There are only two words that Americans in LA use to express their enthusiasm: awesome and amazing.
Unlike Brits, for whom “quite good” and “enjoyable” are regarded as commendable expletives, nothing here is ever less than knocking your socks off, being blown away by, knocking you down with a feather, dog’s bollocks, et al – in other words (two, to be precise): awesome, or amazing.
Both words were much in evidence this week at the live shows in LA of America’s Got Talent, which for the first time featured acts hitherto known only on YouTube (which is where most of them should have stayed).
Inevitably, this resulted in a bunch of mediocrities taking to the stage with their dubious “talents”, but that didn’t stop them from expressing their delight at the awesomeness of the occasion.
Ten year-old Jackie Evancho, who wowed the crowd with her powerful rendition of O Mio Babino Caro, made it through to the semi-final in Las Vegas, and said the whole thing had so far been “amazing”. Okay, she’s a kid and can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed by the occasion, but it was the same for everyone else.
Don’t they teach them any other adjectives in school here?
As a side point, was Jackie that awesome anyway? She was a very cute kid, with a powerful, pure voice, and youngsters invariably do well in these competitions. But in the UK version of the show, this really annoys me at times.
Go to the annual Eisteddfod in Wales every year, where young kids with AMAZING voices are two a penny. They never make it onto the UK version of Britain’s Got Talent, because they are, quite simply, too talented. One gifted child standing out on a freak show (which is what BGT increasingly is) can be regarded as a phenomenon; put him or her alongside another dozen talented kids, and the first one’s mediocrity will shine through.
Jackie Evancho has a very strong, melodic voice, but dreadful breathing technique, which resulted in poor phrasing (less pushing for power would have solved this, so there). She is still terrific, but there are still equally impressive youngsters of her age out there (Charlotte Church was brilliant beyond belief at this age). But hey, Jackie fits the bill of the TV show.
It has also been an amazing, awesome time for Ali Fedotowsky, who, in ABC’s reality show, The Bachelorette, this month, chose her husband, Roberto Martinez, from a cast of 25 hopefuls. Ali and Roberto Martinez got engaged at the end of the series, and have this week been walking hand in hand around LA, or seeking even more publicity in a sky blue metallic Volkswagen convertible, driving around San Diego.
Their first appearance after the show’s finale was on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk show, where the host drew attention to the number of times the word “amazing” had been uttered throughout the series. Ali was amazing, said the guys; the guys were amazing, said Ali; Iceland was amazing (Ali); the experience was amazing (everyone). On and on and on.
Ali was amazingly irritating, with her nasally drawn out syllables every time she said “amaiiiirrrzing” or “Awwwwwsome”. I couldn’t help feeling that if Bart Simpson had turned up as one of her suitors, Ali would have expressed just as much amazingness towards him, and even towards his dysfunctional family (yes, all the families of the men she visited were amaiiiirrrzing, too).
When I first arrived here, I loved the enthusiasm that greeted me in every restaurant and shop. I liked the service at the end of the phone – “Yes, ma’am, I can help you with that today.” The irritating aspect of it now is not that it is deliberately false (they genuinely do go out of their way to help); it’s the monotony of the tone in which everything is said, and the fact that the promised help rarely brings about a satisfactory result.
I never know whether I am speaking to a machine or a human at the end of the line and now ask, just before I start detailing my problem, which it is, for fear of being given a star-key option at the end of my diatribe. And then, more often than not, the person who promises to help me at the start of the conversation can do nothing of the sort.
Take Best Buy. I think I must now have spoken to everyone in the organisation, each of whom turned out to be less helpful than the person before. I can only reiterate the slogan I adopted from day one with this dreadful store: Best Buy somewhere else.
Yesterday, I was talking on the phone to a woman from Time Warner Cable, who assured me she could help in my request to scale down my service in the weeks before I return to the UK. She told me she loved my English accent and always felt the need to compliment one when she heard it. I pointed out that it was Welsh and proceeded to give her a geography lesson regarding the four-country break-up of the United Kingdom.
In her excitement, she pressed all the wrong buttons and had to start the operation again. “I didn’t know that,” she went on. “But then how would I, if I’ve never been there.”
Duh! We are handcuffed to you on every battlefield! How about dipping into books, TV, the internet, newspapers? I’ve never been to the White House, but I still know it was occupied by an amazing nobhead before November 2008.
The LA Dictionary of Wonder is undoubtedly the smallest in the world. Once you’ve dispensed with the words awesome and amazing, there is little left for anyone to say. This inability to find suitable words has resulted in the “NoNoNoNoNo” culture, which you can find not only in everyday conversation, but in just about every TV show, whether it be reality, drama or comedy - and not just in LA.
Take a look at Friends again, and Rachel in particular. When she is not being amazed or over-awed, she is wagging her finger in a contradictory manner and saying “NoNoNoNoNo”, because she has already run out of words to express extreme emotion.
Yes, it’s nice to be treated courteously, instead of someone throwing you your burger and never looking you in the eye (you know who you are, Burger King on Paddington Station), and enthusiasm, encouragement and positivity can cheer up the most dreary of days; but after 18 months, it’s getting in my face.
The promise of helpful assistance is rarely forthcoming in the long term, and things that people profess to be awesome or amazing are invariably less than mediocre; in fact, if I’m being honest, they’re often crap.
Not everything in life has to be awesome or amazing, and throwing these words around willy nilly may give everyone a level playing field, but it’s a very hollow one.
Sometimes, in life, things are just okay.
And you know something? That’s okay.