Monthly Archives: March 2012

Lottery dreams

History was made today with the largest lottery jackpot ever. It’s estimated to stand at $640m (although it is most likely more by now). The payout will be about $20m a year for the next 26 years or you could take a cash option of $462m. The IRS (Internal Revenue Service) stands to make $100m in tax.

In New York, about 3 million people per hour bought a lottery ticket. Today alone, people spent about $100m on tickets. In Nevada, where they don’t take part in the megamillions jackpot, people stood in a horrendously long, snaking line, to get across to California for their shot at the dream.

This has prompted me to dream of what I would do if I won the megamillions jackpot, played in 42 states in America. Here’s a list:

  1. Buy a house in California near the ocean
  2. Buy a house in London near a very big park and nice restaurants and shops
  3. Buy at least two cars
  4. Buy a whole new wardrobe and pamper myself with a back massage, foot massage, head massage and facial
  5. Go on a long trip with my whole family and whichever of my friends wanted to tag along
  6. Give a bunch of money to lots of charities
  7. Volunteer at a bunch of charities
  8. Never work again or look for a job
  9. Get three dogs and a cat
  10. Buy a holiday home

It’s nice to dream and that’s why so many people take part in something they have very little chance of winning. The odds of winning tonight are 176,000,000 to 1. Courtesy of the CBS Evening News, I learned these facts: You are more likely to be attacked by a shark (11,500,000 to 1) or being elected president (150,000,000 to 1); you are 50 times more likely to be struck by lightning.

What would you do if you won $640m? The answer I like the best will get a share of my millions when I win. This is the one time in my life I am going to be an optimist.

I’ll post an update on my fate after the jackpot has been drawn tonight at 8pm Pacific Standard Time.

Update, 11.26pm PST

And the winning numbers are: 46, 23, 38, 4 and 2. The winning ticket was bought in Maryland. My dad lives in Maryland at the moment, so there is still hope. Unfortunately, he hasn’t called us yet, screaming on the phone about being a multimillionaire, so I am skeptical. Perhaps he fell asleep on the sofa, which is not that unusual.

I would still like to hear what you do with the money, but I am doubtful that I’ll be able to do much more than dream along with you.

Update 9.15am PST (Saturday morning)

Three winning tickets were bought, in Maryland, Kansas and Illinois. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not a millionaire this morning. Life goes on as usual. I’ll be making pancakes for the kids (our weekend ritual) and drinking coffee, not swizzling champagne. They say winning the lottery doesn’t make you happier anyway. Within a year you would feel about the same as you did before you won. That’s what pyschologists say. I’d bet they’ve never won the lottery.

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Brunch: Snooze AM

Snooze frontageI have missed brunch during my many years in London. We had a great little place called Banners, near our flat, where we would sometimes go at the weekends. It was one of the few places that served anything like brunch.

More common in the UK is lunch. Over the weekends this generally means eating anywhere between 1 and 3pm, often at a pub with friends. It’s usually a heavyish meal that involves meat or fish and some sort of vegetable. Lunch has come a long way in many pubs – and the standard of the food has got much better – but brunch still remains a mystery to many Brits, who have yet to experience the pleasure of an imaginative breakfast/lunch hybrid, accompanied by a mimosa or bloody Mary.

Snooze AM excels at this concept (sort of). I’m not sure what PR machine is behind the popularity of Snooze AM, but they are hardly napping. I’d say they’ve been in overdrive since its opening in November last year, because news of this little brunch place in Hillcrest has spread faster than the news of Whitney Houston’s death. To go there at the weekend is to exercise Patience with a capital ‘P’. You wait and wait and then wait some more. You wait so long that you lose the will to eat.

I’ve been there twice and it’s a bit like being at a nightclub – there’s a mob of people out front, while a trendy young person holding a tablet takes your name and tells you how long you might need to wait. I waited 45 minutes on the first visit (arrival time 12pm), and nearly an hour on the second (arrival time 10am). They tout this as a good place for kids, but I don’t know what child will want to wait that long. Parents would need to ply their offspring with an endless supply of snacks to keep them from destroying the place and/or screaming bloody murder – and this kind of defeats the purpose of going out to eat.Snooze booths

All this waiting gives you ample time to inspect the surroundings. Snooze has the feel of an industrial warehouse crossed with a 50s diner and a Jetsons cartoon, with design accents reminiscent of space exploration. There are booths in primary colors, contemporary lighting, a big television behind the bar and extremely high ceilings. The front of the restaurant is made up entirely of glass; this gives the space an airy, modern touch that invites you to feel part of the urban landscape beyond.

