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.

Goodbye, Saint Louis!

I didn’t know this for certain until today, but this is my last day in Saint Louis. There have been a few hiccups in finding somewhere to stay in Miami, and yesterday, the day before my flight was due to leave, I still had nowhere to go once I land there. A friend of mine was calling friends of his and waiting for their responses, and while I waited I had a goodbye meal with friends, packed my suitcases, and eventually went to sleep without knowing whether or not I was really leaving. This morning I woke up with an email confirming that a place has been found, and now all I’m waiting for is a phone call to make arrangements to be met at the airport. One of my personal philosophies is this: ‘Don’t worry. Ever.’ (Deep, I know.) So to be left without knowing where I am staying until the last minute has been a test of this mind set. (I’d like to say that I have passed this test with flying colours).

Now I know that I’m definitely leaving, I feel kind of sad. I arrived in Saint Louis two months ago (it feels like only two weeks) without having any idea of what to expect, but during my time here I have met new people and made lasting friendships which I really value, I have come to love the city of Saint Louis, and (here comes the cliché – brace yourselves:) I feel I have grown as a person (sorry).

I am truly going to miss this place and the friends I have made, but I am definitely going to return some day, hopefully very soon. This is a short post because I need to finish packing my suitcase and get it into my head that I am actually leaving in a matter of hours. I also need to arrange being met at the airport. Anyway, I will update you on my travels when I arrive in Miami!

Texas – Part Two: San Antonio

Apart from gorging myself almost constantly, I was also able to walk around San Antonio and enjoy its tranquil ambience, rich history and warm weather. The city features colonial cathedrals, quaint cobbled streets, and Romanesque towers, all hidden like gems in amongst its tall concrete office buildings. After turning every other corner I would be pleasantly surprised to stumble across some charming side-walk café or an old fashioned tram rattling along a stone-tiled street.

I later found out that this is actually the oldest active cathedral in the Unites States!

We also visited The Alamo, a former Roman Catholic mission and fortress compound, and site of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836 (thanks Wikipedia). It is apparently a very important landmark in the history and culture of Texas, but don’t ask me about it – I was too hot and tired to be bothered to read the information provided inside the building. I did like the architecture though, and could appreciate its history though I didn’t necessarily know anything much about it.

My favourite part of downtown San Antonio was, inevitably, The Riverwalk – a network of pathways alongside the banks of the San Antonio River, creating an oasis of tranquillity one story below the bustling city. Elegant restaurants with little white-clothed, flickering-candled tables line both sides of the river, while flowering trees twist upwards and droop over the green water. Picturesque boats of photo-taking tourists glide slowly past underneath stone arch bridges, and the atmosphere is definitely one to be savoured.

Usually, I am not the kind of person who would be taken aback by such a commercial place, but honestly, I loved it. The fact that this peaceful place could be found just by descending a flight of steps from the busy city streets above made it all the more alluring.

One balmy night we decided to eat at a particularly classy restaurant on the Riverwalk. Feeling extremely sophisticated after being seated at one of the pristine white-clothed tables, and getting deep into conversation before our appetizers were brought out, I froze mid-sentence after feeling something warm and lumpy drip suddenly onto my head, down the back of my neck and inside my new white shirt. Already knowing my doom, I rushed (rigidly, with fingers spread out on stiff, extended arms) to the bathroom, and gagged when I turned around in the mirror to find the confirmation that, yes, a pigeon had decided to expel its bowel contents into my hair. In my opinion (and sadly I am talking from ill-fated experience), the Riverwalk is one of the worst locations in the world to be defecated upon. However, if I look on the bright side, I will now certainly never forget that place. Thank you, kind pigeon.

The Riverwalk allows you to see the city from below, so the next day we decided to get another perspective – we visited the Tower of The Americas. This tower with its viewing deck offers an aerial perspective of the city, and like the Riverwalk’s view from beneath San Antonio, the view from above also provides some tranquillity. From 750 feet above ground, the viewer can watch the hustle and bustle of city as though from another world, with the wind whipping through the air being the only sound he can hear.

This was my last day. The 5 days had gone quicker than I had expected and already it was time to say goodbye. That evening we went out for farewell drinks, and, naturally, being with Mexican friends in Texas, we drank tequila. (In an Irish pub, obviously.)

Cheers!

I got home and packed, and eventually slept at 3.30. At 4am my alarm went off, ready for me to wake up and leave for the airport, in order to head back to St. Louis for the next 5 days. As I said before, 30 minutes sleep the night before a flight is never a good idea, but spending the evening with new friends was definitely worth it. I was sad to leave so soon, but I am sure I will be visiting again in the future.

