Archive for February, 2009

Cell Phone Etiquette

I had a freebie personal training session today, which is supposed to lead to a paid session — at $90 a pop. You would think at those prices I would have had the prospective trainer’s undivided attention.

But no. She had her cell phone in her hand throughout the hour, and checked it constantly. While I was doing stomach crunches, or leg lifts, or squats, she was scrolling through texts. Her hookup from the night before, maybe? What text could really be so interesting that you bury your face in your phone while a new client is in front of you?

Not that my stomach crunches were so interesting to look at. But why would I want to pay someone to read texts while I did squats? 

When I last lived in the US, nearly eight years ago, cell phones were a novelty, I remember. Now, not only does everyone have one, but they use them all the time.

When I picked up my son from preschool, I had to stand there and wait to get a report from the teacher on how his day had gone — because she was on her cell phone. She was planning her afternoon babysitting gig.  And what a boring conversation: “Why don’t we meet at Target?  OK, then how about next to the Target?”  Important, maybe, but it could have been quicker.

She didn’t seem to think it was odd to keep me waiting there while she chatted away. So maybe I’m in the minority on this issue.

But it drives me nuts when I see drivers chatting, or — even worse — texting on their phones. Whenever someone cuts me off, or blasts out of a driveway into traffic without looking, you know before you even see them that they’re on the phone.

Seriously, is it that important that it can’t wait?

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Desperate Housewives

I went to a play group yesterday, with my two kids in tow. It was our debut at this particular play group — a mom I know from my daughter’s preschool had just moved away, and said she could get me in.

All the other play groups in the neighborhood are fully booked.  

As we don’t know many people here, I was pleased to have a social event.  We were the first to arrive. My daughter ate two cookies —  which looked like a lot, as there were only about ten laid out — played with puzzles, kicked a ball. Only one other mom arrived, which the host said was strange, as six had RSVPed, but then, of course, it was just a casual play group that met once a week.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I came home to an email from the host complaining that only one mom showed up (ahem. Actually, TWO showed up.  I suppose because I’m new, I don’t count) even though six had said they would come.  She had gone to the trouble of cleaning her house and preparing snacks (there were only TEN cookies!) so she deserved notice that others didn’t plan to show up.

I’ve had business meetings with less stringent RSVP policies than this play group.  Others seemed to be outraged by the email, as well.  Four women replied that they were dropping out of the play group. Seems a bit drastic — back when I was working, if someone sent an angry email, colleagues would shrug their shoulders and hit delete. There wasn’t much time for this level of drama.

I wondered what I had gotten myself into.  Then one lovely women replied to the thread of angry emails to say: “Has anyone welcomed our newest member?”

That was met with e-silence.

Is It Cool to Say America Is Cool Again?

The producer of Slumdog Millionaire, Christian Colson, told the press briefing after the movie’s big Oscar win that “America is cool again, for the first time in my lifetime..”

http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/showbiz/2009/02/23/sot.slumdog.cnn?iref=videosearch

You could hear outraged guffaws from the back of the room. Oblivious, he continued that because the country is ready to embrace a more globalized view of the world, it could now be considered cool.

I find that Americans don’t like hearing anyone knocking their country, let alone a Brit.

Are you saying America wasn’t cool before?!

Brits will happily badmouth their country. They seem to enjoy it. As soon as London was elected as host city for the 2012 Olympics, British tabloids quickly outlined how the city wouldn’t be ready, and would bust the budget.

When England got knocked out of a World Cup, or London struggled with the big snowfall earlier this month, people were quick to lay blame, and seemed to almost relish the failure, as though they anticipated let down.

But here in the US, it seems like you would be committing treason if you suggested the country wasn’t anything but the best.

And I sometimes feel that the fact that I have a British passport makes me look like a less enthusiastic American than my compatriots. I don’t tend to advertise it.

You Want Me to Pay for WHAT?

A great American attribute is optimism.  The families in our neighborhood love to raise money for the local schools and playgrounds.  They host fundraisers, donate money and volunteer their time and energy to pull weeds from the nursery school garden.

But the cynicism I picked up in Britain makes me ask where the $20,000 plus taxes Atlanta residents pay go, if not to improve schools and playgrounds?

