Life at a Mile High – America and Consumerism

One of the biggest changes in the life style in America, by comparison with the UK, is the rampant consumerism.  Planning is a bit more under control in Colorado, in most American states strip malls are everywhere, whereas here there are just shopping centres every 10 miles or so.

But I have to admit I have occasionally succumbed to the shopping bug that runs at full pelt in this country.  I wandered in to my favourite shirt shop, Lucky Brands at Park Meadows, a long 10 minute drive away, and purchased a most lovely shirt.  Getting back home, I showed it to Heather, and told her how great I thought it was.  Yep, she said, it is exactly the same as one in your closet (actually she said wardrobe).  What an idiot.

IMG_0807It is astoundingly dry here, static is an issue at a mile high, not what my dear English friends want to hear, but the weather here is fantastic.  We have had 4 weeks at below zero, but for the last few days it has reached 20 degrees C.  Strange lumps of snow linger in the corners of the garden, and fountains are still partially frozen, I guess that shows how deep the freeze was.  But most of the time the sun shone, so it didn’t feel so bad, and it just never rains, amazingly in 4 months here it has only rained once (for less than 10 minutes).

The climate plays terrible tricks in other ways.  I bought a Xmas tree the first weekend of December, Ben was feeling down, so we went and bought it to cheer him up.  But within 2 weeks it was dead, dried out, kaput.  We had an artificial tree for Xmas.

The Xmas lights round here were astounding, they competed for trophies in the local media.  The house over the road had two deer made out of lights on their front lawn, but one night someone mounted one on top of the grazing one.  We all laughed, but IMG_0797perhaps this is not in tune with the average middle America sense of humour.

Our pathetic attempt at lights was probably the joke of the street, but everyone is far too polite to comment.  But it did make us think of the Deddington tree again, yep, I learnt a lot of my decorating abilities from last year in the square.

Last weekend was our Jake’s 1IMG_08187th birthday, not one of the great events in a growing lad’s life, but one well worth celebrating.  Izzie bought him a lovely American flag based tie, the best the “thrift store” had to offer, and his mother and I helped him buy an amplifier so he can form a band, become a superstar, change the world and enable me to retire.  At last.

We had a busy birthday weekend, we had some Americans round, and some mad Aussies.  Good fun, and on Sunday we went up to see Red Rocks, a great concert venue, we look forward to seeing Justin Beiber in the summer.  And then on we went to The Fort, a local restaurant based on old western cuisine, but please bear in mind that old is 1860 around here, there was no-one here before that.

And the great news is that the birthday regime from Pizza Express in Banbury lives on, they banged a drum, the mad local bloke dressed as a “First Nation Citizen” produced the hat, and there was Jake in the Buffalo head being told………Gryffindor!

The clientele IMG_0819were instructed to join in 3 times….Hip Hip  Hazaa, but no-one can explain this strange choice of words.  The buffalo steaks were great, but a poor substitute for Ben who had set his heart on Rattlesnake only to find they are currently hibernating and therefore not for catching (or eating).

Who says culture doesn’t cross the globe.  Earlier in the weekend we had been subjected to 2 renditions of “Happy Bar Mitzvah to You” from an adjacent table.  And the local Synagogue is offering “Jew Chew” to the high school kids at lunch time.

So life here is all a bit of a shock.  Think I will have to do something about the nylon carpets and the “Joey” sofa, something you do have to see to believe, imagine a 7 piece corner piece with individual controlled progression from Economy to First Class, but how will I ever get it home to England?

Think I need to put a damper on the electric side of life.  At least that what Heather says.   Poor me.

Accents and other Things that are Different

I have a bad habit I need to confess to.

Well all right, I only have time for one today, but I need to get it off my chest.  I think my problem became very clear to Heather, my lovely wife, some 20 years ago when we went to meet with one of our clients, up in the North of England.  In Rochdale to be exact.

After lunch, the boss man took Heather to one side and said (I won’t do the accent), “if Mike continues to take the micky out of me, I am going to knock his block off”.  But I wasn’t taking the micky, it was just the first example Heather had experienced of my terrible problem.

When speaking to anyone with an accent, within minutes I will be attempting (but badly) to speak in the same lingo.  I wonder if there is some kind of 7 steps process that can help me.

To be serious for a moment, the key difference between the UK and the good old US of A is the attitude to guns.  Like most Europeans, I find the amount of gun deaths in America to be very disturbing.  The quoted figures of less than 50 in the UK, to over 11,000 in the US has to indicate that this is a key problem.  But, no matter how many times I try and discuss the issue with sane and grown up Americans, I simply don’t understand the huge commitment the majority have to owning a gun.  I am still working hard, but it is something deeply cultural.

If you haven’t seen it, go to YouTube and view some of the Piers Morgan interviews of the last few weeks.  Piers is a man that few us in Britain liked, and most were happy to see leave for the US to take up a nightly TV interview slot on CNN.  But he is has really come to life in my view, although not in the minds of most Americans, who have started a petition to have him deported.

On a show last week Piers interviewed a Larry Pratt, who looked perfectly normal, argued quite sanely, but when Morgan put the gun death numbers in front of him, he suddenly announced that the UK figures were rigged, and really there were 790 gun deaths a year in the UK.  The problem is that people believe these things.

Earlier in the week Piers interviewed an Alex Jones from the NRA (National Rifle Association), who foamed at the mouth, and with bulging eyes told Piers that he needed the guns to ensure that the UK didn’t invade again, invoking the American War of Independence.  Bizarre in the extreme to an outsider, but lots of people see him as a hero, people keep telling me they need more guns, not less.