Texas – Part One: Good Food and Missing Passports

I have just arrived, exhausted (please remind me to never again catch a plane without having had at least 30 minutes of sleep the night before), back to St. Louis, after spending 5 days in Texas. (Actually, I returned yesterday. I was just too tired to think about writing until today)

After a struggle in St Louis airport trying to convince the authorities that, yes, I could take an internal flight within the United States without a passport just as long as I had photo ID (and having to explain to them what the phrase ‘internal flight’ meant), I arrived in San Antonio, Texas, on Sunday morning ready to spend the coming days being shown around the city and spending time with friends. Upon landing, I discovered that the popular saying – “everything is bigger in Texas” – was indeed true. The first thing I noticed when stepping out of the plane was the amount of obese people wearing ridiculously bright colours (I didn’t think they needed to be drawing any more attention to their bodies which rippled beneath their neon sportswear with each waddling step). I also found, to my delight, that people in Texas actually do wear cowboy hats – something which, until then, I had always thought was just a clichéd stereotype. This was to keep me amused for the next five days.

Like these guys! Real life cowboys!

I was picked up from the airport by my friend Jesus (I know! Plus his best friend is called Angel, so I felt like I was in the bible the whole time) and from there we went to the end of the church service to meet some more of his friends and then go out for lunch, where everyone laughed at my accent when I ordered a Doctor Pepper. Come to think of it, the majority of activities we did during my stay in San Antonio were based around food, which I believe is the perfect, and perhaps the only true way for an outsider (and especially one with limited time) to gain knowledge of, and get a feel for a new place and its culture. Here are some of the restaurants we ate at:

On the first night, Jesus, Angel and I went to Mi Tierra, a family run Mexican restaurant and bakery which first opened its doors back in 1941. It is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, and all year round it is decorated with over-the-top Christmas decorations. Mariachi singers float from table to table, serenading couples and families as they dine with Mexican love songs in their deep-voiced harmonies and dramatic vibratos. There I tried fried ice cream (another thing about Texas – EVERYTHING is fried. More about that later.), which was delicious: a scoop of vanilla ice cream rolled in coconut, pecans, peanuts and toasted flakes, topped with a homemade caramel sauce and whipped cream, and served in a ‘sopapilla’ (a kind of thin, deep fried pastry shell). All of this was then sprinkled with icing sugar (powdered sugar for the Americans) and the whole thing was amazing.


The next day we drove for over an hour outside of San Antonio to eat at a restaurant called The Salt Lick. The journey led us through miles of countryside: around rolling hills, through green and yellow farmlands, and over sleepy streams, until we came to the restaurant. A brick and wooden building stood in the middle of this uninhabited countryside, with no visible sign of civilization anywhere except for the full-to-bursting car park which encircled it – a sign of a good restaurant. As we walked through the doors, the first sight to welcome us was a huge open pit barbecue laden with enormous steaks, full racks of ribs, and sausages hanging in bunches above the grill in its rising smoke. From this moment I knew I was going to enjoy my meal. The restaurant had a bring your own beer policy, so customers would come in clutching six packs of it. We sat at a wooden bench table and I ordered ribs and sausage with coleslaw and beans. The meat was so good, and their homemade barbecue sauce made it even better.


The next day we drove to Austin, which, though only an hour’s drive away, had a completely different atmosphere to San Antonio. It was a vibrant, youthful city, full of young fashionable (and noticeably healthier – i.e. less obese) people. I didn’t see one cowboy hat that day. We spent our time touring the city, eating good paninis in hipster cafes, visiting the state capitol and walking along the river. (Hugo and Angel kayaked; Jesus and I watched). Later that night we went to another restaurant called Fonda San Miguel – recognised as one of the finest Mexican restaurants in the country. The dramatically lit building, surrounded by banana plants, palm trees and brightly coloured exotic flowers, was washed in light greens and blues and decorated with Mexican mosaics. The huge hand-carved wooden doors bounded by engraved stone welcome you inside to an interior full of hanging lanterns, warm colours, large plants, Mexican artworks and a lively atmosphere. The food was to die for. I had enchiladas de pato (duck), followed by pastel de tres leches (three milks cake), and finished it all off with café de olla, a sweet cinnamon coffee.

enchiladas de pato

I’m getting fat.


These were the three restaurants I enjoyed the most out of a week of good food. I will write about what else I got up to in my next post!

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!

Baseball, Pagans and the Ghetto! – A Quick Update of My Time in St. Louis

A heavy thunder storm has recently passed, and I have come to sit out on the wooden porch, my favourite part of the house, to enjoy this fleeting moment in time where the rain has just ceased to fall and the sun has proudly re-emerged. The earth and its buildings and trees are now momentarily lit in exaggerated colours against the black clouds, and the branches, still dripping, stretch out and hang above the porch on which I am currently sitting, upon a wicker rocking chair, listening to the birds which have just re-appeared.

I thought I would take this opportunity to write, as it has been almost three weeks since I last posted, to give you a quick update of some of the things I have recently been up to.

