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British v American young people, in a nutshell

British v American young people, in a nutshell

One in 10 young (British) people feel they cannot cope with day-to-day life – with those not in work, education or training more than twice as likely to feel this way – according to a Prince’s Trust survey.” – BBC News, 2 January 2013

… there has been a dramatic rise in the number of (American) students who describe themselves as being “above average” for academic ability, drive to achieve, mathematical ability and self-confidence.” – BBC News, 4 January 2013

Why America needed health reform…

Why America needed health reform…

So finally, at long last, America has joined the rest of the world in offering near-universal healthcare to its’ citizens, instead of relying on a hodgepodge of private health insurance coverage. And about bloody time too, if my brief peek into the world of American healthcare was anything to go by.

HyperHam and I were having breakfast with her mother, when she started having a mild cough. By the time we’d left the restaurant, it had become a coughing fit and by the time we were in the car, it had pretty much developed into a full-on coughing attack, and HyperHam starting to panic. So we rushed to the hospital’s “emergency ward”, only to be confronted with a counter that had nurses deep into administrative paperwork, and one elderly volunteer sweetly asking how she could help. So I blurted out “She’s choking!”, only to be told “Oh dear… I’ll see what I can do” before the elderly volunteer shuffled off trying to attract the attention of one of the admin nurses.

Somehow, a wheelchair arrived and I vaguely remember being told to go this way please – at which point, I wheeled that wheelchair to wherever the nurse was amiably ambling. (With HyperHam inside – I’m not that stupid). We arrived at some kind of place where there were machines that go ping, where they stuck a probe on her. Frowning at the number, we were then directed to an emergency cubicle where HyperHam was wired up to a bunch of more machines that go ping, and a couple of nurses fussed over her while we all anxiously looked on.

At one point there was a bit of an almighty flap when the machines that go ping started to go ping-ping-ping-ping, there was a bit more frenetic activity and HyperHam looked close to panic. Fortunately, the machines managed to settle themselves down – but while we were recovering from all this, the hospital administrator decided to wheel herself (and her laptop trolley) in and ask us a bunch of questions. Not useful stuff like her medical history, but things like her name, and WHO HER INSURANCE COMPANY WAS – ie who was going to pay for all this. I’m surprised she didn’t just point-blankly ask for my credit card.

Then we spent the next few hours waiting in A&E while the nurses subjected her to a battery of slightly pointless tests – an X-Ray machine was wheeled in, an oxygen pump was brought in – “just in case”, or more likely as HyperHam remarked later, to bump up the amount they could charge back to the insurance company. While all this was happening, HyperHam’s mother tried to point out how nice American healthcare was, and how most people were covered anyway. Those who weren’t covered, she explained, were mostly illegal immigrants anyway. So that’s alright then.

To be fair, it could have been a lot worse – I suppose they could have refused to give us any help if we didn’t look like people who could afford to buy the healthcare or if we didn’t have the right insurance card – but in all the times I’ve spent in British hospitals, I don’t remember being asked to quote my NHS number verbatim, or to have to carry a card with my NHS number around. But it seems you have to do that in America, just in case.

The doctors and nurses were very nice, very efficient – as they would be. But to this day, we don’t know what happened or sparked off the attack.

Only in America…

Only in America…

would they want to charge overseas tourists $10 to register for the privilege of visiting America. So they can fund a travel tourism promotion group aimed at … getting overseas tourists to come to America. And explain to tourists why they have to be fingerprinted and give away lots of their personal details.

Nothing like being scanned for fingerprints and asked if I was involved in a Canadian drink-driving incident in 1994 to make one feel welcome when entering the land of liberty and freedom. Looks like I’ll have to pay an extra $10 for the privilege soon…

Eating in America…

Eating in America…

I’ve been in Ohio for ten days now, give or take, and aside from the aforementioned so-called Asian doughnuts, I have been introduced to such culinary delights as:

country fried steak for breakfast. This would be a pork steak covered in breadcrumbs, and then deep-fried – for breakfast. Even the Scottish with their deep-fried Mars bars wouldn’t cover it in breadcrumbs first. In the interests of research, I had to try this as part of a three-plate breakfast buffet.