Some of the differences about living in Colorado are a bit weird.  When Heather came to give me a kiss earlier, she gave me a shock.  I mean an electric shock.

Denver is a mile above sea level, and despite freezing cold temperatures on occasions, it is very dry.  The sun shines for over 300 days a year, and it has only rained once in 3 months, both of which make the freezing temperatures more palatable.  But the climate, and the wall to wall nylon carpets, creates static electricity like I have never seen before.

The lack of air also means my tennis is hopeless, the balls fly out, and even a short rally leaves me lying on the floor gasping for breath.  At the Broncos game this afternoon, some of the opposition footballers were given oxygen on the side lines to enable them to cope.

I needed a bit more than oxygen to cope, football is a great game, but after it went to extra time it took 4 ¼ hours for 1 ¼ hours of action.  Unreal, particularly at – 12 degrees C, 75,000 fans created a fantastic atmosphere, but they don’t have a roof.  It snowed.  And they lost in extra time.

And there were opposition fans in front of us who everyone chatted with, and they even survived the home team managing to lose a game they were 100 – 1 to win at one point.

Earlier in the day we took the boys to have some jabs, they have to have a huge number in order to be allowed to be in school.  The fire station where they were giving the inoculations was in a suburb called Aurora, much more of a mixed community than the enclave that is Greenwood Village.

Walking in to the temporary clinic, a couple of the locals greet me, calling out in support of my Broncos shirt, Go Broncos.

As I say, I have this terrible habit of copying the way people speak, honestly, I don’t mean to do it.

And now I can add Jive Talking to my failings, and my family thinks I am a rude and dangerous person.

Anyone know of a cure?

Xmas Parties and Freezing in America

I have to start with a startling confession, my wife has been stalking me at parties.

It was a good Xmas, or as the whole of America put it, the holidays.  It is certainly a strange idea to a European immigrant, but they are so scared of upsetting someone, that they don’t wish you “Happy Xmas”, it is always “Happy Holidays”.  All very odd, as a Hindu work contact said to me this week, he still celebrates Xmas.

Politeness is endemic in middle America, and unlike far away places like New York, Colorado drivers are also very polite.  But they have this very strange traffic control device, known as the All Way Stop.  Just imagine that you are going down a straight road, which is clear and visible for several miles, you approach a junction, and then this red sign looms, All Way Stop.  A merry dance ensues, when cars approach in all 4 directions and stop in turn, and then eventually someone goes.

It is bizarre, as if the local traffic planners have never seen a roundabout.  In fact they have just built a roundabout in the area, and it certainly leaves a lot of locals very confused.  I have seen people heading the wrong way round the first one round the corner from our office.

The driving competition in the house is hotting up, with Jake and Heather both beating my amazing 92% pass rate of the driving theory test.  They both made 96%, yet another thing I am not going win at.  But you have to feel sorry for Jake, the kids round here can drive a year earlier, at 16.  But, we have discovered that he has to hold a driving permit for 12 months before he can get a full license, so he will actually be later driving on his own here than if we had stayed in the UK.  Perhaps a good job his lovely girl friend can drive very well.

You would not believe the cars that some of the kids drive out of the school car park.  Jake saw a Ferrari draw up alongside a kid, the driver got out and moved to the passenger seat, and then the kid got in and drove it off.  No surprise they get an accident in the car park every year, this term a boy was run over twice.  He got a broken leg as the girl backed over him, and a broken shoulder when she pulled forward again.

Xmas day was great, snow on the ground, and the lovely Roz and the fantastic Wayne staying with us.  The ground outside was frozen, and so was the dinner.  Heather ordered two ducks and a goose off the web site of the most expensive food shop in the country.  Whole Foods is an unbelievable place, I counted 20 types of olives at the “olive bar”, they have an enormous range of every type of food, beautifully presented.  It is like Selfridges food hall, but 100 times bigger.

Heather turned up to pick up the food on Xmas Eve, to find the items were frozen.  An argument ensued, but the store manager did not seem to understand that the web site not mentioning the minor fact that the items were frozen was significant.

But in some areas American law has a very extreme amount of consumer protection.  In particular I fail to believe that anyone ever buys the drugs they advertise on the TV, if not every ad break, at least several times an hour.  We have all read the leaflet which comes with our latest miracle cure, and wondered which of the many side effects will get us.  But on American TV drug adverts, the side effects are read through thoroughly, which leaves you no doubt that the drug is not at all useful, but absolutely deadly.  Obviously such protection does not extend to food stuffs on the Web.

And the best Xmas news is that we were invited to a few local parties.  The things we all missed most were our friends and family, and the Pub.  But round here, the drinking takes place at people houses, and we certainly managed some drinking with some really lovely people.  And some of them were Australian.

But the big problem is that Heather is very concerned that I am going to upset everyone, which will then mean that she won’t get invited to a party ever again.  Where did she ever get this idea from?

But the real problem is that middle class American men right now are obsessed with tax, and particularly in not paying more tax.  And I am not good at ignoring comments on big issues, and so the discussion begins.  Again.

I am consciously trying to avoid being party political, but it is only logical to me that middle America has to pay more tax.  Every country in Europe is paying more tax, due to the recession, which was started by the American obsession with selling mortgages to millions of people who could not afford them.  But in the last 4 years America has had tax cuts through this recession, and the Government has borrowed to pay the recession costs.

Now there is a price to pay.  Is this an argument I can refuse to address?

As I say, my wife is stalking me at parties.  The key benefit is she is looking great, she has lost huge amounts of weight, and is very lovely.  Perhaps this is another reason I need to keep starting the arguments having this discussion, but I am not sure I can cope with the chunks her high heels are taking out of my shins.