those bookstore visits where you feel the only books worth reading are the ones you’ve already read. Deciding to get something Chicago themed, I eventually settled on Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. Unfortunately I got distracted on my way to the register and ended up also getting Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. Both Midwestern boys who have lived in Chicago, Vonnegut and Obama were great choices for an afternoon in downtown Chicago. At the same time, their writing couldn’t be more different. Obama’s book, anticipating his presidential bid, is all about hopes, dreams and American patriotism. Vonnegut’s novel, inspired by his own experiences as a POW in Germany during WWII, is straight satire, a dark and funny look at war that does not celebrates men’s bravery but instead insists that soldiers are nothing more than babies sent out as canon fodder. I’ve included some of my favourite quotes from both books.

See if you can guess which comes from which author.

1- “We have a stake in one another, and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done”

2- “there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?”

3- “The role of victim [is] too readily embraced as a means of shredding responsibility, of asserting entitlement, or claiming moral superiority over those not so victimized.”

4- “Follow most of our foreign policy debates, and you might believe we have only two choices – belligerence or isolationism”

5- “What he meant of course is that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too”

*The title comes from Vonnegut’s book, which I prefer if only because he actually mentions Canada. Unlike one would be leader of the Free world. Vonnegut-Twain 2012!!

Chicago's famous bean-shaped mirror

There's a lovely bookshop behind Trump towers, if you can find it.

Why Canadians shouldn’t get their health care from the South Side of Chicago
May 13, 2011

For those of you unfortunate enough to be blessed with good health while travelling in the United States, you’ve been missing one of the most fascinating aspects of American culture. Luckily I’ve been plagued with a host of infirmities/ diseases/ infections over the last two months that have allowed me to explore the inner workings of the American health care system for you. Sparing the most gruesome of details, I had my wisdom teeth removed over two months ago (in Berlin), which led to a sinus infection, which led to a chest infection, which has now led to an inflammation of my lymph nodes, which has led to endless whining about my health problems, whimper, moan, whinge, lament, cough cough, sniffle.

Price list: Jacksonville Baptist Clinic

Feeling more pathetic than usual since my arrival in Chicago days ago, I got permission form my Canadian travel health insurance to visit an urgent care doctor in the city. They even provided the address of a clinic on the south side of Chicago, near my friend Amanda’s home where I was staying. Unlike other doctors, this clinic would accept my Canadian insurance and I wouldn’t even have to worry about paying out of pocket.

Thrilled to be seeing a doctor, Amanda and I jumped in her car, ready to drive over. When I told Amanda (Chicago, born and bred) the address of the clinic, less than 10 blocks away, she looked somewhat dubious. Hoping not to crush my sick little heart’s hopes of seeing a doctor, she put the clinic’s address into the GPS. Then, blatantly disregarding my sick little heart (and lungs), Amanda refused to take me into that neighborhood. I sat, quiet except for the occasional snivel or whimper, as she tried desperately to explain why I wouldn’t be going to the clinic:

“It’s not that I don’t want you to see a doctor… it’s just that I don’t want to get car jacked… or shot….I know it will save you two hundred dollars… wait, I’ll just give you two hundred dollars. Can I just give you the two hundred dollars?… I guess I could ask my dad to take us. No wait, he would just say no. No. We could keep the windows rolled up I guess… and park really close. But this is a brand new car and… I don’t want you to think I’m racist… or that there are places I won’t go in my own city… Ya, but, we’re not going there…”

Health clinic gift card, for the one you love

And so we drove 60 blocks to another clinic, with the windows rolled up, past liquor shops, storefront churches, tax centres, checks cashed and finally, Oprah’s studio. Much like visiting a garage, a price list was mounted on the doctor’s wall: $100 for a basic tune-up to $250 for a “complex” procedure. After all that I was diagnosed with a lack of antibiotics in my system an ordered to take some more immediately (hadn’t I just finished a round in Canada for my sinus infection? Best not ask too many questions and start moving into the “complex tune-up” zone). I accepted the prescription gratefully, and sniffled my way home.

Chicago, outside of its medical practices, turned out to be a fascinating city. It made me realise how privileged I am to be a tourist with health insurance just passing through. For most of us, Chicago is a beautiful (and safe) place. Just be careful never to get on the red line El-train heading south.

