Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Thanksgiving aftermath

I was so excited about Thanksgiving dinner last week. It was the event that was going to kick off a long weekend filled with some fun adventures, not to mention starting off the holiday season proper. I am a true American, and I refuse to break out the Christmas music or decorations until Thanksgiving dinner is done. I spent Tofurkey day at work, as one does when living in a country where this is not a national holiday, and rushed out of the office and off to the dinner, organized by a mixed couple (he’s British, she’s American) who happen to be good friends of mine here. They also happen to have a little one, a bouncing baby boy who is about to turn toddler by hitting a year old this week. This might prove important in this mixed up tale.

Thanksgiving dinner was decent, it was catered by a local outfit and there were twenty-some people there, perhaps ten or so Americans and the people who tolerate them and their funny holiday traditions. The main dishes were better than the attempt at pumpkin pie, which was sweet, creamy, and served with berries and mango puree. And thus completely disgusting. The non-turkey main dish was a nut roast which was dry and uninspiring, but I decided to use my “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and assume that the gravy in boats was only onion gravy and thus would be good on my nut roast and mashed potatoes. Sweet potatoes and green beans were additional accompaniments, and all was well. So we had a Thursday night success.

Friday morning I was off to central London, where I was meeting up with a number of friends for some foodie weekend events and some culture. The plan, which went well on the Friday, was for a pub lunch, shopping on Oxford Street, and dinner at a Michelin-starred Indian restaurant. (There are five Indian restaurants with one Michelin star in London, and I have now been to three, so only two more to go. Delicious every one so far.) So a Friday success as well. Now we take a turn for the worse.

Saturday morning I awoke at about 9 am and ran to the bathroom to evacuate the contents of my stomach. (I know, TMI, apologies for the mental image.) I then spent the next 6 hours unable to swallow even a sip of plain water. Mid-afternoon I managed to get my hands on a bottle of that British cure-all, Lucozade, which I think of as Pedialyte for grown-ups and I managed to get a few sips into my system. By nightfall, I had also eaten four plain biscuits. As an expat, I was musing that evening on the fact that instead of ginger ale and saltine crackers, I was on Lucozade and water crackers, but in the end as it all worked, it was as good as could be. I will never know what caused my illness, whether it was a bug contracted from the baby who functions as a germ incubator given that he spends days at nursery, or some sort of food-borne illness from the Tofurkey day dinner. What I do know is that it was not anything I ate on Friday, as my dining companion ate every single thing I did over the entire day and never showed any signs of illness. Thursday night was the culprit, for certain–three other diners from that evening ended up in the same place as me on the weekend.

Saturday was thus a complete disaster. I had to cancel all planned cultural and dining events, including something I had been looking forward to for several months– a planned expat meet up for dinner. I was, in the end, paying the princely sums associated with a hotel in central London in order to spend the day entirely indoors and miserable. The weather was appropriately grey and gloomy, but it was still extremely disappointing.

Sunday morning dawned, and I was intending to head back to my town earlier rather than later. But I managed to convince one of my friends to help me try and salvage the weekend by doing something cultural, and we headed for the British Museum. I had never managed to visit, and it was amazing. I was a bit weak, having not managed to eat much in over 36 hours, but it was quite enjoyable in the end.

So I headed back to my town after a really mixed long weekend. There were a few glimmers of greatness and a few moments of pure hell all wrapped into a few short days. On returning home, I set about putting out the fairy lights and Christmas decorations, and put the Christmas music on constant replay. The only way forward is to stop worrying about Thanksgiving and the aftermath, and to focus on the next few weeks of holiday magic. What can I say? You win some, you lose some. This was certainly a mixed weekend.

It’s time for poppies

One thing about being sick, you get the chance to get caught up on television watching. I have been binging on BBC iPlayer documentaries recently as a general principle, but being sick meant I expanded my watching into other genres such as comedy and variety. So it was in this, pathetically sick, mode that I found myself watching Johnny Depp on the Graham Norton show the other day. And Johnny came out wearing a paper poppy, and I was annoyed. As annoyed as I was a few years ago when I was in a choir that happened to be singing at a service on 11/11, and a person with a box full of poppies came around and affixed one to every member of the choir, lest the chapel dare be seen on the day without the ritual red fake flower on every chest.

