petite anglaise

November 7, 2008


Filed under: misc — petiteanglaiseparis @ 12:36 pm

It was already raining the night I flew into San Francisco, my nose pressed against the plane window, but the weather did nothing to dampen my excitement. It was all I could do to prevent myself squawking out loud when I spotted the Golden Gate Bridge picked out in a blurry sparkle of orange streetlights. And as we circled the city, waiting for permission to land, I marveled at how clearly I could see its outline. There was the Embarcadero with its numbered piers stretching out into the ocean, just like on my Lonely Planet map, and in the middle, the crosshatched pattern of streets snapped to a perfect grid.

When my hostess greeted me in the airport, she was apologetic: it was the first time she’d seen rain since she relocated to the area, six weeks previously. In fact, she’d been told this was the first rain to fall on the city in five whole months. ‘Ah well, I brought my umberella,’ I said cheerfully, pronouncing it with four separate syllables à la Rihanna. ‘And I’m a Brit after all, it’s not like I’ve never seen rain before…’

Later that evening, I chortled at the local TV news where the inclement weather had dislodged the imminent elections from their rightful opening headline slot. ‘Rain is forecast for Friday, Saturday and beyond,’ announced the newsreader in her very best harbinger of doom voice. In the background a “super HD” map of the Bay area showed precisely where the rain would fall, the camera zooming in to close on the handful of named streets which would bear the brunt. The heaviest rain was forecast for Saturday. But tomorrow, the newsreader announced with gravitas, there would be widespread spotting.

Here was my first encounter with the ‘two nations divided by a common language’ phenomenon. ‘Spotting’ in British English, my American friends, is something which may occur when a lady is in the middle of her cycle and it’s a private matter concerning only the said lady and her underwear. Light rain, meanwhile, is commonly referred to in the UK as ‘drizzle’ or ‘spitting’, and is not usually thought worthy of a five minute slot on the regional news.

I continued my scoffing on Friday (grey skies and intermittent bouts of drizzle) as I wandered around for a couple of hours downtown, enjoyed a spot of brunch in SOMA, then embarked on a leisurely stroll with my hosts, starting in Upper Haight and ending at 16th and Mission. Ducking in and out of shops along the way, we crossed paths with a Jedi knight and a six foot tall hot dog, admired the canine Princess Leia costumes for sale in a pet shop and expressed horror at the limited choice of Halloween costumes for women, all variations on the ‘slutty’ theme, involving mini skirts and fishnet tights. When the rain began to fall more determinedly, we took shelter inside 826 Valencia, undoubtedly home to the widest selection of pirate products I’ve ever seen, and stopped to eat sturdy Mission burritos the approximate length and girth of my forearm. In short, the rain hadn’t really spoiled anything, so far, and my only regret was that jetlag got the better of me and prevented me from experiencing Halloween by night.

On Saturday morning, I was riding my first Powell-Hyde cable car up and over Russian Hill when the heavens opened. Sitting on my outward-facing outdoor seat, my jeans slowly darkening from ankle to knee, suddenly it didn’t feel like the newsreader had been exaggerating, after all…

To be continued


  1. i love it when the weather is news… signs of a true news junkie!

    Comment by kara — November 7, 2008 @ 12:43 pm

  2. Oh great, a US travelogue. How wonderful, and timely, too! Looking forward to reading more.

    Comment by Roads — November 7, 2008 @ 1:12 pm

  3. Hi Petite,

    Greetings from Mountain View :) Hope you’re having (had ?) a great time here.

    One thing about rain here is that since nobody expects it, the infrastructure tends to break down. When there is heavy rain you are likely to get power outages, traffic signals that stop working, etc… Well that plus the fact that people then drive like they are stupider than usual just because they are not used to the rain. It really can be a mess – just because of a little water !

    Comment by walken — November 7, 2008 @ 1:26 pm

  4. I’ve lived in America all my life and have never heard “spotting” used to describe the weather. I, too, have only used/heard in reference to that lovely monthly gift. I’m sure this made for an interesting (and perhaps scary) expectation of the trip!

    BTW – San Fran is one of my favorite places – spotting or sunny! Love the pics

    Comment by juli — November 7, 2008 @ 2:18 pm

  5. San Francisco…how cool! Other Half has been but I haven’t … yet! I NEED to eat lobster and crab on Pier 39 even though I suspect it will be one corny tourist attraction. Look forward to reading the rest and as for “spotting”?! I always hated it when people say it’s spitting but that one takes the biscuit!

