Alternative Perspective

A look at British culture from an outside perspective and a look at American culture from an outsider living within it's borders.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Ugly Awakenings

You go a few days with little to talk about and something like this happens. Of all the things I thought I'd be talking about in my little 'how the other half lives' Blog, I didn't think I'd get to talk about international responses to terrorism.

I was in England when 9-11 happened. I was in America when 7-7 happened. While the scale of the attacks in London is smaller than 9-11 the degree of co-ordination seems greater. But when comparing loss of life it's no game of Top Trumps.

After 9-11 I started making it a habit of checking the news every single morning. 'To see if the world is still there' I used to put it.

Yesterday, we got home late, and Katy had been painting the wall that my wireless router and cable modem plugs into earlier that day, so they were both unplugged. As we were going to bed she asked me if I wanted to go on the internet in the morning, and I said she needn't bother. I was tired, and my morning newschecking ritual didn't have the urgency anymore that you can feel when an ocean away from loved ones.

Funny then that I should wake up to a message sending me 'commiserations' and hoping that none of my family lived in London. They don't fortunately... but just yesterday after the olympics announcement I was being asked if I knew anyone who lived in London, calling to mind the people that I do know that live in and around the city.

As I write this, I don't know how devastating it's going to be in the long run. The UK firecrews are still going into some of the train stations with cutting equipment and oxygen masks. It was 5 days after 9-11 before they pulled the last living person out of the wreckage. Hopefully no family in England will be put through that special kind of hell.

Two years ago, I was working in England, and a minutes silence was held on 9-11. Some of the more ignorant people in the office were voicing complaints afterwards. 'They wouldn't do this for us.'

I mean ignoring the dozens of British people that died that day for a minute, I just wanted to paint a simple picture for those people living back in Britain that seemed to think America wouldn't bat an eyelid if something like 9-11 happened there.

This morning, the radio show I normally listen to on the drive into work was cancelled. Instead they were covering the events in London live. Patching from one news station to the next, following the story. Jay Sevron, who normally does the 3-7 pm slot was in. He'd presumably pulled himself out of bed and hauled ass to the station.

The guy at the army base this morning who checks my ID and drivers license every day (I drive through the army base to get to work... it's much shorter. I don't work in the army base) just waved me through today, with a sympathetic smile. No joke about my English accent today. No asking for my ID, just a brief moment of eye contact and a wave. He probably didn't want to ask me if I had any loved ones in London.

The first person I met at work this morning asked that question, and people have been asking me so far if I'm okay.

I am okay. I'm not pulling my hair out over a missing loved one, but I haven't managed to get in touch with my family yet to make sure that they're doing okay too.

For anyone that thought America wouldn't shed a tear for us Brits, I just wanted to show you that you were wrong.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Hose can you see the fireworks?

How topical eh? It being the fourth of July and me posting about fireworks and all that! First of all I wanted to do a little update about St George's day in England. I was told yesterday that this year it was celebrated properly. The day was made a holiday, bars were given licenses to stay open later than normal and people were encouraged to fly flags and apparently a lot of people did. That's great news if you ask me, even if I'm mostly pleased because someone actually went out and did something instead of complaining. Go England!

So yesterday, Katy wanted to go see the fireworks, and despite every cell in my body telling me it's the wrong time of year for them, away we went. Here in Massachusett's fireworks are illegal to sell, so you can only go to official displays. Even then they're done offshore on floating platforms by the local fire department. Not having ever witnessed offshore firework displays before moving here, I can say that the reflection of the water does add nicely to the overall affect of things.

In England we don't have the Fourth of July fireworks thing, obviously, we have a slightly more bizarre holiday called Guy Fawkes. It falls on the 5th of November and totally undermines Halloween year in and year out much to my annoyance. Again it's not an official holiday so you don't get the day off, even though it is one where people actually do things. England can be a bit weird like that. May Day, nobody does a thing, but you get that one off.

