Archive for September, 2009

Storm in a coffee cup

Complicated coffee orderMy Starbucks order has become embarrassingly complicated: Grande extra hot skim Chai tea latte, no water (the Chai taste is more potent without the water, a friendly Starbucks employee explained to me after I sent a drink back for another splash of syrup). If there aren’t any other customers within earshot, I might also ask for an extra shot of Chai.

I would never have ordered this in the UK. Complicated orders don’t go over well there. In London, I would get funny looks if I even asked for an extra hot latte. Starbucks patrons in Europe seem to be less picky than their American counterparts. Maybe that’s why I’ve witnessed tipping at shops here, which I rarely saw in London.

Ironically, as I placed my super-involved order earlier today, I noticed a large sign and huge display table promoting Starbucks’ new Via instant coffee. Yahoo! Finance reported today that instant brews are more popular in the UK than they are here in the US, confirming my theory that simplicity sells abroad.

But here in Atlanta, I am not the only demanding customer vexing Starbucks employees. I apologized today for the length of the order. The barista told me it wasn’t a problem; in fact, there is another patron who orders the exact same drink! I need to meet this person…

No parking? No problem

Parking signI discovered today my car’s most powerful tool in eluding tow trucks: hazard lights.

I couldn’t find a place to park this morning at my daughter’s preschool, so I pulled in front of a sign that clearly pictured a car getting towed as punishment for parking there.

Because my newly toilet-trained daughter had just announced that she needed the potty, I decided that I did not have time to circle the block, looking for another spot. I did what I had seen other bold parkers do — I turned on the hazards.

Hazard lights flashing on driverless vehicles seem to create a magic bubble around a car that prevent it from getting ticketed, or towed.

I encountered another mom in our brisk walk from the car to the potty who agreed that my plan was a sound one.

In fact, I even walked by another car that was completely blocking a driveway. The hazard lights blinked furiously on that station wagon, so we knew that even if the resident of the house with the blocked drive emerged, no tickets would be handed out. No tow company would be called, thanks to those hazards.

Sure enough, when I emerged from the school after the drop off (and successful potty trip), I was pleased to see the hazards blinking happily away, and my car resting right where I left it, defiantly in the illegal spot.


I’m a big fan of the Eurostar: central London to the middle of Paris in under three hours, Brussels in under two and a half, decent deals available, reasonably kid friendly…what’s not to like?

I will not pose that question to the one thousand passengers stranded Friday night on their way to Paris and Brussels, waiting for buses and replacement trains.

When things go wrong on the Eurostar, they seem to go spectacularly wrong. A friend of mine spent an unpleasant pre-dawn hour stranded between Paris and Calais, waiting for a train to pick her and her fellow passengers up after their train had broken down.

But when it goes right, and you’re sipping champagne at the swanky bar in the new St. Pancras International home of the Eurostar, or taking your kid on their first trip to Paris (see photo above) you can forgive Eurostar for the odd glitch.


Only in Britain would you see so many dramatizations of the financial collapse.

Brits love to watch the mighty fall. The common reaction to news about someone who is doing well financially is anger and jealousy, rather than the more American pride and aspiration.

So when big companies go bust, the general public rejoices. Enron executives make perfect villains for West End theatre.

The show about the collapsed energy trader (titled, imaginatively, Enron) playing in London now, complete with song and dance numbers, sounds hilarious.

And it’s coming to Broadway. Cultural differences aside, I suppose the majority of the world’s theatregoers were outraged by Enron’s creative accounting. I’m glad it’s spawned creative theatre making.

War Horse

Animals in War
My favorite monument out of all of the many in London, where almost every street seems to hold a historic site, is the Animals in War Memorial on Park Lane, not far from the US Embassy.

I spent a lot of time in this area, on my way to/from filing my taxes; getting documents notarized; procuring passports for my kids; and various other ex-pat tasks. There are not a lot of cross walks on Park Lane, so the traffic island where the Animals in War Memorial lives is an oasis.

The memorial really is touching, with the animals buckling under their burdens. You don’t think about the role they played in wars. It’s hard to read the inscription: “They had no choice” without choking up.

War HorseI also loved War Horse, a play I saw in London last month. It was a simple story about a boy who loved his horse, and followed him into battle.

The horse is ingeniously depicted by a six foot tall puppet. But it is not a Disney type puppet, a fact which disappointed the mother of a friend of mine. She dismissed the play as “too grim,” because she had anticipated a Lion Kingesque romp, rather than a depiction of a pet horse in World War One.

So if you’re looking for an animated movie on stage, it’s not the show for you. But if the memorial on Park Lane moves you, then you won’t be disappointed.

Biden in Georgia

To tip, or not to tip….

StarbucksIn Starbucks today, a patron who had just finished paying for his sandwich looked distraught. “I don’t have any change for a tip!” he told me. He decided to wait until I paid for my scone so that the cashier could open the register and give him change.

In all of my many, many trip to Starbucks stores in London, I never encountered anyone with this problem. The art of tipping is not generally on the radar screen of most Brits.

When my (British) husband and I stayed in a Boston Marriott, the maid failed to clean the room. I suggested to my husband that we reduce her tip to five dollars (we had stayed for one night).

He was incredulous. “But she didn’t do anything!” he said. ” We shouldn’t leave anything!”

We compromised on two dollars.

The gentleman in Starbucks today left a dollar tip once the cashier gave him change. Of course, I then had to leave one, too.

I thought I was a generous tipper…but a dollar for someone who handed him a plastic wrapped sandwich takes the cake.

What would Fiji say…

I must admit that I had forgotten who Mackenzie Phillips was until today. And I was never a huge Mamas and the Papas fan.

But boy do I want to buy Mackenzie Phillips’ book. I can’t believe she was sleeping with her famous father…and it was consensual! She says that he suggested they move to a country where the practice was acceptable: “Maybe Fiji.”

If I worked for the Fiji Tourism Board, I might mount a PR campaign to make sure people don’t get the wrong idea.

Atlanta Underwater

I thought I knew rain, after eight years of living in London. But I never experienced the kind of angry deluge that’s hit us since moving here.

Our backyard has turned into a swamp, and the city’s schools were cancelled, but I can’t complain. People have drowned in their cars from the rain and subsequent flooding.

My drive to work this morning was the scariest I’ve ever experienced. Each roll of thunder shook the car, while lightning lit up the sky. Even with the windshield wipers on full force, the view from the front window was blurry.

I ducked with every thunder/lighting punch, waiting for a tree or pole to come down on the car.

So maybe I’m paranoid. But in the big city rains I’ve experienced, you aren’t as exposed to the rain waters. And there seem to be more drains, so you’re not driving through two feet of water.

I miss London’s light, misty rain, even though it comes almost every day. When it rains here, it pours.

All American Sport

This clip of the little girl grabbing and dropping the foul ball her Dad caught is so adorable and wholesome. In other words, it’s everything that professional sports matches in the UK aren’t.

No riots or hooligans here: just a family of four wearing baseball jerseys, supporting their team.

In London, sporting events often turned menacing. At the very least, the crowd was loud, drunk and offensive. On the tube back from one play off match at Wembley, I marveled at how the football fans were falling against the walls of the train, chanting obscenities.

They weren’t clever lymrics — the chants didn’t even rhyme. It was not the scene you would want to subject your toddlers to.