Friday, 17 February 2017

Ten Things Which America Doesn't Really Get

Bacon. It's all streaky. I once encountered proper bacon in an establishment describing itself as an English style pub, and was so surprised I had to get the waitress to ask the chef where he bought it. Apparently he had it flown in from North Carolina.

On a similarly carnivorous theme, lamb isn't particularly popular over here either, meaning kebab shops are sadly few and far between. There are a couple of Mediterranean places which do a decent doner kebab, but they never quite get the pita bread right, or the chili sauce, or the fat, grumpy bloke who calls you my friend but otherwise refuses to speak English following a long, long evening of being addressed as Stavros by horizontally-inclined beer enthusiasts.

Beer. Sadly no-one in America ever just nipped down the road for a pint, so it has come to be regarded as an exotic practice. Beer tends to come in bottles, either your regular swill or artisan beverages with knowingly stupid names like Burst Radiator or Enraged Skinhead, most of which taste like what you get when touching the two terminals of a standard nine volt battery to your tongue. Bars - which are what we have instead of pubs - tend to serve either Miller Lite or Budweiser, neither of which really count as beer; excepting the fancier places serving Burst Radiator, Enraged Skinhead and others on tap to men who spend the evening talking about different kinds of shit beer. In England I generally encountered unorthodox beers in a pub, usually by means of a decision-making process concluding with the words, fuck it - I may as well have a pint of that, I suppose, whereas here the activity seems spiritually closer to stamp collecting. This is why I stick to Mexican beer, and because it actually is beer.

Civilisation. This entry was going to be Government, but then I'm not sure any country really has the hang of that one, and the broader heading allows for discussion of contributing factors. Colonial America was founded seemingly with the intention of getting around the problems of what happens when you have hereditary leadership, meaning no Kings or Queens and that the job of President should go to whoever the people generally feel is best suited. Unfortunately this now amounts to who can afford the most effective advertising campaign, meaning it's usually the upper classes, in turn meaning that we're slipping back towards a dynastic model of leadership. This is justified by the erroneous notion of how those with the most money must be really amazing to have earned their fortune and are therefore well-suited to telling the rest of us what to do. All sorts of factors have contributed to the evolution of the English upper classes, and not all of them necessarily meaning we get terrible people at the end of the process. Some may be arseholes, but I've met a fair few who aren't, and who are very much aware of the mechanism of their privilege and who tend to have genuinely benefited from an expensive education - as you would hope. Here, on the other hand, being upper class is just a case of having a shitload of money, regardless of how it was obtained, and the American upper classes are pretty much just Terry and June from the English sitcom of the same name but with a mammoth bank balance. I know this, having stood behind them in queues and listened to their gormless conversations about Bon Jovi and alt-country and the Obama dictatorship and a better standard of person in their shitty golfing slacks. This is why socialism has become a bad word amongst those who have no actual experience of it and don't really quite understand what it means, namely because our upper classes are people who genuinely believe that money makes everything right, and that the best deal is the most popular, simplest, and therefore the cheapest - which as anyone who ever shopped at the Dollar Store will tell you is not necessarily the case.

Here's the thing with socialism: if you want to be a part of civilisation, then you are obliged to pay taxes as a contribution to that civilisation, given that the civilisation in question is about more than just you. Taxes pay for roads, emergency services, and general infrastructure, and it really isn't down to you to decide who deserves what, and it is about the whole rather than what's directly in it for any one person. If you don't wish to pay taxes or be part of civilisation, that's fine. You have the option of fucking off to the forest or the mountains or else discovering your own country using a road you've laid yourself rather than one of the ones we paid to have built for you, and you should be ready to generate your own electricity when you get there.

Any civilisation worthy of the term tends to be comprised of people who make things and do stuff rather than spending their time asking what do I get out of this? or whining about how political correctness is destroying their lives.

Law Enforcement. My experience with the police force in England has generally been consistent with the idea that whilst there are doubtless a few bad 'uns, these are persons who have somehow eluded rigorous checks in what is otherwise a fairly extensive training program. I could be wrong about this, but I sometimes get the impression that the training procedure of our police force is a guy who asks would you like a gun? Hopefully I'm very much mistaken.

