Lost In Translation, Yet Again

Once in a while the strangest blonde moment creeps up — no offense to the blondes, just using it as a cliche — that truly embarrasses me. We were driving along the dusty backroads of the French countryside (Normandie!) when the Hubby looks skywards sharply, points a finger, and says “Hawk!”.

Me (puzzled and looking up): PORK?  (I swear I heard him say “Pawk”, as in the British pronunciation for “Pork”)

Hubby (even more puzzled): HAWK! Big bird. Hawk!

Me (realizing the absurdity of a high-flying piece of meat, and trying to be cool about the sudden drop of IQ): Oh, HAWK, right. ok.

Hubby: Pork?  Why would I say “Pork”?  I was pointing at the sky….

Me: I don’t know.  That’s what I thought I heard.  But hey, you never know. You know what they say —  “when pigs fly….”

Nonstop shaking of head and laughing between us. You’d think by now these lost-in-translation moments would long have banished.  Oy vey.

Wall Art in Nottingham, UK

Wall Art in Nottingham, UK

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Vienna (Preview Note)

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Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
The calendar pages are indeed flying off like crazy. A week ago we came back from a long weekend in Vienna, and next week we go to Normandy/Brittany.
Still haven’t written my notes on Vienna. That will come shortly. Meanwhile, here’s a visual overview :

Vienna St. Stephen's Bell Tower

Vienna, view from St. Stephen’s Bell Tower

 

The Right To Bare One’s Arms

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This is the day and age of the Selfie Photograph.  Gone are the days when a camera was a major purchase for an entire family; and long forgotten are the time when only professional photographers would have a pretentious tripod on which to perch that precious camera.   Cameras are now everywhere — in our bags, in our person, pockets, integral features of our little army of handheld gadgetry — Do we have phones with cameras?  or are they cameras with a phone feature really?  Cameras are so commonplace that everyone has the capability to document their lives every day, many times over.  We snap away and post the places we visit, the common or unusual sights along the way, the things we eat, the outfits we tried, the outfits we wore.  “OOTD” (a.k.a. “#OOTD, a.k.a. Outfits Of The Day) photos are displayed by stylists, fashionable types, celebrities and trendsetters, —  all the way to those irritating trying-hard wannabes who spew fashion advice as if their readership are idiots who know nothing about dressing themselves (pointless — this is the age of the individual expression and quirks).   And who needs a tripod when you can extend your arms to take that self-portrait, as often as you like and can?

Byproduct of this love affair with the camera is the hand-on-hip (HOH) pose. It has been called the “chicken wing” or the “tea pot”.  This postural affliction that affects women and girls of every age.  A world-wide phenomenon of sorts, strangely enough.  Anytime a camera is trained to take a shot, The Pose is assumed almost instinctively –arm crooked at the elbow to form a small diamond between arm and oblique (chicken wing or teapot handle up).  Needless to say that pose also entails arching one’s back (upwards, and sidewards) to cut and define a clear angle on the waist.  This, I must say, is not a look I really enjoy.  The said “pose”, once the monopoly of fashion models and starlets, has since trickled down to Reality TV stars, the famous-for-being-famous, and now it is EVERYWHERE.  Just look through the Newsfeed of your FaceBook page.  Or possibly, take a look at your own photos.

Per se, I have nothing against The Pose.  I just don’t think it is an entirely flattering stance or look to affect, at any age:

1.  The pose doesn’t look good on little girls or kids.  It’s creepy.  It’s Jon Bennet Ramsey-ish.  It’s just doesn’t look right.  Kids should enjoy their childhood and days of play.  Save the attempts to look saucy or beauty pageants for much later, should they wish.

2.  The pose doesn’t look good on college kids and younger adult women either, especially if they do it ALL THE TIME.  Diane Von Furstenberg once tweeted the advice that the hands on hip look makes one look like a starlet, and not the star.  I couldn’t agree with her more.  The pose just smacks of trying too hard (to be what?  Glamourous? Sexy?  Cool?  Real Housewives of Hollywood-ish?  or just simply “trying too hard”?).

