Saturday, March 29, 2008

What's in a Name?

I've been reading "Guns, Germs, and Steel" which is a fairly interesting, if skimmable, book. Mostly its a nitty gritty account of human dispersement, development of prehistoric civilization, and then humanity's subduing and oppressing of each other. But what is really striking is the seemingly modern invention of race.

For thousands of years people were defined by tribe, chiefdom, or state. Many races lived on each continent and people weren't defined by the color of their skin. Race, at least the typical American perspective on it, is a farce. While there may be cultural differences, there is no "black gene" or "white gene." Races could be divided infinitely, as no person looks exactly like anyone else. I heard once that Puerto Rico has 30 categories for race on its tiny island.

At my clinic when a patient enters for the first time they must fill out a brief questionnaire, including a blank for "ethnicity." Many people don't even know the word, and pronounce it incorrectly with a questioning look before I try to elaborate. Legally I can't suggest what ethnicity a person might be. It seems silly that we should a. ask this question and b. not be able to give examples to explain it. I don't even know why it's on the questionnaire.

But I have found it interesting that Americans immediately know what ethnicity they are, while Brits often put "English", "Christian", or "C of E." I found it refreshing that Brits aren't so focused on race. But there is a trade-off. Americans are more aware, and perhaps more judgmental, when it comes to race but we tend to save questionnable comments. But Brits seem to be more oblivious to race and racist comments. In one day I was told a really racist joke by a coworker, and then witnessed a patient approach a Dr. and repeatedly wave and say "ni hao, ni hao" goading this Dr. (who is Burmese) to speak Chinese to her.

I liked Obama's speech about race in America. I think it can be a pins-and-needles subject. There has been an immense amount of harm done, and there aren't easy solutions. But in dialoguing about this division I hope that we can bring some understanding to all sides.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Some that know me would describe me as a picky eater. I do realize that many of my long list of "dislikes" were decided when I was 5, and so I've been trying new foods lately, mostly thanks to the taunting of my husband. (He says I eat oranges like a 7 year old-- how does he even know what that looks like?)

Anyway, I'm attempting to branch out, but along the way have come to realize that your average Brit is even finickier than I am. There are a multitude of reality TV shows revolving around how ridiculous many Brits' tastes are, i.e. ONLY eats chips, ONLY eats fried meat, ONLY eats sliced bread. Its amazing a human being can subsist on such a diet! (For a good time visit and watch "Freaky Eaters") Although this is an extreme example, I was faced with an interesting conundrum this week at work.

One of my coworkers is leaving and so as a farewell we planned for dinner out at Wagamama, a Japanese-ish noodle bar chain. Pretty inoffensive, really, noodles, meat, and veg. But over half our coworkers didn't go because they only eat "traditional British food" aka fried and/or covered in gravy. One of my coworkers explained "I've got international tastes. You can put me almost anywhere in the world and I'll find something good to eat, because most countries have McDonalds."

My final case-in-point is the above picture, a chip butty (for Americans that means a sandwich topped only with french fries) It is something you can really buy in England. Seriously!

Friday, March 21, 2008

High School Musical 2

It's Good Friday and I'm currently at work. Lucky for me, BBC is either showing figure skating or High School Musical 2. So, I've decided to investigate what this hot campy mess is all about.

The first song is cringe-inducing, and I remember why I've usually turned this off. But once evil blonde Sharpei starts scheming I find the motivation to continue. Within about 15 minutes I've adjusted to the cheesiness. Except for one thing: Troy and Gabriella hardly share a smooch-- are they Mormon or something? Have they had their hormones surgically removed by the Disney Chanel? If I remember high school correctly, we were making out every chance we got, and I was more chaste than most of my classmates.

Apart from this, the simplicity of the program is enticing. Its definitely brain-off TV, as one of my walk-in patients commented. We both proceeded to stare at the TV in a dopey haze for the next 15 minutes.

But I think underneath all the saccharine simplicity there are some dark themes. Is Sharpei's resentment of Gabriella a statement about immigration? Sharpei thinks Gabriella is stealing her "Troy"? Sharpei, as a rich white American, has a heightened sense of entitlement. She uses her influence to make Troy prostitute himself for a basketball scholarship. But the way to "winning the talent show" isn't by seducing Troy, or threatening Gabriella's job, but by embracing the multicultural. And wearing a lot of gay hats, apparently.

Yes, this movie has not only multicultural, but rather communist leanings. I guess its just more liberal brainwashing for tomorrow's children.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Saint Patrick's Day (sort of)

By official vote I am Irish. That's what most of the patients/staff at the walk-in centre tell me. Apparently my attempts at communication with the Geordies has left me with a "lilt" and my "ginger complexion" isn't helping.

But on St. Patrick's Day we're all Irish, aren't we? So Ryan and I donned our green sweaters Monday and headed off to school and work. An NHS inspector came to the clinic and I wished him a Happy St Paddy's as I took him to the main office. He replied that St. Patrick's Day was actually on Saturday this year because Holy Week is so early. "The shamrock must never cross the palm" he purred in his thick Irish brogue.

