Saturday, April 25, 2009

US vs UK 4/24/09

Having been here for just over three weeks now, I feel safe to start comparing life here compared with life back in the UK. It's a time when the honeymoon period is pretty much over, life has settled into some semblance of normality, and I can read UK newspapers online and watch UK TV on Slingbox on my computer without feeling as if I have left another planet.

They certainly have better mayors here - well, if the LA Mayor is anything to go by. I met Antonio Villaraigosa at the opening of Britweek (a celebration of the Brits' contribution to southern California) on Tuesday night and thought he was a bit special. Not only did he speak eloquently and with passion (it's his Latino nature, I suspect), he looked like a film idol. In the UK, our mayors tend to be at least three stone overweight and waddle around like those sweaty women who make it to the final of the annual Crufts dog show, trying to keep up with their Chihuahuas.

Antonio is rumoured to be running for governor of California in 2010, and I will be right there behind him (oh, okay: hanging on to his coat tails for grim death, but you get the general idea). I have started re-watching all of Brothers and Sisters, just to see exactly what Kittie did in her support of Jack in his race to be governor and finally pull him. It certainly wasn't down to her family, and although I suspect Antonio has much bigger female fish to fry, I will be happy to be a minnow in my new pond.

Tony Blair was also speaking at the dinner, although it was hard to listen to his declaration of the humanitarianism we need to express in relation to the world's malaria problem, given his history on Iraq. Tony received not just one, but two ovations: they went wild, and I mean really, really wild, for him. There was a queue to shake his hand and be photographed with him. I resisted, having met him on a number of occasions, when he was perfectly charming and very enthusiastic about my keeping in touch (I didn't; you know where I live, Tony). He spoke well, though not as well as my new best friend the Mayor, and he is nowhere near as good looking (his suit wasn't as nice, either, but now I'm being picky).

If the Mayor is streets ahead of our own specimens in terms of high public office (sorry, Boris, but Antonio beats you hands down), the post office workers are right down there with our own levels of slowness. I swear I had three birthdays standing in a queue to buy one stamp this week. Just when you think you are getting to the front, a sign goes up saying "CLOSED", just like it does in the UK. Always, there is someone in front of me (do they get them from Central Casting, I wonder, just to annoy me?), packing a parcel with the kind of precision needed when constructing a very complex bomb.

Throughout the whole laborious procedure, they have to chat. Endlessly. I live near what we unceremoniously in the UK call an old people's home (I think they call it something like Very Nice But Very Slow People in the 5 Star Last Chance Saloon here), and everyone, everywhere, likes to make the residents feel as if they are very special to the community. Which they are, of course. Except when I want to buy just one bloody stamp to send a letter to the UK.

Outside of post office hours, it is refreshing to be in a place where the service industry is so revered and which places so much emphasis on customer care. Initially, it took some getting used to, as I thought everyone was joking when they approached me in the store to see if there was anything they could help me with. The first time an assistant loomed up behind me when I was pondering the vitamin shelves in Wholefoods, I screamed.

In addition to great service, there is so much that I love here: the clean streets, the choice of food, the fact that restaurant meals arrive hot at the table (something that Europeans did away with sometime back in 1983), the airmail that arrives more punctually than any of my post in Cardiff (although heaven knows how, given the rigor mortis in the post office), the choice of teas, so much great telly (and so many amazing drama series, all fantastically well written and produced).

But there are things I don't like, too: the cost of stock cubes, the lack of Heinz baked beans, the time it takes for the white illuminated man to appear on the roadside, telling you it's safe to cross, the red numbers that count down too quickly when you are halfway across the damned road.

Then there are the men. British women keep asking me whether American men are any different from those in the UK. Well, no. They are nuts here, too. All except the lovely Antonio, naturally.

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