Guy Fawkes was the only one of the conspirators who attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in England in some 16 something or other. Maybe it was 17 something or other. A while ago anyway. They put a crap load of gunpowder underneath and the guy left to light it, got caught. Something like that anyway. The history is a bit argued. One thing that is agreed on is that it wasn't just Guy who did it. He was the only one caught and took the full blame back in the past.

Somehow this all translated into a night where we build a big bonfire, burn an effegy of Guy and let off fireworks. It's called Bonfire night as much as it is Guy Fawkes night, and I'm sure some people call it Firework night.

Last one I was in England for though, the fireworks started around the first of October, and lasted every night until about mid November. Every year some kid blows off his hand trying to throw fireworks at strangers in the street. After that one they proposed a bunch of laws to prevent that type of thing going on. I'm not sure if it had the desired effect.

The big difference is that fireworks are sold in corner shops up and down the country, which makes it very easy to get a hold of.

I couple of fireworks displays stick in my mind. One had the barriers too close to where the fireworks were being launched from. The wind was blowing towards the crowds and just about everyone got eyes full of ash. Ash is raining out the sky and you're looking up to see fireworks. It wasn't so great.

What was a lot more fun was a different display where some of the fireworks tipped over and launched into the crowd where I was standing. Nobody got hurt, but seeing a mob of people running away, screaming, as huge white trails whizz around their legs and explode was bloody funny even for me, running along with them.

There are though some rather fundamental differences between how the British do fireworks and how the American's do them. Naturally. That's what the blog is about after all right?

In England fireworks would usually mean a crappy funfair. The kind that sells pork sausages in a huge bun and call them hot dogs. They aren't generally accompanied by music. They just stand by themselves, and people go 'oooooh' when an espescially pretty one goes off.

America, well at least around where I live, does things differently. First of all they do it on a much bigger scale. They shoot off massive fireworks bigger than I ever saw in England, and they do it synchronised (mostly) to bad songs about how great America is (there are good songs about the countries finer qualities but fireworks seem to demand the cheesiest ones), themes from Steven Spielberg and George Lucas movies, and bizarely, the themes from TV shows and songs from Disney movies.

Oh and Grease songs... though of course they edit them so children don't have to ponder what 'the chicks will cream' means. You know, cause if you're watching fireworks, you'd instantly think about getting wet with desire and turn into some kind of sexual deviant because you heard a Grease song. When I was a little kid, I and everyone I knew, knew the words to the songs from Grease (in my defense I had an older sister) but we just didn't know what they meant.

Fireworks in America do stuff that you wouldn't believe either. Like make Smiley faces when they explode, or bizarre as anything else, CUBES. Bloody impressive when you think about it. They make interlocking circles and they make circles with stars inside of them.

And of course, the only ones that getting applauded are the ones that blow up really big and don't do anything else.

If you reacted with surprise at the inclusion of the word 'applauded' in that previous sentance, well, I'm going to guess you aren't American.

Americans applauded fireworks. It's the strangest thing. I don't mean at the end, they applaud the people that made the display. That's not what I mean. I mean during the display, if there's an espescially big firework, the audience applaud. This is a particularly American thing. Applauding when there's no one there to hear the applause but the people applauding.

They do it after films too. Or even more bizarre, they applaud along with an audience at a quiz show when they get a question right.

Back though to the fireworks. There's nothing wrong with applauding fireworks of course, it just seems a little silly to someone from a culture where applause doesn't mean 'I liked that' but instead is meant to show the person or people who did something you liked that you liked it.

Sometimes it seems that people just seem to clap because everyone else is. That however doesn't just go for America.

So the fireworks were spectacular, the music a lot less so, and all in all I think it was a better show last year. Still... fireworks that explode into cubes... you have to wonder what they'll have next time don't you?

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Coriander... and guns

Yesterday, while picking Katy up from work (she'd had a flat battery in the morning so I'd driven her in) her employer asked me if I wanted some fresh coriander. Fresh coriander is a wonderful thing so there was no way I'd turn such an offer down. Her employers are a married couple, of Indian descendancy but who moved here from England, and like me find trouble getting hold of such things as fresh coriander.