Is it worth the wait? I’ll ask you this, is any breakfast item worth over an hour of your time? Although the menu offers some interesting items such as Sweet Potato Pancakes (their signature pancake) and Vanilla Almond Oatmeal Brulee, it’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff. On my second visit I get the huevos rancheros. I regret it almost as soon as it gets to the table. The portion is huge and somewhat off-putting. I see congealed cheese gathered near the edge of my plate, and I wish silently that I’d ordered it without the cheese. I can tell I’ll be dragging myself out of the restaurant feeling as heavy as an elephant.

I preferred the choice on my first visit: a variation on eggs Benedict with ‘a ragout of tomatoes, white beans, kale and squash’, served with a spicy sauce. It was delicious and accompanied by some amazing hash browns. There are five different Benedict options for those who like this dish.

My dining companion goes for a lighter option – eggs, toast and hash browns. It looks good, but you could probably find a decent version of this just about anywhere. Our coffee is nothing special, either, and I’m glancing at my watch too often, knowing that I’ll need to run outside and move the car that is parked at a meter. This adds a layer of stress to my visit which I could really do without. Astonishingly, we’ve been in Hillcrest for nearly two hours and I’ve barely had time to gobble my food.

Huevos rancheros

Come hungry and bring quarters for the parking

There are also some teething problems, with servers bringing the food to the wrong tables and forgetting things we’ve asked for. When I enquire about our food, after waiting more than half an hour, I get a very pleasant but vague reply, ‘We are running a little behind.’

I suggest you go to Snooze during the week, during a blizzard (which will never happen in southern California), obscenely early (they open at 7am at the weekends and close at 2.30pm) or wait for the hype to die down.

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Amateur dramatics

program coverSome years ago I saw Kevin Spacey in a theatre production in London. The play was called The Iceman Cometh. He was riveting for three hours. An actor like him doesn’t just act, he embodies the role. If a play is done well, you will lose the self-consciousness that comes with watching something staged.

But these days the closest I get to good acting is my two-year-old, who swears up and down that her older sister is to blame for everything, even when caught red-handed. She lies through her teeth and looks at me with her chocolate-brown eyes, framed by a curtain of long, dark lashes; she never looks away. It’s almost as if she believes her own lies. Almost.

I miss the theatre, though, and have thought about it often. It’s just one of the many things I used to do, way back before children, which I hardly ever do now. When there was a new staging of A Raisin in the Sun recently, I wanted to go – but I couldn’t think of anyone who would go with me. I kept telling myself I would buy tickets, but I never did.

Off to the theatre we go!

Just as I thought I’d have to make do with reality tv or my child’s manipulation for entertainment, I finally get my chance to relive my theatre-going days. The Chatterbox is invited to a production of Tom Sawyer with local children playing the roles. Her ballet friend is cast as a townsfolk and we thought we’d go along to lend her moral support.

The production starts at 7pm, which I feel is already bordering on the witching hour for small children. And then there’s the small matter of what the play is about – Tom Sawyer’s adventures with Huckleberry Finn. It’s hardly reading material for a five-year-old. Couldn’t they have picked something a tad more child-friendly, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears? But I cast these doubts aside.

The theatre is in a one-story building with a cavernous interior. I very much doubt it was purpose-built for plays. My guess is that it was once an auditorium or a church. The volunteers, who run the youth theatre group, have done their best to spruce up what would otherwise be a plain room with high ceilings and old, threadbare carpet.

We take our seats and I try my best to explain, in about five seconds, who Tom Sawyer is. The Chatterbox is hardly listening – all she wants to do is spot her friend on stage. After a nervy beginning, the kids start to relax a little. I’m distracted by small microphones they have taped to their face. Luckily, the 14-year-old playing Tom Sawyer is actually pretty good. Unlike some of the other actors, he doesn’t muffle his speech or deliver lines woodenly. He seems totally at ease with the ambitious role, which is quite a feat for a child who’s barely in high school.

I think I’ll go to sleep

The Chatterbox, who is sitting on me so that she can see better, starts to fidget after about 20 minutes. I glance at my watch and realize that this show is not going to be over after an hour as I’d hoped. Just before the interval, the Chatterbox whispers to me, ‘Is it almost over?’ Coincidentally, the lights go up. I have to explain patiently that we are only halfway through.