Adventures in US-Canadian Citizenship
May 4, 2011

My apologies for not having written in a while, the problem being that Emily is no longer in America, but arrived two weeks ago in Canadaland (located somewhere between the North Pole and Cleveland, Canadaland is not unlike Candyland, minus the fun). I usually write about crazy America or Germany. They’re interesting because they’re foreign and weird and love revolutions (Germany apparently had a quasi-revolution in 1848, so says the book I stole from their embassy yesterday). Both countries provide an interesting point of comparison to anti-revolution, stability-loving Canada.

This is not to say Canada is in anyway boring. Since I’ve been here we’ve watched with too little ambivalence as our future king married. Then to add a nail to our political system coffin, we (shockingly) elected a majority conservative government (Point well taken, things seem to run better around here when I’m not in the country).

To add a little American content to my week I attended a series of lectures yesterday on Canada-US relations. Four hundred high school students from across Canuckland attended the talks at Carleton University. I was then given a group of 20 of the cutest Frenchest ones for a half hour to discuss the topic further.

“Full disclosure: I’ve barely lived in Canada in the last 4 years and I currently live in Florida,” I began, having finally found my classroom after roaming the halls far too long. “Let’s make a list of the words you think of when you hear USA,” I asked them in my most teacherly voice. I should have known better.

“Fat, obesity, fast food, money, anger, exceptionalism, superiority complex, proud, property, guns, capitalism, crime, patriotism, stupid…” they yelled at me, some upset because the words they had chosen had already been used (guns came up at least three times).

I wanted to unpack a lot of what they had said. I pointed out that while Canada’s obesity rate isn’t quite as high as America’s (30% vs. 40%), we hardly have anything to brag about. Twenty minutes into our talk I was really impressed by what these 17 and 18 year-olds had to say (I certainly didn’t throw around words like exceptionalism at their age). But I was also worried about their blatant and misinformed anti-Americanism, which too often leads to a false sense of Canadian moral superiority.

During his lecture Professor Norman Hillmer noted how Canadians like to think of themselves as a moral superpower, while the US is some other kind of superpower (military no doubt, but he left it to our imaginations). The inferiority complex we’ve harboured so long is actually just a cover up for our (moral) superiority complex, he said. I can’t help but agree with him. Making ourselves out to be the silly little neighbo(u)r, the Ned Flanders to their Homer Simpson, allows us to imagine we are morally and intellectually superior, even if we aren’t the star of the show.

I wanted to really drive this point home with my kids. I had even prepared a witty Simpsons metaphor I was sure they’d understand. But we were already out of time.

I need my kids back. Forty minutes wasn’t enough. There’s so much more they need to know. “Be wary of nationalism,” I warned them as they were already out the door, on their way to Tim Horton’s or Roots, no doubt.

Crosses and Shame, just in time for Easter
April 25, 2011

God doesn’t play an especially important part in my life. She lets me do my thing and I let her do hers. My relationship with God might well be summed up as one of mutual disinterest, not unlike my relationship with the Easter Bunny (though I well admit to having a little more resentment toward the Easter Bunny, after a childhood of lame presents.)

So moving to the Biblebelt, as is known this region of the Southern US, has been an interesting experience. Disinterest is difficult to maintain when “Jesus is the Lord” is loudly proclaimed at public events, on roadside placards, on bumper stickers and license plate holders, and even napkin dispensers at the local taco shop.

Ambivalence is especially difficult to maintain in St-Augustine, a small town that houses “America’s most sacred acre.” Tradition holds that the first mass in the new colony was held here in 1615. A mission church was built not long after. A sign at the site proudly proclaims “Indians were signing hymns in Latin by the 17th century.”

Having successfully converted the natives centuries ago, the local church has decided to spend its resources harassing and shaming women audacious enough believe that they control their own reproductive rights (I say reproductive rights because the word uterus was recently banned in the Florida House of Representatives). The local church has filled a field with 4000 crosses (representing the number of “babies” aborted every day in America), as well as some pictures of adorable and (we are supposed to assume) murdered babies. 

I’ve included some pictures here for those of you who live in countries without the benevolent tyranny of God.

Caught in the Bayou
April 20, 2011

It’s impossible to describe everything that happened last Saturday, the boiled peanuts, the slave plantation, the narrowly averted wild Bobcat attack, the drive-thru beach, so I’ll just start at the point when I’m standing on a shrimping boat getting sniffed by a carnivorous dog named Hunter, who’s known as much for his love of Arby’s roast beef sandwiches as his habit of falling overboard.