Despite spicy buffalo wings being a popular dish in America, there's little else that's given much spice. Infact, American's as a whole don't seem used to spices at all, and they really can't take as much as the average English person can. That's no doubt down to the fact that curries aren't anything as popular here in America as they are in the UK.

Spices, you get a taste for them, but you also slowly build up some resistance to them. You never get to the point where nothing is too spicy, but you slowly go up through the levels from one level of spice to another. What would have had you rolling on the floor in pain, half a year or so later could be perfectly tollerable.

Many American's fail to see the enjoyment in spices, but there are plenty that fortunately do. America is a big enough country to offer just about everything, but depending on how popular it is can make it harder and harder to find.

In England I lived about ten minutes walk from Rushholme and it's famous curry mile. My parents in Derby lived only a short distant from my favourite Indian restaurant, Jee Ja Jees.

When I moved here, there was one single curry restaurant on the cape, instead of the dozens within a stones throw that I was used to. Funnily enough the curry restaurant that was on the cape was run by a couple that had relocated from Rushholme. Rushholme has a whole range of varying quality restaurants, and the lesser ones border on nasty, unfortunately this one was nearer those lesser restaurants. I could see how being on a peninsular with no other Indian restaurants would be far more appealing than being in a mile long stretch with of dozens and dozens like in Rushholme. We only went there once.

Supermarkets may carry some of the ingredients to make some curries, but it was a struggle getting together what I had in my head as the necessary ingredients of Chicken Tikka Massala.

In the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams joked that every planet had a drink called 'Gin and Tonic' but on each planet it was different. The spellings would be different but the pronounciation the same.

I wonder if he didn't get the idea from massala sauce. Chicken Tikka Massala has a relatively interesting origin. It's not a traditional Indian curry, but nor is it a horrendous English approximation of one. It was created by Indian's in England who were trying to appeal to English tastebuds. They achieved this rather well actually, as the Massala was not only imported back to India, but it became the single most popular dish in Britain. It surpassed fish and chips even... but unfortunately for me, I couldn't stand the cheap common versions of the dish.

Most people agree that it's a sweet, tomato, coriander and cream based sauce, but from there people seem to argue wildly. Tikka infers that the chicken has been marinated in Tikka spices and then grilled, preferrably in a Tandoor (a wood fired brick oven that gives chicken a very distinctive flavour)... though many people skip some or all of that and just use plain old boiled chicken instead of cooking the chicken seperately as you should.

Some places use coconut and some don't, the minority do use coconut but to my palette the kind with coconut is far superior. So I use coconut cream (fortunately sold so you can make Pina Coladas) and unsweetened dessicated coconut. That's where the sweetness of my massala sauce comes from. Without a tandoor, I can only skewer and grill my marinated chicken, but it comes out wonderfully.

The hardest ingredient to find was actually coriander. The sauce uses both ground coriander seed and fresh coriander leaves to give it it's distinctive flavour and I couldn't for the life of me find any. By coincidence I ended up settling with cilantro, which turned out to actually be coriander. Perhaps then it wasn't coincidence but my nose, but this renaming of a plant that was already well known by the time the American's moved here has always bemused me.

Still, once I had that, it was the missing link and I was able to make Chicken Tikka Massala at home and most importantly make it as spicy as I wanted.

So guns... I won't go off on any lengthy diatribe. I don't like guns, but unlike most people I know gun control wouldn't work here in the states. Not when there are already hundreds of millions of guns out there in peoples homes. In Britain, guns aren't a big problem. They banned hand guns a few years back after a madman walked into a school in Scotland with a bag full of them and just started pumping children full of bullets. I was nervous about what impact that would have on organised crime and the black market, but fortunately, it did do what was hoped and gun crime plummetted.

I know it's said that criminals don't obey laws, so how could a gun law do anything but make victims more victimisable, but certain laws did have a good effect. If you commit certain crimes but you have a gun with you when you do, the penalty for doing so is much stronger. Burgalers aren't looking for confrontations, and it had an effect.