Now let me be clear, before the trolls start screaming: I am a granddaughter of a veteran of WWII, a good friend of an injured Viet Nam vet, and I generally believe in the importance of respect for our veterans. I have even been known to buy a poppy from a sweet elderly man in the local shopping mall, and then put it in my bag “to affix to my lapel later”. So I give ££ to the campaign yearly, sometimes buying two poppies (I am a sucker for cute elderly people collecting money for good causes) but I do object to the compulsory nature of wearing the thing. It’s in television where I first noticed it, and thus the Johnny Depp comments. Some producer back behind the scenes of the show has a stash of poppies ready to affix to the clothes of all celebrities, because this is the time of year when you can not appear on the telly without one–just as the choir members could not sing in the chapel without one. Newscasters, political figures, all sheep-like in this display of poppy pride. Johnny Depp is not even British; this is not his traditional observation for the 11th November (which is Veterans Day in the US as well) but something forced upon visitors by the locals. When something gets to this point of cultural compulsion, it is no longer a serious piece of symbolism. It’s a decoration lacking in deep regard.

I am, of course, not the only person to feel this way, and I was reminded of this when an eloquent article on the subject found its way across my twitter feed yesterday. And yes, we are back to the second glamorous part of being sick: not only do I catch up on television, but I spend far longer than usual dinging around on the internet social networking sites. Yay me. The excitement, it’s never ending. And hey, I have time to blog as well! Too bad about the cough… but seriously… I’m sure there’s no turning back on this one, no politician or newscaster wants to become the one who refused to wear the poppy. No one wants to speak out about how perhaps we might re-consider the value of the symbol by removing its ubiquity. I will continue to carry out my own little protest, and continue to donate to a number of lovely vets in the shopping mall near my home but not wear the poppy on my lapel.

Home, sick

I posted on Facebook yesterday that I was home sick, and one of my friends–a European transplant to California–misread it as “homesick” and said that she felt the same. She figured it out, but I thought it was amusing as it is quite common to feel homesick when you are home, sick, in a foreign country and missing creature comforts associated with being sick back home. For us Americans, that’s things like the magical OTC marvel “NyQuil” for which no UK equivalent exists. Judging by the status updates of fellow sick Americans this week, this is one of those things we all bring back in our luggage. For me another is Aleve, an NSAID that doesn’t seem to be available in Europe and that works much better than ibuprofen for me, for some reason I have never been able to concretely establish (but suspect is because for a time I was on 2.4 gm of the stuff per day during a bad bout of arthritis pain, so I suspect I’ve built up some sort of immunity to the stuff!) A few years back a colleague at work tried to give me “LemSip” which as far as I can tell has a devoted following in the UK not unlike the American devotees of NyQuil, but I’m afraid it made me gag and did not make me feel better in any way, shape or form. Ditto with the remarkably thick, gooey and disgusting “chesty cough” syrup that I found here. It’s Robitussin or nothing for this girl, as it has been for pretty much all 35 of my years on this planet!

Being home, sick is not nearly as much fun as having a day off work. Although you have spare time with the internet and no constraints, you feel like crap and that sort of detracts from the freedom. I also find that it’s the only time I take naps. I could tell I was really sick when I needed a nap yesterday, as it was the first time I can remember since living in England that I have properly called in sick and then gone back to bed. I recall doing so back in Virginia, which would be more than five years ago. So I am lucky, I do not seem to get laid low all that often. The usual seasonal cold, of course, but this was much worse than that. I have a legendary tendency to avoid superfluous medical intervention, so as I am not actually dying I have not been out seeking professional help, but I suspect a mild form of bronchitis from the way that I sound like a baby seal barking unless I am constantly drinking fluids.

Which brought me to the realization that I have stopped drinking tea, except when I am sick. This is terribly un-British behavior, and in stark contrast to the many adaptations I have made to local life after 5 years living here. I used to drink tea quite regularly, back in the US before my arrival here. I was particularly fond of this magical sort:

I happened to find that I still had a few tea bags of this left in my cupboard, from some care package years back, when I was still drinking tea more frequently. In my home, sick state, my homesick self was thrilled to find Constant Comment in the cupboard and it is that which has been keeping my baby seal bark under control, as I try and half-work from my bed with my laptop. It’s never terribly productive, sick working, since the head tends to feel quite fuzzy, but you can sometimes get rather dull things done like answering 10,000 boring emails and doing website updates. I know, my life, the glamour–can’t even take a proper sick day. It’s true. With a 24-7 job, it’s tough to have such a luxury. At least I have tea.