3.  The pose is not a very professional look –unless you’re a fashion model, Paris Hilton, part of a girl band or a reality TV star.  Imagine seeing a shot of your lawyer or your surgeon with that pose all the time. Comfortable with that? I thought not.

4.  The pose is not a very good look for women of a more mature vintage (ha!), either.  I have seen many of that going around.  It can be an amusing look, but let’s face it, it’s not exactly elegant.

Perhaps it is because I think this way that I have never taken to affecting this pose.  In most of my shots, one or both my hands are either in my pocket(s), folded in front of me, or joined behind my back. Awkward poses of the unsure? Perhaps. But that’s how I like it, eversince.

Reality Check (from city to village)

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Over the weekend, the British hubby and I headed out for dinner, not because it was “date night” or anything like that but just because I declared war on any more cooking and dish-washing for the day.  People here in the UK seem to generally dress-up more when going out for dinner compared to Americans.  It’s most likely because eating out here is for the most part luxury (at the very least it is not cheaper than eating at home) rather than for convenience — meaning bone-tired, no desire to wash or cook, let’s head out to the local restaurant.  So when in Rome, bring out the toga.  I made sure I had on killer heels despite the cold, put on a stylish coat and my make up was right.  I have yet to purchase those furry, fake eyelashes British women would have you believe they are born into, but on the whole I was spruced-up and decently ready for a beautiful night out with the hubby.  Shortly after we get on the road, I begin to notice an odd stink in the car.  I began to sniff and look around — trying to figure the source of this funk.  Did the hubby leave yesterday’s lunchbox overnight at the backseat?  Did a rat find it’s way into the car and died?  The hubby noticed my fuss around the car and asked what was going on.

Me :  There is a strange stink in this car and I am trying to find the culprit.

Hubby (very calmly) :  That’s probably the smell of manure fertilizing Farmer’s Geoff’s farm at the back of the house.

Me (with that flash of enlightenment):  Oh yeah.  Manure and a farm.  I forgot about those.

And so the process of reorienting myself to the change in geography and lifestyle continues.  :)

Snippet on Adjusting to Life in the UK

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I realize that I haven’t posted in a while; and I am a little half-hearted about jump-starting it with a grumble.  In particular, it will be about (the virtually non-existent) customer service in the UK…. again.  It’s the one thing about  UK life I can’t quite get my head around, just because it’s a puzzle that in a country where everything is about civility, politeness and niceties, very few stores (or “shops”) seem to be able to get it right.

Today I headed into town to run a few errands at the bank and the post office.  Too early for the return train — and yes, I DO have to rush back home as I have a conference call to Chicago by 9:30 Central Time — I decided to go to Debenhams to use up an expiring gift card.  The gift card had a 24-month lifetime, and we got it as a wedding gift 2 years ago.  Hence the urgency to use it before its expiration.  I got a few small things at the home section, and headed up to pay.   Here goes the convo at the till:

Cashier :  Hi, you alright?

Me :  Hi, yes, I’m good how are you (waited for her to scan the 2 items, tell me the total, and then I handed over the gift card)

Cashier :  (peering from the top of her bifocals for some time and swiping it) — Do you know how much money you have on the card?

Me : (slightly surprised why it was up to me to tell her how much was left on the card — she could swipe to find out couldn’t she? — and trying to remember how much I had left on the card).  Hmmmmm…. I’m not too sure.   I think I might have around £120-something on it….

Cashier : (looking back at me)  So, in other words, — you do not know…..

Yup, those were her words  – “so in other words, you do not know….”

I am only slightly amused, but  mostly annoyed at myself, for being thrown off by comments like these, especially when they come with an accent and a nose in the air (literally, as it tried to hold up her bifocals).  I am not too sure whether to react the “American way” of always being right as customer; or to tread the polite line of putting sales staff softly in their place by a slight change in my intonation, the right choice of words, or the just-enough raise of my right eyebrow.  It really is tricky to make that split-second decision to either dare to be yourself and risk awkward attention; or to live as the Romans when in Rome and tone everything way way down.  I just know that each time I come over to the UK, I do not stay long enough to get out of the mode of being the visitor or the outsider, and to know how to deal with situations the way locals do.  But because that is my choice and this is my life, for now all I can do is sigh.  Until I get it right, if they don’t.

