Thursday, 3 November 2011

Mick Jagger's Filing Cabinet; or, some things I will never understand about America

Howdy brah! Do you floss?
With the chronic politeness that actually saw me renamed "Thank-You-Sorry" on a recent trip away with American friends, I'd like to begin by offering - you guessed it! - sincere apologies for my commitment-phobic 'approach' to blogging over the past seven weeks. My excuse is that I have but lately rejoined the land of the gainfully employed, and have been concentrating really hard on not messing that up.

Luckily, this temporary hiatus (is there any other kind?) means I return to you with a new perspective on life, as I am by now essentially a bona-fide American. I have a Social Security number, think entirely in US Dollars and just the other day referred to coriander as 'cilantro' without so much as retching. I eat Twinkies for breakfast, sleep in Stars-and-Stripes PJs, and ride a bald eagle to work.

Just kidding! There are still LOADS of things I still can't wrap my head around, and here they are:

1. The workplace obsession with being a 'Rockstar'. Close your eyes, click on literally any 'situation vacant' on Craigslist and (open your eyes for this bit, obviously) you'll find a job description calling for a bloody ROCKSTAR. 'PR Rockstar'; 'Rockstar Intern'; 'Rockstar Office Assistant'. From what I gather, it's intended to refer to someone who marries exceptional Excel abilities with the sexual magnetism of Bodhi in Point Break; however, the term loses its meaning when applied to 'Rockstar Barista', 'Rockstar Dental Hygienist' and (this is totally the best one) 'Rockstar and Garage Organizer'. Just to be clear, all of these are very real postings on Craigslist right this second. It's not even the gut-wrenching awfulness of the word that gets me. It's the fact that no-one in their right mind would ever ACTUALLY WANT TO HIRE A REAL ROCKSTAR. Successful touring musicians are by their very nature mercurial individuals with well-documented issues around substance abuse and timekeeping, and these employers know as well as I do that Mick Jagger would be STAGGERINGLY unreliable in a workplace environment.

2. The way that people here say 'that's so funny' without actually laughing. This is one of the US-UK conversational gulfs that has most unsettled me, because if your supposedly-amusing anecdote is met with these words in Britain, it's kind of bad news for your social capital. Allow me to translate:

US: That's so funny = "How amusing!"
UK: That's so funny = "Christ, you're dull."

In Britain, saying something is 'funny' without physically chuckling - ie. showing that you really do think it's funny - would be regarded as passive aggression par excellence. It's the verbal equivalent of someone looking over your shoulder to see if there's anyone better to talk to at the party - the sign that you should wrap this conversation up and go and bore someone else. But I've learned that here, to be told your story is funny - rather than shown - isn't actually a cause for concern. Unless, of course, everyone here is sparing my feelings, and I really AM very dull. Oh, America: you guys are the best!

3. The teeth. This one is the worst, because it's one of those cliched observations I swore I'd never sink to (see also: "Isn't everything big?" and "Driving on the right? I DIE") but it's true: everyone's teeth are just beautiful. It's not so much the regularity, or the straightness even, but the gorgeous whiteness that greets me every time someone opens their mouth. (Do you remember those big, blinding-white windows in the Overlook Hotel in The Shining? Well, that's them, and I'm stuck as the dead woman in the bath.) Writing as someone whose dental colour-match falls somewhere on the 'Magnolia' Dulux swatch, I must confess: it is simply mortifying. In the UK, I'd be judged to have 'good to very good' teeth - here, I'm the 'Before' photo. The startling preponderance of white, white smiles leads me to conclude that tooth whitening must just be one of those things that everybody does here as part of their dental regimen and just doesn't talk about. All I know is: perhaps it's time I contacted a Rockstar Dental Hygienist .


  1. Very tempted to write 'That's so funny' and let that do as my comment. But that would be mean. Or not, apparently... :)

    Seriously though, this, like, literally made me lol - so funny(even though part of me is livid that you're becoming an American!- just please don't start using the word 'addicting').

    Great that you're blogging again - I think I'm giving you a run for your money with my own 'blog hiatus' though!

    You should BLOG MORE!

  2. p.s.: just before posting that, I had to 'type the word shown in the box' - you know, one of them verification thingies.

    The word I was(randomly?) given was: Snolswab.
    That must be a rude insult somewhere, right?

  3. ...And I know this could go on for a while, but to post that second comment, I was asked to type the word: 'enmouse'.

  4. Thank you Tom, or should I say MONSIEUR SNOLSWAB? I think the Captcha people are messing with you :)

    PS. You need to get back to blogging too! Could we do a 'heelarious' back-and-forth email/IM exchange in which you educate me as to all the things I've missed from the UK over the past 7 months (X Factor etc), and I could publish it on here?

  5. Personally I find the blinding-white, orthodontically-perfect "TippEx teeth" unattractive and even unnerving. They look like false teeth. Teeth are part of the face, they have personality just like any other feature, and they shouldn't have to conform to some identikit model of acceptability. Even with cosmetic surgery becoming commonplace, we're not at the stage where a whole nation is laughed at for not routinely having their faces operated on for non-medical reasons.

  6. Hi Carly,

    Great post! This is the first post of yours that I have read and you already got me on the line. I look forward to your wit and astute observations of my homeland.
    About the teeth, I think Rappers might have been who I saw as the first people with ridiculously white teeth, then Rockstars and everyone else. Perhaps it's a weird connection :)


  7. Thanks for the comments and kind words, Harry and Dustin!

  8. The "that's so funny" thing: yeah, I've just started noticing it about my new American flatmate. At first wasn't sure what to make of it (I'm Polish, but my English is definitely more British than American), but now I just take it at face value.

    But what does it mean when spoken by a deadpan-faced Kiwi, I wonder!

  9. I totally believe you ride a bald eagle to work. Is that the same one that you've photographed landing on the houses of parliament? I'd like to meet it.

  10. LAUGH. Blog more, pleasethanksbye.

    Also, the hiatus in hiatus is permanent. BOOM.