Late Update: apparently I was home sick on a day in June. I know this because I blogged about it. I’m not the only one who goes back and reads their own blog archives and goes “OH YEAH!” right?

Public displays

Not of affection, but of religion. I stumbled on the recent hubbub over an American football player, Tim Tebow, who likes to pray a lot during a game. A fan decided his pose was one for the internet meme world, and started a hilarious website called “Tebowing” where people pose in the same style (like “The Thinker”). Now part of the joke is that you are doing this while everyone else around you is doing their normal thing… like playing a football game, or in the case of the internet meme people, a wide variety of things to various degrees of hilarity.

The problem is, at the moment there is a contingent of the American public and press who are pretty upset about the fact that two players in last week’s opposing side also struck the Tebowing pose when they had managed to get on the right side of defensive plays where Tebow was humiliated. See articles here and here. The quarterback himself seems to be generally in good spirits about the entire thing, and is not the one criticizing the opposing players.

Now I, as I said, find this amusing and was hoping to find a friend to join in the fun and do some photographs in front of major English landmarks to submit to the site. I have a few ideas as to which of my American-in-the-UK friends might be up for this sort of chicanery! But I also have really strong feelings about the entire phenomenon. Whenever religious expression supposedly involves very public actions, I cringe a bit. I consider religion or spirituality to be a very personal thing. I consider prayer, especially, to be a very personal thing. So this kneeling in the end zone thing is something that I would typically consider affectatious and for the benefit of the observers, not related to the spiritual interior of the person putting on the show. But interestingly enough, in America, and especially in American football, this is a widely accepted practice. This is one of those places where I’m more comfortable in my local environment than in my native one. Maybe I really am becoming European.

Through Fresh Eyes

There is a new member of my group and she happens to be an American and a she. She arrived just over a month ago, and regular meetings with her have really been amusing. See, she is going through the inevitable adjustments of being an American in England, trying to settle in and focus on her day job, while being reminded constantly of the fact that she is not from around here. Interestingly enough, this has made me realize that my blog tag-line is starting to be a little bit less true than it used to be. After more than five years in England, with permanent residency and a permanent job, I am a little bit from around here. And nothing reminds me of that as much as chatting to this new arrival.

I mentioned this to her today when we were meeting, when she was discussing the difficulties of adjusting to separate taps, life without a tumble dryer, with only mini-refrigerators under the counter, with food that seems like it should be familiar (salads and sandwiches) inevitably being different in some unexpected way. Of course, these days I’m fairly well-adjusted, and although I would very much like an American-style washer and dryer, otherwise I’ve managed to find comfortable accommodation with modern conveniences and my daily life is no longer as surprising because I’ve had five years to adjust to the local cuisine. She caught me out big time, saying I was “complaining about having nothing to complain about–how American!” and she was right. I don’t sound angry these days, and if you go back to the blog archives from the first two years, I definitely sounded angry at times. I spent a lot of energy in the early years worrying about my sense of other-ness, something that I hardly notice any more. And this is both being acclimated to being foreign and having adapted–in particular, I’ve adopted more local pronunciation and vocabulary than I care to admit, and she kept reminding me of that while we were speaking.

It sounds stupid to be wistfully sentimental for the early days of being an expat, but strangely enough that was how I felt after speaking to her this afternoon. At times in the early years, I was happy for a day when I went about my daily life without much of a reminder that I was in a foreign country. Now, the country is not so foreign, and I miss the days of remembering that! I suspect part of this is resignation to the fact that the ‘current economic situation’ is such that I am happy to have a good job and the likelihood of me making any big life changes soon is virtually nil. I can’t be the only person who craves change and craves adventure after a number of years of equilibrium! For now, I will stick with being cautious about what I wish for, and try to enjoy the feeling of fitting in.