Interesting Questions Americans Ask British People

In twenty minutes from now I will be leaving for the airport to go to Menorca, but before I begin a new chapter of my blog, I wanted to leave you with one last post about America. While I was there, I kept a mental note of all the strange, stupid and surreal questions/statements people asked/made to me during my stay, in the hope that they could one day make an entertaining blog post.

 
Here is a list of just a few of the odd things Americans have said to me:

 
1. Have you ever tried ice cream before?
2. Is London a Christian country or a catholic one?
3. Have you ever heard of garlic bread?
4. What does “don’t jimmy riddle in the back of me jam jar” mean?
5. Do you love tea?
6. Do you love the Queen?
7. Do you know the Queen?
8. Have you ever seen the Queen before?

9. Can you say “sack of potatoes”?

10. When meeting someone for the first time:

 
Them: What is your name?
Me: Sam
Them: Sorry?
Me: Sam
Them: Psalm… wow; can you spell that for me?
Me: Yes: S.A.M.
Them: Ah, that’s funny; it’s spelt just like the name ‘Sam’
Me: My name IS Sam; I just have an English accent
Them: Oh
Us: *Silence*

11. “She’s a Vegan. Do you get those over there?”
12. Do they really say ‘fetch’ in England?
13. Say ‘bloke’
14. Say ‘Doctor Pepper’
15. A friend trying to get his friend to imitate my accent:

 
Him: Say ‘hot water’ in a British accent
Her: What’s a British accent?
Him: [Pointing at me] HIM!
Her: I thought he was England or Ukrainian. You know, they’re the same.

 

16. Wow, your English is really good.

 

God bless America.

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White Sands, Turquoise Waters, and Gunpoint Robberies: A Fun Few Days in Miami

If I were to be completely honest with you, I would tell you this: before I arrived to Miami, I had very low expectations of the place. Maybe I’m a location snob, but I like places rich in culture, charm and class – places steeped in history, filled with leafy boulevards, beautiful people and quaint sidewalk cafés (which is why I despise going to Brighton and pubs) – so Miami had never exactly appealed to me.

Pictured: the bane of my existence

This is what my face is like in Brighton

Nonetheless, I went there two weeks ago. I was met at the airport by Camilo, a friend of mine whom I had met a couple of years previously in England. (He is a Colombian who lived in Canada, and had I known he was now living in Miami, the whole palaver of not finding anywhere to stay until the morning of my flight [briefly mentioned in the previous post] would have been avoided.) As he drove me through the city, from the airport to his house, I felt that my previous notions about Miami had been correct – It seemed to be nothing but a vast and uninspired expanse of concrete with a few palm trees scattered across it as a half-hearted consolation. To me it seemed the place had no personality, no soul – the entire city, a grey expanse tinted a grubby yellow by the sun, seemed fake.

 
[Reader: if you love Miami and I have offended you, please do not storm off at this point without finishing – things are about to change, I promise.]

 

Though I wasn’t finding Miami to be a beautiful place (or even remotely attractive) I was, nevertheless, enjoying myself. I was spending time with Camilo and his sister, meeting their friends, making new ones, and generally having a good time. It was two days into my stay in Miami that my opinion about it began to change. That night I went, for the first time, to the beach. This was the first time in a year that I had seen the ocean, so to feel the sea-breeze, hear the sound of waves breaking, and look out at an endless horizon came as an unexplained relief. There was something about walking along the shore under the stars and feeling the sand under my toes, with the blue darkness of the warm Atlantic on one side of me, and the restless lights of the city on the other, which was calming and almost alleviating to me. As I walked along the sand I noticed the silhouette of a large piece of driftwood, bobbing along with the rhythm of the waves at the point where they broke onto the shore, suddenly begin to crawl out of the sea onto the deserted beach. I approached cautiously, (obviously it was some kind of sea monster) whereupon I realised it was a huge sea turtle coming to nest. I was even able to touch its shell (don’t attack me, animal rights people – I was gentle.) Maybe you wouldn’t agree, but for me this was an amazing experience.