Five minutes into the second half of the play, my daughter announces in a too-loud voice, ‘I think I will just lie back and go to sleep.’ I’m starting to feel the same way. We’re getting to some of the more difficult material – Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn have just witnessed a murder in a graveyard. Injun Joe, the perpetrator, blames the murder on a hapless local who doesn’t remember committing the crime but accepts his punishment, which is death by hanging.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph – my acting moment

My mind is wandering. I remember being cast as the lead angel in a play about the birth of baby Jesus when I was not much older than the Chatterbox is now. Our drama teacher, Mr Rush, believed that he was either destined for greater things or that we were. Neither was true. Despite endless rehearsals in which Mr Rush screamed at us like an army sergeant leading a platoon into war, I forget how to exit the stage and end up jumping off the front of the stage in panic. Everyone follows me, including Mary, Joseph and a menagerie of animals. Mr Rush had an apoplectic fit, and I was never again given a role with any responsibility for the rest of my elementary school years.

Tom Sawyer wraps up just before 9pm. These kids, I can tell, worked damn hard and they deserve the applause from the small crowd. I gather our things and run for the door. In the car I ask the Chatterbox what she thought of it. ‘I dunno,’ is her reply. I explain how Tom Sawyer is a mischievous, misunderstood boy who does a good thing at the end – he saves someone’s life by being brave and telling the truth. I sense I’m not getting through. I change tack.  ‘He’s a bit like the Raging Bull,’ I say. ‘A bit naughty sometimes, but a good person.’ She seems to accept this. I don’t explain that, unlike Tom Sawyer, the Bull has not yet learned the value of telling the truth.

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St Patrick’s Day in Spring Valley

Hooleys signage

The scene of our debauchery

Let’s clear this up now: I’m not Irish. For the many years I lived in London, St Patrick’s Day would pass by totally unnoticed. No one, except the Irish, would do anything about it. Here, in the United States, the opposite is true. It doesn’t matter what your nationality or religion is, because nearly everyone gets into the spirit of St Patrick’s Day, including the greeting card companies that churn out variations on rainbows, gold, shamrocks and leprechauns.

Five minutes away from the house I share with my mother is an Irish-themed bar that puts on an annual celebration called Hoolyfest every March 17. There are bands, food and A LOT of drinking. The luck of the Irish is not with Hooleyfest this year because the day dawns cold and cloudy. Torrential rain is forecast later, which is probably typical Irish weather for March; the Irish would feel right at home. Not to be put off by a bit of precipitation, I head to the bar with a friend. We’ve been promised free VIP entry.

Like most of suburban San Diego, the bar is in a strip mall with a huge parking lot. It’s the parking lot that has been taken over for the venue’s main festivities – there are huge white canvas tents, erected to withstand the miserable weather. I can see a woman in some sort of costume jumping up and down, in what could be a frenzied Irish jig. She is accompanied by a band in kilts and pirate hats. I’m confused by the pirate hats, but maybe the Irish Sea still has bandits.

Inside the bar it’s crowded. Our worst fear materializes – there is nowhere to sit and we feel far too sober and surrounded by a sea of green clothes and accessories. I see people wearing shamrock ties, green beads, fuzzy green head bands, and a shamrock necklace with a green light that flashes (this is very popular). As I stand in line for the bathroom, I spot a woman with a revealing green tank top that reads ‘One drunk bitch’. Another is wearing a top that says, ‘Take a look at these lucky shamrocks’. This is Spring Valley, after all. It’s an area that affluent, coastal San Diego would rather get removed like a malignant tumor. This is why it is known as the ‘unincorporated community of San Diego’. No one wants it.

After a couple of drinks and a jello shot, I feeling more prepared for the carnage that is sure to come later. It doesn’t take long. A guy recognizes my friend and starts shouting at him in between bouts of drinking beer. He is with his wife and is giddy with excitement that they’ve got a free babysitter for the whole night. ‘I’m Irish,’ he screams in a thick American accent. This apparently entitles him to get completely wasted. ‘My wife told me that I could be out all night so long as I end the night with her.’ I search his face for a trace of irony or humor but there isn’t any; he’s being totally serious.

John, our new wasted ‘Irish’ friend, is wearing a tattered Guinness hat that he is hoping to flog to someone for $40 so that he could buy more beer. He is claiming to have bought it in Ireland. ‘When were you in Ireland?’ my friend gamely asks. ‘Dude, I’ve never been to Ireland. I bought this at Target for $15.’ We really should have known he’d never been to Ireland, but we were trying to be nice.