Sitting at the helm is Hunter’s master, Jeb, unquestioned commander of this ship, the Captain Lee. Jeb’s been shrimping off the coast of Florida for 30 years. The clutter in the bow seems to date back just as long. I stand awkwardly in a mess of overflowing ashtrays, dog food, screws and specialized fishing tools I’d never seen before. A tacky pin-up girl shares space on the wall with a crucifix and twice already the dog has stuck its snout up my sundress. This ship is obviously designed for men to spend weeks together at sea. It wasn’t made for girls in floral prints.

Jeb’s been painting and fixing up his boat to prepare for the shrimp season that begins May 1. Despite the improvements he’s made all around, he’s reluctant to replace the splintering front windows. They’re made of a special baby blue tinted plastic that isn’t manufactured anymore, but Jeb can’t imagine clear or brown tinted windows on the Captain Lee. It just wouldn’t look right. Such aesthetic concerns are the unknown woes of the shrimp fisherman.

Window colours seem trivial compared the Jeb’s financial troubles. Since diesel went from 80¢ to almost $4 a gallon, fuelling up means he leaves port $30 000 in debt before he catches a single shrimp. Even if he has a good catch, prices of wild Atlantic shrimp can’t compete with Asian and South American farmed shrimp. Almost all the restaurants in the area are chains – Popeye’s, Red lobster, Papa John’s – and they all sell imported, farm raised shrimp, despite the local fishing industry.

Almost as though on cue Jeb admits to the great Fisherman cliché; after so long at sea, he can’t imagine doing anything else, though he understands why his own son isn’t interested in the business. Despite a love for motorcycles, it’s obvious that Jeb’s attention rarely goes beyond fishing. Lost in the mess on the counter are four seasons of HBO’s Deadliest Catch and a copy of The Perfect Storm, DVDs about fishing to help him get through the long boring hours of actually fishing. Jeb picked them up cheap at Blockbuster when it went out of business last year. Blockbuster video couldn’t compete when people started downloading movies from the Internet, or renting them for a dollar from the DVD booths at McDonald’s.

I leave feeling depressed. Since Jeb started fishing farmed shrimp has taken over 90% of the American market. I wonder what will happen to him and Hunter. Will the Captain Lee be sold off in pieces like Blockbuster? Its baby blue windows, nets and front helm may end up decorating a booth at the local Red Lobster, inviting us to imagine genuine American fisherman while we enjoy $20 all-you-can-eat shrimp, farmed fresh in Thailand.

Jeb and Hunter wave goodbye

(Here’s a great feature article on the shrimp industry, from my favourite left-wig environmentalist magazine:

Tea Party done taught me 10 things
April 17, 2011

10- Americans are Taxed Enough Already, in neon colo(u)rs.

"Drill here, Drill now" with a picture of the Gulf of Mexico.

9-America is in decline and must be restored to its former glory.

Note that "restored" America has obliterated Canada.

8- Tea Partiers don’t hate jihadists. Indeed, they support their stay in Club Gitmo, an all-inclusive, air-conditioned jihadi daycare. “The food at Club G’itmo beats the taxpayer-provided lunches in the infidel’s schools. Plus, [they] provide students with all the tools needed to worship the god of their choice, free of charge! Every check-in gets a Koran and prayer rug!”

7-The Tea Party is open to Hispanics. As long as they are legal and show no untoward signs of being Hispanic.

Guy in background was on Home Improvement!

6- The economy has been so badly affected by Obama’s presidency people can no longer afford quality sign-making materials.

The boy in the middle is Russian, to his left an Israeli. They could barely speak English but their indignation toward wasteful spending was palpable.

5- Obama is not American unless proven otherwise.

I pointed out that Obama is American, regardless of where he was born. My point was irrelevant to this Cuban, as are the differences between communism, fascism and socialism... "Obama is going the same thing Hitler did, the same slow changes that Castro brought to Cuba..."

4- Making a black man dress as Obama and wear giant ears for a crowd full of white folks isn’t racism – it’s fun!

3- Political signs make a statement. Children holding political signs make a more emotionally powerful statement.

2-In the land of the free anyone can protest. You can even protest tea party rallies and wear pro-choice T-shirts. You may, however, have to answer to the police.

"What is this, a Harper rally?" I heard her ask, in my imagination.

1- If you’re going to hold a rally, you need something to attract protestors, so know your demographic. Be sure to hold your right-wing rally in an environment protestors will feel comfortable, a place they’ll be naturally drawn to. If there are no trailer parks in your vicinity, and Nascar isn’t available, any upscale dining establishment will do.