 
The next day I returned to the beach, but this time in the daylight to swim. Intelligibly, the atmosphere had changed completely to that of the night before, but I hadn’t anticipated the kind of ambience that I encountered there that day. The whole beach and surrounding area felt like a party. Music played from all directions, bar patrons sipped cocktails along the waterfront, and people danced on the beach. Save for its hordes of people, the beach itself – with its white sand, leaning palms and turquoise waters – conformed to the paradigms of how paradise should look.


We spent my few days there eating out at restaurants, relaxing on the beach, and spending time with friends. I went to a Colombian restaurant to relive my time in Bogotá, where I ordered cholado – a beverage of chopped tropical fruits, crushed ice and condensed milk, typically mixed with ice cream. I miss Colombian desserts!


After going out for lunch on my last day, some newfound friends and I decided to go to Bayside – an area in downtown Miami of restaurants and bars with enthusiastic street entertainment all wrapped along the edge of the marina. There we walked around listening to the Colombian salsa that played live on the waterfront, and watching the couples who spontaneously began to dance along to the Latin rhythms. Impressive yachts lined the water’s edge and their proud owners sat out on them drinking wine as the sun went down. The atmosphere was like one big party and it was infectious. I loved the laidback feel of the place, and this was reflected in the attitudes of the people I was spending time with.

After eating at Bayside overlooking the marina, we decided to go to a late showing of Madagascar 3 at the cinema! The movie finished around 11, and while driving home, we all decided to turn around and go to Dunkin’ Donuts for a snack. In Miami, people don’t make plans – they just go with the flow.

 
There were around ten of us at the restaurant, and somehow, as we sat around a long table with our coffee and donuts, we got into an intense debate about relationships. Camilo had some very strong (and controversial) ideas on how relationships should “be done”, and the rest of the group disagreed. Then the disagreeing opinions of the individuals that made up the rest of the group began to conflict with each other’s disagreeing opinions, and the whole group ended up arguing discussing the issue with some intensity. Of course we were all very grown up and diplomatic about the situation, but soon we found it was 3am, and we had been in the donut shop for over three hours. It was time to leave.

When the discussion had become too much

Pushing open the doors out onto what we presumed was going to be an empty parking lot, we were somewhat bewildered when we were greeted by blue and red flashing lights, a helicopter flying low overhead, sniffer dogs patrolling the pavement, a cordoned off street, and hordes of serious looking police officers standing around their patrol cars.

“GET BACK INSIDE!” they ordered.

 
So we turned around and re-entered the shop. The man behind the counter asked us in disbelief if we seriously hadn’t noticed anything that had just happened, and our confused faces confirmed to him that we really hadn’t. Apparently our debate had absorbed all of our attention and the store had been robbed at gunpoint just a few feet from where we had been sitting without any of us noticing. I found this hilarious.
Here is CCTV footage of the whole ordeal. I can be seen sitting at the far left of the screen.

 

 


Anyway, along with that adventure, I had a great time in Miami. Being in a city with a 70% Latino/Hispanic population, its laidback and relaxed atmosphere was something to be expected. The people I spent time with there spoke to each other in a language that can only be called Spanglish – a tongue which oscillated between both English and Spanish equally, which at once I found both charming and confusing. I met many new people and I made some new friends, and I hope to be able to go back there for a longer time in the future.

I am now back in the UK. I have been busy over the last two weeks since i got back, so forgive me for not writing about Miami until now. Tomorrow I fly out to Menorca with my sister to meet my parents who are already there, and while I am there I will try to find a job. I’m writing this looking out of the window at a grey sky and rain, but I will be writing my next post from the middle of the Mediterranean in 30+ degree heat! Until then!

Happy Flag Day!

Here in America, believe it or not, today is Flag Day (yes, it seems they have a day for everything here). So I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you a little something I have learnt about the flag while I’ve been here. This may be my most boring post to date, but I found this difference between American and British culture rather interesting.

