Possible move back to the US

With a bit of trepidation and a lot of research to do, we are looking into an opportunity to move back to the US.  I’m excited at the prospect of driving, going to Target (will shamelessly admit this), and eating out without feeling like we’ve broken the bank, not to mention being able to see friends more easily.  We’re realistic though.  While C. will have work, the state we’ll probably move to has massive hiring freezes for teachers.  People can’t even get sub jobs, y’all.  I’m trying to be positive. Isn’t everybody?

The next few weeks will involve queries, the continued processing (hopefully) of C.’s spousal US visa request, and, if we’re lucky, maybe a bit more clarity on where we’re headed.  Since I don’t know where we’ll be living in the coming months and I’m busy with research, I’m not looking for work at this time.  It’s strange to have no idea where we’ll be, and what I’ll be doing.

On a visa note, those of you who may have gone through this wonderful process may have had experiences like ours where we filled out the immigrant petition form and they sent a different form back (we hadn’t even been led online to the right one) *graded* in angry red pen.

First US Spousal Visa attempt: FAIL.

I doubt that processing visa applications is fun. As much as I loathe filing out confusing forms, I can’t imagine reading them all day.

A bit of the ‘ole vitamin D always helps.  The other day I met my friend T. in London at the British Museum.  The sun was warm enough at noon to sit on the steps and just bathe in it for about ten minutes.  What a slice of heaven.  And on a London note, if you can do go see the Exhibit on Hajj–Journey to Mecca.  It was incredible and I’ll be thinking on it for some time.

My main concern about being able to move is the house.  Not a good time to be selling.  One young couple who viewed it was looking to move from London as they said things were getting too violent where they were.  I could honestly tell them that most of the violence in the immediate radius is post-pub brawling, so hopefully we’ll get more potentials like those two.

I might be on a brief hiatus while I’m mentally reviewing our options but will post from time to time.  Cheers for reading!

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American Humor Vs. British Humour

Brits are famous for their bone-dry wit, and the contrast between American and British humor seems to be a popular topic. I’ve addressed it briefly in other posts, but a further consideration of humor seems warranted, and I’m also going to explore the ever-popular charge that Americans don’t have a sense of irony.  (I found Simon Pegg’s piece after I wrote mine and am very happy to see that I’m not alone in my conclusions.)

First, I’ll toss out a number of varieties of humor, and briefly cover the difficulty of translating one culture’s humor to another.  Types of humor: dry, clever/lofty, slapstick, deadpan, satirical, theatrical/dramatic, absurd, self-deprecating, dark/black, silly/goofy.

Humor is tough to translate culturally.  I could offer many examples of this, but the one I remember most is a story about a German woman that I used to work with at a US public library.  She spoke perfect English, and she often appeared to me as stereotypically German–stoic, serious, well-read and orderly about her work. She was tough to talk to because she just wasn’t a chatty person, and I don’t consider myself that chatty, but in comparison I looked like a sorority girl. Sometimes I would try to make a joke with her but always they fell flat, and she would give me this look like she was worried for me.

Anyway, one day she came up to me all excited and she was smiling–I had never seen her face lit up like that. I realized that in the two years I’d worked with her, I’d never seen her teeth before.  She was holding a Dave Eggers book (H.B.W.O.S.G.) and on the back flap photo was a shot of the author with a dog, accompanying a brief biography and at the end, “This is not his dog.”  This sent my co-worker into spasms of laughter.  I thought it was funny too but not dying of laughter funny.  Still, I was glad she’d found something to make her day, and I thought about how lonely it must be to not be able to be German-funny with us at work.

And at the same time, I myself was American, but there were many instances in which I wanted to make a joke at work but couldn’t because my sense of humor was too dry or dark for a lot of my co-workers.

Which brings me to my point, which is that American humor is varied, even though there probably is a banal, Stars & Stripes generic stereotype.

I often hear that “Americans have no sense of irony.”  This might be true of many, but I guess I hate to be lumped in with this group.  Irony, especially in the stalwart Midwestern town where I grew up, probably saved my sanity.  I will never forget finding Mad Magazine when I was about seven or eight, and thinking “Wow–there are others like me.”  I loved Tex Avery cartoons, comic books, and any other artform that utilized irony and satire.

With the advent of Sesame Street, a whole generation was introduced to an irreverent sensibility at an early age. Granted, this wasn’t the height of sophistication, but watching clips while a nanny in my twenties, I was surprised at all of the jokes for adults.  There’s Kermit the Frog’s News Flash on Sesame Street, the weird parody of an orange performing Carmen’s “L’Amour” on the kitchen countertop.  Not to mention all the inside political and cultural jokes on The Muppet Show.

