Sunday, July 31, 2011

Olympic Apathy

The official countdown to the 2012 Olympic Games has begun, but Brits still don't seem convinced it's ever going to happen.


I have to start by confessing that when Chicago pitched for the 2016 Games, I was aghast and very opposed. This was more to do with the rampant corruption that is Chicago politics than actually playing host to millions of extra tourists. And lord knows, the city could do with an injection of cash.

I am slightly amused however, by the negativity in some quarters towards the 2012 Games. It was exemplified last week with London Transport gloomily declaring that unless 50 million Londoners (OK, not quite that many) stayed off work for the duration of the Games, the public transport system simply wouldn't be able to cope. Dudes - you have a year to figure something out. Start thinking.

In the same week  Charles van Commenee, head coach of the British athletics team recently announced, "We've still got athletes who are underperforming at the moment. ...... Let's say if (400m runners) Michael Bingham and Martyn Rooney run the times they've been running this summer again next year, then that's trouble".  Way to rally your team, coach! Mind you, he is Dutch!

There's lots of debate over how much it will cost versus how much extra cash will flood in, but one things for certain - the 2012 Games are going to happen. Better make the most of it.

Seriously, would you want these two as your mascot for anything?
(Click photo for article)


When the Olympic bidding was going on, there was a lot of public interest, but mainly because we wanted to beat the French.  And we did.  And everyone was happy.  The unofficial slogan should have been, “At least we kept the French from getting it.”  Soon, however, the fact that, having won the bid, we would actually have to host The Games sank in, and the unofficial slogan became, “It’s gonna be a bit shit.”

Over the ensuing years, there has been a growing resentment that the people were not asked if they wanted to spend billions of pounds and play host to millions of athletes and tourists, especially at a time when Britain is grimly enduring a prolonged season of austerity.  The government, on the other hand, is happy to spend the money and invite the world in on the supposition that the result will be a net gain of billions in revenue, and thereby a much-needed shot in the arm for the economy.  Good thinking; hosting the Olympics worked out really well for Greece, didn’t it.

That said, now that the countdown has officially begun, the tide, in my view, is beginning to turn.  Beginning to.  Slowly.  I do think that, by the time it arrives, we’ll all be pretty excited about it. Whether or not it bankrupts the economy remains to be seen.

Those are largely peripheral issues when compared to the Olympic Ideal, however, and for the good of The Games, I think Britain was the best country to get them after the spectacular that was the Beijing Olympics.  Every four years, up until then, each host country had to spend more and more to put on a more impressive show, and after the Chinese, who had the advantage of a billion slave labourers and no human rights, there was no way any country in the world could have put on anything to surpass them.  So the British, in a sense, are doing the world and the Olympic Games a favour by lowering the bar so that the next country won’t have to go bankrupt attempting to outdo the 2012 Games.

So, is it gonna be a bit shit?  Let’s hope not, but at least we can hope it will be tasteful and turn the spotlight back on the athletes and the spirit of friendly competition and the camaraderie of sport and the joy of taking part, instead of nationalism and keeping up with the Joneses. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Just Blame the Americans

A recent article on the BBC web site bemoans the "lengthy stream of Americanisms" entering the British language.  We look at what's really at the bottom of this. According to the Oxford Guide to World English, "American English has a global role at the beginning of the 21st Century comparable to that of British English at the start of the 20th". Is that what's really pissing the Brits off?


When I first moved to the States, I arrogantly assumed that British English was correct every time. When telephone customer services messages promised to be with you "momentarily" I would sarcastically wonder how such a fleeting amount of time would serve my needs. And then I looked up the word - to find that in both British and American dictionaries, it did indeed include the meaning of "in a moment", even though at the time that wasn't widely used in England. Ah. Well then.

When I see denouncements like this BBC piece, proclaiming "Ugly and pointless new usages appear in the media and drift into everyday conversation", quite frankly, it really annoys me. OK, ugly is subjective, so I refuse to argue with the author,  - but pointless?? They're not pointless in the States, and no one is forcing Brits to adopt these phrases. What and with whom is his beef? Surely he can't be blaming Americans for the adoption of their phrases in Britain? Given that 80% of American don't even own a passport, it's not like they're crossing the Pond and physically forcing Brits to use their terminology.