    Comment by thatgirl — November 7, 2008 @ 2:31 pm

  6. I have only visited San Francisco once. But I am guessing that rain there is the Californian equivalent of leaves on the line?
    Right now I live in Texas, where the only weather that really gets us excited is the hurricanes.

    Comment by Sophie,Inzaburbs — November 7, 2008 @ 2:36 pm

  7. I thought it never rained but it poured in California…

    Comment by Jude — November 7, 2008 @ 2:47 pm

  8. Perhaps this a US geographical thing, but we (in the southeast) use drizzle or mist – and spotting is most definitely a cycle related word. Eww.

    Must now attempt to remove “spotting rain” image from my mind…

    Comment by mrs. bee — November 7, 2008 @ 2:59 pm

  9. Unless it’s strictly a West coast thing, I do not believe “spotting” is an American term for rain. What sprang immediately to _my_ mind when I saw that word was the aforementioned lady issues.

    “Sprinkling” is a more accurate term for the rain. :-)

    Comment by Jenny — November 7, 2008 @ 3:01 pm

  10. Spotting, in American English, is usually just as you described. Drizzle and spitting are as you described, too. It would be more common to hear “patchy drizzle” than “spotting”. I think she was just trying to coin a phrase. Either that, or she’s an idiot.

    Looking forward to the next post.

    Comment by La Rêveuse — November 7, 2008 @ 3:05 pm

  11. I’m so glad you enjoyed SF, Petite! It’s one of my favorite places on earth…

    Interesting – I’ve NEVER heard an American refer to drizzle as “spotting.” It means to me what it means to you. Odd.

    Comment by Queenie — November 7, 2008 @ 3:13 pm

  12. Fun to hear you write about SF. I was born there and have so many wonderful memories… BTW, spotting here means the same thing. I’ve never heard a newscaster use ‘spotting’ to describe rain!

    Comment by Molly — November 7, 2008 @ 3:29 pm

  13. yay for a new post! id love to go to sf even if it was in the rain!

    Comment by Mikki — November 7, 2008 @ 3:40 pm

  14. Enjoy my home town……I have to say I’ve NEVER heard the term “spotting” used for anything other than mid-cycle…….well, SPOTTING. Maybe I’ve been away from San Francisco for too long!!

    Here’s one of my favorite SF things – before or after a long walk involving North Beach and the piers, and seeing the wild parrots flying around Telegraph Hill….the extreme end of Crissy Field, coffee or hot chocolate and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at The Warming Hut, in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. And Louisiana Shrimp at The Pacific Cafe — way out on Geary Blvd…you have to wait in line in the fog and they give you not very good but free white wine. If Frank is your waiter, tell him Laurie in Italy sends her love! Oh — and The Moss Beach Distillery on the way to Half Moon Bay — sitting on the deck under a blanket in the fog, looking at the ocean, eating steamed clams and artichokes…and, oh, yes…the white wine….or lovely San Francisco Anchor Steam Beer!

    Comment by Laurie Feldman — November 7, 2008 @ 4:54 pm

  15. I meant Geary Boulevard, not Street. Guess I really have been away too long!

    Comment by Laurie Feldman — November 7, 2008 @ 4:55 pm

  16. Your hostess wouldn’t have been “little red boat” Anna, by any chance? ;-)

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — November 7, 2008 @ 4:57 pm

  17. I adore those UK vs US moments I’ll never forget an Americans face when I said that I was nipping out for a fag

    Comment by lulu labonne — November 7, 2008 @ 5:12 pm

  18. Sorry to have missed you on your trip to San Francisco. And sorry you arrived during the deluge. The state is parched so most of us welcomed the rain. And like some of the posts, ‘spotting’ is new weather terminology to me, too. It’s usually used when one is surfing the crimson tide.

    Comment by FrancaBollo — November 7, 2008 @ 7:03 pm

  19. Hmmm… I have never heard the term “spotting” used in reference to rain. It definitely has the same meaning in American English. Perhaps the rain reference is just a California thing.

    California has had a very severe drought this year. There was probably so much coverage because they were happy to see the rain! I don’t think it would normally be so newsworthy otherwise. But you never know with the local newscasts. Anything can become news on a slow day.