Of course, a big difference is that in England, not even the police carry guns. They don't want to actually. But guns aren't part of British society. Over here, similar laws would most likely hurt more people than criminals just because the guns are so prevalent. The arguement goes, if only the police are allowed guns what if the police go rogue? A bit paranoid perhaps, but here, you couldn't disarm the police unless you could easily disarm the criminals, which you can't.

Would America be a safer place if there were *no* guns. Sure it would. The problem is that there are far to many to get to that stage.

Yes, guns don't kill people, people kill people, but there's a side of that arguement that people often overlook. Guns make it easier to kill people, and someone is more likely to die if they're shot at than if they're stabbed. The detachment of space between you and the other person, and that you only have to pull a little lever makes it very different from being right there in someones face plunging in a knife.

I know the constitution says you should have arms so if the government ever becomes corrupt then the people can take it back, but think about it. If the government comes corrupt they'll just change the constitution... it's already happening too. The government has already decided what is and isn't arms. I don't agree with the idea that people can own AK47s because the potential for killing the person you're pointing at and anyone else in the vicinity is fire higher than with a hand gun (and if someone mugs you, even in America the penalty for mugging isn't death).

So yes, I wish someone could click their fingers and make hand guns go away... but I also acknowledge that there are far too many for gun control laws to work. You can't look at American society in a bubble without comparing it to other countries without guns where death rates of violent crime have fallen since the hand gun ban, or without looking at places that allow guns but don't have anything like the problems America has with them, countries like Canada.

The constitution allowed you all to have guns to prevent corrupt presidents. Bush (this isn't a slam on Bush, because he didn't make the courts hand him Florida) didn't win the election the first time out fair and square. The votes in florida at the end of the day went to Al Gore... but a court ruled that it was too late to change the winner. Not the people of America, the courts. So a president who had had less of the popular vote than the other guy, as well as who should have had less of the electoral vote but was handed a state over the mess the recounts got into there, ended up in the white house. Someone who didn't fairly win an election took control of the country, and what did the gun carrying people of America do, finally given the chance to use their guns for the one reason that they're allowed to have them...

Nothing. They did nothing. In my eyes they waived the right to bare arms there and then... but it's too late now to just try and fix the problem with a few gun control laws. No, the first step is acknowledging that there is a problem. With American society and American guns.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Independant

Yesterday showed me quite nicely that even the hugely proud America is guilty of overlooking the importance of their national holidays. In England, when we celebrate the patron Saint of England, the mighty Sir George, slayer of dragons, we don't get a day off work, and we don't actually do anything.

No flag flying... nothing. About all anyone seems to do is complain about how much more of a celebration Saint Patrick gets. Personally I've long been proposing making it a day off, and organising a football match for the English team. About the only time you see flags flying in England is when there's a match on, and it's about as patriotic as we limeys get.

Whether or not you think flag flying is the hallmark of arrogance, or the height of national pride is of course up to you. I wouldn't do it myself, but that isn't to say I'm ashamed of my heritage either. England is after all a fallen empire, and while national pride remains, it remains unspoken.

Part of that is a result of something that makes for an interesting contrast between the cultures. Over here, someone who isn't flying a flag or speaking in support of at least the soldiers fighting in Iraq gets branded 'unpatriotic'. That and 'unamerican' are some of the strongest insults people use over here, always having the maximum impact and the strongest reactions.

I honestly think a lot of the outwardly patriotic 'look at me I'm flying a flag!' lifestyle is a result of social pressures. It's a bit like people being openly and outwardly heterosexual. Fondling women in public as if to say 'I'm not gay, see?'. Not that there's anything wrong with consensual public fondling of course.

I'm not saying these people are fake in their celebrations of American culture and nationality, just that they seem a bit self conscious about it. I do love America, so I better show it, because I don't want anyone to think that I'm not proud to be American.

Every flag is treated like the shroud of Turin. I'm sure the dos and don'ts of flags aren't that different to they are in England, it's just here people take them seriously. Flag protocol is very important. There are people trying to get a constitutional ammendment made that makes mistreating the flag illegal. While there's a lot to admire in all this, there is still that question in the back of my mind with regards to how honest the gestures are.

