petite anglaise

November 11, 2008


Filed under: misc — petiteanglaiseparis @ 8:26 pm

I’d only ever spent five days in the USA prior to my trip to San Francisco. It was back in May 2001, when the twin towers were still standing proud and tall and Tadpole was nothing more than an unfertilised egg in my ovaries. The weather wasn’t particularly kind to us on that trip, either. But Mr Frog and I bought cheap lightweight waterproof jackets on our first day and resolved to do everything we’d planned, regardless.

I remember getting the same nagging feeling of déjà vu back then too. Every time I sat down at the counter in a diner and the uniformed waitress refilled my coffee I felt like an extra on a film set. Every time I stepped off the pavement to try and hail an elusive taxi, it was as though I was re-enacting a scene from one of my favourite television series.

But this eerie familiarity didn’t mean that absolutely everything was how I expected it to be. It wasn’t, because however much I’ve been exposed to all things American by books and films and TV programmes for the past thirty-six years, there were still surprises. Tiny little culture shocks – scoring low on the Richter scale – that simply caused me to pause for a moment, to frown or to repress a giggle.

Random examples of things that amused/bemused me at first encounter include:

  • The tone of the announcements made over the tannoy on my US Airways flights. I was expecting Sweet’N Lo insincere politeness, but instead they varied from schoolmistress bossy to downright surly;
  • Waiters saying ‘pardon my reach’ when setting down my order as though they were terrified of violating my personal space without my say so;
  • The odd, discontinuous shape of toilet seats in public ‘restrooms’;
  • The take-away section in shops called ‘grab and go’ which sounded like an invitation to try out shoplifting;
  • Advertisements for specific brand name drugs on TV, exhorting patients to ‘ask their Dr about…’ and reeling off side effects at breakneck speed;
  • The food stand in a Fisherman’s Wharf market proudly advertising that it sold the city’s ‘finest pig parts’;
  • Being expected to pour maple syrup over my French toast, bacon and eggs;
  • Nickels and dimes. I brought home a huge wallet-full. Couldn’t memorise how many cents they were worth, for the life of me;
  • Being asked if I wanted cream for my coffee and finding out that in this context, ‘cream’ actually means ‘milk’;
  • Finding out that Heinz make mustard in a glass bottle shaped like a ketchup bottle. Who knew?

These were just a few random thoughts I scribbled down on the plane home while watching truly awful in-flight movies (tip: avoid ‘Made of Honor’ at all costs, even if you are a fan of McDreamy). It might have been a red-eye flight, but I knew sleep wasn’t going to be an option (even with the help of over-the-counter sleeping aid pharmaceuticals purchased at Walgreens) when I discovered that my economy seat only ‘reclined’ by five centimetres.

If anyone has any culture mini-shocks of their own they’d care to share in the comments box below, be my guest…

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

September 5, 2008

Q&A #2

Filed under: misc — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:14 am

I don’t think it will come as much of a surprise to you if I admit that I’m struggling to find the will to blog at the moment. The infrequency of my posts testifies to that, and if some of my more forthright commenters are to be believed, the posts I have written of late haven’t been of the standard to which my readers had been previously accustomed.

So, yes, I admit it, motivation levels are at rock bottom. I’m not sure why I feel no burning desire to document Tadpole’s funny comments, or the ups and downs of married life with The Boy, at the moment. I don’t know whether this ‘blog fatigue’ is a temporary state of affairs, or a symptom of impending blog burn-out. I’ve certainly noticed a number of my friends in blogging going into semi blog-retirement recently, so it would seem my malaise is very much dans l’air du temps.

One possible explanation for my blog fatigue is that now ‘petite’ is on the bookshelves and I’m working on a novel, I’ve moved on, in a sense, away from the cathartic but patently unhealthy navel-gazing I indulged in before. Another theory is that as writing is my bread and butter just now, blogging doesn’t hold the same attraction. I’m no longer trapped in an office doing an administrative job which taxes only a tiny portion of my brain.

This isn’t a ‘farewell to blogging’ post, however. I fully expect things to improve around here before 2008 draws to a close (my book II deadline), and in the meantime I shall continue to post sporadically whenever the fancy takes me.

And since I receive an awful lot of emails with questions from book and blog readers, I thought I’d use today’s non-post as an opportunity to open up the blog for a Q&A session, similar to this one. Feel free to post your questions below, and I’ll answer the first fifty in my next post.

One last thing: I have a question of my own. Can anyone translate the tagline from the Finnish edition of petite (in stores in Finland in 2 weeks time) “Parississa. Rakastunut. Pulassa.” ?

You can find the marathon response session here.

August 26, 2008


Filed under: misc — petiteanglaiseparis @ 11:02 am

       As our TGV hurtles towards Paris, Tadpole, who has been dozing on my knee for the past two hours, begins to stir. ‘That was a big sleep,’ I murmur softly, smoothing her hair out of her eyes. When she lifts her head, I see the imprint of my trouser seam on her left cheek. Ignoring my protesting bladder (two hours, two coffees = pain), I savour the delicious moments between sleep and wakefulness, drawing her up into my arms so that her warm face rests on my bare shoulder.

Opposite me, The Boy is engrossed in his magazine. The stranger sitting next to him – a slightly nerdy-looking thirtysomething with round glasses and a striped nautical t-shirt – is staring somewhere south of my chin. I pretend not to notice.

‘I did dream that I was a sirène, mummy’ my daughter mumbles into my neck. Her mermaid obsession shows no sign of abating. Of the fifty or so sketches she drew in her notepad during our week away in Belle Ile, over half depict mermaid princesses. The high point of her holiday was undoubtedly the half hour she spent with her legs buried under a mountain of wet sand, while I carefully sculpted a her fish tail. On the ferry from Le Palais to Quiberon, her eyes were riveted to the sea, searching for evidence of mer-activity.

The Boy spent many a summer holiday in Sauzon as a child. Going away together – all three of us – was his initiative. He first floated the idea back in December, and I think his willingness to envisage a ‘family’ trip away was one of the things which sealed the deal, spurring me to make my clumsy proposal. I’d assumed The Boy would prefer to spend his precious holiday time on an adult getaway for just the two of us, in the same vein as our Greek Island escapade last summer. (In an ideal world, we’d have done both, but with the wedding and apartment move, something had to give…)

And so we found a tiny, functional apartment overlooking the picture-postcard port of Sauzon, rented bicycles for us and a cariole to tow Tadpole and our beach bags behind us, and set out to explore the surrounding villages, countryside and beaches. We fished in rockpools, built sandcastles, jumped in the waves and picnicked outdoors. Each day we pedalled a little further from our base camp, as our confidence in our calf muscles grew, graduating from Donnant to Baluden and finally to Les Galères, a full fifteen kilometres away.

Belle Ile was breathtakingly pretty, unusually quiet for the season and the slow pace of the holidays suited me perfectly. In the train, with Tadpole yawning into my shoulder and The Boy’s tanned calf brushing against mine under the table, I feel more relaxed than I have in months.

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