So I felt silly. No one else was wearing green and my coworkers thought I was crazy when I threatened to pinch them. Is the St. Patrick's Day I'm used to an American invention? Not entirely. As I waited for my bus home (at 7pm mind you) a very drunk man wearing a shamrock hat asked me if I was single, and when I replied stated "Well that's a shame. A real shame. Tell you what, I'll celebrate for the both of us...he's a lucky man..." the shot me a wink I'm sure was meant to be charming, before staggering down the street.

We met up with Ryan's classmates to hit the pubs. Our chosen target was O'Neills, a semi-cheesy Irish-themed chain filled to the brim with drunks by the time we arrived at 10. It was also coated in spilled Guiness and broken pint glasses. We spent an eternity waiting for drinks and sat directly under a speaker which seemed prone to outbursts of blue grass music (?) But we still had a pretty good time shouting at eachother above the din.

The drunk parade as we waited for the bus was less impressive. Not many people out, I guess that St Patrick's still isn't as big as your average weekend. Then again, maybe they all got the Palm Sunday memo and celebrated on the REAL St. Paddy's.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

My Sexy New Job

So I started work last week at an NHS walk-in centre. For those of you who've never had the pleasure of minor illness or injury in England, a walk-in centre is a clinic where you don't need an appointment. You also don't need to register or show your NHS number, which means we get a fair amount of foreigners, including clueless American students who rush in and flash their insurance cards and ask in a panic whether we take any of them.

This happened to Ryan and I when we first moved here. I had an allergic reaction after a 10 mile hike in the Cotswolds and we went to the walk-in centre and blurted out "We're from America. We aren't registered, we don't know who to see, can you help with this? I think I have hives or something!" Anyone who's seen this mad dash can only feel fondly toward socialized medicine.

So my new job consists of entering patient information into a computer database and answering phones. But mostly watching BBC or reading magazines. It's pretty sweet. Also, I get to watch the behind-the-scenes action, like who will be waiting a long time and who will be prioritized. Its a pretty quick wait at our clinic, it is hidden in a secret location so the lines are short. I'm not a nurse, and people aren't required to tell me anything about their ailments, but they usually do.

"Hello, would you like to see a nurse?"
"Yes, I've got this terrible rash/eye problem/toothache/sprained ankle/itchy anus"
(I'm not joking)

But mostly what we see patients for are emergency contraception and getting their ear wax syringed out. I never figured these would be chronic or common complaints, but it seems so. However, the funniest part of the job is the new NHS campaign to have under 25s tested for STDs. There is currently a free holiday give-away for everyone who gets a chlamydia test! So now I hear alot of people saying "I don't get around or anything, but I figured, you know, you never know, so I might as well get the test..." Hey, I'm not here to judge, just to take the details.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Hey, come on now

don't give me that look. Ok, I know I haven't written much lately, and I'm sorry. I know you expect more from me...come on, are tears really necessary? I'm sorry, shhhh...its okay. I promise I'll write you tomorrow. In the meantime, please console yourself with this hilarious clip, because I promise baby that I "ken lee widdubu dibu doucho"....

Friday, March 7, 2008

Weekly Parade

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Updates abound: I have FINALLY booked some work, at least temporarily. So I am working, at least next week, and should net about 200 quid.

But onto more interesting things. I've been meaning to write for sometime about a weekly phenomenon I've witnessed in Newcastle. Every weekend, Ryan and I will hit the downtown for a movie, a pub, or a poker game. We head for the bus around midnight (we are old married people after all), and watch Newcastle's fine Drunk Parade.

Newcastle has two large universities in its downtown area and every student is out on the weekend. The girls are clad in 6" heels and dresses that barely cover their cootches, and these difficult to maintain outfits become worse with drink and Newcastle's crazy strong wind.

Last Saturday night, there were 3 girls at the bus stop getting chatted up by some guys. One was obviously on the verge of blacking out, and so her friends decided to ditch the bus stop and get them a taxi. They propped up super drunk and the three of them teetered down the street on their high high heels, when the drunk girl stopped, lifted up the back of her dress and proceeded to pick her thong out of her behind, flashing the whole bus stop in the process. Sexy!

And previous to that, we were waiting at the bus stop on a Wednesday night, freezing our asses off, when we saw a man WEARING a cafe chair on his back. It was kind of looped over his shoulder... I couldn't see if it was strapped to him, but it was solidly on his back. Anyway, he stumbled down the street to an ATM and fished his bank card out of his back pocket, then dropped it on the ground. The next 10 minutes was spent leaning over, loosing his balance, stumbling forward, standing upright, then reaching again for the bank card. All the while still carrying a chair on his back.

P.S. have recently learned that Koreans have potato salad, my peace plan continues to spread....