To get to that contrast I hinted about earlier, in England, if you were to erect a flag pole in your front garden and fly the British flag, it would probably be presumed that you were a racist. Unfortunately, the white supremists in England have done so much to taint the flag as to have given it that stigma. Of course, if anyone of any other culture in England flew their own flag, there'd be no social issues with it, but an English flag is consider by some people to mean 'F**k off back to your own country.'

Enough people that it's not flown outside our homes. This is of course a very sad aspect of British society in the modern world. Pride of nationality has become almost synonomous with racism, unlike in America where not showing enough pride is enough to make you a social outcast.

So when Americans wished me a 'happy holiday weekend' I couldn't help but smile at the inappropriateness of it.

Some people might have taken that as 'typical American arrogance' (something I might add that isn't typical of Americans at all. It's just very visible, and for the most part it isn't arrogance it's ignorance thanks to an education system that predominantly focusses on American achievement) but I just took it to show how far detached from it's original meaning the 4th of July celebration has become. 4th of July means fireworks, and cookouts... sitting back in the scorching hit knocking back cans of beer with family and friends... flying the flag and eating foods all coloured Red White and Blue... it no longer means 'celebration of defeating the British and winning American independance'.

Of course, it didn't really dawn on anyone that I mightn't be doing anything special this weekend. But why would it? This is an important weekend to everyone over here. 'Enjoy the holiday weekend' is just a different way of saying 'have a good weekend'. There is no real holiday this time in England, so I've no desire to indulge myself in anything particular, unlike the rest of the country. If anything helps my home sickness this weekend then, it's actually the fact that the true meaning of the holiday has been lost... just as it would have been back in good ole' Blighty.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Subtle Oddities

If there's one thing that struck me as different when moving to America, it's everything.

Excuse me while I sit and bask in the brilliance of my own wonderfully confusing previous statement. It's not a twee little turn of phrase at all, it's true. Everything is different. That's more striking than any individual thing. Nothing is the same, not even things you'd presume to be the same. The differences aren't drastic... it's not the sort of culture shock you'd receive moving to Japan by a long way, but every single thing is different.

Cadbury's chocolate in America doesn't taste the same. It tastes worst incidentally. Pepsi here tastes a lot better than it does in England (German Pepsi ranks pretty highly too, but steer clear of the French stuff incidentally... ). Blades of grass are different. Clouds are different. Rain is different. Cars, roads, shops, people, TV, everything... different in at least one subtle way.

Some things better somethings worth, but everything different. It's easy to see how people get homesick. Me, I'm left eternally hankering for Quavers, but also overjoyed that Mountain Dew is readily available over here. Rough with the smooth and all that.

That's pretty much what this Blog is going to cover. Everything and anything. Like differing attitudes...

From what I can tell, most people in England think that Tom Cruise's reaction to being squirted with water was appallingly bad, over here people are commending him for it. As close as the two countries are thought to be, they're totally divergant over certain issues. The infamous Janet Jackson nipple... in England there was a two fold reaction to that, amusement at the incident and sheer bemusement at the American's reaction. Perhaps it's because there are certain people in the UK that make a habit of running naked past cameras at live sports events. Streakers... not famous celebrities. They make the front page of the newspaper the next day and it's all seen as quite amusing.

America's 'think of the children' reaction seemed utterly insane from the UK, and I think it's safe to say that so far, no harmful after effects have occured, because a child saw a naked boobie. What did they think would happen anyways? After all, if a kid is too young to be sexually awakened, it's meaningless, and if a kid is old enough to be interested in breasts, seeing another one wouldn't have done any harm. The Discovery channel occasionally has dozens of breasts swinging about right in the middle of the day! Don't talk to me about 'it was the unexpectedness of it that was so bad' because if i'm channel surfing at 3 in the afternoon, I'm not expecting to see breasts on any channel.

That's just as an example anyway... I really wanted to talk about two things from yesterday. A trip to the dentists and a trip to Boston.