    Comment by halcyon — November 7, 2008 @ 7:58 pm

  20. Dear Petite!
    Loved your book, finished reading it 5 min ago :)
    I saw on your website that a new one is on the way, that’s great news!
    Love from Iceland, Karitas

    Comment by Karitas — November 7, 2008 @ 9:24 pm

  21. Oh, I want to hear more! As soon as I’ve got a proper job I’m going to save for a trip to SF. I’m trying really hard not to drool over that picture you took of City Lights (I love everything Beat related – I’m writing my thesis about the Beat generation).

    Comment by Marjolein — November 7, 2008 @ 10:23 pm

  22. Funny, when I first read this post I assumed that rain spotting simply meant there would be lots of spots of rain — i.e. it would rain in different spots. San Francisco is quite famous for the weather varying from neighborhood to neighborhood. So it may be raining in the Mission, but not so much downtown (though usually it’s vice versa).

    Regardless, welcome to our fair city!

    Comment by Michelle Harris Zuzik — November 7, 2008 @ 10:41 pm

  23. – The piers of the Embarcadero jut out into the bay, not the ocean.

    – “Spotting” means the same lady monthly function here, too. It’s likely that the newscaster misspoke or is just a moron.

    – Enjoyed your book, thanks.

    Comment by Library Sherpa — November 8, 2008 @ 1:04 am

  24. Spotting — never heard that one here on the east coast (other than in the feminine sense).

    Comment by Passante — November 8, 2008 @ 1:29 am

  25. 826 valencia is an interesting place. Its a storefront for this: . A fellow writer named Dave Eggers found it. What you saw was just a store front. Alot more good stuff goes on there. SF is one of my favorite cities. Glad you had a good time.

    Comment by anonymous in NYC — November 8, 2008 @ 1:46 am

  26. Greetings Petite,
    Welcome to the States.

    Do you know where else you are going to visit yet?
    If you are in the San Diego area, I would very much like to invite you over for drinks or dinner. I used to be a chef so the food will be good. I would love to show you the rest of my paintings and studio.
    You know where to find me.

    Either way, enjoy your trip.
    Best wishes,

    Comment by Mad William — November 8, 2008 @ 1:54 am

  27. Oh hooray! Now you are in my neck of the woods!! WELCOME TO SF!

    Comment by Shelley — November 8, 2008 @ 8:38 am

  28. Welcome back Petite,we’ve missed you.

    Comment by LEX — November 8, 2008 @ 11:23 am

  29. Wow, “spotting” is a first for me too. I don’t think it is a term used in Canada either, though we tend to have many of the same words as those in the USA. But then again, I am from a British family…

    Comment by Heather — November 8, 2008 @ 11:43 am

  30. Oh, and on the topic of dialectal differences…have you noticed that people don’t “pop” in America at all? Personally, all I ever do is “pop”…in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever “gone” anywhere in my life! ;)

    Comment by Heather — November 8, 2008 @ 11:45 am

  31. Great to see a new post!
    Iv developed the annoying habit of lapsing into song each time I have to say the word ‘umbrella’ too.
    American Vs British dialect: try talking about your frilly pants!

    Comment by Yaya — November 8, 2008 @ 2:29 pm

  32. So good to see another post!! Especially since I read your book between the last post and this one. I loved it!!! As a blogger, I could identify with so many of the same things that you wrote. It was beautifully done. You are an elegant writer. I guess that’s why we all keep coming back for more.

    Oh and by the way, I’m an American, but we do have those same definitions for spotting, drizzle, and spitting too. I don’t know why she said spotting. Kind of odd…

    We’re such a big country, that there are a ton of regional differences in American English too. I live right outside of Boston, so I’m in the heart of New England. Maybe our English is closer to British?

    East Coast and West Coast, many language differences. Even between New England states there are lots of different meanings for words. Say the words, cabinet, milkshake, and frappe with someone from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and see the conversation that ensues! ; )

    Comment by Anali — November 8, 2008 @ 6:11 pm

  33. We don’t use “spotting” in reference to rain here in Vancouver either – and we have a LOT of rain, so we have a LOT of ways to refer to it. In fact, it’s … um … drizzling here right now.

    Comment by pinklea — November 8, 2008 @ 6:44 pm

  34. Oh dear. I’m guessing the weather person demonstrated what people in America would call a “slip of the tongue” or a “mistake”. What? They use those terms in the UK as well??

    Hope your burrito was the Super Chicken from El Farolito’s.

    Comment by burrito — November 8, 2008 @ 8:33 pm

  35. Yes,San Francisco is a wonderful city in spite of it’s many fruits, nuts, and flakes. I still feel similar to your post every time I go there. But I feel the same when I go to Paris!