In London, I didn’t know anyone who performed regular community service.  Once a year, colleagues would participate in a company organized volunteer day.  That usually involved heavy weeding, painting, and other unglamorous tasks at playgrounds or schools. My cynical colleagues come back muttering that they were doing the local government’s job, for free.

Here, people seem to throw themselves into volunteer projects with gusto, without asking whose job it should be to do it.  So maybe the Americans are getting taken advantage of a little bit, but at least they’re happy about it.

A Valentine’s Day Sales Pitch

Our daughter received an unusual Valentine. In her heart-adorned bag, our two year old found lollipops, Starbursts, tootsie rolls, notes from her pre-school classmates, and a business card from a realtor….

Sorry, what was that? Could that have been intentional? It must have been, because the pre-school put the bags on top of the kids’ cubbies, and instructed parents to put their children’s Valentines for their friends into their bags.  

So there wasn’t really an opportunity for something to drop into those bags accidentally. Some enterprising parent must have seen the opportunity to get her card in front of some prospective clients.  

That’s something you wouldn’t find in the UK.  Sales people seemed almost embarrassed to pedal their wares.  

When I suggested to a British friend who’s an art dealer that she start selling paintings as investments, instead of just as wall decorations, she said, “No, I couldn’t do that…” There was more of a sense of protocol there, for better or worse.

But here, it seems that anything goes. And with the real estate market in crisis, maybe that’s the way it has to be. I wonder if any 2 year olds used the card and gave her a call….

What You Leave Behind

Our two year old daughter is a big fan of a British kids’ show called “In the Night Garden.” It’s made by the same company behind the Teletubbies. Therefore, the characters are colorful, and slightly freakish.

There is blue, smiley Iggle Piggle, often seen with his red blanket, who looks like a light blue version of Gumby.  He enjoys a more than platonic friendship with Upsy Daisy, who has a triangle shaped skirt and colorful hair.  

Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy

I thought our daughter might forget the characters, since they haven’t yet cracked the US market (it’s only a matter of time, I’m sure…).  But she remembers, and often asks me to draw them.  Luckily, our babysitter is a better artist than I am.  She is now well schooled in the art of sketching the Night Garden crowd.

It turns our that our two year old is better at keeping up with her old friends than I am. Last year, I gave a close friend’s daughter in London a personalized picture frame painted by a friend (again, who is a better artist than I am).  It had little pictures of the hospital where she was born, the coffee place where we all went when the girls were babies, our favorite playground, and other reminders of the fun things she did in London with her family, and with us.

They moved to New York last June, and we moved to Atlanta in November. The little girl’s third birthday is coming up, and I have no idea what to get her. While I keep email her mom, and occasionally talk on the phone, the conversations are rushed, filled more with big themes (we moved into a new place; my commute is too long; work is stressful; etc) rather than little details of our daughters’ likes and dislikes.1354901370233_0_sm

So I think I should take a cue from my daughter, who commissions sketches of characters she hasn’t seen in months.  She doesn’t need to see them every day to remember them.

Bureaucratic Billing

Is it just me, or does it take a lot of time to pay bills?  In setting up gas, electricity, cable, and phone bills, I discovered that representatives from these companies are more committed to following protocol than to actually getting money.

When I tried to save a few dollars by combining my wireless and landline bills, AT&T told me I couldn’t pay my cell phone bill yet — I had to wait until the landline bill was ready.

Yes, they admitted there was a risk that my cell phone service would be shut off because the bill was overdue.  But it simply wasn’t possible to accept payment from me until a big combined bill was ready to be mailed out.  

With the state of the economy, I assumed that companies would want payment immediately, to avoid the risk of  a customer defaulting. But following a strict order of payment seems to be more important than actually receiving payment.  

Maybe this is less an American quirk, and more a big company thing.  But in the UK, companies took the money we owed them magically from our checking accounts. They mailed or emailed us a statement each month which we looked at with varying degrees of interest.

It was actually too easy to pay by this method. We discovered that we had been paying insurance for a gas heater in a flat that we had sold a year before.  Had we actually received the bill in the mail and written a check, we would have asked the question why we needed a gas heater in a flat we no longer owned.

So maybe the bureaucracy will serve us well — unless my cell phone gets turned off.