I went to my first baseball game. Actually, it was the first sporting event I’ve ever attended, not just baseball. I didn’t go out of a love for the sport. Not even a lukewarm affection. In actual fact, I knew nothing (and still don’t) about baseball – I just went for the cultural experience. Everyone in St. Louis supports the Cardinals baseball team, so going to watch a game was something I had to do while I’m here. After sitting through the game, I came to the conclusion that I haven’t been missing much by having never gone to a sporting event before. I felt like I spent the entire three hours just waiting for the game to begin, when suddenly everyone got up and left and apparently the game was over. I can’t say I completely didn’t enjoy myself though. It was fun to see how involved the crowd got with the game, even though I couldn’t tell what was going on, or even if anything was being played. The jolly organ music which played sporadically was like something I think I’ve heard in movies (probably My Best Friend’s Wedding), and the singing of ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ during the 7th inning (is that the correct terminology? – I don’t really know what I’m talking about) was fun (though I didn’t join in. 1 – I don’t know the words, and 2 – I don’t sing. Ever.)

I’ve visited many restaurants and have been introduced to some new cuisines including Vietnamese and Ethiopian. (Both extremely delicious and I will be looking for similar places in London when I return home)

My first taste of Vietnamese food. So good!

I found myself walking through a Pagan festival, and quickly came to the conclusion that the title ‘Pagan festival’ was just a cover-up for what was in reality nothing more than a weird people’s convention. Stalls sold things like magic wands (sticks obviously picked up from the park floor a few meters away), chainmail bikinis, paranormal investigation services, and lots of tie-dye. The festival attendees were some of the strangest people I had ever seen, and to see so many peculiar characters in one place was truly a memorable experience. People came dressed like wizards or extras from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (but they were serious) or half naked in swim suits (if not in chainmail or tie-dye). I was dying to take photos of this – the most surreal situation I have found myself in to date. But I didn’t feel comfortable pointing my huge SLR in these bizarre people’s faces, being uncertain of the reactions this might have provoked from them. My friend, however, was slyly taking photos of everyone using her phone whilst she pretended to text. When I get hold of the photos she took I will upload them onto this post for your viewing pleasure, but for now I will leave them to your imagination.

I took a driving tour over to East St. Louis – a separate city to St Louis (though they’re often assumed to be one and the same) located on the other side of the Mississippi, which is the dividing line between Missouri and Illinois. The area is known for being the most deprived ghetto in the United States, and I was interested to see the striking contrast between living conditions from literally one side of the river to the other. East St Louis has the highest crime rate in the USA, including a murder rate of 101.9 per population of 100,000, in comparison to the US national average of just 5.6 per 100,000. We drove through the city, a crumbling ghost town that resembled the set of some post-apocalyptic movie, without stopping; except for when Zach, the designated diver for the day, drove over one of the innumerable potholes too fast, causing the engine to shut down and the rear-view mirror to fall off. The car ground to a halt under a decaying railway track, and I thought the whole ordeal was quite hilarious. Zach, however, did not; and upon finally getting the engine to successfully restart, drove back over the river as quickly as he could. A curious fact which I find quite sad, is that the city’s racial makeup is 98% black, in a nation where black people make up just 12% of the population. Visiting the city made me wonder why nothing is being done to revitalize the area, which seems to have been abandoned and discarded – sitting squalid and depressed just a two minutes’ drive across the bridge from a city of million dollar homes and thriving businesses.

(I didn’t take these last two photos – I found them online. I thought that was a smarter idea than taking my camera with me over to the east side.)

On a brighter note, I went to Food Truck Friday (again). A growing trend in American cities is food truck dining. No, not those greasy kebab vans that we’re all too used to in England; the food is good, restaurant quality, gourmet stuff. The trucks are generally extensions of already established and well-loved independent restaurants, which drive to a different location of the city each day, informing their followers of their whereabouts via social networking sites. Though generally it is the successful and independent restaurants which launch their own trucks as extensions of their businesses, it is not uncommon for food trucks to begin as just that – self depending food trucks; sometimes even launching a restaurant in a fixed location as a follow up of the truck’s success. Driving through the city you will often see a food truck parked on a street corner with its patrons crowding around it. Erin, the daughter of Mike and Linda, works for a prominent food magazine here in St Louis, and on the second Friday of every summer month the magazine hosts ‘Food Truck Friday’, where some of the city’s best trucks (around 20 of them) come together at a park for the afternoon through early evening, and around two to four thousand people show up to buy good quality food and have a picnic, accompanied by live music! It is a fun event; the trucks do all kinds of food – Indian, Middle Eastern, American, German, Vietnamese, Mexican, Korean… Mexican and Korean fusion! The list goes on. There are also trucks that specialise in desserts, and there I tasted the best cupcake of my life (sorry mum) it was salted caramel… mmm.

One of the trucks (you can’t see well on this photo but it even has a roof garden!)

The cupcake truck’s menu board

These are just a few of the things I’ve been doing during my stay here. I’m enjoying myself, making new friends, and getting to know and love St Louis more and more each day! Next week I will be flying to San Antonio, Texas to spend a week with friends there, before returning back to St Louis for a final week. I am looking forward to this, and will let you know what I get up to in my next few posts.

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