 
Last week I was watching the news and found myself amused at one of the stories that the station was featuring that evening: a store owner had been flying an American flag, which happened to be a little old and tattered, over a ‘strip mall’ (retail park, for us English people). Here you can read the story.

 
That was the whole story. And it was one of the main stories of that evening. The feature included interviews with members of the surrounding community who were all deeply disgusted with the state of the flag, and who looked sadly into the camera as they told the reporters with genuine hurt how offended they were at the ordeal.

 
I couldn’t help but think how trivial the issue was. The point of the news story was that the flag was ‘tattered and torn’ and that it was disrespectful and insulting to the nation, to which the reporters, interviewees, and TV audience all seemed to agree.

 
In England, or any other country I’ve visited for that matter, people do not seem to care about their nations’ flags like the people of the USA do. Here the star spangled banner flutters from the doorway of most every home; hangs nobly outside malls, businesses and restaurants; and flies regally above every government building. You cannot drive for one minute down the street without seeing those broad stripes and bright stars at least five times.

 
The rest of the world, I would say, is indifferent to flags. Perhaps they might like their countries flag to some extent, but it wouldn’t go any further than that – into the kind of obsessions that the Americans show for theirs. That is why I couldn’t understand what the major concern was on this news story; about an old flag flying above an insignificant retail park, and the response of outrage that this received to me seemed like somewhat of an overreaction.

I smiled as I watched the story, snorting from time to time with derision and incredulity, when I turned my head to find Mike and Linda (the couple with whom I’m staying) solemnly shaking their heads. From then on I resisted the urge to laugh at the news feature out of respect for them. But when it was over I asked them what the big deal was.
Linda explained to me how important the flag is for the people of America, for everything it represents. She even showed me a leaflet entitled ‘When and How to Fly the Unites States Flag’ that was kept in a kitchen drawer. Here is what it says:

 
• The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
• The flag is never allowed to touch the ground or the floor.
• The flag of the Unities States of America should be at the centre and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of states or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs.
• The flag should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds but always allowed to fall free.
• Never fly the flag upside down except as a signal of distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
• The flag is never flown in inclement weather except when using an all-weather flag.
• The flag can be flown every day from sunrise to sunset and at night if illuminated properly.
• The American flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin, being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.

 
At first I found this all kind of ridiculous and amusing, especially later when I found out there is a national annual holiday solely for the American flag. But as time went on this principle began to grow on me, and I have since become quite impressed with the attitude towards not only the flag, but the general outlook of respect and patriotism that the people of this country have for their nation.

 
It was recently the Queen’s diamond jubilee. All the streets in the UK were lined with Union Jacks, people threw parties and dressed in the colours of our flag. In a way I am disappointed that I was not home to take part in this – one of the rare occasions in British culture that allows for patriotism. The only other time in my life that I have felt a shared sense of loyalty and a common patriotic spirit was during the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. I think we in England could learn something from the Americans about being proud of, and respectful to our country.

 
Happy Flag Day!

Channelling my Inner Masculinity at the Shooting Range!

Being out here in the Midwest over the last two weeks, I have been forced to channel my inner masculinity. Two posts ago you read about my camping experience where we carried trees above our heads, ate steaks using sticks for cutlery and slept in the middle of nature without even showering afterwards. Also, during my time in St. Louis I have found myself doing other manly things such as hacking away the roots of a removed tree from the lawn using a pick axe and smoking a pipe (though not at the same time). So it was only natural that today I go down to the range to shoot some guns.

hacking the lawn with a pickaxe – the most exercise I’ve done in my life

This morning I accompanied Mike to the gun store – an intimidating place where all kinds of dead animals’ heads stare dauntingly down at you from the walls and thousands of rifles, pistols, machetes, knifes, and other weaponry are displayed in glass cabinets. We were here to buy some bullets to shoot with, and during our visit Mike questioned the cashier about a new gun he was interested in. I was impressed by his apparently infinite knowledge on the subject – especially with him being the church pastor – but this seems to be a common hobby around here! (I later found out that he wanted to know about the gun so as to buy it for his wife, which I found even funnier – the image of the pastor and his wife down at the shooting range)