Brits have a bad reputation when it comes to their teeth, and I can't say mine compare to the average Americans. I wouldn't say i'm far off, but I have a tooth or two that are a bit misaligned. So when I went to my dentist's over here the first time and they asked me 'when was your last professional cleaning' and I said 'never', it wasn't exactly my fault. No one in England that I know of has a bi yearly professional cleaning with sonic scraper and rubber spinny thing... but the woman looked at me with utter shock. I snuck a look at my dental records while they were letting the anaesthetic take yesterday and saw 'NEVER HAD A PROFFESSIONAL CLEANING!!' written in it.

In England when you have a filling they use three things. A needle, a drill and a syringe with the filling paste stuff. In America they give you anaesthetic before they give you the anaesthetic injection! They take out this little swab and apply some blue minty stuff to the area they plan to inject. That's crazy to me, the injections never really hurt all that much but there you go. Then they use all these clamps and things that look like hair driers and the like.

I must say though, that they do do a good job, and I'm glad that I have decent dental coverage. Funnily enough the first time I went, I was just chatting away with the dentist, and I mentioned I'd moved from England.

Well he told me that he'd thought about moving to England, but that they didn't recognise American dental certifications over there. He'd have had to go to school all over again, and it's pretty well known that the average American dentist is better than the average English one. Needless to say he decided to stay in America rather than abandon his carreer or go to school for another six years.

Heck, if an American dentist opened up in England they'd probably be packed with a huge waiting list. Perhaps the looser standards of dental care in England makes all of us Brit's less self conscious about our smiles. We aren't bumping into anyone with perfectly alligned teeth with white veneers every other day. Maybe that's why we can have a good laugh when a naked boobie pops out, though maybe not.

Sometimes, you learn something without learning it. For me, touchtyping wasn't anything I tried to be able to do. I typed a lot, writing stories and doing school work and messing about on the computer, and one day realised I didn't need to look at the keys anymore. Well I have an ability that I never knew I had till I moved to the states.

It surprised me to realise that English people look different to Americans. America is a big country too, but North, South, East and West I've been able to pick out the Brit's from just looking at them. It's mostly subtle facial proportions as far as I can tell (maybe it's the teeth) but it feels a little weird. Since there's no conscious search for tell tale features, it almost feels like a psychic ability at times. I just look at someone and my brain goes 'Brit!', and it's not been wrong to my knowledge yet.

We see American's all the time on TV in the UK, and it never occured to me that I'd be able to tell the difference based on appearances. I never claimed to be able to do it when I lived in England, but in someways it makes sense. Everything is different even phsyical appearances between the average person on the street, and when someone looks the way I'm used to people looking for the majority of my adult life, I can tell.

It's been eye opening, because I'd never realised before that physical racial attributes might diffentiate between caucasians. If anything it makes me feel that being biased based on colour of skin more stupid... because that's being biased based on only one of the dozens of things that differentiate one race from another.

Societies aren't all the same, and neither are the people that live in them thank god, otherwise the world would be a much more boring place.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Greatest Thing I Ever Did

If people aren't to be defined by what they like, as I kind of hinted at yesterday, than they ought to be defined by what they do, and I don't mean their job. For some people their job is more than a job... people like Doctors who want to save lives would be a classic example. That's something they're driven to do. For some Doctors a job is just a job... there's no absolutes when it comes to this kind of thing.

So perhaps it's not what you do, but what drives you, that defines you. Horror films and the community around them are a big part of my life, so are game communities... that's not so much about sharing interests but about being able to talk and debate about various films and games with people who know what they're talking about, but more importantly, what you're talking about. I guess for me it's a game in and of itself. It's not about proving a point, or about scoring points along the way, it's just about looking at something from another persons point of view. Whenever I manage to see something that way, I feel like I'm becoming a better person. Trying to stay more open minded, trying to better yourself, seem like fairly honest goals.

So in trying to explain a bit more about myself, I thought I'd talk about the most monumental thing I ever did, and if it's not instantly apparent, why I did it, and why I'm so proud of it.