On the one hand he acknowledges that technological terms, such as "cell phone" versus "mobile" have grown up on their own, but he derides "elevator". Excuse me? I'm pretty sure the first Brits in America didn't have multi-storey buildings which required a mechanical means of getting from one floor to the other. Like technology today, Brits and Americans came up with their own words - and both are correct. The contraptions elevate people to the next floor, and they also lift said people.

As for poo-pooing American spelling, just go back to Shakespeare's time and you'll see no "u" in words like color and honor. As most linguists will attest, language moves and develops more at its root than anywhere else, so it's often British English that adapts and morphs. Americans say "closet" instead of "wardrobe" because that was the English word more commonly used by Brits until the beginning of the last century.

To be fair to the author, he ends by stating that Brits are letting British English wither. So instead of the withering ridicule of American English, which serves its own country very well thank you, perhaps more criticism of Brits? Surely in this case, that's where the real problem lies.


Like nearly everyone with a broadband connection, I have seen the articles about those annoying Americanisms insinuating their way into British English.  I liked the first one, and my wife and I laughed over every one, and agreed with most.  The rest of the articles—the commentaries, rebuttals, additions—I ignored, until I had to do some research for this post.  Seems a lot of people are pretty upset about this, and I see slings and arrows going back and forth across the pond claiming first dibs on certain words, or accusing one person or the other of being the equivalent of an etymological racist.

I find it all faintly amusing, and beside the point.

What these people are complaining about is no different than what I went through while I was living in New York and my kids came home from school saying stupid shit like, “My Bad!” and, "Awesome, dude!"  (We blamed California.)  Likewise, I cringe when I hear people using business-speak in real conversation, the likes of “24/7,” or “deliverables” or “FYI.”  Other words on the list were simply colloquialisms; I use some, I don’t use others, and I use some sayings--which are not on any of the lists--simply to annoy anyone who didn't grow up in Stuyvesant Falls.. (e.g. "Crick" is how we pronounced "Creek," and if you went into a bar you might be asked, “Ya want a dub-ya?” because “W” was the term for beer, but no one could tell you why.)

So I have no problem with the Brits being irritated at the apparent take-over of British English by American English; I feel the same way.  But words are not the issue here; they are just an unambiguous line in the sand, palpable evidence of a larger phenomenon that plays on their underlying fear of change.

Linguistic rage springs from the same root as  the uneasy feeling you get (but often don’t admit to) when you see the pastureland outside of town being bulldozed to make way for a warehouse-sized ASDA, or when that new-age hippy family moves in next door, or when you notice an increase of foreign accents on the high street.  The core question is not, “What is happening to my language?” or even, “What is happening to my country/county/village/home?”  It is “What is happening to the things I find familiar?”

In my own universe, being different was my familiar thing, but now a lot of people talk like I do and I find that sad; it's like Britain is disappearing one idiom at a time.  Watching something you found comforting and reliable slip away forever is bound to make you feel confused and frightened, but if you feel yourself getting angry about it, and blaming it on "them" (at the moment, it's the Americans) then, as Toni points out, stop letting it happen.  In this instance, it's simple:  keep using your own language.  We're not forcing you to use ours, honest.

For more on this topic, pop over to the excellent post from Not From Around Here, another American in the UK. 

And please tell us what you think about it all.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Expat in Ghana

This week, Toni is an expat on location in Ghana and has kindly sent a dispatch to let us know what is happening out there.

So the Queenager and I flew from Newcastle to Ghana, via Amsterdam on Monday July 11th. We are visiting the Tuskegee International school in Medina, (outside of the capital Accra), which we have been supporting for about 5 years. (See the web site – for more info and photos).
It’s very hard to put into words the experience, but some things I’ve learnt or noticed so far are:

-        Everyone is extremely clean and well dressed. Not that I expected scruffy people, but it’s making me look a tad shabby in my capris and t-shirts. Given the dusty roads and the heat, you’d forgive a crease here and a smudged white shirt there, but these people have very high standards.