After buying the bullets and stopping for some donuts (and also taking a wrong turn which resulted in an unplanned, hour long tour of the countryside) we arrived at Top Gun. I had only had one previous experience in shooting, where last summer I went with my family to shoot clay pigeons at a country hotel in England for part of my granddad’s 70th birthday celebrations.  I was somewhat disappointed that the pigeons were not pigeons at all, but round discs. I still am yet to discover why they call them pigeons, but anyway – I didn’t hit a single one. I was beat by my three sisters and even my own grandmother managed to shoot at least three. For this reason I was anticipating a humiliating experience at the shooting range today. However, though I was still awful, it wasn’t as embarrassing as I had expected.

This is the same gun James Bond uses, so of course being British i had to pose with it

I had predicted that the place would be full of big, manly men who rode motorbikes and had intimidating moustaches and tattoos of snakes or naked women, so I found it amusing to find an old lady with purple rinse in the stall next to me, her extended arms shaking with age as she held the pistol out in front of her ready to shoot. In the stall next to her (sorry if I’m about to offend anyone) was your typical American stereotype on legs – a particularly plump gentlemen (he didn’t walk – he waddled) wearing shorts with trainers (sneakers for you Americans) and white socks pulled midway up his podgy calves.

He was similar to this couple I saw at the zoo who lived up to the American stereotype. (Am I a bad person?)

We had purchased our own targets which we clipped to an electric pulley system and chose our distance (about 15 feet) to shoot from. The target was on an A4 piece of paper so it was harder than it sounds. We chose to go for a traditional round target as opposed to one from the range of ‘bleeding zombie’ targets available – a selection of different zombies which apparently splatter blood when shot, including a rather threatening looking undead moose.

As well as managing to shoot the actual clip that held the target in place, causing both the clip and the target to fly away, I was the only one to hit a bullseye! However, this was nothing but a fluke as the majority of my other bullets flew past the target without even hitting the paper, while the grandma next to me was repeatedly hitting her human silhouette target in the heart from 30 feet away.

a perfect (accidental) hit

My Last Day in Colombia

I have yet to pack my suitcase: a task I am not at all looking forward to. At home in January, I calmly began packing with well-ordered, meticulous care just hours before having to leave for the airport. Upon completion of the task and finding that despite my greatest efforts of tidiness the case still stubbornly refused to close, I enlisted the help of my mother, who (like all mothers) has unexplained though definitely appreciated skills in making everything fit – even allowing for some extra room. This time, however, I am alone – without someone to expertly rearrange my belongings like a puzzle until the case can properly shut – and I am dreading this unavoidable, toilsome labour.

Today is my last day in Colombia. Tomorrow morning at seven o’clock I will fly from Bogota’s El Dorado airport and say goodbye to the land that has been my home for the past four months. It is hard for me to believe that it has been four months; to me it feels as though my time here has been much briefer, and though I am excited to be moving and seeing more of the world, there are certainly things about life in Colombia that I am going to miss.

First off, I am going to miss the people I have met during my stay. Though I have only been here for four months, I have made friendships which I know will last a lifetime. I will also miss eating fried chicken with honey (something that in England would raise more than a few eyebrows, whereas here the honey is given to you in sachets along with your meal). I will miss drinking vanicanelas (vanilla and cinnamon lattes) in Juan Valdez, mixed with a good spoonful (or three) of panela. I will miss hearing the sounds of Salsa, Merengue, Cumbia and Vallenato in rickety old buses and hurtling taxis, and smiling at the reminder that I am far from home. I will miss the outgoing affability of Colombia’s people, and I will miss their carefree, laidback culture. I will also miss these things.

