Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 528

American childhoods vs British childhoods

As I sat and listened to my American friends reminisce about their American childhoods, and as they spouted forth their cultural references that went right over my head, it made me realise that Brits and Americans really are raised differently, and with different influences in their lives.

I considered a couple of things: Harry will certainly have more varied and wider cultural references to reflect on as he grows up, which is ace. And it also made me wonder if I sat there and talked about getting a Sherbet Did-Dab, a Wham bar and the latest copy of Smash Hits with my pocket money when I was kid, and watching SuperGran (Gawd, I hated that programme!) and Blue Peter in the 80s, if my American friends would also find these references going right over their heads?

USA kids in the 1980s

USA kids in the 1980s

British school girls in a boarding school common room (can you spot me?!). Note Bruce Willis on the wall!

British school girls in a boarding school common room (can you spot me?!). Note Bruce Willis on the wall!

Sure, nowadays we can access pretty much anything online, but there is still a huge cultural divide between British and American kids and the way they are brought up, what influences them, and how they grow up, I believe. Yeah, yeah, we all remember watching Back to the Future and Teen Wolf and we drank Coca Cola (at the weekends!), wanted to skateboard, and saw Lady Di marry Prince Charles, but the day-to-day stuff differs enormously…..

Anyhow, this is what my American chums were raving on about last night….

Pudding pops
Apparently Pudding Pops are a ‘frosty Popsicle treat’ originally made and marketed by Jell-O, and which were first launched with Bill Cosby acting as spokesperson (oh dear…..). He marketed them as “Puddin’ Pops!”

Pudding Pops come in a variety pack of chocolate, vanilla and chocolate-vanilla swirl.

Pudding pops contain no pudding.

Ah, the pudding pop!

Ah, the pudding pop!

Jell-O 123
Jell-O 1-2-3 was a Jell-O product (yes, that’s jelly to us Brits) introduced in 1969 and discontinued in 1996; the product was one 4.3 ounce (121 g) mix that separated into three distinct layers: a creamy top, a mousse-like middle, and plain Jello bottom.

Apparently it is sorely missed.

Ugh.

Ugh.

As my friends reminisced about the Americana of their lives, one did mention watching the British show Count Duckula in the 80s. Why this show of all shows?! I mean, it’s pretty good, as far as British cartoon shows go, and it obviously made an impact with good old David Jason voicing the Count!

A little bit of shared culture we can reminisce about together, after all!

Here’s to cultures of all sorts! Happy Friday :)

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Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 527

Living in the ‘Columbubble’

I don’t know who coined this phrase for our little part of Desperate Housewife suburban America, but Columbia is a bubble and shall henceforth be forever more known as ‘Columbubble’.

I attribute this clever name to my friend Julia, who writes a blog about living in the Columbubble. She writes all about living here and what it’s like from her point of view, in her place in the Bubble.

The lakefront in Columbia

The lovely lakefront in Columbia

The Bubble means different things to different people.

As Julia references, some people think the Bubble is ‘the 500 to 800 people across the County that pay attention to hyper-local politics, talk about hyper-local politics, and can name at least three members of the Board of Education’. (Tom Coale) Or they think this: ‘[The Bubble is]…not always a good thing…The Bubble distorts things. It makes you see things that aren’t there. It builds confidence in places of great doubt.’ (Ian Kennedy).

But to me, the Bubble is the safety net that is Columbia; the suburbaness of it all; the big McMansions with the big staircases to sweep down to your Keurig coffee maker in your speciality kitchen; the lack of litter and the shock of seeing some on the streets; the lack of crime and being able to leave your door unlocked for anyone; the shock at finding a dope pipe in a children’s playground and assuming its.nothing.to.do.with.my.child; the school system being ‘perfect’ and that all.children.must.be.the.same; the manicured lawns and the housing associations with their clipboards noting everything down; the parents driving their kids everywhere because its.all.about.the.children; the kids being in all the clubs they can possibly be in because one of those sports will get them a scholarship to college, and anyway, mom/dad was denied that opportunity, so now it’s your turn, Billy; endless kids parties where everyone tries to up the game, this time with real live jungle animals (winners!); bored suburban wives looking like Stepford Wives driving SUVs to Whole Foods and then to the nail salon, complaining about their hard day; honors students who are perfect by day, but who secretly drink in their parents’ basements on a Friday; not seeing anyone with visible multi-colored hair, ripped jeans or tattoos walking along the road because.that.is.not.acceptable.here; how folks will totally give to the foodbank, but don’t expect them to not shop at LuluLemon every week for essential Yoga apparel; and not having public transport to or from anywhere ‘in case the bad people find us’.

