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, 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.