Friday, June 5, 2009

California Dreamin' 6/5/09

If I’m honest, there was always that little bit of Californian in me. When I was 14, I spent my pocket money on Here’s Health magazine and books about various kinds of spiritual awakening.

Religious, occult, astrological – I was always interested in the different means by which people found their way in the world and tried to make sense of it all. And I have always loathed smoking with a passion.

At university, I spent the money set aside for food buying all the different kinds of lentils from the only delicatessen in town (heck, I grew up in a village where nobody even knew what a delicatessen was, let alone know how to spell it, so finding a use for lentils was always going to be way left of field for most people).

Now that I am in LA, that little corner of a foreign field that was forever California has been unleashed in me with a vengeance.

Apart from my minimum two hour workout every day, I eat more healthily than I have done since my lentil and sandal university days, and my bookshelves are once more filled with titles beginning with the likes of How to, When to, and Give Up Now, You’re Doomed.

Returning back to the UK briefly, I felt more Californian than British. “When did everyone get so fat?” I screamed, as I squashed myself in between restaurant tables in Cardiff and looked down the menu, declaring that there was absolutely nothing on it that I could eat.

Just as well, really, because I wouldn’t have had the time. I spent the entire evening doing furniture removals around the enormous foursome at the next table, and had to re-arrange my own seating every time I wanted to move an elbow to grab a glass of water.

“Don’t lose any more,” people kept saying to me, noting how much weight I had lost. “Go on, have a real drink,” friends said in Spain.

When I was not being encouraged to eat and drink more, I found myself defending America as if I were the First Lady. It was easy, given the political mess that has been dominating the UK headlines over the past week.

If you had told me even a year ago that I would ever have had anything positive to say about America, let along feel a surge of pride every time I pass the stars and stripes flag (I kid you not: I think perhaps I have been abducted and that the real me is living on planet Zog somewhere), I would have said I was more likely to commit hara-kiri.

Like most Brits, my experience of the country and its citizens was of loud-mouthed travellers being rude to waiters in restaurants; I am sure that those Americans do still exist, but in my little bubble that is Beverly Hills, I am being treated to a different breed, and for the moment I am happy to enjoy it.

I even found myself getting a bit gobby when I didn’t get the service I have so quickly become used to. But really, listen to this.

Yesterday, I went into my local delicatessen (these days, you can’t move for them in Cardiff), where I tried to buy a pot of yoghurt for me and a pot of double cream for my mother (she thinks I should definitely not lose any more weight). When I took them to the counter to pay, I was greeted with: “I got naw change” (Welsh accent, for my new American friends).

Me: Why do you have no change?
Girl: Well, I just come on see an’ I dawn’t knaw why, but there’s no change in the till.
Me: So what are we going to do then?
Girl: Well, we’ll just 'ave to see 'ow much it is an’ you’ll 'ave to pay me the right money.
Me: Please could you ring them up then, and we’ll see.
Girl: (examining yoghurt pot). There’s naw price on this. (Calls to other girl, mesmerised at the cheese counter). Can you see 'ow much this is?
(Girl 2 takes yoghurt, goes to fridge, potters around for about a week, discovers that there is no other like it and disappears into back store-room for another week. Emerges, looking blank. Walks to till).
Girl 2: I dunno the price of it. I can’t find another one.
(Both girls stare: one, at the priceless yoghurt pot, the other at the changeless till).
Me: D’you know? I’ll leave it. Your loss.
(Storms out, amid much huffing and puffing and praising America’s gun licence laws).

Well, those are the words that came out inside the shop; outside, it was something more along the lines of: Bloody Welsh bloody Brits can’t get any service anymore and could you ever it wouldn’t happen in Beverly Hills what does a girl have to do to get a sodding pot of yoghurt around here . . . That kind of thing, with a few more expletives thrown in.

For once, I found myself bemoaning the fact that I was not paying $3.99 for a stock cube in my local Wholefoods in Beverly Hills and declaring that you do, in fact, get what you pay for in life (or are not able to pay for, in the case of the Cardiff delicatessen).

However, the weather has been great (for once, it wasn’t raining in Cardiff), it was good to see family and friends, and weird to watch all the episodes of my favourite TV series that I have already seen in the US.

But heck, I miss the gym and my plates of berries. I miss the gallons of fresh carrot juice I can buy as easily as getting water from the tap. I miss being able to buy anything at all, when faced with the problem of there being no change in the till.

I am returning to LA via Paris, which is my favourite city on Earth. It will be interesting to see whether it still is, on my first visit since decamping to LA.

I already hear myself moaning about the smoking: although it is banned indoors, it is allowed outside on café terraces, which have now been turned into giant ashtrays.

I hear myself whining about not being able to get any vegetarian food. And I specially hear myself giving the French a hard time about their inherent dislike of Americans, which has only intensified in the aftermath of the Iraq war.

On the other hand, I might just think, sod it: order a beef bourguignon, a pint of wine, pick up a Frenchman, have unprotected sex, smoke a Gitane afterwards and curse all Americans for being loud-mouthed, bigoted, war-mongerers.

It could go either way. Two continents await.


  1. Jaci! You are hilarious!! But I am a tad disappointed, thought we were going to hear wild stories from France including French men w very bushy eyebrows .. ;-)

  2. It's great to see the perspective from a now, self-confessed American-ophile. Hilarious! I totally agree with you on the whole customer service front though - I love it here in the UK, but my God, do we take customer service lightly. Keep up the ab fab blogs, they bring a smile to my face every time! x