That’s my [tongue-in-cheek] interpretation of the Bubble. It’s funny, because some days I can be very critical of Columbubble, and some days I totally dig it, because the Bubble has many plus sides. It’s safe, family friendly, and full of fabulous people fun. And I’m grateful to be part of it, and to live here, walk here, work here and play here. I love the parks, the events, the parties, the lakefront and the loop, the old bits of Ellicott City, the paths, the gyms, the space, the safeness, the friendliness. But, the Bubble sometimes seems clinical and sterile and all in a world of its own and that’s when I need a little helping of the grit and ruggedness of Baltimore or DC. I do hope the Bubble doesn’t burst, but that it continues to grow and mature culturally, maybe picking up a few bits of grit on the way to keep it real ;) .

Columbia: pretty ain't it?

Columbia: pretty ain’t it?

When I say I live in Columbia to Americans who are outside of the area, but who are aware of it, they raise their eyebrows and say ‘Ah, a planned community.‘ And I often defend it, but I also get why they raise their eyebrows, because, if you ask the load of Brits who live here in Columbubble (there are a lot of us!), many would agree that it’s not a ‘normal’ place!

This comment on my blog back in the summer from some bloke called William intrigued me: ‘I’m sorry, Claire, but living in Columbia, Maryland doesn’t qualify as living in the U.S. Maybe Baltimore or Philly, but not Columbia – it’s a recent invention.’

Yes, it’s a new build town, but everywhere starts somewhere. (Look, I come from England, William, mate, and my parents’ previous house was built before George Washington became President of the USA – work that one out!).

Oh, William, I disagree with about the rest though! Of course it’s the U.S, mate. It’s got yellow school buses, and people speak with American accents, and there is a McDonalds in every town, and there are mailboxes with flags, and people drive on the right, and you can turn on red, and people spell ‘colour’ with out the ‘u’, and they watch American football games all day on Sunday, and they don’t understand when I say the word ‘knackered’. So, William, I think I am living in America with Americans as my neighbours! BUT……if not, I want my plane ticket money back! Hang on a minute, am I in a version of The Truman Show….?! Am I?!!!

Yikes, Columbia or the Truman Show?!! It does look a lot like the Truman Show (which this is)! ;)

Yikes, Columbia or The Truman Show?!! It does look a lot like The Truman Show (which this is)! ;)

A Brit who has been in Columbia for about 40 years said to me recently that the reason he lives in Columbia is because he chose ‘predictability’. My response to this comment is in the form of a Truman Burbank quote: ‘Somebody help me, I’m being spontaneous!;)

Alan Partridge

I was describing Alan Partridge to an American friend the other day. ‘Was he in The Partridge Family?’ he asked.

Comedy God.

Comedy God.

Nope. He’s a British comic creation, care of comedy god Steve Coogan, and you need to know all about him, American chums, so read this ‘wot I wrote’! :)

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Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 526

My short, but very sweet, expat life

Argh, just nine months to go until we leave Uncle Sam’s shores for good. It’s happening fast.

But first, I have to endure this blasted winter (Gawd, I hate winter!). It’s flippin’ freezing already.

How to be an expat!

How to be an expat!