After the muppets and Mad Magazine, there was Saturday Night Live. SNL rides the shirt-tails of genius sketch comedy like Monty Python, and no one, including myself, would ever question the brilliant delivery of comedy actors like John Cleese.  Still, SNL covers quite a few kinds of humor, and much of it is ironic. Maybe there is a difference, though, in a British sense of irony and an American one?   British humor does sharper and often more clever than mainstream American humor, but non-mainstream American humor can be quite sharp as well.

SNL is one of the biggest icons of humor in America, and it’s sort of been a touchstone, one of those rare pleasures that spans the ages.  I’ve been watching SNL since I was in middle school, if not earlier, and  it’s thrilling that such a show has survived since the 70’s and has given so many talents a start in the business.

The notion of characters comes to mind, American literature and film being very character-driven in the context of the “individual.”   Has this influenced the American vs. British sense of humor?  Would Molly Shannon have created Mary Catherine Gallagher if she’d been born a Brit?  Sally O’Mally?   Would Chris Farley have created his motivational speaker Matt Foley who warns of “living in a van, down by the river”?

Something that an English media studies teacher once said to me about American vs. British culture also comes to mind.  He said that in British coming of age films, the challenge is about figuring out how to fit into the rest of the society.  In other words, existing with the group.  On the other hand, American coming of age films deal with the individual and identity–who is that person on his or her own, and how that person can be authentic.

Does this affect our sense of humor?   It must.

American humor is often irreverent, perhaps as a necessary antidote to American earnestness.  To start, there’s  The Onion, The Colbert Report, and Bill Maher.  There are plenty of other examples of American irreverence (The Simpsons), and the American political/cultural divide offers no end to opportunities to lambast the religious right-wing.  Irreverence is something we share with the Brits, I think, even if it happens for different reasons.

There’s a lot to love about British humor, and I’ve known plenty of Americans who prefer it.  One of my favorite British sketches is The Ministry of Silly Walks.  To an outsider, this is a comment on the British sense of tradition and  doing things in the right way, especially as opposed to the American notion, which would be to find a new, more individual way to do something.  Since living in the UK I’ve also discovered Mock the Week, which I love, even though I don’t always get the references.

When my husband and I first starting dating, he shared The Oatmeal with me, and hyperboleandahalf.com.  30 Rock, Modern Family, SNL, and movies like The Wedding Crasher also provided common ground.  Darker comedy like Zach Galifianakis and Arrested Development works for both of us, but I don’t share my husband’s appreciation of British sitcoms like Only Fools and Horses, probably as I didn’t grow up with them.  My husband also doesn’t get Seinfeld at all, which still amazes me.  “It’s not about anything,” he says.  (Yes–exactly!)  What is it about that show that doesn’t cross the US/UK divide?  Are there other Brits who like it?

Blackadder Goes Forth is hilarious, and we’re both also fans of Whose Line is It Anyway, which began as a British improv show and then the US followed with a version hosted by Drew Carey.

One thing I’ve noticed about humor is that the sense of being self-deprecating for men seems different.  There doesn’t seem to be a “Don’t Emasculate Me” button in England.  I was shocked the first time I heard jokes that would be considered very emasculating, especially in regard to couples, and an invitation by my husband for me to join in.   I’ve also heard guys make comments about men vs. women (such as joking about men being useless except for their contributions to procreation) that would be viewed as pathetic in the US.

I realize that I’ve only just grazed the surface here.  There are so many different other worlds to explore–Welsh humor, Irish humor, African-American humor, Jewish American….  What we find funny, though, is a wonderful lens in which to view our cultures.

Favorite examples of British or American humor anyone?  …Anyone?

One year of blogging.

So, the blog.  Blogging about blogging is probably like writing about writing, which might be terribly indulgent, but it seems appropriate at the one year mark.

I’m very ambivalent about blogging.  It seems like it would be great–no overhead, a vast potential audience, blog from anywhere. But there are a number of problems.  The notion of writing about one’s life to, oh, everyone on the planet, especially mixed in with all the other noise of the web seems daunting at best.  I much preferred the zine world, where one could write about anything and then schlep the little DIY pub to ye olde zine shop, zine distros, etc.  The zine audience was controlled, so there was some privacy and therefore, maybe more authenticity in the writing.  There’s something also very “Hey!  Lookit me, lookit me!” about a blog, and I’m usually disappointed by the writing in popular blogs.

Still, it’s an outlet.  A few of the virtual conversations I’ve had with folks in the last year have sustained me, mostly other expats telling me that they get it, that they were in the same boat.  (Thanks to you!)    It’s something to do while trying to create a space for myself in a new country.  BPRB offers WordPress practice, and let’s face it, one’s gotta try to keep up these days.