The rest of the night passes in a bit of a blur. John keeps thumping our booth, which is just behind his, and peeking his head around the corner, laughing maniacally. I wave weakly and flash him a brave smile. I decide to take a break from the shouting and go outside to listen to All Liquored Up, the main act. They are old rockers who sing covers like Jessie’s Girl and 867-5309 by Tommy Tutone. I take some bad pictures and try to blend into the insanely excited crowd, who scream the words to the songs as if they were still top 10 hits.

lead singer of All Liquored Up

The lead singer of All Liquored Up hits his stride after 10 beers

As the night winds up, John tries selling his booth, located conveniently near the kitchen. He hopes he’ll have better luck selling his booth than selling the hat. He doesn’t. ‘I think I’m getting real drunk,’ he drawls. ‘I’m starting to steal stuff.’ He opens his jacket and reveals a huge cardboard shamrock that he’s torn off the wall. He proceeds to laugh like a psychopath.

I don’t know how we make it to midnight, but we do. We are kicked out by the security guard, who looks like he’s spent the night in the trenches of World War I. Earlier that night he’d been punched and bitten by a woman who he kicked out of the bar for screaming obscenities and trying to use the men’s bathroom. It’s not so much Hoolyfest at this point, but more like one Holy Mess.

Revelers

The Mexican-Irish contingent

The next morning my brother tells me that a drunk woman tried to steal a bus that was waiting outside to take local people home. She was allegedly annoyed that she didn’t live close enough to hitch a free ride. As she drove off, she took one lone person hostage, who’d been taking shelter in the quiet bus. My brother says the automatic doors closed when the ignition started and the guy was seen banging on them frantically, begging to be let out. The crazed woman made it as far as the Peter Piper Pizza (a terrible children’s chain) across the street, before being taken into custody by the sheriff.

It’s just another St Patrick’s Day in Spring Valley. May the luck of the Irish be with you.

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The marginally discouraged worker

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, I am on the verge of becoming a ‘discouraged worker’. It strikes me as a misleading term because I am not actually working, but the government moves in mysterious ways. This is how they define the discouraged worker on their website: ‘Persons not in the labor force who want and are available for a job and who have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months (or since the end of their last job if they held one within the past 12 months), but who are not currently looking.’

dead fish

Gulped his last breath. Kind of sums up how I feel about the job search these days.

Those not looking for a job are considered to be ‘marginally attached to the labor force’, according to the BLS. The website goes on to state that the marginally attached are further divided into those not looking because they believe the search is futile (me) or those not looking because of other reasons such as family, ill health or lack of transport.

I have not completely stopped looking for a job, but I am doing it with as much will as a fish mechanically gulping its last breath. For this reason I will call myself the ‘marginally discouraged worker’. I had three interviews last week. THREE. None has worked out. I thought two weren’t really for me anyway, but it’s still disappointing. It’s like being rejected in a relationship – there is a bit of a sting and a period of morose introspection. And even though recruiters tell you it was ‘a tough call’, you still inwardly take the decision as a personal attack on your abilities.

The BLS studied the unemployed and found that, in 2010, individuals were jobless for about 20 weeks before giving up the job search and leaving the labor force. In 2008 this figure was only 8.5 weeks. It surprises me that people spent so little time actively looking for a job in 2008 before giving up entirely.

How labor has changed over the years – men versus women

Here are some more facts taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which I thought makes for an interesting comparison of the workforce in different countries over 40 years ago and then again in 2010 (the latest available data):

Men participating in the labor force (percent)

  • In 1971: US, 79.1; UK, 83.1; Canada, 77.30; Australia, 83.8; Japan, 81.9; France, 75.5; Germany, 75.8; Italy, 71.0; Sweden, 78.0
  • In 2010: US, 71.2; UK, 69.9; Canada, 71.8; Australia, 73.2; Japan, 70.8; France, 61.9; Germany, 65.1; Italy, 59.1; Sweden, 69.1

Women participating in the labor force (percent)

  • In 1971: US, 43.4; UK, 44.6; Canada, 39.4; Australia, 41.0; Japan, 47.7; France, 40.2; Germany, 38.5; Italy, 26.3; Sweden, 50.9
  • In 2010: US, 58.6; UK, 56.8; Canada, 62.4; Australia, 59.8; Japan, 48.1; France, 51.7; Germany, 51.6; Italy, 38.3; Sweden, 60.4

You don’t need a degree in advanced mathematics to see that the percentage of men participating in the workforce has dropped for every single country observed since 1971; the opposite is true of women. The most dramatic difference is in the UK and France, where the percentage of men working fell by about 13%. For women, Canada has significantly added females to the workforce, by about 22%. Australia also recorded a significant rise.