Little Theo Doing Tongue Twisters (with a British Accent)

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Little Theo, he of the platinum blond curls and the adorable lisp, has always been my favorite.  I have posted 2 clips of him previously, here and here.  This one is the sequel to his first one where he had attempted a Hamlet soliloquy with Scottish actor Brian Cox.  This is what came after he was distracted by the book with jigsaws.  This kid’s accent (and his overall mien) is just adorable.

And here’s the text of the popular tongue-twister:

Oh what to do to die today at a minute or two ’til two
A thing distinctly hard to say yet harder still to do
For they’ll beat a tattoo at twenty to two
With a rattatta tattatta tattatta too
And the dragon will come when he hears the drum
At a minute or two ’til two today
At a minute or two ’til two.

Year in Perspective

MMXI is due in 3 hours.  Hubby and I still hem and haw whether or not to hop on the bus (it’s free anyway) to Navy Pier to watch the midnight fireworks.  We’re hearing the 8:15 fireworks (the “family bash” session) from our apartment and can see little flashes towards the east of our mainly south view directly at the city.  Another bigger display is due at midnight.  Meanwhile, I cannot let the month and year past without a last post so here, a quick look back at the year that was.

1.  The year started with the passing away of my father– and this means that from here on, Life is changed in a significant way and it will just never be totally complete.  But it is true how when the rug is pulled from under your feet you realize who your true friends are:  classmates from high school and university many long lost and suddenly rediscovered, colleagues, former assistants who made themselves on call for errands, cousins who are almost our siblings.  And most importantly, it has made me treasure my mother even more, as I know I have much to catch up with her.

2.  Adjusting to Life in the UK is ongoing, slowly but surely.  I’ve long been able to move around on public transport on my own.  I am doing my share to put our new home together.  I am meeting C’s friends and carrying on longer conversations with them, with sharper ears now keener to their accents.   I have favorite restaurants and favorite shops now.  And I have met my first friend on my own, a wonderful American expat who is uber-smart, funny, and fun to hang around with. I have yet to get that driver’s license (but let me get over “the big switch” from the wrong side of the road to the right and proper one ;p), and take time to sit for the England & Wales Bar Exam.  But the hope is that this year I will not use the transitoriness of my stays on either side of the pond as excuse not to get things done.

3.  I visited Paris for the first time in my life.  :)  In celebration of our first year of marriage.  E-tickets for our paper anniversary.

4.  I’ve joined a group of 4 other enthusiasts to put up a daily photoblog. I’m learning to tinker more with the camera, often taking long solitary drives to the strangest places for a photo op.  And the hubby has been supportive by supplying me, unasked, with gadgetry and accessories to go with the camera (haha).  More than that, when I suggest to him that I want to take a picture in this or that place, he almost always goes along with my crazy ideas, drives me to the destination, and helps me set up the camera.  It’s only when he starts to direct me how to do the picture (he being a former photography enthusiast) that the battle of wills between us rears its head.  Did I ever tell you of that time we tried to catch the August moon?  Good that I didn’t.  Let me just say that I was told in no uncertain terms to read the manual first next time we set out on a cold, dark night for a photo shoot.

5.  In March, on the very day I was driving back to Chicago from CowTown having concluded my work with a major client, I learn that the file room and accounting office burned down (about 40% of the office space).  What to do but to make a U-turn and head back?  My own office was water-damaged.  There was no power for the duration of the restoration.  Operations were done in the big conference room, public-library style.  My laptop did its bit with a big-time sympathy crash (blue screen of death) and I had to delay return to the UK for quite a bit until things were put together, records reconstituted as best as able, systems put back in place and the life of the company can go on as normally as possible.  As with most major trials, everyone pulled together and worked doubly hard with the most limited resources.   All this during a peak busy period.  Today, the stitches don’t even seem to show.