I've always heard that the three most stressful things that most people do are getting married, moving house and changing jobs. I'm not about to debate this, I'm sure raising a child is pretty damn stressful, as are many other things, but it's probably a list you're familiar with all the same. I was.

Imagine then, doing all three within a three week period... completely by choice.

There'd have to be something pretty major driving a move like that. You wouldn't exactly choose to do all of those three things at the same time, even if you wanted to do them all eventually. A more classical approach would be, to find a new job, initially commute, then use the extra income to find a place. Get settled in, and then get married.

Then there's the other thing that I did in that three week period. I emigrated from England and moved to America. It's probably becoming pretty clear already why all three stressful events came at the same time, but believe me, immigrating into America dwarfs anything else on that list. Most people don't experience it, but christ it's a stressful experience.

You see, for a good few years, Katy, now my wife, and I had been flying back and forth from one country to another, spending all our holiday time and most of our spare cash together.

It started off as an internet relationship thing. It turned into a real world long distance relationship thing, and as is probably evident, the amount of commitment required for a long distance relationship is pretty high. It's not that you couldn't just call it off, it's just that you wouldn't get into one if you didn't think it was leading somewhere more serious.

We did, and it was pretty evident after a few years of commuting half way around the world just to be with each other, that it certainly wasn't getting any less serious.

I was still temping... because in my mind I'd been doing my best not to get onto a career path until I was settled down with Katy. We got engaged and started the paper work. First Katy had to petition to bring me into America on a fiance visa. I had to send in lots of biographical information, Katy had to get proof she was American, and there was a fee for this process. Once that was achieved, I could then apply to the US embassy in England for the Visa itself. Of course, every step takes months. I had to get proof that I'd never been tried of any crime. I had to have numerous medicals and shots. There was reams of paperwork, numerous fees, a trip to the embassy, and no certain date to plan the wedding (which had to be within 3 months of me arriving in the states). Until we were married I couldn't work. Getting married would lead into a seperate application process for a temporary work permit while my case was pending to get a temporary green card. After having that for two years, I could then apply for a full green card.

I've skipped a number of things, and no doubt forgotten other things. This dwarfed planning a wedding, moving house and changing jobs.

But I'm not whining, and I didn't whine at the time. See, I knew it was going to take all this, and yet I did it willingly.

Because I knew that Katy was worth it.

I'm not religious, (agnostic if you care) and I'm not someone who knows much about faith, but I eventually said good bye to my friends, my colleagues, my family and my home, and moved to a completely different culture, all for the love of a woman.

If I can't be proud of that, then I don't think there's much anyone should be allowed to be proud of. Perhaps you think it's wreckless or foolish, for a 24 year old (at the time) to marry a 20 year old (at the time), but to do all that for love...

I still think it's the greatest thing I ever did.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Ooh look! A blog... how original.

It's days like this that I wonder about myself. You swear blindly that you're not going to start a blog, because, frankly, everyone seems to want a blog and has this unusual belief that everything they say is crushingly important. I suppose if I were to throw out a cliche right here it would be that 'opinions are like assholes' comment, but that pretty much devalues an opinion almost as much as a blog does.

I had a blog before blogs were blogs. In that regard I like to think that, as one of the first people to very quickly get tired of updating a blog and throwing it away, that I was ahead of the curve. Now millions of people have gotten and forgotten blogs. You hear people say 'I was going to start one of them blog things.'... actually, I've never heard anybody say that, way to undermine my own point there... but I'm led to believe people do say it, and judging from most of the blogs I've seen, they must. What they don't seem to understand is that unless they have something interesting to say, that nobody is going to read it. All the best and most read blogs are about something, even if it is the author's life. Take the wonderful 'I am a japanese high school teacher'... it's about something more than what restaurant the author went to, and what Mary Sue said about children with polio on the way there.

When your opinion is searchable, it's pretty much worthless unless you're a name. The only people who read it are going to be people who were looking to agree with it, or to disagree with it. By my experience most people only care to read things written by people that agree with them, and get angry at anyone who disagrees with them.