I didn’t even like coffee before I came here

Nevertheless, I am looking forward to what the next two months have in store for me. There have been some unforeseen changes to my itinerary, and after staying in Bogotá for a week longer than originally planned, I will be skipping my stops in Bolivia and Los Angeles, and heading straight to St Louis, Missouri, where I will spend two months as the intern of Doctor Mike Peters – a close friend of my pastor. If I am honest, I haven’t a clue what to expect from these coming months, but I am going with an open mind and without expectations, and I am excited to discover what St Louis has to offer, as well as what I might learn there.

Last night I took Lala, the daughter of the family I have been staying with, and her boyfriend Diego out for dinner to say thank you and goodbye (the parents were also invited, but unfortunately couldn’t make it). I am going to miss them all, and I have really appreciated the way they have taken me into their home and treated me like family from day one. Last night was a great opportunity to say thank you and a good way to spend our last times together. The food was pretty good too.

Lala and Diego

Caught off guard struggling with the chopsticks

Today, as well as attempting to cram all of my possessions into the case, I will be rushing around doing last minute errands before I leave; such as taking advantage of Colombia’s low priced haircuts (I go to the best hairdresser in the city and spend less than £10 – less than half of what I pay for a cut in England – whereas a similar place in London would charge £80 or more for a men’s cut) and stocking up on foods I know I am going to miss.

But anyway, I better make a start with this suitcase. Wish me luck, and I will update you upon my arrival in the USA.

Three Days in Girardot

So I wasn’t able to visit Cartagena as I had hoped, but this week I did the next best thing! On Monday me and Lala (the youngest daughter of the family I‘m living with, who has come to be like yet another sister of mine) decided we should go on a short holiday to Girardot*. Situated in a tropical climate while being just a 2 hour drive from the relatively cold weather and almost daily rainfall of Bogotá, Girardot is extremely popular with the Rolos (people from Bogotá) as a weekend retreat – an easy escape from the demands of the big city.

Gloomy Bogotá

And so, the next morning we woke up sickeningly early in order to arrive at the station for 6am, and from there to take a bus to our destination. The bus left at 7.30, and just getting out of Bogotá seemed to be the longest part of the journey. As I have mentioned before – traffic in this city is a big problem, especially at rush hour.

Bogotá is the world’s fourth highest capital, and to leave the city our bus had to ascend even higher up one of the surrounding mountains in order to then begin its descent toward the tropical valleys. The temperature decreased as we rose, and the bus was sprayed with rain as we drove through clouds so thick that you could barely see 10 meters ahead. This didn’t do anything to knock the driver’s confidence, as he continued to drive with irrational speed along the snaking mountain roads. The knowledge that the road was edged by a sheer drop was something that I tried to ignore, especially when the driver decided to overtake immense oil tankers on blind bends. At this point I closed my eyes, deciding it would be better to die in my sleep rather than with the realisation that I was plummeting to my death down a rocky precipice, but somehow I couldn’t manage to doze off. Soon enough we had reached our highest point, and from now on the journey would be downhill.

I watched through the window at the shifting landscapes and was amazed at how the scenery transformed so rapidly – just a 40 minute decent from the city and already it looked as though we were in another country altogether. The regal Pines and Oaks of Bogotá were quickly replaced with stooping eucalyptuses and flowering acacias reminiscent of the Australian countryside. Eventually these were also replaced with tall leaning palms, banana plants and ferns. Along one side of the twisting road was a sheer wall of rugged rock dripping with vines; on the other side, the ground, rich with tropical vegetation, sloped sharply downward to a muddy river which, churning, followed the path of the road. Beyond the river the earth lurched abruptly upward again, forming a narrow gorge which the water cut through, and enormous boulders lay scattered across the landscape. The scenery looked positively prehistoric – I wouldn’t have been surprised if a dinosaur had come into view as we turned the bend, and for the first time I felt as though I was catching a glimpse of the magical lands described in the novels of Garcia Marquez.

