Smacked down with a jagged little head-cold. Some bits from my phone, remnants of my desultory search for spring …
A mark on a lamppost.
A squadron of daffodils besieging the links.
A shrubbery unconvinced by spring’s opening argument.
There are many things I would not recommend that you do on Christmas Eve. Almost all of them revolve around shopping. And yet there I was, in the middle of a good-sized grocery store called Waitrose, cradling an amaretto-flavoured soy latte in one hand and a wire basket in the other, when I was introduced to the full-on HPM (Holiday Politeness Morass).
In case it isn’t clear by now, I deeply appreciate living in a polite culture. After decades of the American “everyone’s your friend, the kind of friend you have no compunction about treating like total garbage if it means you are first in line” faux-niceness, I find the whole British orderliness not only refreshing but salutary to my sanity. After returning to the working world, I realised just how crucial this is, and how miserable I was when dealing with the American public every day.
Here is where I will pause to say that I know that a good amount of my readers are part of the American public and might take this personally. I would urge you not to, of course, and instead attempt to espouse a trait of my sociologist father’s that I have always admired: the ability to consider both the cultural veracity of a stereotype and the personal relevance without taking either as an affront. I’m American, and because I live outside America, I am confronted with my Americanness every day. Some of it is good, and some of it is not so good. I try to take zero of either side as a personal value judgement.
Anyway, back to my story. I got off the bus too early (a common mistake I make on new routes, as if getting off one stop too late is somehow worse) and walked through a very nice neighbourhood, peeking at the brightly-lit Christmas trees through front windows. I was feeling only a little sorry for myself, but mostly looking forward to an evening of cooking and watching holiday films. Thus distracted, I entered Waitrose with no sense of trepidation at all. In fact, I was glad to be there: they have nice food and it was blustery crap outside.
This was my first mistake.
Then I noticed the HPM.
It first manifested as a cluster of trolleys and wire baskets clutched by niceties-muttering poor planners like myself, so I was not afraid. Then I noticed the Waitrose worker in the middle of all of this, wielding a price gun above a pile of packets, the contents of which I still have not fathomed. Whatever was in them was more valuable than gold to the HPM as it seethed and swarmed — really gently, and congenially — at the centre.
I decided to go around this, to go somewhere else. Anywhere else.
But this was happening all throughout the store. Apparently prices were being marked down as closing time approached and, as the saying goes, supplies wouldn’t last.
Earlier, I had the bright idea of making meatloaf for dinner, an idea that was quickly revealed as the worst idea on the planet, ever, as I dared to enter the meat aisle for one minute. The HPM there was too strong. I saw two shoppers get stuck in a cycle of darting forward to grab a packet of beef mince but averting as the other was darting forward for not the same packet but one merely nearby. Fierce apologising began, and then the furtive darting forward again, only to bump hands this time, which set off another flurry of apologies.
You know how this would go down in America. Grab the meat, maybe even the sleeve of someone’s coat in the process, and get the hell out of there. You might open your bags at home to discovered you had inadvertently taken someone’s mitten or small child. Ha ha, you’d laugh. What a crazy shopping trip! And then you’d give the small child some potatoes to peel and start cooking.
So stunned, I scuppered the meatloaf idea and went for a dairy-free, wheat-free, gluten-free cottage pie ready-meal. You can bet there was no HPM hanging about that area.
I also might have grabbed a few other things, like crab paté, that I didn’t really need but wanted. At the till, I chatted with the cashier — another Americanism, but it’s a tough habit to break. As we struggled to fit all of the purchases in my bag, I gave a little sigh and said, “I guess I’m eating my feelings this Christmas.” This earned me the first outright laugh I have ever received from a cashier, which I counted as an early Christmas present.
My second early Christmas present was discovering a completely awesome shortcut from the “faraway” bus stop to our flat. Some cottage pie and crab paté later, plus FaceTime with family, and I’m feeling all right. I hope you are feeling all right too.
Writing from: the lounge, next to the tree. Listening to: “Ghostbusters” on the TV. So much better than any holiday film I had planned.
My red fleece sweatpants are evil. Wearing them is basically the antidote to any productivity I might muster. As soon as I changed from sweatpants to proper grownup clothing today, I got a ton of stuff done. But listening to Patton Oswalt talking about the miracle of sweatpants made me laugh a lot.
Today I am having a day of expat feelings, so I am going to talk about something I love about living in Scotland and something that annoys me.
I love hearing SSE (Scottish Standard English) every day. In fact, I have done tireless (read: not tireless) research to bring to you the absolute best (read: or just really good) sentence to hear in SSE: “Will you tell the girls about the murder rate of squirrels in third-world countries?” I also love hearing the following words: dreich, guddle, drouthy, numpty, outwith. I hope I didn’t offend anyone by writing this. At least I didn’t say …
Haggis. I am vastly annoyed by the punchline to jokes from non-Scots being, “Haggis!” And I love haggis, so it’s not like I object on culinary grounds. It’s just such a lazy joke, like responding to anything Italian by saying, “Spaghetti with meatballs!”
Hm, now I’m hungry.
Writing from: bed, one electric blanket, two kitties. Listening to: Patton Oswalt.
My new friend R and I went to the Royal Botanics a few weeks ago. I haven’t been in a photo-taking mood for a while, but I took my dSLR just in case. Of course I forgot my macro lens and my tripod, so I got fifty blurry shots of pretty blooms and bees doing their thing, and then this one.
So yes, I am a walking cliché.
Yesterday, FunkyPlaid and I walked downtown on some errands. As we left our flat, we both remarked on the loveliness of the day, blue skies barely clouded, and yet somehow we still managed to get caught in a short downpour on Princes Street.
This confirmed my suspicion that Scottish clouds just dip their bellies in blue paint from time to time.
Today as I sat and hammered out some metadata at my volunteer post — which was exactly six times more exciting than this sentence sounds — the building shook. After a twelve-year stint in California, I am no stranger to shaking buildings. It just hadn’t occurred to me that the wind could shake a building as much as the ground could.
I hopped off the bus in an unfamiliar part of town just so I could figure out my way back, and with the wind it ended up being a little more exciting than I expected. Thank goodness for the steadfastness of the lamppost I clung to as my boots slid out from under me. Hello again, Chicago! I used this excuse to scamper into Tesco and consult blue-dot on the map, which sometimes lies. The walking directions home took me in what I was sure was a large U-turn, but now looking at the map I suppose it was the most direct route.
A lot of navigation here is like that, which makes logical sense in a city-planning-over-centuries way, but I just like to pretend that the bus I’m on is involved in a very slow car-chase, always trying to shake that persistent cop on its tail.
Celsius is much more satisfying for reporting temperatures. Fahrenheit insists it is 37 degrees, which is many numbers, but Celsius says 3. That is about how it feels. Just a few degrees among the lint in your pocket, instead of 37, which is a feast of grapes for lunch, or an impressive spate of paper clips on your desk. Hell, you could make a paper-clip necklace with that.
In other exciting news, I’ve been overpaying my bus fare by exactly 30 pence every time. I swore the sign said £1.60. The tickets piling up in my purse each say £1.30. Another awkward social situation explained!