So after a week of two of consideration, I’ve decided to keep on blogging despite not showing up in the WordPress search bar under the name of my blog, which baffles me.  The IT husband can’t figure it out either.  It took quite a long time for Google to find me (months) but I haven’t found anything in forums that indicates that WordPress takes a year or more.

I’ve thought about doing an “after a year in the UK” post, but I think I’d be redundant.  For what it’s worth though, in a nutshell: the house is just about finished, is on the market, and we will possibly buy another that we’ve put an offer on, which is risky without me having solid work.  It seems crucial to be in a less extreme environment though.  The job search continues.  I’m still playing with various combinations of teaching qualifications and always have tons of forms that must be filled out yesterday.  Still do not have the driver’s license, and need to get that.   Am glad to at least be working part-time, even if it is just admin, and earning a few pennies.  Writing some reviews for Medway Broadside, and monthly book chat with the marvelous peeps of the Medway Book Club.

The romantic expat life, eh?   The biggest realization in the last year is that I’m in a weird position being an expat who isn’t with a bit of disposable income.  Those expats and trailing spouses can travel, do local things, and the TS can take afford to take classes if need be.  I’ve found that talking to other expats can be awkward because they don’t understand that I’ve moved here on a shoestring and they usually assume that we’re in a different bracket.

I wonder about taking two steps back, or in this case, about twenty steps back when it comes to work, whether it will make sense in the long run.  C. and I have no idea where we’ll be living in two years, five, ten.  When establishing a house and home is so important, this feels shaky instead of exciting.  I crave a home base more than anything else now, and have learned that I still like travel, a bit of adventure, but want to feel like I have a home and a life to return to.

In early September, I always go back to Rilke’s poem, “Autumn Day.”  (Scroll 2/3 way down for Edward Snow translation, which is best, in my opinion.)   “Lord, it is time.  The summer was immense.” and “Who has no house now, will never build one.”   The summer was indeed immense–an April of sun, and then the endless light of May, June, July.  In fall, a descent, permission to consider mysteries and troubling questions, to retreat.  Sleep so hard we wake not knowing who we are; darkness, and what we might find there.

Quotes by the British Husband

Since I have essentially no life right now besides vying for the World’s Worst Housewife title, I thought I’d garnish my role by posting some of my favorite quotes from C., a.k.a. the British Husband:

“I like my women like I like my coffee–earthy, full-bodied, and just slightly bitter.”

On Murphy the cat’s loss of his manlihood:
“Well he couldn’t carry on having testicles.”

In response to my concern about being alone and bored in the house with double chocolate cookies:
“Just have a nice cup of tea instead.”

On me inquiring about an open window during a cold, blustery rain storm:
“Well we should enjoy the elements!”  (Note verb.  No, really.  Note the verb.)

On me not using my fork and knife in the proper British way:
“We need to get you into finishing school…but maybe we’ll try a starting school first.”

“A bit fresh” & a few house pics

“A bit fresh.”  That’s how the weather might be described today.  I’ve never heard anyone actually admit that it’s cold here.

But c’mon.  We’re creatures who evolved from warm climes, aren’t we?    Wet cold will kill you.  Which is definitely how it feels today.

It’s mid-June and barely 50 degrees.  Wet.  So cold that I’ve been back from “the shops” as they say, for an hour, and am sitting here in my North Face hat, trying to get warm again.

Mid-June afternoon. Please send multiple parkas.

I think I might finally be getting something about British culture and weather, though.   In the US, wearing skimpy clothes in freezing cold weather is considered silly and unwise.  The precedent to getting sick, which is a waste.  But here, enduring the cold is a badge.  I’ve heard many boast about how little they need to wear in warmer places, while others are donning coats and hats.  C. firmly believes, too, that one should keep the house as cold as possible to avoid any sort of unhealthy familiarity with temperatures above about sixty.

I’ve also heard the phrase “feel the benefit.”  I.e. don’t wear your coat on the train, where it’s warmer.  If you do, you won’t “feel the benefit” when you get into the cold.

Call me a wimp.  Call me decadent, etc., but I don’t want to be cold, shivery, or sneezy.  I enjoy warmth and the sun, and am not afraid of admitting it.  I do, however, enjoy a non-wet cold.  Icy cold, and snow.  It’s sobering.  It wakes you up.  Of course snow is gorgeous too.  I can appreciate a nice, polar ten below day.  But not wet cold.  There’s something about it that instantly makes me feel like I’m going to die, which is perhaps a life-enhancing feature of the human brain, but might be best switched off in England.

What I have heard locals admit is that the weather can be “a bit fresh.”   This, to me, feels like saying that the Sahara is “a bit sandy.”   But this is the closest I’ve ever come to witnessing a weather complaint.