We’ll be heading back to the UK for a quick visit in January. The reason? It’s the only time of year the weather is better than here on the East Coast of the USA! ;) Oh, yes, and to see friends and family of course! (And make all sorts of arrangements for our return home :( )

Anyway, I recently wrote a heartfelt article about what it’s like to be a ‘temporary expat’. There are good things, and there are bad things, and there is a way of life that I’ve learned to live.

My expat life :)

My expat life :)

Here’s a snippet: 

‘Working in the American workplace, attending American events, having American friends, integrating into the American community, and being genuinely exposed to the USA and its people, its culture and its sensibilities has been the richest, most rewarding experience of my expat life.’

But find out what I had to say in full here. Enjoy!

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Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 525

Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. It’s another celebration in America-land and one that is sort of treated more importantly than any other holiday.

For a start, people are given two days off  at Thanksgiving (most people – not those who work in retail, because the shops open at crazy times for the Black Friday sales). Also, people will travel miles to see their families at Thanksgiving. Miles and miles and miles.

In comparison, in the UK we have Boxing Day as a holiday after Christmas Day, but here that does not exist, do it’s back to work for many Americans the day after Christmas.

USA Thanksgiving

USA Thanksgiving

So, what’s in store the UK Desperate Housewife USA this Thanksgiving? Am I going to ‘British it up’ or ‘do it American-style’?

I did try doing Thanksgiving once (our first year here), and it was shocking. It was like a poor-man’s attempt at a sort of Christmas dinner, but without the crackers and the presents and wotnot, and it felt all wrong because we really had no idea what to do, what we were meant to be giving thanks for, and there were no Americans there to help us out.

We did have this though, which somewhat brightened up our Thanksgiving table:

This is a Baskin Robbins Turkey Ice Cream Cake :) Really.

This is a Baskin Robbins Turkey Ice Cream Cake :)
Really.

BBC America suggests that some expats might want to consider ‘Britishing up’ their Thanksgiving dinner. This kind of happened last year when we went to some British friends’ house and it worked a treat! You know, Thanksgiving dinner, with all the British trimmings like roast potatoes and pigs in blankets!

This year, for our final Thanksgiving, I am excited for a full on American Thanksgiving dinner with American friends! Bring. It. On :)

Deadly Affairs: To Catch a Cheat

Yeah, yeah, I’m back on the telly in the USA! This time I’m playing a ‘girlfriend’ on Investigation Discovery Channel’s Deadly Affairs show, episode To Catch a Cheat. It’ll be shown Thursday 2o November, 10pm! Make sure you tune in to see whodunnit!

This was the show that I got to hang out with a lot of firefighters!

This was the show that I got to hang out with a lot of firefighters!

Such fun, as always!

Such fun, as always!

Cheers!

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Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 524

Fox 45 News Morning Show

This morning I got up at ridiculous-o’clock to get to Fox 45 studios in Baltimore to promote ‘gifts for moms’ with the upcoming ‘holiday season’ in my ‘lifestyle expert’ guise.

This is what it looked like!

Fox 45 early morning news! It's a bit like GMTV for Baltimore!

Fox 45 early morning news! It’s a bit like GMTV for Baltimore!

Hee, hee: lifestyle expert

Hee, hee: lifestyle expert

And then I managed to get behind the news desk :)

And then I managed to get behind the news desk :)

My buddy in NYC says he admires my ‘ongoing mission to get on TV as much as possible’ whilst in the USA. Well, why not, hey?! ;) I’m only here for nine more months!

This is the clip of the segment. Enjoy!

And don’t forget, you can still enter to win the Downton Abbey perfume that I talk a lot about on the show (I smell LOVELY by the way!).

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Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 523

Baltimore crime/ English city crime

I’ve been reading up a lot on the differences and similarities between crime in Baltimore and crime in London and Manchester via top Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton.

When The Wire got popular in the UK he spent sometime reporting from UK cities to find out if they were experiencing similar issues.

It makes for really interesting reading. Take a look here and here.

Some of the comments that stand out are:

On 7 November: ‘I woke up to the sound of police sirens and a constant pop-pop-popping outside the Kentish Town flat where I’m staying. I assumed it was fireworks – I would later learn it was part of the Guy Fawkes celebrations – but where I’m from, it was instinctive to wonder if such sounds could also be gunfire.’