6.  Health is alright.  The eyesight has reached that interesting stage where I have to take my glasses off when I read.  Meanwhile, hubby and I are contemplating whether adoption is something for us (the social worker will not be very impressed with our travelling lifestyle though).  On matters like this, I often wish there was some wise sage who can just tell me what the correct answer is.  Just tell me, I’ll do it.  This is one of those tough essay questions Life has hurled at us; and it’s constantly whirling in my mind on those long drives, or when I wake up in the middle of the night and cannot go back to sleep.   I shampooed my hair thrice in the shower once, lost in thought over this, and that’s when I decided that maybe it would be a good idea to set reflecting aside for a while.  Result that day:  dry Medusa hair.

7.  Career is alright.  I now have contract work with an American firm in London, in addition to my busy little independent practice in the US.  Hubby is busier than ever working in power plants.  I still cannot answer for sure when people ask me what EXACTLY he does.  It’s too narrow and specialized a field to describe.  Most of the time it’s just easier to say he works in a power plant much like Homer Simpson.

8.  Relationship with hubby is wonderful and edifying.  Our families are safe and well.  If just for these, I already cannot be thankful enough.  And thus bittersweet as the year has been I will say 2010 has been good.

Bright Lights

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We visited beautiful and historic York on Friday night to catch “Illuminating York“, an annual light and sound festival which alternates among landmarks of the city.  I believe this is the 6th year of the festival.  This year’s son et lumiere piece entitled “Rose” was designed by award winning projection artist Ross Ashton and sound artist Karen Monid.   The lights were played against the South transept of the York Minster where the awesome Rose Window is housed.  I truly enjoyed the visual and audio experience — the loudness of it, the brightness of it, just the hugeness of the experience under clear skies with just-right cool, jacket-hugging weather.  Unfortunately, in our rush to head out to the venue before the rush hour traffic, I’d forgottem to bring my (heavy-duty, literally) tripod.   Which makes taking any nighttime photos a bit of a challenge.  To keep my shots as steady as possible under the circumstances, I had either rested the camera on C’s shoulders or head, or at best, lean one corner of the camera on the ground while tilting the lens upwards.  Many shots came out blurred sadly, but hey.

Below is a collage I’ve put together.  Not all that brilliant, given the limitations.  Caveat:  they’re lightyears away from the beauty of the real deal so it is highly recommended that you catch it next year (or later) if you can.  :)

Illuminating York. York Minster. October 2010.

I’ve shamelessly submitted my pictures to the photography competition of the event.   100 GBP in photography vouchers at stake (you amused?).  Nothing really fancy, but think of the bragging rights for an uber-amateur like me:  yup, priceless.  To my pleasant surprise, I received an email from one of the reps asking for high-res copies of my shots.  I complied with 7 shots, gladly and with all the chutzpah that I can muster.  Even better, the organizers have humored me by putting them up in their official Flickr page, along with seriously beautiful captures.  Now THAT has amused me no end.  Please check it out:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/official_illuminating_york/

Trust me.  It will be worth your while to see the photos.  Not (just) mine.  But those of the others. ;)

Illuminating York  Website : http://www.illuminatingyork.org.uk

Twitter handle:  @illuminateyork

Flickr page :  http://www.flickr.com/photos/official_illuminating_york/

Adorably Again

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My favorite youtube kid, Theo, the same little boy who took impromptu Shakespeare masterclasses with Brian Cox almost a year ago (click here to see my post of him doing Hamlet’s 3rd soliloquy), sings “My Wee Gas Mask” .  A year later, and  just as adorable! –

Here are the lyrics to the song:

In my wee gas mask, I’m working out a plan
Tho’ all the kids imagine that I’m just a bogey man
The girls all smile and bring their friends to see
The nicest lookin’ warden in the A.R.P.

Whenever there’s a raid on, listen to my cry
An airy-plane, an airy-plane away-way up-a-kye
Then I run helter-skelter but don’t run after me
You’ll no get in my shelter for it’s far too wee.