After a few hours we arrived at a rather uninspiring town, and though it was tiny, we still managed to become stuck in gridlocked, motionless traffic. We were welcomed by the sounds of Colombian folk music drifting from open doorways; the calls of young girls leaning out of upstairs windows to talk to their friends on the hot streets below; the blare of car, moped and truck horns all sounded by impatient drivers; and the persistent cries of the street venders who stuck their heads and baskets of goods into the bus’s windows, trying to sell us ice creams, soft drinks, fruits and pastries. Soon enough we were on our way again, and within twenty minutes we called the bus to a halt as we had reached our hotel.

A collection of whitewashed, terracotta-roofed buildings formed the complex, which was surrounded by mango trees and coconut palms. Wrought-iron, colonial style street lamps lined walkways which formed paths between the hotel’s seven different swimming pools, and tropical birds of electric yellow or emerald green darted between the huge trees entangled with drooping vines in the centre of the complex.

Mango Tree

We entered the lobby – a sweeping white room with wicker furniture and high ceilings exposed to the warm breeze without doors, just wide open archways. Here we checked in and then unpacked in our room before proceeding to spend the next three days lounging by the pool, swimming, eating good food in the hotel’s many restaurants, and just enjoying the sun.

The hotel had a bowling alley, a massage service, numerous bars, restaurants, an ice cream parlour, tennis courts and swimming pools. The rooms were spacious and comfortable. But what I enjoyed the most was just relaxing in the hot weather, 30 degrees c, and reminding myself of how cold it was back in England made me appreciate it even more. I was told it was only 6 degrees in London while I was in Girardot!

We arrived on Tuesday morning, and on Thursday afternoon it was already time to check out of the hotel. At this point it began to rain lightly, so we waited in the lobby until it cleared before making our way to the street to hail a bus back to Bogotá. While we waited, I watched as a hummingbird drank nectar from a bush of pink hibiscus under the mango trees. I remembered my childhood summers spent in Menorca, and how I used to love wildlife – I would spend the summer holidays catching lizards and frogs around the house on the island! I even had books about the animals of the Amazon, and was always fascinated by hummingbirds. So one summer, when I was around seven years old, I was amazed when I saw what I thought to be a hummingbird drinking from the bougainvillea outside the kitchen window. I ran excitedly to tell my mum, and rushed to bring her back so she could see, but I was disappointed to find out that it was only moth known as the Hummingbird Hawk-moth. This didn’t stop me from taking delight in waiting for sunset when they would come out and drink from the flowers around the house, and I would catch them in my hands before watching them fly off again after setting them free.

Sitting in that lobby, watching as the bird darted between each flower took me straight back to my childhood, and the excitement I felt that summer in Menorca from seeing a real life “hummingbird” for the first time! I couldn’t help but feel a tiny part of that childhood excitement return as I watched, this time knowing that it was the real thing! Of course I played it cool, and just watched silently from my wicker sofa, smiling at the memory.

* [For those of you reading at home (I’m mainly thinking of my dad – remembering the embarrassing times when he tries to order a beer in Menorca), let me try to give you a quick lesson in Spanish pronunciation, as I know how it feels to read something with a recurring word without knowing how to say it: in this case, the ‘G’ is pronounced like an English ‘H’. an ‘I’ in Spanish is similar to an English ‘Ee’. The Spanish ‘R’ is nothing like in English. There are two ways to say it, but for the R’s in ‘Girardot’, it is similar to a mix between the ‘Dd’ in ‘ladder’ and an ‘L’. The ‘A’ is short, such as the ‘A’ in ‘cat’, as opposed to the long ‘A’ in ‘can’t’. The Spanish ‘D’ is much softer, and similar to an English ‘Th’. I’m trying to help, but I think I’ve just made it even more confusing for every one – including myself. Anyway, perhaps the simplest way to pronounce it with an English spelling would be: Heerarrdot]