Reflecting on Baltimore: ‘Despite significant improvements, including a 20-year low in killings last year [2008], the city [Baltimore] remains one of the most violent in America, and some wonder whether the cycles of poverty and drug addiction are intractable.’

Crime in Baltimore

Crime in Baltimore

Whilst in Manchester: ‘Baltimore this is not. While the area described as Manchester’s underbelly has drawn terrifying headlines in recent years and was compared by the shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling to inner-city Baltimore, I drove around with officers for seven hours and saw nothing to support such a comparison.’

Assessing British criminals: ‘In contrast to American gangs, Manchester’s are racially diverse. They don’t deal in large quantities of heroin or cocaine, but mostly marijuana. And while there are guns on the street, most of them have been obtained through quite creative means, including re-formatted starter pistols and homemade weapons.’

Crime in Manchester

Crime in Manchester

Makes interesting reading, my friends.

Pronouncing numbers USA stylie

Anyway, on a lighter note….!

I still pronounce numbers the British way, and by this I mean pronouncing the longer numbers.

Take the number 6400 for instance.

If this was on a cheque/check that had been written to me I would say ‘Thanks every so much for the six thousand four hundred pounds you gave me.‘ (A much better exchange rate than dollars by the way, though in reality this is a fantasy because I will never get a cheque for this amount of money :( ).

If this was a house number and I lived at 6400 Smug Suburban Way I would say:  ‘My address is six, four, zero, zero Smug Suburban Way.’ (FYI, most house numbers here are ridiculously long – I’ve never known a house number that is just plain no. 1 or 2! Where do they start and end?! Who knows? Not me!)

If this was in a phone number, I would say ‘Call me anytime on xxx-xxx-six-four-zero-zero‘. (Except I actually wouldn’t say that: I’d say ‘I’ll call you.’ ;) )

But….my American cousins seem to say 6400 as ‘Sixty four hundred’ all the time for every occasion. Interesting, mais non?!

It's number-tastic!

It’s number-tastic!

Ah, UK and USA! Same, but different. As ever :) .

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Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 522

Baltimore City Police Ride-Along

I can’t say too much about my ride-along cos of the confidentiality with the Homicide Department whom I rode along with last night, but I can say this:

1. It is like The Wire in areas of the city. The cops said the show is totally realistic in parts. I saw ‘The Corner‘, made famous by David Simon.

The Wire

The Wire

2. I have a new respect for the guys and gals in the Homicide Department.

3. Apparently Baltimore has more murders in one week than the entire nation of Canada does in a year (Is this true?! NOT a police fact, but an interweb fact…). It is kind of crazy to drive along with police and them point out where murders and shootings took place.

4. The humour of the Baltimore cops is very piss-taking in a familiar British way :)

Life on the streets

Life on the streets

5. Even criminals don’t like the cold. The cold keeps them off the streets, it appears. The junkies, however, apparently don’t feel the cold.

6. There are so many boarded up houses in some districts, it’s amazing that people are still hanging around on the corners.

7. This quote hanging from a detective’s desk interested me: For a plot hatched in hell, don’t expect angels for witnesses.

Homicide Dept

Homicide Dept

8. Baltimore is an eclectic city. It’s awesome and scary and cultural and poor and rich.

9. Baltimore is lucky to have the police department it does. I was in safe hands.

Respect to the cops

Respect to the cops

10. Finally, some people did not get why I wanted to experience this police ride along in one of the murder capitals of the USA.

I posted on Facebook that I was hoping for some action on the ride-along and someone commented ‘there will be “action”- not sure it’s the type anyone really wants to see’. But, you see, I did want to see this type of action, because it’s intriguing, fascinating and I’m curious.

I asked the cops when we were in some of the more intense areas that we drove through what would happen if I got out and walked along the streets or in some of the project complexes. They told me I didn’t want to know….

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