It’s hard to draw decisive conclusions based on these numbers, but it’s certainly true that more women are working now than in 1971, which is not at all surprising; it’s an example of how women are no longer expected to be in the home after marriage or perhaps they can’t afford the luxury of a choice. The one country still lagging far behind is Italy – and that’s hardly astonishing considering how patriarchal and traditional it can be. The women of working age in this country only account for about 38% of the workforce today and that’s less than every single country in the study, even back in 1971.

Okay, so I don’t want to be a woman looking for a job in Italy. That’s pretty certain. Things are much better for women in the US and the UK – they are nearly on par with each other statistically. These numbers, however, don’t tell me how many women would like a job but can’t find one. Discouraged is definitely one word for it. Or how about draining?

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Social media can make you feel unpopular

Girl all alone on playground swingThis is a truth I don’t mind acknowledging as an adult – I was not the most popular kid in the school playground. I was never a cheerleader; I wasn’t ever invited to the coolest parties; I didn’t have a boyfriend who would sneak notes to me in class; and I was terrible at all sports that required hand/eye coordination. When you are terrible at physical education in the United States – to the point where you are the last kid picked for someone’s softball team – you are effectively an outcast.

I had mostly forgotten about the angst-ridden experience that was high school – but then along came social media, and I started to have a few uncomfortable flashbacks. I initially resisted the 21st-century collective fun that is social media because I didn’t understand what good could come of tweeting what you had for breakfast. I stubbornly stuck to my old-fashioned principles until I left my job, and I realized that I might finally need to get involved with the art of being sociable online for the sake of my career.

Having worked for a major broadcaster, in a vaguely creative field, I started trawling job descriptions looking for my next career move, and I noticed that employers invariably wanted someone with a twitter profile (and lots of followers), someone who blogged regularly, someone who understood Facebook as a marketing tool. The list goes on.

I needed to up my game, and fast. I joined LinkedIn, started a blog and then got the twitter profile. I’ve so far resisted Facebook. The more I look for a job, though, the more I start to think that social media is like revisiting the torture of high school. You want to be popular, you want to be seen as hip and fun, but it all feels a bit artificial and forced. It’s like showing up to the school dance without a date – you are meant to be having the time of your life but the experience turns out to be stressful.

Social media, as far as I see it, seems to be built on the psychological premise that everyone craves as many friends as possible and those who don’t have them might as well be losers. I fear employers might fall for this faulty line of thinking, as demonstrated by LinkedIn. I go to the website daily, check my profile and look at updates – I think I’m getting addicted, which is probably what the website’s architects wanted.

One of the first things I notice is how many connections a person has. If you are in the 500+ range you are the high school jock – everyone wants to date you, maybe everyone wants to offer you a job. Anyone with 200+ is doing pretty well too – they are like the cool kids who run for the student body and don’t humiliate themselves in the process. I am hovering well below 100 contacts, which I kind of feel puts me in danger territory in terms of perception: I am playing tuba in the school band and hanging out with the geeks (who go on to design LinkedIn, to their credit). I obsess about adding more people. Do I contact people I haven’t seen in years and who I’ve barely spoken to ever, all for the sake of appearance?

Then there’s twitter, built on followers. I had seven followers when I last looked. There are probably domestic cats with more followers than me. You can’t help but feel like you need to get out more, or you need to start tweeting complete lies to make you sound more interesting.

The latest edition of Newsweek carries this statistic: 67% of women with a social networking profile have deleted friends; 58% of men have. So, if you’re already feeling a bit unpopular in the digital world, things could get worse: people might start deleting you from their accounts or blocking you from seeing their Facebook page.

I’ll tell you what might make me sound terribly unpopular: I find social media a bit of a chore. Call me a geek or a refusenik. If you want to make friends with me, you’ll find me sitting at the school cafeteria (and I’ll probably be sitting alone).