-      I am going to have to staple my left hand into my pocket. Like many countries in this region, it’s extremely rude to use your left hand for anything other than wiping your bum. So far I have only violated the custom by waving at very small children with the offending hand, but it’s only a matter of time.

-       When people call you “Madam” (pronounced the French way, with the emphasis on the second syllable), they aren’t being funny or obsequious. This is how women are addressed, much like some Americans say Ma’am or others say Miss and Mrs. I am Madam Hargis to people who know me and to strangers alike even though I introduce myself as Toni

-     While you may not recognize the food or the merchandise in foreign shops, there’s usually something that meets your needs. I am currently washing my hair with L’Oreal’s “Dark and Lovely”; sadly it seems to be false advertising! Ghana beer “Star” lager, is highly recommended after a hard day in the heat and rivals any European lager I’ve had.

-    If you bring teenage daughters with you, little girls around the world will be attracted to them. In turn, said teenager may well try to stow one or two away with them on the return journey!!

The Queenager and her new BF.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Life of Crime?

It's a bit of a shock to pitch up in your "country of origin" and find that you're not exactly on the up and up. Pop over to Toni's Expat Mum blog and see if you're either in the same boat, or able to shed light on the subject!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Fourth of July

This week, we take a look at that most American of holidays, the Fourth of July.


Ah, the 4th of July, one of the few holidays that Britain has no counterpart for. (Interjection from Toni - "see below for the UK equivalent".)  Thanksgiving is another one, so is Columbus Day, but who care about that one?  The 4th, however, was a major event for me back in the States, and sorely missed over here.

There is nothing like sitting on 15th green of the local golf course with 437 of your closest friends, stuffed with hotdogs and potato salad and feeling the glow of a soon-to-be-major sunburn, and watching the fireworks light up the sky across the Hudson river.  Or, if you choose to brave the crowds of downtown Albany, you can watch the show exploding and booming directly over your head while “Proud to be an American” blares over the loud speakers, and there is nothing like that, either.

Of course, in Britain there is, quite literally, nothing like that.

I actually have the 4th of July off this year.  It’s just a coincidence and it won’t make any difference; even though I won’t be in the office, there still will not be any parades, barbecues or fireworks.  They day will pass as by as all the others, obscured by normalcy.

The only upside is that fireworks are legal here.  In New York, they were illegal—even sparklers—too dangerous, you know.  But I could, if I had a mind to, go into town and buy some fireworks to set off after the sun goes down, which might bring a little bit of the USA here to Horsham for me.  I won’t naturally.  It’s far too dangerous.  But I might pick up a few sparklers.


The Fourth of July, otherwise known as Independence Day, is HUGE in the USA, and I know I have seriously short-changed my (American) kids on this one. For a start we’re usually not even in the country, and since it’s not a big deal in England unless you move in American expat circles, (which we don’t), it usually goes unnoticed. As I write, we have no plans whatsoever for the upcoming 4th, which will see us in the north east of England. Perhaps a really good plate of fish and chips will make up for the omission.

A really good mother would take stars and stripes napkins and paper plates to England, and mark the occasion with a little American-style BBQ for friends and family, but when packing for three kids and myself, it’s usually not even on my radar till we’re half way across the Atlantic. Besides, no one in the UK gets the day off on the fourth, so there’s not usually a lot of enthusiasm for a mid-week party.

Even if we were in the States, the kids would still probably consider themselves short-changed. We have never lived in the burbs, where neighbors get together for street parades and pot luck BBQ’s, pop down to the community pool and generally fraternize. Lots of people mark the Fourth with a fireworks display in the evening, which this Brit always finds a little strange. I mean, I grew up with Bonfire Night, (November 5th) and since it gets dark around 4pm during British winters, I’m not used to having to keep small children up till after 9pm to see fireworks. By the time I decided they were old enough to stay up without extreme crankiness the following day, my kids were too old to really care about fireworks.

But Mike - I crack myself up at my little joke that July 4th is actually British Thanksgiving – the day we got rid of one of the peskier colonies!