Of course, if only I hadn’t then had to go on a Easter egg hunt looking for candy-filled Easter eggs for kids (with a side-trip to Arbys for a roast beef sandwich and a malted milkshake), and then onto a sumptuous evening dinner with some wonderful potato concoction that turned out to be twice-baked potato or something…

– In the UK, it’s called a Welsh rarebit and often the butt of national jokes about Welsh cuisine. But in Ohio, melted cheese sandwiches are revered at Melts, a rather cool bar’n’grill where the menu comes on the back of old vinyl covers. Shame that a melted cheese sandwich apparently takes an hour from ordering to arrival.

– After that came a dessert course of hot fudge ice cream at Malleys. The Americans, they like their ice cream. Even at 1pm on a wet Wednesday afternoon.

However, there are side-effects that come from eating out in America.

One image to represent America…

One image to represent America…

Imagine you’re quintessential Englishman Stephen Fry – who, naturally, is a geek of Jewish Hungarian stock. He’s spent the last few months travelling the land of the United States, and naturally, has written a book and TV programme about it.

Now you have to publicise said book in a book launch. What’s the one image of America you need to sell the book to a British press? Find out.

This – no doubt hilarious – book joins other ones on the shelves dedicated to explaining America to a European readership. Although given the huge amount of press coverage the American elections get in the UK, I’m not sure anything needs explaining.

Bloody Americans and their optimistic outlook…

Bloody Americans and their optimistic outlook…

I’ve only been back in the States for a week, and despite my failure to indulge in things that I normally do in America (Best Buy and buffets), I get the feeling that their infectious sense of optimism has started to hit me. Which is amazing, given half of America is panicing over rising gas prices, a credit crunch – oh and global warming.

One of the guys in the place I’m currently staying at asked what I do for a living. I made the fatal mistake of revealing that I build websites – which isn’t technically true, but usually does for civilians. He immediately started pitching me a website idea he had – don’t they all, but despite my constant “No, but ….” refrains – mostly around small little things like financing, selling and the current state of the advertising market – he kept persisting with the idea. Even though the website part of it was an important part of the whole idea, there was so much more work to do with it than just building a website and having them come.

Then the conversation did a left-turn and became about ways of getting his brother into an American university. Now I thought it all came down to how much you could afford to pay for tuition, but apparently it’s also about finding the right person, and badgering him/her to get you a teaching assistant position or something. I’d assume, in my “No, but … ” British way that such places would be overfilled to bursting with applicants, but apparently it’s actually a very viable prospect of getting in in some areas.

Consequentally, this afternoon has been mostly spent mentally going over my old ideas, and wondering just how feasible they are to do or not do. Sure, they’re not going to be Facebook v3, but is it better to spend ages trying to craft an idea and watch it fail in terms of commercial success, or decide that the idea is not going to work, and go back to working for Da Man? (just when I find a job too!)

Two random moments from American television…

Two random moments from American television…

Taken by Midnight Digital Last night, we were at a sports bar grabbing a bite to eat. A sports bar with about sixty thousand LCD screens showing various moments from American TV – including coverage of the Ultimate Fighting Championships – which just about has to be the most homoerotic thing to be screened on American television.

Well, how else would you describe something which mostly seems to involve one muscular topless man sitting or squatting on another, grunting and generally thrusting various bits of his body on the other, while the other one lies there helpless or is grunting and thrusting away himself? All while the male observers in the sports bar were whooping and hollering, encouraging every movement – and then trying to chat up the young nubile college students nearby?