This is of course highly entertaining at first, but as time goes by and you run into more and more people with these kind of beliefs, you can't help but feel that maybe people in general aren't as worthwhile as you thought. Of course you'll soon realise that people in general aren't generalisable but until the feeling passes it can be a bit disconcerting.

Talk radio callers fall into three camps. You have group one, the butt kissing camp, who haven't an original thought in their head. The 'Sean, you're a great American' camp. I wonder why they listen. This isn't a dig at any supposed biases on talk radio, or on any one political viewpoint, but on the sheep like nature of so many of the people that call in. Perhaps sheep is the wrong word. These people agree with everything the person on the radio says. Do they think that somehow that's validation of their opinion? I guess so.

Next you have the angry 'no opinion but my own is right' camp. They call in to vehemently disagree with the talk show host, and seem incapable of doing so without resorting to insults and telling the host that they are flat out 'wrong'.

The third is sadly the smallest. Those whose viewpoints do not totally concur or contradict the host and who want to discuss the various issues in question with them.

Why do I listen to talk radio then? Well, to 'vet' my own opinions actually. I rarely agree with the viewpoints raised on the radio, but I find people like Jay Sevron argue their opinions very eloquently. Understanding that people who have different beliefs to you can be smart, and can defend them with well reasoned arguements, is a big step to understanding that your own beliefs need to withstand such people. If they don't, you really need to reasses them, and listening to talk radio is a great way to provoke debate.

I'm a horror fan. There's few tags that I would like to be defined by, but I am, without question, a horror fan. There's something about the scary movie that strikes a chord within me that resonates. I have no shame in saying that this goes beyond the mere enjoyment of the odd film, and borders on the obsessive. My DVD collection is probably 2/3rds genre films, and last weekend I went to the cinema on Friday, Saturday and just for good measure, Sunday, to support George A. Romero's latest horror movie. Good or bad I try to catch any horror film that makes it to the cinema at least once... I can't say I ever went three days in a row before. I'm not done yet either, I'm planning on going at least one more time next week.

This isn't as wild a tangent as you'd think, for me it's doesn't even register on the wild tangent scale. As ever, Romero's zombie movies double as political commentary, and what's been interesting about the reaction to it within the horror community are the assumptions that people have been making about other people. Apparently the message is a typically Liberal one. Apparently if you don't like it you must be a conservative. I mean lets ignore for the moment that there are more than two political philosophies, and lets ignore for the moment that people of many different philosphies worked on the film. It's this kind of thinking that bothers me. You can be an intelligent liberal, conservative, socialist, marxist, libertarian, whatever. Political viewpoint is just personal world philosophy and if most people woke up and paid more attention to what was going on around them, they'd realise that they probably didn't completely side with anyone of those. Each has things you'll agree or disagree with, it's just a matter of deciding which one shares the most of your beliefs, or is right for the time in which you're voting. Romero's films are deeper than most horror movies because they provoke debate. Social commentary isn't the same thing as a message movie, and it's the prior that Romero does so well.

So what is my Blog going to be about? Probably about two months before I get bored again, but we'll see. More seriously, it hopes to be, what it claims to be. An alternative perspective... on many things... not just politics, but film, music, immigration, videogames, television, crime, the price of petrol and just about any aspect of modern culture you can shake a stick at.

Even when I was living in Britain growing up, I was a bit of an outsider. No, that doesn't mean I didn't have any friends or girlfriends, it just means that my opinions tended to differ from those of the people around me. I never really felt much of a part of British society. Moving to America, I feel even more of an observer than I did in England. I hope if you are reading my Blog, and continue to read my blog that you will enjoy it as just that. A different viewpoint on the world you live in. A different view of America to you'd get from an American, and a different view to Britain as you'd get from someone living in the country. I'm not looking to change anyone's minds, just broaden the canvas which they use to form their very own and very unique opinions.

Who knows what we'll talk about later, but for now, this is about as good an introduction to this Blog as I think I can manage. Next time, maybe I'll do more to introduce myself.