Archive for the ‘Americanness’ Category


October 27, 2011

After Big Sur, we visited my friend Ryan in Paso Robles.

I met Ryan in ad school in Atlanta, and now he works as an ad writer in San Francisco. Except when he doesn’t.

Because every year, Ryan spends a few months in the Central Valley, learning how to make wine. How did the bastard get so lucky? Well, luck had nothing to do with it. One day Ryan wrote to his favorite winemaker and offered to become an apprentice, for free. The winemaker took him on, and for the past couple years Ryan’s been learning the business. This year he’s making his own wine. Which means this time next year, I’ll be sipping Ryan Cochrane’s pinot noir.

I love this story: Ryan’s in my pantheon of actual-size heroes. He had something he wanted to do. It wasn’t an obvious choice — it wasn’t what he was trained to do, or even remotely related to what he’d been doing — but he did it anyway.

It might sound cheesy, but I want to live the Ryan Cochrane way.* I want to go off piste. I want to make something. I want to find my wine.



* I have an advantage: when I’m struggling with a decision — or just scared of doing what I want to do, which is usually the same thing — I can call the real Ryan Cochrane, and get 100% pure Ryan Cochrane advice. Thank goodness for friends.



September 6, 2011

1 )  English, duh.


2)  New Yorker.


3) Austrian, has lived in London “for years,” but likes to remind you that her children live “on the continent.”


4)  Londoner.


5)  New Yorker, duh.


6)  American.


7)  Ditto.


8 )  Another American.


9)  The Los Angeles variety of American.


10)  Englishman (ironically, a rather garrulous one).


August 28, 2011

I don’t confine my eavesdropping hobby to New York; I’ve collected some fine specimens in London and Los Angeles too. So I thought we could play a fun game called “Guess the Nationality of the Person Who Said That.” *


1 )  “It’s 13 degrees here and vile. Vile! I’ve never known an August like this! Ever!”

– man on cell phone, walking down street


2)  “Yo. I have a new obsession. They’re called flannel shirts. They’re fucking warm.”

– man on cell phone, psychologist’s waiting room


3)  “The price is nothing. If I love it, I have to have it!”

– elderly lady at focus group for high-end department store


4)  “When you get old you need access to hospitals and doctors and… (pausing for a moment, struggling to think of another necessity)… Shops.”

– elderly lady on bus, on why she won’t move to the suburbs


5)  “How you an Aries and you don’t like cheese?”

– one grocery store clerk to another


6)  “Die means you go to heaven and you feel better. And then you come back, right?”

– little girl to her father, at an art museum


7)  “I don’t want to die.”

– the same little girl


8 )  “Who cares about dying, just don’t throw up!”

– one airplane passenger to her neighbor, on a turbulent landing


9)  “I spent all Sunday shopping. I have nothing to wear on the plane.”

– one teenaged girl to another


10)  “Men are men, women are women. I respect them, but just shut up. Know what I mean?”

– cabbie to me, explaining his views on the sexes



* Answers will be revealed in subsequent post.


August 28, 2011

I’ve been getting ready for my move, which basically consists of intensive puttering. I do laundry, rearrange objects, make to-do lists, and poke around in closets.

Most of it isn’t so productive, but the poking around got some results: I came across a little notebook from the year I lived in New York. It’s mainly filled with names, numbers, and to-do lists. (I’m big on to-do lists.) But it also contains scraps of overheard conversations – things real people said, which I wrote down, word for word, because they were just too good to be lost.

For instance:

 “She’s basically anorexic. Ish. She’s self-concerned. She’s 17.”

–       in reference to a daughter? step-daughter?

(Someone… husband?…) “wanted me to send Jeremy to Peru. But it’s like two thousand dollars a ticket. I was like, no way. I’m already taking them to St. Lucia.”

–       in reference to son or step-son

“Should I have gotten a bigger diamond on the side? Cause I would have. But if it was bigger it would be too yucky, right? Too massive?”