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An American on Britain

Cambridge University

The England of my childhood - Cambridge in 1997

Not long ago, I was an American living in Britain. I wasn’t extraordinarily unusual either. I started this blog, in part, to reflect on the two countries in which I have spent my whole life. It turns out that others have had a similar idea, which isn’t surprising. Today I randomly came across a blog called Americans on Britain. It’s an interesting project started by a writer who wanted to find out what kind of special relationship the United States and the UK still have with each other, if any.

He has asked ordinary Americans to comment on the ‘special relationship’, a much-favored political term that denotes how the US and UK negotiate with one another on international and diplomatic matters (this is my naive understanding). The relationship was something I seem to recall former Prime Minister Tony Blair referring to when he justified the very controversial decision to lead Britain into war in Iraq. The British didn’t seem to think much of the special relationship then.

Agatha Christie and council estates

This topic got me thinking about what I would say. To explain how I feel about Britain after the many years I lived there, I think I have to explain the past. So here goes. I was never intentionally an Anglophile. I started out reading English classics because I happened to like them. I absolutely loved Pride and Prejudice (well before it was a BBC adaptation), Wuthering Heights, Rebecca and Jane Eyre. I kind of tolerated Tess of the d’Ubervilles; truth be told, I could never quite get into Hardy. In contrast, I fell madly in love with Agatha Christie. As a teenager I must have thought that England was all tea parties, rose gardens, quaint villages, murderous butlers and country estates. I wouldn’t know what a council estate was until I got there and ended up living across the street from one. I bought into the dreamy spires of Oxford and Cambridge; I grew up thinking about boat races and bracing walks in the countryside under moody skies.

I was sold these truths or fictions as a child growing up. I first arrived on British soil back in 1995 when I took a study abroad course on Shakespeare over the summer. Our base was Stratford-upon-Avon, which vaguely conformed to some of the cliches I had in my head about what the country was like. There were cute cottages, quaint cobbled streets and plenty of tourists. My abiding memory is getting a headache from drinking Pimms and lemonade, which I didn’t know had alcohol in it. I have pictures that verify I went through London, but I remember very little about it.

The harsh reality of a hard floor

In October 1996 I landed in London with the intention of living there for six months. It was surprisingly warm. I remember this well because I was concerned that I would be cold almost as soon as I stepped off the plane. I was to meet a friend at Euston Square in central London. This area meant nothing to me then, but the surrounding streets would become my home for a short while. I would become familiar with the traffic, the incessant noise and the pollution. I have a hazy memory of standing in BT phone boxes and seeing tacky postcards of scantily clad girls, begging me to call a number. It was seedy. In the early days, I felt like nothing more than the chewing gum that littered the streets. That’s how little London seemed to care for me.

I slept on the hard floor of my friend’s dorm room and learned to become indifferent about the freezing-cold showers. I took a very average job in a restaurant/cafe and it was then that London started to change for me. I met friends and I fell in love. And I now realize, with the distance of many years, that it was falling in love with my English husband which helped me to fall in love with the place he came from. Without that experience I suspect London would have remained a blip in time and no more significant than a visa stamp in my passport.

An English love story

But he opened my eyes to London and much of it we discovered together. Some was good and some was bad. I loved the tight streets, walking to shops and bars, hopping on and off buses, and the parks. I loathed night buses full of drunk people and the bitter, depressing cold of January. I started to dread going through Leceister Square and Piccadilly Circus – always full of tourists, full of noise and the unpleasant smell of decay and too many human beings crammed together. I fell in love with Stoke Newington and its cemetery off Church Street, a place that seemed full of Gothic romance.

We took trips to the countryside and there were castles and gardens. It was like revisiting the pictures of my childhood. This, though, is not the England I think about now. The England I know, and will always know, is London.

Funnily enough, I don’t even think of London as particularly English. What I remember is this huge multicultural melting pot, defined largely by the number of immigrants who end up calling it home. There are over 300 languages spoken in London and you hear them everywhere. I believe it gives the capital its vibrancy, its constant movement and flux. I remember the excitement of being part of this pulsating throng of humanity who passes through this extraordinary city that has seen it all – and, yes, it can seem indifferent and cold. No matter what, London will always just be.

What I enjoyed best is London’s mixture of old and new, of innovation and tradition, of history and propulsion, its constant transformation and yet the feeling that certain things will never change. It’s not so much English as belonging to the world. What is Britain? I can’t condense it into a statement because it would mean reducing it to a cliche. But if I judge it by London, I think Britain is more innovative and forward-thinking than people give it credit for – and it’s a damn good place to get a drink.

So, what do my British friends think of America? Anyone dare to leave a comment…

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