    Comment by Sheila K. — November 8, 2008 @ 9:22 pm

  36. You were in my neighborhood and shot it beautifully! I’ve lived here for 25+ years and not grown tired of it’s incomparable views, quirky neighborhoods and most importantly, it’s culturally diverse and staunchly liberal citizens. My cousin, a former SF resident presently living in and blogging about her life in France, heads immediately for Pancho Villa in the Mission upon arrival. Burritos are a must first meal (and one that lasts for a day and a half). And thanks for paying tribute to the guys who rouse me from sleep on warm October nights. The rouge sea lions of Pier 39 are sufficiently audible from my perch on Russian Hill. There’s one other city that captivates me as
    consistantly… Oui,Paris! Perhaps we could swap homes during vacation some time?

    PS. ever never heard of “spotting” with regard to rain

    Comment by sheba — November 8, 2008 @ 10:41 pm

  37. An small earthquake rocked my world last time I was there, but no rain as I recall. Great to hear from you again. Look forward to hearing more.

    Comment by Stay at home husband — November 9, 2008 @ 12:39 am

  38. Was your trip to CA for pleasure, or are you still promoting your book? I’m reading a promo copy of it which my friend gave me as a gift…thusfar I’ve read around 70 pages and at this point I am a bit upset and put off by it (I won’t go into details here; it’s a wonderfully-written book and I was loving it until I reached a certain point…I hope it gets fun to read again!)

    Êtes-vous de retour à Paris ?

    Comment by Chris J — November 9, 2008 @ 12:53 am

  39. Agreed: spotting is only for those most unfortunate events. Rain is drizzle…in conversation one might say “spitting.” Perhaps your weatherman was a transplant with a cleverly disguised accent? :)

    Comment by unbalanced reaction — November 9, 2008 @ 5:59 am

  40. Ok, I’m going to throw a spanner here. I’m British, and have heard ‘spotting’ in reference to rain many times on my Mum’s side of the family (they’re from Oxford and London).

    Comment by Vicki — November 9, 2008 @ 9:29 pm

  41. I love San Fran. One of my fav cities. Glad you liked it. Hallowen in San Fran would be fun.

    Comment by kccat — November 10, 2008 @ 12:15 am

  42. Are you still here in SF? Are you doing a book tour? Drat, I’m so sorry to have missed you! I am a long-time blog reader and I loved your book!

    Comment by Julie — November 10, 2008 @ 12:22 am

  43. Down here we often use spittin’, but never heard the other term.

    SF can be a little different from the rest of the states.

    Comment by John from Florida — November 10, 2008 @ 3:11 am

  44. Is PA doing a US book tour? If so, hopefully you’ll stop off in NYC, before heading home?

    Comment by ang04 — November 10, 2008 @ 5:32 am

  45. It was just a very brief trip to see a friend (and to reward myself for handing in the first draft of book II) I’m afraid. No tour plans on the table that I know of, as yet.

    I’m back in France now, but will write more about the trip as soon as I can.

    Comment by petite — November 10, 2008 @ 8:47 am

  46. Tag, you’re it…

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — November 10, 2008 @ 3:06 pm

  47. As a former San Franciscan I can tell you that
    1) Yes it doesn’t rain for months at a time – so not only had it likely not rained in 6 weeks, the last time it rained was probably in April. People make a big deal out of rain. I come from the pacific northwest where it NEVER stops raining, and had much the same impression. I mean what’s wrong with these people, it’s just water!!!

    2) No one, in my lifetime has ever called it “spotting.” I think the newscaster IS an idiot.

    3) Try the 49 mile drive and take a trip to the wine country. Seems a bit goofy driving around the city back and forth, but you really do get to see a lot you would otherwise miss …


    Comment by writefromtheheart — November 10, 2008 @ 3:30 pm

  48. oh yes – and it’s too bad you missed Halloween!! Then you would really get to see “all variations of slutty” in action.

    Comment by writefromtheheart — November 10, 2008 @ 3:33 pm

  49. Well, being Irish, I was born with a brolly clutched in my tiny fist and even carried on in my handbag in Marrakech for months until my husband coaxed me out of it. I remember it raining for seemingly weeks on end in Paris last year, and it is certainly bucketing down in Oxford today. I seem destined never to escape my umbeRella…

    Comment by Passementerie — November 10, 2008 @ 3:48 pm

  50. Welcome home. I, like everyone, am so glad that you are back.

    Continuing on the subject of your post … does it get “icky”?