North-East. England has Newcastle-upon-Tyne, home of the greatest accent known to man, and we get fucking New York. You'll know if you've ever met someone from New York because they will have told you about a million times and will have pronounced it Noo Yawk Cidee in an attempt to be cute. Additionally they will probably have described the place as some sort of free-thinking utopia in a land otherwise dominated by record-burning Ku Klux Klansmen who hate black people, improvised jazz, and anything resembling Communism. The only New Yorkers I like tend to be rap artists, persons such as MOP, current title holders of the world's greatest improvised exhortation to party heard on a rap record, which was bang your head against the wall, come on! during some song on the Warriorz album. Those guys can do no wrong so far as I'm concerned.

Pork Pies. I only get the craving once a year, and I could possibly purchase one from a certain mail order outfit specialising in fancy foreign foods, but the $70 refrigerated shipping cost is prohibitive considering that I'd probably eat half of the thing and then go off the idea, as I have done in the past. My dad always used to have a pork pie for Christmas morning which was apparently part of some tradition, although I don't know if it was just him or whether it's some more widespread observance. Here in San Antonio we traditionally have pork tamales on Christmas morning. A tamale is made from maize flour - and pork in this case - steamed in a corn husk. They're from Mexico and of pre-Colombian origin; and they're okay, but it just isn't the same.

Come to think of it, the cakes are all a bit weird too - kind of dry and far too sweet and always with that cream from a fucking spray can. Greggs should seriously think about opening up over here. They'd make a killing.

Rebellion. This is something with which American teenagers - or sometimes older people - engage between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one. The epitomy of American teenage revolution is Michael J. Fox dancing to Depeche Mode on the hood of a car stalled in gridlocked traffic and in doing so teaching the grown-ups a thing or two about what it means to be young. Rebellion generally occurs once you're done with the scouts and before you get a job selling car insurance to those seduced by advertising for Dodge vehicles. Sometimes it's difficult to believe that this is the same country which came up with Elvis, the Ramones, and MOP.

Ska. As Wikipedia is my witness, Ska is a musical genre that originated in Jamaica in the late fifties and was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae, combining elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. It is characterized by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the off-beat. It isn't, and nor will it ever be, twelve white dudes from Vermont in pork pie hats playing a song with a chorus sounding more like U2 than Prince Buster. Sorry. I don't make the rules.

Sweets. Candy always sounds like a euphemism for something illegal, and in a few cases it actually is. Our chocolate bars mostly taste like the supermarket's own brand products, and I'm talking Wavy Line or Happy Shopper rather than Waitrose. We have Cadbury's, but mostly sold only in stores frequented by a better standard of person and accessible only by means of vehicular transport.

Vehicular Transport. If you don't drive in America you're pretty much screwed unless you're conveniently married to someone who does, as I am. It's easy enough to walk around the centre of whichever town or city you may be in, but I would guess there are not many people living in the centre of their town or city. Most of us are in the suburbs where there's no nipping down to the shop on the corner for a can of pop and a pork pie, or even a tamale. Given this heavy emphasis on automotive travel, you might think this would be an area in which America excels, but sadly no. The extent and scale of our roads and highways combined with a population density much lower than that of the United Kingdom means that a traffic jam is something to be endured for slow moving minutes rather than stationary hours, but America has chosen to compensate for this relative freedom by having everyone drive trucks the size of your average fishing trawler. The fucking things are enormous, resembling giant Tonka toys, and whilst I can see one might justify such gargantuan vessels on a ranch, or if engaged in a business requiring that one travel with a fleet of lawnmowers in the back, otherwise there's really no excuse. Dental assistants are rarely required to convey injured bison back from the creek so far as I am aware, so they most likely choose enormous trucks as compensation for some deficiency, although obviously I have no idea what that could be.

A recent television commercial for the Dodge motor company shows actors portraying the Dodge brothers - Horace and John - magically transported from 1914, newsboy caps and all, leering with joy at their legacy of giant-sized Hot Wheels cars pulling wheelies and revving engines. Their joy is clear from lurid smiles comparable to those of fetishists who take sexual pleasure from pooing in their own pants and who have presently done just that. The commercial is hard to watch, and it's annoying, and I guess the assumption is that rest of us are expected to want to share in this sort of excitement.

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