Charge for Wifi? Why, fie!

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From a little corner table at the hotel cafe, Nottingham

 

Travelling away from home has a funny way of making days pass by quicker.  For the past weeks, C and I have been living our usual pretty itinerant lifestyle, a different part of the UK every week.  C covers his consulting gigs, and I tag along with my own hardcase of paperwork to do while away.  Actually “away” is not quite the word.  Perhaps I should fine-tune that word to “further away”, especially when the conveniences and comforts available while working from our home in Manchester are not available.  My work as an attorney in the US requires me to pass big bulks of work across the Atlantic.  And so when we are on the road, I have to find my nook to do work, and equally importantly, I need to have internet connection to send work across.  Unlike in the US, many UK hotel groups/chains do not offer free internet connection.  Not even when a big chunk of their clientele are business travellers.  For instance, C is a frequent user of another hotel group (Let’s call it “P Hotel” The Premier Inn group) for his business travels.   The said Hotel chain is extensive, and you generally can also find one located outside of city centre and anywhere across the UK — convenient for C as power plants are usually located quite far from them.  I like that P hotels Premier Inns have spankin’ clean rooms, are pretty no-frills (altho very often, I wouldn’t mind some pretty frills), and — they have showers and not just bath tubs (happy me!)!   However, what seriously irks me is that the P hotels they charge for internet.  Their rate?  £5 per hour, or £10 for any time use within a 24 hour period (multiply that by a 4 day stay).  The guest must pay this upfront (front desk), and they give you a “scratch” card with a password.  There have been many times when, just for the principle of it, I want to refuse to pay more than the room rates (which believe me, can go quite high when booked on short notice).  But then I tell myself “what principle are you talking about?  It’s just how they choose to do business”,  knowing that sticking to my guns would go against professionalism.  No choice then but to suck it up and pay for it.  Alternatively I would/could take the bus into town, find a Starbucks, and work there until the Barristas either become my good friends or get annoyed.  Trust me, it is awful to feel that you’ve overstayed your welcome.  So it usually ends up with me spending more money for coffee and cookies.  Bottomline, what I had done in these instances really made no economical sense.  To save £10, I spent more (bus ride to and from, coffee and cookies).  So what do I do but gripe silently to myself in utter frustration?  And outwardly, act nonchalant and bear it.  That’s the British way, and when in Rome.

One of the places we regularly stay in when in Edinburgh is the King’s Manor.   This hotel is managed by the Best Western UK group (Twitter handle:  “BestWesternGB”).  They provide free broadband to guests.  What a relief.  Hotel people who understand that providing internet connection today is the functional equivalent of having bedside and lobby telephones in yesteryears.  A simple, basic feature like this,– and I am less antsy about not being able to take care of my clients overseas.  In the end I enjoy travel and stay that much more.    I hope hotels in the UK realize that the value of providing broadband to guests, and the competitive advantage it provides to their business mark worldwide, are much more than the sum of its actual costs.  No hotel guest wants to feel isolated from contact, or to feel that they have to pay additional for a few hours of de-isolation.  Too much nickel-and-diming your clients. And really, how silly.

So this week, we booked ourselves in another Best Western hotel.  This time, the Westminster in Nottingham.  We will continue to stay in BW hotels and look into them wherever we travel.

Anyway, by way of  FYI, since this is a blog about expat life, here are some of the hotel groups in the UK where guests PAY FOR WIFI:

  • Hilton
  • Travelodge
  • Holiday Inn
  • Marriott
  • Malmaison
  • Premier Inn and
  • Thistle

And those that PROVIDE FREE WIFI TO GUESTS include:

  • DE VERE
  • RADISSON
  • SAS
  • CITY INN and of course,
  • BEST WESTERN

(Source :  “Do Not Disturb” magazine, Issue No. 1)

p.s.:  Best Western GB has come up with the first magazine issue called “Do Not Disturb”.  The magazine is unconventional, fun and interestingly quirky — definitely in line with the company’s byline “Hotels with Personality”.

Cover of "Do Not Disturb"

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