Then this morning, I was flicking through the various TV stations, and came across some kind of US equivalent of This Morning, where the hosts were comparing water options to go with your food. And the caption that ran along the bottom of the screen said:

Tap Water: Good for hydration

I shall never complain about British daytime TV again.

America – you need more windows!

America – you need more windows!

Taken by ChrisLB If I was designing a nation that sat under never-ending huge amounts of summer sunshine, then I’d think I’d make better design choices than:

– making all the buildings brown or dark (Florida is probably the honorary exception to this rule)
– ensuring a relative lack of windows, to make the interiors seem surprisingly dark
– because it’s all dark, then having to use electric light fittings to give more light. At 2pm on a sunny afternoon
– because of a lack of opening windows, aritficial a/c has to be used instead. Thus raking up the electricity bills, which is never a good idea.

Granted, the sun must wreak havoc on all sorts of things – like my body for instance. But at least bigger windows would enable you to use sunlight for its good stuff.

Never mind the differences between blue and red America, the differences between outdoors America, street America and inside America are vastly huge. Inside, it’s quiet, dark and rather cold thanks to excessive a/c. Outside, it’s quiet, bright and blisteringly hot. And people are still walking around in business suits, dark trousers and not sweating. I also note that the weather in Cleveland today is 82 F/28 C.

Oh, I have finally realised that American daytime television is terrible. Either that, or I need my fix of Dave and daytime Top Gear. Stat.

Two countries seperated by a consonant

Two countries seperated by a consonant

I’ve spent the last few days in Cleveland, Ohio visiting Shalene – and even though I’ve been in America for the odd week for quite a few years, it’s the first time I’ve been over here since 2005, and I’m not sure if I’ve changed, or if America has changed.

Certainly, the temperatures seem worse. But this is probably more how I’ve changed – it was about 24 Celsius in London before I left. Right now it’s apparently 30 degrees Celsius outside – a fact that prompts Shalene to gloat about how it’s going to get hotter and hotter before I leave. But then the buildings have got their air conditioning turned up to maximum – so here I am, in the veritable British tourist uniform of T-shirts, shorts and sandals, while everyone else is wearing jeans and shirts. How they don’t sweat when they walk outside, I don’t know – I took a short stroll to a nearby Starbucks (I needed the wi-fi!) and I was getting close to sweating by the time I stumbled in. Having nearly caused three traffic accidents – don’t they have pedestrian crossings over here ?!

Another change seems to be how the bargains in American shops just aren’t as compelling to me as they used to be – but then I did indulge in a mini-orgy of shopping at amazon.com before I left. Heaven knows how I’m going to fit Rock Band: Special Edition into my suitcase though.

The biggest difference seems to be how nobody understands me here. Especially when I ask for water. The conversation in restaurants seems to go thusly:

Me: “I’ll have some water, please.”
Waiter: “Sir?”
Me: “Water?”
Waiter: “Erm…”
Me: “Warrrr-terrrrr” (trying to speak slowly)
Waiter: “Erm…”
Me: “Warrrrrrrrrrr terrrrrrrr” (going Ice-Age speed at this point)
Waiter: “I’m sorry, sir”
Me: “Wader!” (in a cod-American accent)
Waiter: “Ahhh, wadderrr!”

*bangs head*

If this is how America treats its friends…

If this is how America treats its friends…

So the UK stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the US against pretty much everyone else in launching a doomed war against Iraq, which sends Tony Blair out of office, potentially Gordon Brown with him and ushering in the Tories at the next general election … and what does the UK get in return?

All European visitors to be forced to register with the Department of Homeland Security 72 hours before entering the United States on a visa-waiver system.

Erm… surely, the whole POINT of a visa-waiver system is so that you don’t have to do bureaucratic things like registration, retinal scans, fingerprint IDs and all that?

I’d like to think Obama would change this when he gets into office. But he won’t.

Ever wonder why we get the feeling that Bush/NASA’s plans for a Mars colony aren’t about exploration, but about setting up Planet America? 😉