Archive for January, 2009

Closet Racists

We had a blind date with some potential friends, which seemed promising at first. We met online, then got together in person for the first time on Sunday.

It all went swimmingly at first.  We chatted about moving to the US from abroad, finding stores that sold British foods, etc.  But then, out of the blue, the wife used a derogatory term to refer to an Asian person. I thought I had misheard her.  My husband and I were busy trying to keep our two year old from assaulting their dog, so it was easy to get distracted.  

But no, I had heard correctly.  I was not just surprised by the slur —  I was even more taken aback that she thought that would be acceptable in front of people she had just met.  What made her think that we would find that acceptable?

In London, you wouldn’t dare make a comment like that, no matter what you might have thought, or talked about behind closed doors.  You never knew who was married to someone from another race or religion (a religious slur also made its way into this couple’s conversation).

I mean, we’re eager to make friends, but you gotta draw the line somewhere….

Road Rudeness

I was unfairly honked at yesterday. While waiting to turn left from a busy road, a woman behind me leaned on her horn. I turned around to see her lifting up her arms in exasperation. At me!

But I was waiting for the left turn signal! There were two cars coming from the other direction. True, their right turn signals were on. But you can’t always trust those signals. Sometimes they lie. Or maybe the drivers just change their minds…

But this woman was agitated, so I caved – I made the left. I thought she would peel away, but instead, she stayed behind me for the next two turns, onto our block.

When I turned into our driveway, she had the nerve to give me a nasty look as she went. And she’s most likely a neighbor!

Why can’t drivers save their rude ways for neighborhoods where they don’t live?

Driving Mad

As I start driving regularly for the first time, I like to take my time turning left. Why rush? I prefer to wait, not only until there is no car in the immediate vicinity, but until there are no cars on the horizon. I feel much safer turning when the coast is clear.

Not all drivers share my love of caution, I have discovered. If I hesitate to make a left turn, or even wait a second to turn right, I am greeted by a chorus of angry horns honkers.

What these honkers don’t realize is that their horns are the last noise a nervous driver should hear. I want to open my window and yell at them, “If you think my driving is bad now, wait until you honk a few more times!”

Horn honking can make the most seasoned driver jittery, I think. Maybe I will purchase a bumper sticker that expresses this theory.

Size Matters

We set up a playroom for the kids — the first they’ve ever had. In London, our daughter shared her room with a wardrobe filled with our clothes, and a desk. Our son lived alongside my chest of drawers.

This was not unusual for London living. We had friends who talked excitedly about turning their (tiny) back deck into a dining room/playroom/laundry room.

So it was with huge pride that we introduced the kids to a room filled only with their toys, and none of our clothes.

Then imagine my dismay when our babysitter told me she would like to take the kids on a playdate at a friend’s place. She explained: “They have a playroom like this, only it’s three times the size.”

Wherever you are, I guess, rooms can always be bigger.

A Dental Utopia

It amazes and shames me to see how white the teeth of most Americans are. Amazing because socio-economic background doesn’t seem to have any impact on the state on a person’s teeth, which is almost invariably poker straight and blinding white.

And shaming because I’m afraid my teeth are just not as straight and white. I’ve been back in the US for less that two months, but I have already been to the dentist once, and am plotting a visit to the orthodontist.

The dental hygienist told me as she cleaned my teeth that the Europeans just don’t know how to clean teeth like the Americans.

I suppose in Britain, people fuss less over their appearance. If their teeth are fit for chewing, they figure they’re fine.

Slowly, teeth whitening places are cropping up in London.  But you’ll still encounter Brits with crooked teeth; graying front teeth; and sometimes missing front teeth.  They never seem to be bothered.  

Maybe that’s the secret — just to be comfortable with what you have.


We are moving into our new house, and knocked on our new neighbor’s door, to ask when the recycling would be picked up.

She invited us in. That probably would not have happened in the UK — but then, we wouldn’t have knocked on a stranger’s door either. People keep themselves to themselves a bit more. Maybe because it’s a tiny island.

IKEA — the same the world over

We went to Ikea, the discount furniture superstore, yesterday, and forgot we had left the UK.  From the throngs of rabid bargain hunters, to the massive bins of self-assembly furniture and the Swedish treats in the cafe, the shopping experience was almost identical to the one offered by the North London branch.

The difference for us was that we now have a car, which made getting there much easier. In London, we had walked along a highway for about a mile, then crossed a bridge over that same highway, and through a crowded parking lot.

Of course, now that we have a car, we had to fight our way through a similar crowded parking lot, and actually find a space to park our massive car.

At the end of our afternoon there, we felt the same exhaustion that we felt at the end of the London experience. But we also felt the triumph of finding big bargains: three carpets, a highchair, and assorted kitchen items we will probably never use (but how can you say no to an $8 lazy susan?!) cost us $180.


Americans know how to do convenience well. Europeans have not caught on to the 24-hour shopping concept. In London, we had a “24 hour” grocery store down the street, but it was closed from Sunday evening at 5 until Monday morning. So it actually wasn’t open 24 hours at all.  But it was the closest thing the neighborhood had to 24 hours, so no one objected to the neon sign with the questionable claim.  

Here, homes are rigged with every imaginable comfort. The house we just rented is wired to allow the dweller’s iPod music to play throughout every room, via the intercom system.

That same system allows for eavesdropping on conversations happening in every room of the house. And of course, there is surround sound for optimal TV viewing.

Our flat in London was functional. It had three bedrooms — no more, no less. Here, houses we looked at were billed as three bedrooms, but actually had “bonus rooms” — extra rooms that could be bedrooms, studies or whatever you wanted them to be.

Most of the houses we saw had closets that were bigger than some studio flats I’ve lived in. An enterprising London realtor would try to cram 10 people into the house we just moved into. I almost feel guilty using so much space.  

I’m sure we’ll get used to it, though. If and when we go back to London, we’ll demand where our iPod intercom system is.

Move the TV — I Can’t See the Wall

Wow TVs are big here.  At Target today, I bought one of the cheapest ones available, which was also one of the smallest. It was 32 inches.  I would have worried that anything bigger would have pulled down the wall.

The salesperson who waited on me told me his parents had bought a similar set several years ago, and paid close to $1,000 (the one I bought cost less than half that).  With the economy going the way it is, how can people afford sets that big?  Is TV watching really that much more pleasurable when the set is the size of the wall?

Scraping By

I scraped a brand new car in a parking garage today. The lot was packed, it was dark, there were concrete pillars…and I’ve barely driven in the past 10 years, so parking effectively still eludes me.Car scrape

That poor car now has an ugly white stain over the front wheel on the passenger side — so other drivers know that there is a parking neophyte behind the wheel.