–       in reference to a sapphire and diamond ring

All of these came from the mouth of one person, a middle-aged blonde, who sat in the Savoy on November 12, 2006. She was the motherlode. Everything she said was I-can’t-believe-she-just-said-that quotable.

No accident that she was a New Yorker – it’s the top city for eavesdropping because a) New Yorkers say what they think and b) they say it loudly.

I’m looking forward to being back.


June 12, 2011


In this photo, Jane appears to be giving me a hug. Actually, she’s keeping me from falling down. When the picture was taken, I was so drunk that 80% of my cytoplasm had been replaced by Pinot Grigio. All because I’d had two whole glasses of wine.

So: I’m a lightweight. I can’t keep up with the English. I don’t try. Still, I’m convinced that drinking is what makes life in England so much more relaxed and carefree than life at home.

Drinking is part of the culture here. Maybe even most of the culture.

Drinking is what keeps England’s lights on after 5 pm. It’s the manna that sustains English sex lives.** It’s the cornerstone on which friendships are built.

When you meet for a Sunday pub lunch, you start in the early afternoon with a bottle of red. You order a Sunday roast. Then you just sit there, drinking and talking, talking and drinking, until nightfall.

No one has to run errands. No one has to head home to retile the bathroom floor. No one is driving anywhere at all.

It is totally unlike Sunday afternoon in America. It is wonderful.



* One more entry about drinking. After this, I promise I’ll stop.

** Of course, alcohol is the food of love everywhere. But England is such a reserved nation that without it, one fears the entire population might have awkwardly and quietly died out long ago.

Re.: WC*

September 22, 2010

David from Manchester asks:


Why are US toilets so full of water, making it impossible to go without making a noise? My dad always said I sounded like a cart horse if he heard me aiming for the water at the bottom. I think that’s what bothers me most about America, the lack of any option but to be a cart horse.


Less water leads to streakage. Gross.


I can do invisibly by closing the lid. I cannot do inaudibly in this country.


What is the point of plumbing if not to whisk away all evidence of your corpitude? Is corpitude a word?


No. For me this ties into the odour of an asparagus piss. How do you feel about this?


I feel like asparagus must be a crazy powerful vegetable.


It mocks onions because they can only make piss that smells like piss.


Beets can turn your pee pink. Which is impressive in its own way.


Once you get over the terror that you have some kind of kidney cancer.

…I’m struggling to think of any other vegetables with such obvious power.


Artichokes defy the natural human ability to figure out how to eat vegetables.


Very true. I only learned recently and now feel a little smug every time I eat one. Look at me, I’m in control of my artichoke.


A Mancunian in control of an artichoke, who pisses like a draft horse and dreads kidney tumors.


Thank God. I finally found the subtitle for my autobiography.


* Entries with more than one person talking may be longer than 200 words.


August 27, 2010

Lately I’ve been pondering what makes Americans look so… American.

The English say it’s our wide, white, toothy grins. Probably because they nurse a national self-consciousness about their teeth, and smile so as to hide them.

Another friend says it’s our bad posture. But I don’t think we’re more hunched than other nations, unless Parisian women count as a nation.

Nope. You could take off our sneakers, tuck in our t-shirts, wrap a scarf around our necks – and we still wouldn’t fool anybody. Because I don’t think it’s our looks that make us look American. I think it’s our minds.

When you believe that Jesus watches over you, that self-help books really work, that you are the best DIY project you’ll ever have – it’s a pretty good feeling. It makes you bound around like a golden retriever, licking strangers, wagging your tail, knocking over everything in sight: houseplants, wineglasses, Afghanistan.

Europeans are a bit more guarded. They keep their energy wrapped about them, like a smart trench coat. Disaster could strike any day, and often has; rain could fall at any moment, and usually does; the world could get darker, just wait until 4 pm.

Or 1939. Either way.