I’m trying to remember what it’s like in Virginia right now, 100 degrees and climbing, when one simply cannot do anything out of doors.  That’s a killer too.  I remember trying to take a walk on one of my last evenings there, and it was like trying to swim in a Jacuzzi wearing four wool sweaters.  Just awful.

I thought I’d also share a few pictures of my neighborhood.   Even the houses look like they could use some chicken soup today.

There’s often a wide variety in how people keep up with exteriors around here.  There are piles of empty glass beer bottles in the windows of the unpainted house.  Very ghosty.

Sometimes I struggle to keep my spirits up when it’s so dreary.  I miss trees, flowers, green.  On the other hand, we did get our carpet in, and it looks quite nice:

The lounge. We put new curtains up--pics coming....

So lounge=living room.  This space is considered quite large, even though it feels a bit small to me.  More pics to come.  Estate agent was supposed to take pics tomorrow for their website, but he had to reschedule, so our deadline for getting things tidy and clearing out massive piles of clutter has been moved up.  A blessing in that there’s no pressure now, but a curse in that I probably won’t get very much done with it today without the pressure.

Murphy is very excited about the carpet.  The ping-pong balls he loves glide across the floor now in the most enticing way, and usually by nighttime he’s ready to curl up with us on the duvet.  He always goes out when C. leaves before 6 in the morning, even when it’s cold and rainy.   He scratches at the door at very odd times, like the crack of dawn and 10:30 p.m., as if he has a scheduled appointment in the alley.  I don’t know how he stays warm, he’s so small, and always comes in wet.   Do British cats have oily fur, like ducks?

Murphy’s favorite spot is right on top of C.’s feet.  C. had originally banned Murphy from the bedroom, and then just from the bed, and then from his side, so of course that’s the one place he always targets.  How do they know these things?

Driving Theory Test Attempt #1

Despite taking practice tests for the last four days, I failed my multiple choice theory test today by (ready folks?) one bloomin’ point.

Growl.

I was struggling with the Hazard Perception practice tests over the weekend, but had finally figured them out.  (Clicking in a “repetitive” pattern makes your test invalid and then you get a zero.)   I knew I was pushing the multiple choice part since I didn’t have much time to study last week and had only passed a few practice tests. Apparently I haven’t memorized all my signs.

Easy signs

Complex sign

But I really thought I passed.  I’d memorized half of the questions and answers by now after taking so many practice road sign tests.  Just booked the next one and am racing against the clock to pass the Theory test so I can book for the driving test, which usually has an eight week waiting list.  You can’t book that until you pass the Theory test.

More of this

And this

After July 18 I can’t drive on my US license anymore, so we’re trying to get me in before then.  I’m thinking there’s going to be a month or two where I can’t drive again.  Roundabouts still make me nervous.

At least I know what to do if I come across a herd of sheep and a shepherd asks me to stop.  (Answer:  stop and turn off the engine.)

May Update

I’ve been very busy this month.  I started an intensive course to become certified to teach adult ed, which here means anyone over the age of 16.  Even though the content isn’t so much my cup of tea–very Teaching 101 kind of stuff–how to make a lesson plan, etc., I’m enjoying the company of the others in the class.  There are eight of us, from early twenties to sixties. Quite a range of experiences and fields, which is cool.

I’ve also been able to do some temping, so with that and doing my coursework for the PTLLS course, I haven’t had much time to write here.

Plus, there’s always DIY.   We had an estate agent by to look at the house a few days ago, and the assessment was a bit better than we’d previously thought, so that was a bit of good news.   Most of the painting’s done and we’ve got a bit of art on the walls.  It kind of feels like I live here–a little bit. Especially when it’s nice, in the garden.   Still, we’d like to get out of the neighborhood and to a place where we can go for a walk and have a bit of peace when we’re not working.

Before and After pics of the inside to come.  Now if I can just replace some of this monstrous furniture….

Cabinet mug shot. Offense: too large for small, dark Victorian.

I’m still going to the King’s Poets group in London every other week when I can, which was such a lucky find.  Great people, and  at the end of April an art review I wrote for the lovely Medway Broadside appeared here:

http://www.themedwaybroadside.com/2011/05/18/80062-the-painkiller-print-exhibition/

Southeast England has had the warmest April on record, and we’re in dire need of rain.  A few weeks ago things were still beautiful and green, but now they’re starting to turn brown.  Today (the 26th actually) we’re having some good rain for the first time since March.

And now, almost June, it’s freezing and gray again.  I’m sitting here writing this with a wool hat on, wool slippers, and a blanket.

Happy beginning of summer, folks.  More posts to come.  A mojito toast despite the chill.

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