    Comment by Jester — November 10, 2008 @ 4:02 pm

  51. I love SF, but I have to say that the weather must have changed a lot in 10 years if the flight attendant hadn’t seen rain in 6 weeks. I remember it being constantly cloudy and wet. I guess the South isn’t the only place that’s having a drought?

    I have heard of “spotty showers” and the rain being “spotty” in an area, but not the -ing form of the word.

    Comment by Cantaloupe — November 10, 2008 @ 5:06 pm

  52. I can understand how “sprinkling” makes sense when used in reference to rain, but “spotting”? Odd. Very odd.

    On another note, I’m here to let you know that your blog is tops on my list of favourites & that you have been recognized with an Uber Amazing Blog award. When time permits, please stop by my blog to pick it up.


    Comment by JB — November 10, 2008 @ 7:53 pm

  53. Hmmm after all, it’s always funny to notice such difference in the use of terms. I always remember, once, in Paris, my GF stopped abruptly and pointed at the sign of a shop, astonished: she read “Cordonnerie et TAMPONS” !

    Comment by Vonric — November 10, 2008 @ 8:14 pm

  54. I echo the others – we don’t typically use “spotting” in regards to the weather. Like you, I consider it a personal matter not to be discussed on the news. ;)

    SF is my very favorite city in the U.S. I hope you enjoyed it! I was so excited to recommend my favorite SF restaurant to you – Ti Couz on 16th St. But then it occurred to me that you get good crepes all the time.

    Comment by librarianlisa — November 10, 2008 @ 8:24 pm

  55. I’ve never heard spotting used by weather announcers. In America, it means what you say. Drizzling or sprinkling, maybe. But I’ve never heard spitting either. Surreal!

    Comment by american rose — November 11, 2008 @ 3:16 am

  56. We haven’t had rain since March so you can imagine how thankful we all were on Halloween to be given a “real treat”; it was a tropical storm so it wasn’t cold and we were dancing to the street drums in costume.
    Next time you are in the Bay Area come on down to Santa Cruz where we have locally owned bookshops, unique bakeries with european recipes, the magic of the redwoods, “killah” surf and the holy Monterey Bay.

    Comment by Beverly — November 11, 2008 @ 5:10 am

  57. Another post!! yay!!
    Congrats on handing in the draft of you next book – I can’t wait until it comes out!

    I got to visit San Fran once a few years ago and I loved it! I would like to spend more time there someday soon. Sounds like you had a nice time and your pictures are great

    I’m from the Canadian praries (Saskatchewan) and have never heard of rain referred to as spotting… although we don’t get much rain here anyways. Feel free to come this way on your next book tour :)

    Comment by Sasky Girl — November 11, 2008 @ 6:49 am

  58. Wow! This must be a sign… I just finished reading your book (great!) and had to check out the blog… come to find your most recent post is about my current home city!

    Hope you enjoyed the time here (despite the rain, which is a hindrance and yes, a major news story throughout the winter) and I can’t wait to read new (and old) posts.

    Comment by sfangie — November 11, 2008 @ 7:38 am

  59. Speaking for the East Coast of America, I never heard “spotting” used to describe the weather, either. Where I come from, spotting is just what you said it was: something between a girl and her panties. Light rain was always “drizzle” and nothing more. With San Francisco’s reputation for overcast skies and fog, I’m surprised they were so focused on a little rain! But I do love S.F. and how nice that you got to go there.

    Meanwhile it’s raining in Paris and not “spotting” either.

    Comment by The Bold Soul — November 11, 2008 @ 8:34 pm

  60. That was the first rain we had in months here in the bay ! Hope you still enjoyed your trip to beautiful SF.

    Comment by Mike — November 12, 2008 @ 5:16 am

  61. How exciting. You were walking around my brother-in-law’s neighbourhood. Mrs Albion bought me a shirt from 826 Valencia – it’s the one with a pirate on the front with a speech bubble saying, “Aaargh, nobody takes me seriously, aaargh!”

    Unfortunately I always seem to be wearing it on occasions that require assertiveness and presence – such as when negotiating with airport officials, or arguing with an obstructive carwash guy. I have decided it is jynxed.

    Comment by Damian — November 12, 2008 @ 1:05 pm

  62. Hi…
    I’m sorry to jump in like this…
    But I was wondering if you ever returned to Portugal.

    :P I live near the Pasteis de Belém Bakery!
    Just to make you a little jealous :P

    Comment by Joana GS — November 16, 2008 @ 3:55 am

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